Headlines 13 August, 2004

14/9/2004- An international OSCE conference on tolerance and the fight against racism, xenophobia and discrimination ended here today with a declaration condemning, in clear terms, all forms of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, while urging OSCE participating States to respond effectively to acts motivated by intolerance. The two-day conference in the Belgian capital, attended by more than 700 government officials, non-governmental organizations and expert speakers, was the third of three OSCE events on related topics held this year. The first one in Berlin focussed on anti-Semitism while the second, in Paris, was on hate propaganda on the Internet. "We have come a long way from Vienna, last September, when racism, xenophobia and discrimination were first discussed in this format," Solomon Passy, OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Bulgarian Foreign Minister, told the conference. "We now have a clear route mapped out. As Prince Philip of Belgium said yesterday, we need continued dialogue and education, and we need to add tolerance to our agenda. Action is called for and the OSCE is determined to provide a strong lead." Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht said: "This conference has identified concrete measures to combat all forms of racism and xenophobia and has allowed us to send a clear signal to the entire international community. This should be our inspiration. "Current events show us that condemnation alone is not enough, " he added. "The key theme of this conference was dialogue; dialogue aimed at developing mutual respect and understanding, as well as promoting a fairer society."

In their declaration, participants condemned all organizations and individuals promoting hatred or acts of racism, xenophobia, discrimination or intolerance. They firmly rejected the identification of terrorism and extremism with any religion, culture, ethnic group, nationality or race, and declared unambiguously that international developments or political issues never justify racism, xenophobia and discrimination. The Brussels declaration also incorporated a decision taken by the OSCE Permanent Council on 29 July, by which the Organization's 55 participating States committed themselves to consider enacting or strengthening legislation that prohibits discrimination; to promote educational programmes to foster tolerance and combat racism, xenophobia and discrimination; to promote and facilitate an open and transparent interfaith and intercultural dialogue and partnership; and to take steps to combat acts of discrimination and violence against Muslims in the OSCE area. The States also agreed to act against discrimination, intolerance and xenophobia against migrants and migrant workers, to combat hate crimes and to collect and maintain reliable information and statistics about hate crimes motivated by racism, xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance. The Permanent Council decision also tasked the OSCE´s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to systematically collect and disseminate information throughout the OSCE area on best practices for preventing and responding to racism, xenophobia and discrimination.

14/9/2004- Black people are six times more likely to be stopped by police in Norfolk than any other group, according to a report to be discussed on Tuesday. The study by Chief Constable Andy Hayman's office says the force achieved a better record than last year and showed evidence of improvement. Norfolk police have been criticised for poor treatment of ethnic minorities. Two years ago, a man from Norwich won £5,000 damages after claiming he was regularly stopped because he was black. The most recent study of patterns of arrest in Norfolk shows that black people are still much more likely to be stopped than white. But the report says Norfolk has not followed a national trend, that has seen a significant increase in the number of Asians stopped by police. Prim Uzor, from the Caribbean and African Network in Norwich, claims the police aggravate race relations. "A doctor friend of mine was stopped three times in one day and it's just because she drives a posh car and wears a Rastafarian hat when off duty," she said. "Norwich police are the worst and more work needs to be done. But you cannot teach someone to love or to care. "I'm not saying all police officers are bad, but the bad ones do leave a bitter taste in your mouth."
©BBC News

16/9/2004- Newcastle United soccer star Lee Bowyer today spoke out against racists who have claimed the club's colours. The England midfielder said there was "no place for racism in football" after unofficial black and white badges with an anti-asylum seeker message were sold outside St James's Park. The football club has condemned the misuse of its name and promised action to prevent it being misrepresented. The round badge features a black cross with a white background, circled with the words "Newcastle United No Asylum Seekers". In a statement, Bowyer said: "There is no place for racism in football and so there is no place for badges like this. "I fully endorse the club's stance in being against their sale outside the ground or anywhere." United chief operating officer Russell Cushing said: "This is a complete abuse of the Newcastle United club badge which we condemn in the strongest way possible. "Newcastle United's work with the Show Racism The Red Card and Kick It Out campaigns is well recognised and our players are heavily involved in both initiatives. "We are 100% in opposition to our name being used in this way and, in addition to taking our own action, we will support any actions taken to prevent the Newcastle United name being misrepresented in this most inappropriate way." A year ago Bowyer broke his silence to deny he was racist after he was acquitted of attacking student Sarfraz Najeib during a night out in Leeds. The player was cleared of affray and assault causing grievous bodily harm at Hull Crown Court in December 2001.
©The Scotsman

17/9/2004- The openly-racist British National party last night won its first council seat in the capital since 1993, with a landslide victory in an east London borough. In a byelection last night, the far-right party's candidate, Daniel Kelley, gained from Labour with a 470 majority at Barking and Dagenham Council's Goresbrook ward. The BNP had not fought the seat in the borough's last polls in 2002. Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London and chairman of Unite Against Fascism, warned that the party was now a "bigger threat then ever". He said: "The BNP is a fascist party. Wherever they are elected racist violence increases. Every concession to racism or Islamophobia by mainstream parties assists the BNP. "These results show the BNP is now a bigger threat then ever before. Every progressive Londoner should wake up and join the movement to stop the BNP because they threaten everything which makes London such a wonderful diverse city." The BNP already has three seats on Epping Forest district council, which it won in June this year, but this is within the home county of Essex rather than the capital. The council seat falls within the parliamentary constituency of the current minister for children and former Islington council leader, Margaret Hodge. The result will be of concern for race relations campaigners and will trouble the mainstream parties as this is the party's first win in the capital since 1993, when Derek Beacon briefly won a seat in the Isle of Dogs. It comes amid earlier signs that the party's support had been hit after an in-depth TV documentary in the summer. A BBC undercover reporter infiltrated the BNP in Bradford, finding men who boasted of posting dog faeces through the letterboxes of Pakistani Britons, and using a bazooka against mosques. Operation Black Vote's campaign manager, Ashok Viswanathan, warned today that anti-racism campaigners must "redouble their efforts". "We've got to fight the fascists all the time - not just at general elections," he told Guardian Unlimited. "All politics is local, and we've got to keep our eyes on the prize. It's very disappointing that the BNP has won a seat in a metropolitan area, but it shows that the BNP are organised and in our town halls and we've got to fight them."
©The Guardian

17/9/2004- Racist crimes in Cornwall have increased by 50% in the last year, according to police figures. The number of racial assaults and harassment incidents increased from 81 between April 2002 to March 2003 to 122 between 2003 and 2004. Although the number of reports has increased, so too have the numbers of prosecutions and convictions. The number of people prosecuted went up from 33 to 68 and the number of convictions increased from 18 to 50. According to the 2001 census, less than 1% of the county's population is from an ethnic minority. John McKenzie from the Monitoring Group, which runs a rural racism project, said of the latest statistics: "I'm not surprised by these figures, but I'm shocked by them. "It is an overwhelming problem that there is a denial of racism in the first place. We're concerned about what public authorities are doing about this." Bernie Delord, from north Cornwall, was born in Zanzibar and has lived in the county for 40 years. She said: "I think the majority of people are great in the whole time I've lived here. "But I think I am treated differently wherever I go. At some meetings I've had to go to people have thought I was the tea woman. "I think it's a matter of education and training." Emma, from Truro, is white but is part of a mixed race family. She said of one incident: "Another child stood outside the house and called my daughter names. "But we took the sensible approach and discussed it with the other family there and then and we've had no further problems."

Taken seriously
One housing association has taken steps to tackle discrimination. Pete Jarman of Carrick Housing said: "We've laid down procedures and policies on who to deal with racial harassment and hate crimes. "They've been in place for a about a year now and seem to be working OK. "We would certainly encourage people who are experiencing such problems to come forward and report it to ourselves and the police so we can tackle it. Devon and Cornwall Police said all incidents of racism were taken seriously and that everything was done to bring offenders to justice. The force said people who reported such incidents would be treated with sensitivity and complaints would be investigated thoroughly.
©BBC News

Government crisis team fears hostage drama could spark extremist attacks

25/9/2004- The government's crisis command unit, Cobra, is monitoring tension levels around Britain to guard against extremists using the plight of the British hostage Ken Bigley as an excuse to attack Muslims. As the hostage crisis entered its ninth day, efforts in Britain and Iraq intensified to secure the release of Mr Bigley, 62, who is being threatened with being beheaded by one of the most ruthless groups in Iraq, led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Cobra, which sits in the Cabinet Office and is made up of ministers, civil servants and law enforcement officials, fears that if the Iraqi extremists carry out their threat, Muslims in Britain could face a backlash. The moderate Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said it had received 2,000 threatening emails, and the Association of Chief Police Officers yesterday gathered information from forces about tension levels and threats in their areas. British Muslims were last night scheduled to fly to Baghdad to plead for Mr Bigley's life, in a mission organised by the MCB. It said the mission was partly designed to show that British Muslims were as appalled by Mr Bigley's plight as anyone, and to reiterate the belief among British Muslims that Islam forbids the taking of civilians as hostages, let alone their killing. In a separate development, the Foreign Office yesterday distributed 50,000 leaflets in the Baghdad suburb where Mr Bigley was captured, appealing for information.

The Iraq government confirmed yesterday that six more hostages, Egyptians working for Iraq's biggest mobile phone company, have been seized. A spokesman for the company in Cairo for which the men worked hinted that the kidnapping was criminal rather than politically motivated. As violence continued throughout Iraq yesterday, four Iraqis were killed in a rocket attack in a square in the middle of the capital. On the British Muslim mission to Baghdad were Dr Daud Abdullah, lecturer in Islamic studies at Birbeck College, London, and Musharraf Hussain, from the Karimia Islamic education institute in Nottingham. They are hoping to meet leading Iraqi Sunni scholars to press them to use their influence to save Mr Bigley's life. Dr Abdullah said: "We're going there to lend our support to whatever efforts are being made by the scholars. We hope our presence will add credence and weight to whatever efforts are being taken." He said his pleas would have weight and credibility because the MCB opposed the invasion of Iraq. Hours before flying out, Dr Abdullah said he blamed the hostage crisis on Mr Blair's decision to go to war: "We are now called upon to clean up the mess made by our government and its partners in the coalition." Sources say the MCB suggested the idea of a British Muslim delegation three days ago, but the Foreign Office only gave the go-ahead yesterday. A spokesman for the council, Inayat Bunglawala said: "It may lessen any backlash if our people go out there. This is about showing that Muslims are just as appalled by this barbarity as anyone else." The police have drawn up contingency plans on how to protect Muslims if the worst happens to Mr Bigley. A source with close knowledge of their efforts said: "Our anxiety is that there will be some who seek to exploit it. We have to be prepared for anything from fighting in the streets, to low-level incidents such as graffiti." Muslims met for Friday prayers at the Ar Rahma mosque in Toxteth, Liverpool, yesterday, where they dedicated part of their prayers to Mr Bigley and his family. Last night more prayers were said at a multi-faith candlelight vigil at the Anglican cathedral in the city. Mr Bigley's mother, Lil, 86, was released from hospital yesterday after falling ill following a live television appeal on Thursday evening.
©The Guardian

15/9/2004- This is the fifth year, when the CR government has supported project tolerance that is focused on strengthening tolerance and understanding between ethnic minorities and majority. The project is a component within the frame of the governmental "Campaign Against Racism" program. The same as the last year, 4 million Czech crowns has been assigned to the campaign, which is coordinated by Jan Jarab, the Commissioner for Human Rights. "This year's campaign is made up of four particular projects that address different groups of citizens. Continuity connected to previous years is guaranteed by successful formative-educational project "Diversity into Libraries III" that has realized the Multicultural Center in Prague. The most noticeable part of the campaign introduces media-educational project that is making use of "public relations" instruments. This project, called "We all are Victims," is focused on young people in particular. The author of the project is Creative Bazaar," as has Katerina Jacques, from the office of the Governmental Council for Roma Community Affairs, stated in the press report. For the purpose of more targeting and more effective governmental campaign against racism, the Tolerance association and the civic society realize monitoring of the Czech right-wing extremisms. According to governmental officers, the monitoring should contribute to following campaigns being even more effective in setting and describing needs of the society and strengthen effectiveness on the target groups. "Within the frame of the campaign, the government offers a financial participation to the National Educational Fond as a co-financing share of the national educational campaign against discrimination. Coffers for the project will be extracted from the "Action Community Program for Combating Discrimination (2001-2006)." Focus of the project is anti-discriminatory policies and the EU law training intended for judges and officers. The proposal is being adjudicating by the European Commission," stated Katerina Jacques at the end of the press report.
Romano vodi

European Roma Rights Center * League of Human Rights * Life Together * IQ Roma Service

16/9/2004- Recent days have seen an outbreak of interest on the part of media in the Czech Republic about the theme of coercive sterilisations of Romani women in the Czech Republic. The organisations named above therefore issue herewith public comment on the problem of coercive sterilisations of Romani women in the Czech Republic, and on measures taken by public authorities to date to act on the issue, with the intent of clarifying positions. From the 1970s until 1990, the Czechoslovak government sterilised Romani women programmatically, as part of policies aimed at reducing the "high, unhealthy" birth rate of Romani women. This policy was decried by the Czechoslovak dissident initiative Charter 77, and documented extensively in the late 1980s by dissidents Zbynek Andrs and Ruben Pellar. Human Rights Watch addressed the issue in a comprehensive report published in 1992 on the situation of Roma in Czechoslovakia, concluding that the practice had ended in mid-1990. A number of cases of coercive sterilisations taking place in 1990 or before then in the Czech part of the former Czechoslovakia have also been recently documented by the ERRC. Criminal complaints filed with Czech and Slovak prosecutors on behalf of sterilised Romani women in each republic were dismissed in 1992 and 1993. No Romani woman sterilised by Czechoslovak authorities has ever received justice or even public recognition of the injustices to which they were systematically subjected under Communism.

During 2003 and 2004, the ERRC and partner organisations in the Czech Republic have undertaken a number of field missions to the Czech Republic to determine whether practices of coercive sterilisation have continued after 1990, and if they were ongoing to the present. The conclusions of this research indicate that there is significant cause for concern that to the present day, Romani women in the Czech Republic have been subjected to coercive sterilisations, and that Romani women are at risk in the Czech Republic of being subjected to sterilisation absent fully informed consent. During the course of research, researchers found that Romani women have been coercively sterilised in recent years in the Czech Republic. Cases documented include:

  • Cases in which consent has reportedly not been provided at all, in either oral or written form, prior to the operation;
  • Cases in which consent was secured during delivery or shortly before delivery, during advanced stages of labour, i.e. in circumstances in which the mother is in great pain and/or under intense stress;
  • Cases in which consent appears to have been provided (i) on a mistaken understanding of terminology used, (ii) after the provision of apparently manipulative information and/or (iii) absent explanations of consequences and/or possible side effects of sterilisation, or adequate information on alternative methods of contraception;
  • Cases in which officials put pressure on Romani women to undergo sterilisation, including through the use of financial incentives or threats to withhold social benefits;
  • Cases in which explicit racial motive appears to have played a role during doctor-patient consultations.
    Officials in the Czech Republic have acknowledged privately (although not yet publicly) to the ERRC that there is a serious problem of a lack of patients rights culture in the Czech medical community.

    Coercive sterilisation is a very serious form of human rights abuse. Coercive sterilisation is a violation of the bodily integrity of the victim and can cause severe psychological and emotional harm. In addition, coercive sterilisation restricts or nullifies the ability of a woman to bear children, and does so without her having been able to participate fully in a decision of such evident import, the consequences of which are in many cases irreversible. In June 2004, the UN Committee Against Torture recommended to the Czech government that it "investigate claims of involuntary sterilisations, using medical and personnel records, and urge the complainants, to the extent possible, to assist in substantiating the allegations". The ERRC has presented concerns related to the coercive sterilisation of Romani women in the Czech Republic to public authorities on a number of occasions. Most recently, complaints filed on behalf ten victims of the practice were filed with the Office of the Public Defender of Rights ("Ombudsman") last week by the ERRC and local counsel, acting with very significant support by the League of Human Rights and the organisation Life Together. The ten case filed are not the only cases of coercive sterilization of Romani women in the Czech Republic of which we are aware. They are rather ten cases in which a convergence of factors including but not limited to the willingness of the victim to pursue legal measures under present conditions, our independent assessment of the victim's ability to endure difficult legal proceedings, as well as a number of other factors, have converged to make formal complaints possible.

    The ten cases presented to the Ombudsman require remedy without delay. In order for justice to be done and to be seen to be done for all victims of these practices however, we believe the nature of the issue is such that it will ultimately require a law establishing (i) recognition that practices of coercive sterilization have been prevalent in the Czech Republic; (ii) procedures (including all relevant safeguards for the safety and privacy of the complainant) specific to the issue of coercive sterilization, under which victims of such practices may come forward and claim due compensation. The organisations named above urge the Czech government to undertake the following:
  • Establish an independent commission of inquiry investigating the allegations and complaints of coercive sterilisations. Thoroughly investigate reported cases of coercive sterilisations, and make available - and widely publicised procedures - for women who believe they may have been abusively sterilised to report the issue. These procedures should ensure privacy rights, as well as rights related to effective remedy. Provide justice to all victims of coercive sterilisations, including those coercively sterilised under Communism. Conduct ex officio investigations to ascertain the full extent of coercive sterilisations in the post-Communist period.
  • Review the domestic legal order in the Czech Republic to ensure that it is in harmony with international standards in the field of reproductive rights and provides all necessary guarantees that the right of the patient to full and informed consent to procedures undertaken by medical practitioners is respected in all cases.
  • Promote a culture of seeking full and informed consent for all relevant medical procedures by providing extensive training to medical professionals and other relevant stakeholders, as well as by conducting information campaigns in relevant media.
  • Undertake regular monitoring to ensure that all medical practitioners seek to attain the highest possible standards of consent when undertaking sterilisations and other invasive procedures.
    ©European Roma Rights Center

    Opponents say affirmative action is unconstitutional, some say not

    20/9/2004- A clause that legislates equal opportunity for Roma people earned a resounding majority vote in parliament in May. Now it is under attack by the same group that opposed it. The Christian Democratic Movement is asking the Constitutional Court to strike the law as unconstitutional. At a press conference on September 13 Slovak Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic told journalists that positive discrimination, including various quotas designed to help some social groups gain greater access to jobs and education, "infringed on human dignity". "Every kind of discrimination is bad in my opinion, both the negative and positive," the minister said. He said that quotas "strengthen the stereotype that some groups cannot achieve success without special protection". Lipšic's legal argument centres on his assertion that the constitution explicitly denies racial or ethnic groups from gaining advantages or suffering disadvantages by stating that all people are equal. The minister asked the Constitutional Court, a top judicial body that decides over legal disputes, to inspect the clause. Pál Csáky considers the positive discrimination legislation perfectly legal. Slovakia's deputy PM for minorities and human rights, Csáky said that the clause is a temporary measure to "ensure unfairly disadvantaged groups have a chance to match the rest of society". Csáky's spokesman Martin Urmanic also noted that various experts from the European Commission proclaimed the Slovak anti-discrimination clause one of the most modern pieces of legislations of its kind in the EU. Lipšic believes that racial or ethnic origin alone cannot justify any type of discrimination legislation.

    Marian Posluch, the head of the state law department with the Comenius University's Faculty of Law in Bratislava, agrees with Lipšic that the clause is in conflict with the constitution. "The Slovak constitution states clearly that all people are equal," Posluch told the private news agency SITA on September 13. Posluch also said that introducing the positive discrimination clause with vague language such as "balancing measures" made it unclear when, and for whom, the positive discrimination clause could be used. If the top court decides that legislating equality is indeed incompatible with the Slovak constitution, Roma representatives said they fear that the gap between Roma and non-Roma people in Slovakia will widen. According to various estimates, Roma in Slovakia count between 300,000 and 500,000 people. They are the poorest in the country, often living in ghettos and settlements mainly in Eastern Slovakia. They suffer high unemployment rates and often are subject to social exclusion. Alexander Patkoló, head of the Slovak Roma Initiative party (RIS), said the clause is an invaluable tool to help improve the Roma situation. "RIS supports positive discrimination for Roma people, particularly in the labour market. We see it as an inevitable temporary measure," Patkoló told The Slovak Spectator. Klára Orgovánová, the cabinet's plenipotentiary for Roma Communities told The Slovak Spectator in July that Slovakia's central authorities - the labour and health ministries - were also opposed to granting Roma people temporary balancing measures. Even those who are wary of affirmative action measures see the need for passing them to legislate equality.

    Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations Kálmán Mizsei said recently, "The Roma population of Slovakia is so much behind the mainstream, and it is so much a target of prejudices, that its problems cannot be solved exclusively on the basis of the civil principle [that all people are equal]." He told The Slovak Spectator, "In the micro-cosmos, it is possible that supporting the Roma groups in eastern Slovakia could hinder the socially disadvantaged Slovaks or ethnic Hungarians in the region. "However, our latest global human development reports for 2004 unequivocally show that without well targeted affirmative action, the problem of discrimination either cannot be cured, or will take a great deal of time to rectify," Mizsei told The Spectator.
    ©The Slovak Spectator

    15/9/2004- The Liberal Party's integration spokeswoman will sponsor a bill making it easier for welfare officials to forcibly remove immigrant children whose parents forbid them from integration into Danish society. Liberal Party integration spokeswoman Irene Simonsen has proposed removing children from immigrant families, if parents refuse to let them integrate into Danish society. Simonsen has proposed placing these children with foster families capable of instilling democratic values in them. "Forcibly removing children from their parents' homes is a drastic step, but we need to focus on the children's best interests. Their interests are not being served by raising them to be hostile to Danish society. If they're held back from integration and subjected to psychological pressures, it could force them on to a path of delinquency, crime and perhaps even eventual recruitment by extremist groups. The system must step in and remove these children, so they can be raised in foster care according to democratic norms," said Simonsen, who has not yet presented her proposal to the Liberal Party's parliamentary group. According to Simonsen, today's child welfare system only intervenes in cases involving actual neglect. "But there's a hard core of families out there that make no secret of their hatred for Denmark. They're beyond the reach of education, even though a number of approaches - from incentives to penalties - have been tried. Their children may not be victims of abuse in the classic sense, but they're not being raised to be part of society. It's time to get tougher with these families and consider forcibly removing their children," Simonsen told daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

    Each year, some 14,000 Danish children are placed into foster care. In 90 percent of these cases, the decision to remove children from their parents' homes is voluntary, and conducted in cooperation between welfare authorities and parents. The National Association of Local Authorities (KL) reports that relatively fewer children of immigrant background are placed in foster care, compared to Danish children. "This is due, among other factors, to cultural differences, as immigrant parents have a tougher time accepting that they're not up to the task (of raising their children). In some councils, meanwhile, it's impossible to find enough qualified foster families," said Henrik Skovdal, a child welfare consultant with KL. Skovdal cautioned against believing that more involuntary child removals would result in better integration for immigrant children. "There is no statistical basis to indicate that it is in any way helpful," said Skovdal. The right-wing Danish People's Party has come out in support of Irene Simonsen's proposal. Deputy party leader Peter Skaarup says welfare officials have been too hesitant to take action against immigrant families. "It is neglectful to send one's child to a Koran school in Pakistan that uses strict indoctrination," said Skaarup. The Social Democrats support removing more immigrant children from troubled homes, but would prefer to see action taken in cooperation with parents, and has urged welfare officials to recruit more foster families.
    ©The Copenhagen Post

    15/9/2004- Some 250,000 foreigners who have had their asylum applications rejected continue to live in France because of practical difficulties in carrying out deportations, a confidential government report published by Le Figaro newspaper Wednesday showed. According to the study by the General Inspection of Social Affairs (IGAS), since 1998 "250,000 people refused the right to asylum remain on French territory". Nearly a quarter of that number are made up of entire families. France receives around 60,000 asylum applications per year, but 80 percent of them are rejected. Many of the immigrants, finding themselves staying illegally in the country, slip away into "clandestinity", the report said, adding that, for those with family living in France, deportation "remains difficult to carry out on any big scale, especially in the presence of children". The lack of detention camps and strong enough laws and especially the negative perception such measures create for French voters makes the task almost impossible, it said. France spent 286 million euros (350 million dollars) last year on its asylum application programme. Experts cited by Le Figaro estimated that 43 million euros of that sum was spent on those rejected who continued to be lodged at tax-payers' expense. The conservative government of President Jacques Chirac has taken steps to tighten the handling of asylum-seekers, notably by making them register with a specially created body and by speeding up the review of the applications.
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    19/9/2004- France's education minister has said about 100 Muslim girls are still refusing to adhere to the new ban on Islamic headscarves in schools. Speaking on French radio, Francois Fillon said that the number was far lower than many had predicted. Implementation of the law had gone smoothly, the minister said. In his first assessment of the impact of the law, Mr Fillon said that more than 600 girls had initially refused to remove their headscarves. But in the majority of these cases the school authorities had eventually prevailed. That left 101 girls still holding out.

    Absence of chaos
    Every effort was being made to persuade them to comply, Mr Fillon said, but if they continued to refuse, then school heads would have no choice but to expel them. With some six million girls attending French schools, the number of headscarf problems is minuscule and the government is clearly pleased that the chaos which some predicted has never materialised. In this, the hostage crisis - the demand by an Iraqi extremist group holding two journalists that France rescind the law - and the subsequent universal outcry among French Muslims may have helped. But the fact remains that, even before the law came in, the number of Muslim girls wearing the headscarf to school was in the hundreds, no more, with the vast majority either indifferent to it or opposed.
    ©BBC News

    19/9/2004- In a new autobiography France's best-known gay politician Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe has delivered a broadside against the country's prevailing homophobia and attacked President Jacques Chirac for failing to fulfil campaign promises to defend gay rights. The 54 year-old Socialist, who in 2001 was elected the capital's first ever left-wing mayor, says that French attitudes have certainly developed in the last 20 years - largely as a result of AIDS - and "in some quarters to be homophobic is seen as a sign of poor taste." But he says the progress is relative. "Outside certain circles homosexuality is still something to be endured. In small towns, and especially in the countryside, homos are condemned to secrecy. To be homo is to be different, from a minority - not like the rest," he writes. In his book - entitled "Life, passionately" - Delanoe describes how he made the decision to come out as a gay in a television interview in 1998, a step seen as highly unorthodox because it broke the unwritten French law that a politician's private life should remain his own affair. Delanoe says he came under pressure from friends not to go public, but over-ruled them because of the good he felt it would do to the cause of gay rights. "Would not my intervention help even if only in a small way to lighten the burden of secrecy borne by so many people," he writes. And he launches a withering rejoinder against France's powerful Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who recently accused the mayor of "confessing" his homosexuality as a political ploy ahead of the Paris elections. "In reality I am extremely modest when it comes to my private life. Can one say the same of Nicolas Sarkozy? ... You spend the whole time not just confessing your heterosexuality but putting it on parade, conniving in the lavish media coverage of your family life," he writes.

    Delanoe reserves stronger criticism for Chirac, who he says paid lip service to gay rights during his campaign for re-election in 2002, promising in an interview with the gay magazine Tetu to push for a law against homophobia but dropping the idea once back in the Elysee palace. "Since 2002 ... no progress has been made. Associations still do not have the right to launch civil action suits (to prosecute homophobic acts), as they can for racist or anti-Semitic crimes. And yet homophobia continues to hit hard," he says. Born in Tunisia in 1950, Delanoe came to France at the age of 14 and entered Paris politics in 1977. A close ally of former prime minister Lionel Jospin, he is regularly cited as one of the most popular left-wing leaders in France, and even as a possible candidate for the next presidential race in 2007. In his autobiography Delanoe reveals that he came close to adopting two children in the 1990s. He acquired the necessary authorisations, but finally decided that the pressure of work was too much. "I shall never be a father," he writes. "But not because I am homosexual." He also comes out strongly in favour of gay marriage, which is banned in France. "In the name of what can one reject this demand for equality? Two people love each other, want to affirm it publicly and have it recognised by society. There is absolutely no reason to refuse them," he says.
    ©Expatica News

    24/9/2004- A gay couple have been formally recognised as parents by the French state, setting a precedent that could eventually apply to an estimated 200,000 children living in homosexual families in France. Carla and Marie-Laure, and their daughters Giulietta, 10, Luana, seven, and Zelina, five, have been declared one family by the French courts - the first family with parents of the same sex to be officially endorsed. The ruling could have far-reaching consequences for the survival of legal barriers against homosexual marriage, adoption and artificial insemination. Marie-Laure, 45, and Carla, 46, who live with their children in Paris, have fought a long campaign to be recognised as one family, backed by teachers, paediatricians, neighbours and relatives. By a series of legal manoeuvres, they have succeeded in zig-zagging through French laws which refuse to recognise gay families. Marie-Laure is the natural mother of the three children. One was born after artificial insemination in France. When France outlawed artificial insemination to lesbians she, like hundreds of other women, travelled to a clinic in Belgium. In 2001, the three children were adopted by Carla. Marie-Laure gave up her legal rights as their mother but remained as, de facto, one of two mothers. After a change in French family law, Marie-Laure applied last year to have her "parental authority" over the children restored, jointly with her partner. The government argued the two women had deliberately set out to out-flank the opinions of French law-makers and that Marie-Laure's case should be thrown out of court. After hearing from teachers, social workers, doctors and neighbours that the three girls were happy and well-adjusted and regarded both women as their mother, the family court of the Tribunal de Grande Instance decided Marie-Laure's parental authority should be restored "in the best interests of the children". The judge said it was clear both women gave the children "the love, attention and care, appropriate to their age". The Justice Minister, Dominique Perben, said yesterday that no firm precedent had been set. This was a one-off case, he added.
    © Independent Digital

    16/9/2004- Both Serbian and Hungarian leaders in Vojvodina agreed on Tuesday, September 10, that racially-motivated attacks on ethnic Hungarians in the northern Serbian province were 'isolated incidents'. Speaking to Hungarian journalists, Serbia and Montenegro prime minister Vojislav Kostunica said that racially motivated attacks were bad in themselves, but to exaggerate their scale would be even worse. Politicians and officials from the autonomous province, the city of Subotica and the prime minister himself spoke to journalists on a trip to the Vojvodina organized by the Hungarian foreign ministry. Károly Pál, deputy chairman of the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians suggested that increasing levels of attacks on ethnic Hungarians in the province could partially be attributed to the sense of crisis in Serbian society, to the lack of opportunities open to the young in particular. Young Serbians were often unable to believe that they had any long-term prospects, he said, and many simply sought to get out of the country. This was creating a sense of insecurity and alienation. These were all symptoms of economic collapse, "the only solution to which is economic growth". He regarded Hungary's accession to the European Union as a positive step, however. "Hungary benefited enormously from Austria's 1995 accession to the EU, and we can hope that with Hungary's accession, the benefits will be similarly exported to Vojvodina and Serbia." He outlined more specific measures that needed to be taken. "There are too few policeman in the province who speak Hungarian, and it's hard for ethnic Hungarians to get jobs with the police." Beatings were not particular to Hungarians, he added: attacks had been made on Serbs and Croatians as well.

    Officials from the county and provincial governments were quick to insist that there was no official discrimination against Hungarians in the province. Vladimir Duric, commissioner on minorities, explained that there were Hungarian-language education facilities throughout the province at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. "There is no official xenophobia here." "I think that the press has exaggerated the severity of the ethnic violence here. "This is not to diminish the seriousness of what is happening, but we should not get things out of proportion," commissioner Duric said. According to the Serbian Interior Ministry, there had been a total of forty-nine ethnically-motivated 'incidents' in the province since the beginning of 2003. These were ethnic incidents "in the broadest sense of the word", including graffiti, grave defacements, displaying of illegal symbols as well as various degrees of physical violence. Some local Hungarians disputed these figures, however. Some quoted figures exceeding three hundred, and it was also suggested that police frequently attributed attacks to unprosecutable minors, when in fact the perpetrators were above the age of criminal responsibility. Kostunica himself appears to have seized the opportunity afforded by the journalists' visit to visit the province for a few days, perhaps in an attempt to deflect charges that the Serbian government is taking the situation in the Vojvodina insufficiently. Following consultations with local religious and community leaders, he emerged to tell reporters that the government was keen to improve ethnic relations within the Vojvodina, which was "one of the most heterogeneous regions in Europe from the point of view of religion and ethnicity." Kostunica was concerned about the reporting of cases of ethnic violence in the press. "I don't think it is helpful to refer to incidents that have happened here as 'atrocities'." For one thing, the word atrocity did not exist in Serbian. More importantly, however, "it implies mass crimes of a very different order from what we have been seeing here".
    ©The Budapest Sun

    16/9/2004- Ministers from four EU member states - Austria, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - have presented a joint idea of establishing a refugee camp to provide shelter for a growing number of Chechen refugees. Meeting in Vienna on Wednesday (15 September) at the invitation of Austrian Interior minister, Ernst Strasser, for the first Austro-Baltic Security Summit, ministers of the four countries signed up to the idea. "Refugees from Chechnya represent a problem for all our four countries", the Austrian minister said at a press conference following the meeting. He pointed to Iraq and its neighbouring countries as the good example of such camps, because refugees do "not come to Europe". Lithuanian's Interior minister, Virgilijus Bulovas, pointed to Ukraine as the most obvious country to place a reception camp for the Chechen refugees.

    Constroversial idea
    This year Austria had - by the end of August - already received 4,221 applications from Russian asylum seekers, making them the largest single group of asylum seekers in the country, according to statistics from the Austrian ministry of the interior. It is believed that many of them are coming from the Russian breakaway republic Chechnya. Similar proposals to build transit camps for potential immigrants to Europe have been put forward by the British and recently revived by German interior minister Otto Schily. The incoming Commissioner for justice and home affairs, Italian right-winger Rocco Buttiglione has also backed the idea, which has stirred stiff opposition from, among others, the Liberals and the Greens in the European Parliament. A common declaration from the Austro-Baltic Security Summit will now be forwarded to the Dutch EU Presidency.

    17/9/2004- A major new report by the US State Department says certain religious groups still face discrimination in Belgium. The State Department's International Religious Freedom report is published once a year and the 2004 edition had some critical words when it came to Belgium. Although the report conceded that the Belgian constitution provides for religious freedom and that, "the government generally respects this," it nevertheless highlighted areas where some religious groups felt they were being unfairly treated. The report was particularly critical of the fact that Belgium defines the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), the Young Women's Christian Association and the Church of Scientology as, "harmful sectarian organisations." While this definition has no legal weight it has caused problems for some of the groups concerned, the report argues. It points to the a case where a Belgian prosecutor froze EUR 326, 000 in a bank account belonging to the Church of Scientology as evidence of such discrimination. The prosecutor froze the funds while investigating suspicions of money laundering. They were later unfrozen. Mormon groups meanwhile have complained that their members have often found it difficult to obtain visas to come and preach in Belgium. The report also says some Jehovah's Witnesses have complained about child custody rulings by certain Flemish courts. The judgements in question said visiting rights would only be granted to Jehovah's Witness parents if they pledged not to expose their children to their religion. Elsewhere the report expressed concern at the recent rise of anti-Semitic attacks in Belgium. But the study was quick to stress that the Belgian authorities were equally concerned about the issue and had pledged to tackle the problem. Belgian Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinkx, who is in charge of religious tolerance questions in Belgium, to La Libre Belgique newspaper that she had taken note of the reports content's but that she did not necessarily agree with all of its conclusions.
    ©Expatica News

    18/9/2004- Swiss citizens are to decide whether to make it easier for young foreigners to gain a red passport, in a nationwide ballot on September 26. The rightwing Swiss People's Party opposes proposals, approved by parliament, aimed at easing restrictions for foreigners who meet certain conditions. The debate in the run-up to the nationwide vote has focused on the integration of young foreigners in Switzerland and the government's immigration policy. However, the issue of whether citizenship applications should be decided in secret ballots, by local parliaments or special committees, is not part of the latest ballot. "The citizenship procedure in Switzerland is complex and can be costly for applicants. Young foreigners in particular feel they are being discriminated against," the government said in its official booklet published ahead of the vote. Jeremias Blaser, a political analyst at Fribourg University, said the government was trying to bring its citizenship policy into line with other European countries.

    Lots of foreigners
    "[By doing so] the authorities are hoping to change the debate about immigration because the relatively high percentage of foreigners is set to drop if the vote goes through." Foreigners currently make up 20.5 per cent of permanent residents in Switzerland. This figure is likely to decrease by about four per cent by 2025, according to Avenir Suisse, a think tank of the Swiss business community. Blaser added that political parties have a vested interest in the issue since the easing citizenship would significantly increase the number of potential voters. Under the proposal, foreigners aged 14 to 24 who have attended school in Switzerland for at least five years and meet certain other conditions would be eligible for a simplified citizenship procedure. Children born in Switzerland to foreign parents who went to school in Switzerland and meet certain other criteria would automatically qualify for citizenship. In addition, the government and parliament want to standardise the regular citizenship procedure by reducing the period of residency required to apply and setting unified administrative fees. Officials estimate that the number of naturalisations will temporarily increase by 40 per cent to 52,000 from 37,000 per year at present, if the proposals are accepted. However, the figures are expected to drop significantly in the medium term. Under Swiss law, federal, local and regional authorities are involved in the citizenship procedure. And many of the country's 26 cantons have their own special rules.

    The government, parliament and three of the main political parties are in favour of easing citizenship. Vreni Hubmann, a parliamentarian for the centre-left Social Democrats, highlights the importance of integrating young foreigners: "It is only fair to give full political rights to people who have been brought up here… and paid taxes." The rightwing Swiss People's Party argues that citizenship is something that should be earned, not given away. "It should not be made too easy for foreigners, "says parliamentarian Hans Fehr, who is also a leading member of the isolationist group, Campaign for Independent and Neutral Switzerland (CINS). The Swiss business community has noticeably steered clear of any major involvement in the vote campaign. "The ballot has no impact on labour market. It is not the passport of an employee that is of key importance, but his or her qualifications, " said Roberto Colonnello of the Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse. He added that the bilateral treaties with the European Union on the free movement of people removed the biggest obstacles for the Swiss economy.

    From no to yes
    Political analyst Jeremias Blaser suspects the business community is also pandering to People's Party, and he warns that Switzerland's image abroad could take another dent if the vote were to be rejected at the ballot box. "Foreigners and asylum policy have long been the core business of the People's Party," he told swissinfo. "But I'm not so sure about their view of Switzerland as a special country whose passports are particularly sought after. The latest opinion poll found nearly two out of three people interviewed came out in favour of easing citizenship rules for third-generation foreigners, while 53 per cent approved of new regulations for second-generation foreigners. Opposition appears to have increased over the past few weeks with 29 and 37 per cent respectively saying they would vote against the proposals. Similar plans to ease citizenship rules have been twice before rejected by the Swiss electorate. In 1994 a majority of voters came out in favour, but the proposed changes failed to get a majority of cantons, which is necessary for any proposal that would change the constitution. The number of so called second and third generation foreigners, mainly descendants of immigrants from Italy, Turkey, Spain, Portugal and the Balkans, has increased significantly in Switzerland over the past two decades.
    ©NZZ Online

    20/9/2004- Swiss voters will go to the polls on 26 September to decide on government proposals to relax the laws on naturalisation. Switzerland has some of the toughest citizenship rules in the world - the power to decide who can be Swiss or not lies with local communities. Foreign residents typically have to live at least 12 years in the country before they can apply, and they have to pay a fee, which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars. Furthermore, being born in Switzerland carries no right to be Swiss, the children and even grandchildren of foreign immigrants are not entitled to citizenship.

    Reforms proposed
    Now the government wants to make things easier. The new law proposes automatic citizenship for third generation immigrants, and an easier naturalistion process for the second generation. Roland Schaerer, who is head of the government's department of naturalisation, drafted the new proposals. He believes Switzerland's current system no longer works. "There are seven million people in this country," he explained. "And 1.5 million are not Swiss. We've got children who were born here, who are growing up just like Swiss children, but feel excluded because they know they won't be able to participate in our democratic process. "That's not just bad for them, it's bad for our society; a healthy democracy requires that everyone participates."

    Desire to vote
    Supporters of the changes say that, in Switzerland in particular, denying the vote to such a large section of the population is very unfair. The Swiss system of direct democracy means that the people vote on just about everything, from the appointment of teachers in the village school to whether the government should cut interest on state pensions. For young foreigners in Switzerland, the lack of a voice is a source of deep frustration. Fatma Karademir, who is 23, was born in Switzerland and has never lived anywhere else. But the Swiss authorities say she is Turkish, because her parents emigrated from Turkey over 40 years ago. "I feel like I am Swiss though," Fatma says. "I went to school here, I speak the language, my friends are Swiss; now I want them to make it official, I want the passport and I want to be able to vote." Following current Swiss law, Fatma has already applied for citizenship through her local village citizenship committee. They rejected her, saying she would have to live there another 10 years before they could really judge her suitability to be Swiss. And she knows that when she does finally appear before the citizenship committee, the fact that she has lived all her life in Switzerland will count less than the answers she will give to the committee's questions. "They'll ask me if I can imagine marrying a Swiss boy," she explains. "Or if I like Swiss music, or who I'll support if Switzerland play Turkey at football - really stupid questions."

    People Power
    The right of local communities to judge each and every application for citizenship individually is fiercely defended by many voters, who believe that local people are best placed to decide who is ready to be Swiss, and who is not. In recent years, the system has led to some rather unfair decisions. In some Swiss towns, applicants with any connection to the Balkans, or to Africa, are regularly rejected, even if they satisfy all the legal requirements for naturalisation. But the right-wing Swiss People's Party, currently the largest party in parliament, is firmly opposed to any relaxation of the system. Delegates have launched a vitriolic campaign to persuade voters that the government cannot be trusted to decide on citizenship. The party's posters, portraying hands, many of them black, snatching at Swiss passports, appeal to fear and prejudice among the voters. The party has also produced mock newspaper articles, claiming that if the laws on citizenship are relaxed, Muslims will soon outnumber Christians in Switzerland. Television debates on the citizenship issue have produced some bitter arguments, with many participants making it clear that they don't think anyone from former Yugoslavia is fit to be Swiss. The phrase "It's a different culture", has been a constant refrain. Opponents of the new law claim there are some nationalities which cannot possibly be integrated into the Swiss way of life. "Integration means that someone obeys our laws, and that he knows and understands our way of life and accepts that," said People's Party member of parliament Ulrich Schluehr. His fellow member of parliament Jasmin Hutter was quick to clarify what integration meant for her. "You know one of my best friends is Turkish originally," she explained. "But really you'd never know it, she's just like a Swiss person." For young people like Fatma Karademir, comments like these are depressing signs that the country which is her home is not ready to accept her as a full citizen. "It's as if they are saying to us, fine, live here, work here, and pay your taxes," she said. "And then after a long time, if we think you are good enough, we'll reward you with a Swiss passport." "We're all good enough," she continued. "Being Swiss is not something special for me, it's a simple fact of who I am. If they give me the passport it will be a sign that they accept that; that they say 'yes, you do belong'."
    ©BBC News

    26/9/2004- Three of Switzerland's four main political parties have launched an unprecedented joint attack on the rightwing Swiss People's Party, ahead of Sunday's votes. In full-page advertisements in Swiss newspapers, they denounced the party's descent into gutter politics. Political observers say the move marks a further erosion of Switzerland's long-standing tradition of consensus politics. Swiss politics has been in transition for several years, following the rise of the People's Party. The shift to the right in last year's parliamentary elections led to the People's Party gaining an extra seat in the seven-strong cabinet, upsetting the so-called "Magic Formula" that had been at the root of Swiss politics since 1959. "For several years now, political movements have been abusing freedom of expression," stated the advert, which was also signed by the presidents of two smaller parties.

    "False associations, whimsical figures, unprincipled defamations and hateful advertisements spread a climate of fear and hatred that nothing can justify… "The signatories of this appeal are sometimes adversaries, but they all belong to parties that have built modern Switzerland since 1848, based on dialogue and mutual respect." The signatories called on the Swiss public to vote on Sunday in favour of two proposals – opposed by the People's Party – aimed at easing naturalisation restrictions. The appeal follows the publication of highly controversial adverts opposing the moves by groups linked to the People's Party. One advertisement claimed that Muslims could make up the majority of the population by 2040, while another showed a Swiss identity card with a picture of the Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden. Another showed dark-skinned hands grabbing Swiss passports. Emanuel von Erlach, a political researcher at Bern University's institute of political science, told swissinfo that the joint newspaper appeal marked a new development in Swiss politics. "It is not new in Switzerland for one of the major parties to try to position itself against the others for tactical reasons," he said. "The People's Party has been doing this for years, but it is not the only one. "What is new, though, is that the other parties have come together in this form, with the publication of a joint full-page advert."

    Enough is enough
    "Possibly what has changed is that the latest campaign by the People's Party has been particularly dirty, and many people right across the political spectrum have just had enough," he added. However, von Erlach pointed out that there was a strong element of political manoeuvring on both sides. The appeal was signed by the presidents of the three oldest members of Switzerland's power-sharing government, made up of the centre-left Social Democrats, the centre-right Christian Democrats and Radicals, and the People's Party. The other two main signatories were the presidents of the Green Party and the Liberal Party. A spokesman for the People's Party dismissed the cross-party appeal as a late attempt to make up lost ground before Sunday's vote.
    ©NZZ Online

    20/9/2004- The government will introduce a compulsory two years residency in Norway for Norwegians who grow up abroad. Those who do not fulfill the required time in their home country will lose their citizenship the day they turn 22. "We have many Norwegian citizens who have never been to Norway. This is a problem," Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Erna Solberg told a press seminar on the government's integration policy in Oslo on Monday. Solberg revealed some of the suggestions in a proposal for new citizenship laws that will be delivered this autumn. Solberg also wants stricter rules for references for person who are normally automatically entitled to Norwegian citizenship between the age of 21 and 23, on the condition that they have lived at least ten years in Norway and at least five of these before the age of 16. In the past ten years about 10,000 persons per year have been granted Norwegian citizenship. The government will also propose to introduce a more formal ceremony associated with the transition to Norwegian citizenship. Solberg used the occasion to defend her tough new policy on those failing to achieve asylum in Norway, and said she did not regret telling Trondheim that offering to care for rejected refugees would turn Trondheim into "Somalia's largest city". Solberg said that those criticizing the new policy had no desire to confront the problem of what to do with refugees that failed to achieve asylum but refused to leave the country.

    20/9/2004- Norway's largest municipalities have begun to protest asylum policies that are creating a homeless population. Refugees that are refused asylum but either cannot or will not return home are turned out on the street, without rights. Local governments decry the policy as inhumane, newspaper Dagavisen reports. According to new policy asylum seeker lose the right to board and lodging at an reception center when their application is rejected. The government then defines them as being in the country illegally, and the refugees are only entitled to nominal emergency aid. On August 25 Oslo's city councilor Margaret Eckbo wrote to ministers Dagfinn Høybråten, Erna Solberg and Laila Dåvøy, who oversee social, local government and family affairs. She asked for a meeting in order to clarify how the City of Oslo should handle people ejected from state asylum centers, but has yet to receive a reply. "When the do not go home we cannot let them live on the street. No one can live on the street. I want to cover their expenses until they can travel home. Otherwise the state must keep them in dormitories," Eckbo told Dagsavisen. "The policy is excellent if these people just went back home but we also have some that are unreturnable. The state says we should just give them emergency aid, which is NOK 60 (USD 8.67) a day, but that is untenable," Eckbo said. In Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger, Kristiansand and Tromsø local governments have voiced despair and disbelief at the government's apparent disinterest in dealing with the consequences of the asylum policy. "I am astonished that the tragic consequences of what can happen have not been considered. When they are thrown out on the street without the means to live, the path to committing crimes to survive is short," said deputy mayor Pia Svensgaard in Tromsø."We cannot have people being thrown out on the street without anything to live on or a place to go. If this happens here, we must help. The government must sort this out," said Bjarne Ugland, deputy mayor in Kristiansand.

    24/9/2004- Oslo will be the host for the EuroPride festival in 2005. Event organizers expect around 50,000 homosexuals to flood the capital but city authorities have not allocated any funds at all to help. This leaves two people in charge of the entire project. The pair are now working feverishly to prepare ticket sales and arrange package tours to Oslo from destinations around Norway and Europe. "We are working on the program and to find hot names for the concerts," said project leader Arne Walderhaug. In 2003 city council leader Erling Lae led Oslo's gay parade through the streets and the 2005 version will be of record size as the city host's the European edition of the festival. The city budget for 2005 showed no sign of the project's petition for NOK 600,000 (USD 88,500) in support. "It would have been nice if we had been included in the budget proposal but we must be patient. The application will be considered by the culture council in the first quarter of next year," Walderhaug said. The EuroPride festival has a budget of NOK 5 million (USD 737,000).

    20/9/2004- Germany woke up to fears that the political tremors sparked by state elections in Saxony and Brandenburg on Sunday could lead to deeper division within their country and scare off investors. Observers say the success of the Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor to East Germany's communist party, and the extreme right National Party of Germany (NPD) and German People's Union (DVU) in Sunday's elections show how angry East Germans are at the reality they face 14 years after reunification. The PDS rode a wave of discontent over Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's tough social reforms to 28 percent of the vote, making them second-strongest party in Brandenburg, behind Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD). The governing SPD and conservative Christian Democratic Union "got a serious slap in the face," said Lothar Bisky, the Brandenburg parliamentary head for the PDS, a party that most analysts left for dead after their failure in the last federal election.

    Left-wingers "divide" the country, says Schily
    Though the party will most likely be excluded from a coalition government --- the SPD is more likely to pick the conservative Christian Democratic Union -- their success has nevertheless sent the government in Berlin a message, and one they don't like to hear. By making themselves, as a regional party, the "mouthpiece of a part of Germany" they are deepening the divide between East and West, Interior Minister Otto Schily said of the party, which has only found success so far in the east. The same goes for the NPD, which Schily tried and failed to ban two years ago. Based on their Sunday success, the right wing party can claim 12 seats in Saxony's parliament. The 9.2 percent they won was almost as much as the 9.8 percent of the Social Democratic Party, the party of Germany's chancellor.

    Right wing candidate ignored on television
    "Today is a fantastic day for all Germans that still want to be Germans," the NPD's top candidate, Holger Apfel, said during a round of candidate interviews in German station ZDF's studios. Soon after his comment, the other candidates walked off the set and the reporter broke off Apfel's diatribe. Political scientists say the miserable economic climate and the anger of young East Germans that fuelled the NPD's Sunday success could spark a worrying trend. "If some sort of economic miracle doesn't take place in the east, our society's potential for supporting right wing politics could reach high levels," said political scientist Jürgen Felter on the German talk show Sabine Christiansen, Sunday night.. He estimated the potential at 15 percent across Germany. Saxony state officials fear the presence of right- wing extremists in the state parliament will scare off the international investors that have made Saxony one of the few economic bright spots in the East. In recent years, the state has been able to profile itself as a center for bio-technology and microchip production while enjoying an increase in tourism. Ahead of the elections, Saxony's Premier, Georg Milbradt, said that should the NPD make it into the parliament, he needn't bother going to America anymore to promote his state.
    ©Deutsche Welle

    20/9/2004- Election gains made by German far-right parties have been described as a "catastrophe" by some politicians. The National Democratic Party (NPD), once compared to Hitler's Nazi party, achieved its best result since 1969 by winning 9% of the vote in Saxony. Voter discontent with economic hardship has been blamed for the shift towards a party which the German government tried to ban. Many are worried the results in eastern Germany will give the country a bad name abroad.

    But Frank Schwert, a member of the NPD's national leadership, insists their gains were not merely the result of protest votes.He says the NPD has shown itself to be the "conscience of the people in Saxony". "The policy of the government in Berlin, instead of supporting the economy, forces people into unemployment and poverty," he told the BBC. The far-right German People's Union (DVU) also gained more seats in the Brandenburg assembly, polling about 6%. The NPD's election campaign played down much of the anti-foreigner rhetoric of the party manifesto, focusing instead on the economy, although it did include slogans such as "Close the border". "We don't want Germany to become an immigration country. But that doesn't mean we are xenophobic," said Mr Schwert. "Many foreign employees are being brought to Germany because they can be paid less. German employees lose their jobs. No country in Europe or the EU is doing this and we think we have to protect Germany from these tendencies. "We have good relations with other parties in other countries, like the British National Party in Great Britain and also French and eastern European parties with similar alignments, this is not a sign of xenophobia."

    Democratic threat
    Government efforts to ban the NPD, after a wave of hate crimes by neo-Nazis in 2000, were rejected by the constitutional court last year. The NPD was accused of inciting a series of hate crimes, but claimed the government had told informants to incite racial hatred and recruit violent neo-Nazis to strengthen its case. The NPD was founded in 1964 and now has around 5,000 members, compared to the 28,000 it had at its height in the late 1960s. The party is viewed as more radical than other right-wing parties and organises marches, often joined by skinheads. Some reports say party members seek to lie about the Nazis' responsibility for the outbreak of World War II and to deny the uniqueness of the Holocaust. During the campaign to ban the NPD, parliament described the party as a threat to German democracy.

    Hurdles passed
    Thomas Kielinger, of the German Die Welt newspaper, says the election results will test the German democratic fabric. "We have yet to see how the democratic culture of Germany will fair in real economic hardship," he said. Before the election, the German embassy in London said "extreme right-wing parties like the Republicans (REP), DVU and the NPD are regarded with widespread suspicion and have consistently failed to make political inroads on a national level, lacking sufficient popular support to overcome the 5% hurdle (needed to enter state parliaments)". Now that they are making inroads, the German government is having to consider whether it is driving voters into the arms of groups it would rather did not exist.
    ©BBC News

    24/9/2004- The Berlin authorities have banned a march through the German capital by the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), planned for Saturday. "Anyone who uses incitement to separate people may not demonstrate in Berlin," said the city's interior minister Erhart Koerting. The NPD picked up 9.2% of the vote in recent state elections in Saxony. Its mottos for the Berlin march were to be "Berlin must stay German" and "Against Islamic centres in the city". The NPD's success in Saxony meant it gained seats in a German state assembly for the first time since 1968. The German government has described the NPD as a latter-day version of Hitler's Nazi Party and tried to ban it last year - a move rejected by the constitutional court. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder faces key local council elections in North-Rhine Westphalia on Sunday - Germany's most populous state.
    ©BBC News

    23/9/2004- Before they signed up to the EU, Catholic recruits Malta and Poland secured guarantees that - whatever reservations Brussels had about the compatibility of their strict abortion laws with women's rights - there would be no meddling. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was never likely to have much luck persuading the European Commission that his proposal to make adultery a crime should receive a similarly sympathetic hearing on religious grounds. To opponents of Turkey's bid for EU entry, the effort to re-introduce an adultery ban - repealed in 1998 because of its disproportionately negative impact on women - was further evidence that the country is just too Muslim for the club. It had, however, been part of a package of currently stalled reforms to the country's penal code which are for the most part seen as improving women's lot and bringing the country closer in line with the EU. "The adultery law has been held up as an example of women's oppression in an Islamic country," says Anna Karamanou, the former Greek head of the European Parliament's women's committee. "I'm totally against such a ban, but the problem is that it has overshadowed the fact that women's rights are improving there - slowly but surely. Some of us EU members might do well to remember where we were when we joined all those years back."

    Turkish women do enjoy greater freedoms than those in many other Muslim nations. For decades they have had the right to vote, access to education, the right to divorce and the right to abortion. Turks even elected a female prime minister in 1993. But by present EU standards, there is still a long way to go. Violence is a concern frequently cited as one of the key problems by Western non-governmental organisations. A recent report by Amnesty International estimated that at least one third of Turkish women are victims of domestic violence in which they are "hit, raped and, in some cases, killed or forced to commit suicide". Honour killings - murders of women accused of bringing shame on the family by conducting illicit affairs - affect Turkish society as they do other Muslim cultures. But, as elsewhere, the true figure for these deaths is shrouded in mystery. The reforms of the penal code took on some of these issues. If the row at home and in Brussels over the inclusion of adultery is resolved and the overhaul of the code approved, provocation will no longer be a defence in such killings. The concept of "honour", a societal code, is to go. It will also see that rape in marriage and sexual harassment are treated as crimes. However, to the consternation of women's groups, while it will limit rights to carry out virginity tests on women, it will not explicitly ban them. "The virginity testing is still an issue, a problem. But these are on the whole significant reforms for Turkey," says Selma Acuner, of the Kader women's rights group. "Obviously nothing is going to change overnight - and there are still cultural issues to get over, mentalities to change in what is still a very patriarchal society. "But we shouldn't underestimate what's going on here. The EU shouldn't neglect what's been achieved in the course of the last few years. It will be so unfair if it does."

    Economy and Islam
    Even before preliminary negotiations between Turkey and the EU were underway, feminist groups successfully campaigned for the overhaul of the civil code, eliminating the most anti-woman elements. On 1 January 2002, Turkish women became the legal equal of men. They were granted the right to an equal say in decisions regarding home and children, while property and assets were to be divided equally in a divorce. They were also allowed to take jobs without obtaining their husband's consent. But it is all very recent, and only on paper. Legislation takes a long time to compete with custom, and the figures still reflect a deeply unequal society. At 4.4%, the representation of women in Turkey's parliament may be higher than in many Middle Eastern nations, but it is among the lowest in the world. The female employment rate is meanwhile the worst in Europe, exacerbated by female illiteracy and poor education. One in every eight girls is out of school, often pushed into arranged marriages at a young age. "Some people say this is because of Islam," says secular women's campaigner Turkan Saylan. "It isn't - it is because of poverty. Once the country develops economically, I am absolutely certain that this will change - that fathers will stop using Islam as an excuse to take their daughters out of school. "It is joining the EU that will speed up this process. But meanwhile it is us here that have to stop Islam creeping through into legislation that oppresses women - that's what we have got to fight."
    ©BBC News

    By Jonny Dymond, BBC Istanbul correspondent

    25/9/2004- Debate about reforms to Turkey's penal code, critical to the country's bid to join the European Union, has highlighted the relationship between the mainly-Muslim state and the 25-member bloc. "Do you really think it's over?" I was asked earlier this week by a well-informed Turkish citizen, her eyes expressing deep concern. The "it" in question was Turkey's progress - until this week apparently inexorable - toward membership negotiations with the European Union. That such a question could be asked at this late stage, after more than 40 years of quasi-candidacy, is an indication of how deep the argument over the reform of the Penal Code struck. Even those used to the bizarre and apparently illogical twists and turns of Turkish policymaking and parliamentary procedure were left baffled by the row over the criminalisation of adultery. For a few days, it appeared to threaten the country's last major reform effort and with it the hopes of a positive report from the European Commission.
    But that argument is over.

    Darker corners
    Barring catastrophe, parliament will pass the last clauses of the reformed Penal Code when it meets in special session on Sunday. It should appear in the Official Gazette before 6 October and the last plank in Turkey's overhaul of its criminal, constitutional and human rights infrastructure will be in place as the Commission publishes its assessment of the country's fitness for entry into the EU. So was this strange affair anything more than a bad case of pre-nuptial nerves - a tense time in an intense relationship, as the Turkish representative to the EU called it in an interview with BBC World Service? It looked a little more than that. Light has been thrown onto the darker corners of both the EU and Turkey. Each side will have to get used to the other. After the Penal Code reforms were suspended in Parliament the muttering from the EU became vociferous. The reforms, officials said in briefings, simply had to be in place if the Commission was going to clear Turkey for membership.

    Sharp stick
    Those comments produced a sharp rebuke from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - Turkish policy would be decided in Turkey, he said, and the country would brook no interference from outsiders. It will have played well in the electoral heartland. But it is, of course, complete fantasy. Because Turkey has, by trying for membership, opened itself up to a more than a decade of being told what to do, in no uncertain terms, by the EU. The last three years have seen near-revolutionary changes; among them:

  • the Civil Code overhauled
  • minority groups given cultural rights
  • the military's role in government curtailed
  • freedoms of assembly, speech, and association all bolstered
    None of this would have come about, it is pretty fair to say, without the sharp stick wielded by Brussels. It has been a debate carried out largely between Turkey's elites and EU officials; the public has, for the most part, been uninvolved. But that could well change in the coming decade, presuming membership negotiations start. What will happen, a European diplomat asked me recently, when the Commission insists on an environmental upgrade to a factory that it cannot afford?

    Stubborn patriotism
    What happens if the factory closes? This would be taking place before Turkey is an EU member, as it attempts to bring itself into line with Europe over more than political criteria. The complaints about the attitude of the EU over the adultery legislation did not all come from die-hard Islamists; far from it. A fair amount of stubborn patriotism - you might call it nationalism - lies not far from the surface in Turkey. "We've done so much for Europe, and they've done nothing for us," I was told recently by a businessman in Istanbul. It is a common theme, amplified by the row over the Penal Code. It is a product of the lack of debate amongst citizens about the costs and benefits of Turkey's European dream. Maybe that debate is about to start. You cannot help feeling that now, rather than five years down the line, would be the best time.
    ©BBC News

    26/9/2004- Italy's reputation for religious tolerance was in the balance last week after a ban on women wearing burqas instigated in a tiny Alpine village began spreading across the country. An Italian woman who converted to Islam nine years ago and took to veiling her face after performing the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, has received two fines from the authorities in the village where she has lived all her life. Sabrina Varroni, 34, converted after marrying her Moroccan husband, with whom she has four children. There are 10 other Muslims in the village, but she is the only who wears the veil. The mayor of Drezzo, the 1,000-strong village near the Swiss border where she lives, has strong views on such practices. A member of the xenophobic and separatist Northern League, Cristian Tolettini found two laws on the books to help him stamp them out: one passed under Mussolini's fascist rule in 1931, banning the wearing of masks in public, and another dating from 1975, at the height of the Red Brigades scare, forbidding the wearing of items that disguise a person's identity. And he has instructed local police to enforce them. As a result, last week Drezzo's only policeman handed Ms Varroni two penalty notices on successive days, each for about £25: once when she was waiting at the bus stop for her children to come home from school, once in the municipal office. The following day she seemed likely to get another if she didn't remove her veil. Instead she stayed indoors. Despite the evident absurdity of a village woman known to all the other inhabitants being fined for setting foot outside her home, Mr Tolettini defends his action. For Ms Varroni to go around wearing the burqa, he said, was "a continual and conscious violation of the law" which was "not a question of principle but of correctness. The law of '75 was enacted in light of the terrorism of the Red Brigades, and today too it seems to me that reasons of security are not lacking." Through a lawyer, Ms Varroni said: "I have been wearing the veil for years, I am Italian, raised in Drezzo, and I have never done any harm to anyone. Why are they so furious with me?" The assault on the right to wear the burqa has been condemned as "an ignoble act of persecution" by left-wingers. Michele Ainis, a legal expert, told the newspaper Corriere della Sera that the law enacted under Mussolini was "one of the most fascist laws in 20 years of fascism", and that he was sure Italy's Constitutional Court would overturn this application of it. But this week Mr Tolettini's initiative began spreading. Mario Borghezio, a Northern League MEP, said the burqa deserved to be banned because it is "a symbol of the most obscurantist type of Islamic fundamentalism" and has become a "symbol of death" because some of the women involved in the Beslan massacre were veiled. In parliament, the Minister for Parliamentary Relations, Carlo Giovanardi, told MPs that the ban would be enforced. And in a village near Treviso, in the Veneto region, a Bangladeshi woman wearing a burqa was challenged by a policeman in the street and taken to the police station, where she removed it.
    © Independent Digital

    20/9/2004- Europe's top human rights body told governments Monday to urgently counter the rise in anti-Semitic attacks by extending anti-racism legislation and prosecuting perpetrators more vigorously. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, which is part of the Council of Europe, called on its 45 member nations to "ensure that criminal law in the field of combating racism covers anti-Semitism." It wants governments to penalize intentional acts of public incitement to violence, hatred or discrimination, public insults and defamation, threats against a person or group, and the expression of anti-Semitic ideologies. It urged member nations to "prosecute people who deny, trivialize or justify the Holocaust," and boost anti-racism education in schools as well as better training for police officers, judges and prosecutors. The report said criminal legislation should also cover anti-Semitic crimes committed on the Internet and on television, "and other modern means of information and communication." The report was drawn up in wake of a rise in attacks on Jews in Europe, which the commission said was partially fueled by the Mideast conflict. It did not lay blame on any group for the attacks, but said "victims of racism and exclusion in some European societies" were "sometimes ... perpetrators of anti-Semitism." It said anti-Semitism was being promoted "openly or in a coded manner" by some political parties and leaders, including mainstream parties. The 16-page report, however, did not cite any examples. The report said it was Europe's "duty to remember the past by remaining vigilant and actively opposing any manifestations of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance." "Anti-Semitism is not a phenomenon of the past and ... the slogan 'never again' is as relevant today as it was 60 years ago," the commission, based in Strasbourg, France, said in a statement.
    ©Associated Press

    With more and more immigrants living in institutionalized housing projects, a government committee has been assembled to map the emerging ghettoization problem

    1/9/2004- More and more immigrants and their children are clustering in certain public housing projects, or ghettos. In response, the government has asked its Ghetto Committee to identify the most socially disadvantaged areas in the country, and develop a so-called "problem barometer" for these regions. The government has earmarked more than DKK 60 million (8 million euros) in budgetary initiatives to combat ghettoization in Denmark, including homework help for children, job boutiques and volunteer initiatives. In general, the number of immigrants and their descendants settling in particular public housing projects has increased from 1995 to 2003. Immigrants and their children currently represent eight percent of the Danish population. The Mjølnerparken Project in Nørrebro is almost entirely composed of immigrants. While 8 out of 10 Mjølnerparken tenants in 1995 was a first- or second-generation immigrant, last year the figure climbed to more than 9 out of 10. When the Akacieparken Project in Frederiksberg was completed in 1996, 4 out of 10 residents were immigrants. Today's figure stands at more than 70 percent. Nationwide, some 250,000 people live in social ghettoes, loosely defined as areas in which more than 30 percent of the residents are either long-term welfare-dependents or unskilled single providers. One out of ten Danes was a member of either group in 1982 and 2002, but over the past 20 years, these people have tended to cluster in selected housing projects. Some 50,000 people nationwide live in the poorest areas, with 40 percent of residents on welfare. According to a report from the Economic Council of the Labour Movement, the majority of residents in the nation's poorest areas are ethnic Danes.
    ©The Copenhagen Post

    6/9/2004- Over 86,000 Flemish people took to the streets of Brussels outer suburbs on Sunday in a sporty show of Flemish nationalism. The organisers of the one day sporting event known as the Gordel said a total of 86,326 people took part. The idea of the Gordel is to show that the communes around Brussels are Flemish and intend to stay that way. The event was "more Flemish than ever" this year said the Gordel's organisers. The Gordel's centre piece is a 100 kilometre cycle ride that takes in all of the Flemish communes that ring Brussels. The sporting event is a major date in the Flemish calendar and leading Dutch speaking politicians including interior minister Patrick Dewael and labour minister Frank Vandenbrouke. Flemish people living on the outskirts of Brussels have traditionally been worried that more and more French speakers may move into their communes and eventually force the local authorities to use French as well as Dutch as an official language. Tension between French and Dutch speakers bubbles under the surface in Belgium almost permanently causing a level of tension between the two communities that leaves many non-Belgians totally baffled. But it has come to the fore again recently with the suggestion that one of Brussels bi-lingual communes – Brussels, Hal, Vilvoorde – should become Flemish speaking only.
    ©Expatica News

    6/9/2004- Education State Secretary Mark Rutte unveiled budget cuts that could restrict the entry of many non-European Union academics. The minister says expat students and professors will be welcome in the Netherlands on;y if they are the very best of their chosen field. At the opening of the academic year at Amsterdam University on Monday, the junior minister said in English that he wanted to attract the "best brains" to the Netherlands. He said attracting foreign students is essential for the continuation of high-quality Dutch education and the so-called "knowledge economy". Rutte praised the outstanding reputation of Dutch education internationally, singling out its modern education methods and knowledge of the English language. But he also warned that "results from the past offer no guarantee for the future". The focus in future will therefore be on quality rather than quantity, raising the prospect of a Charles Darwin-like survival of the fittest scenario. An Education Ministry spokesman told Expatica that instead of paying individual student subsidies directly to higher education institutes, non-European Union students will instead be placed in a scholarship scheme. But the funding will be significantly reduced from the present EUR 25 million that is paid annually to education institutes to just EUR 5 million in scholarships in 2005. That will increase to an annual EUR 10 million from 2006. Funding for expat students from outside the European Union is being reduced because Rutte claims the expected quality is not being obtained. There is simply not enough government money. Despite this, Rutte said the image that the Netherlands is internationally oriented and tolerant should be a reason for foreign students to study here, newspaper De Telegraaf reported. The Liberal VVD state secretary said that brilliant foreign academics ­ particularly if they remain at a Dutch university after completing their studies ­ can have a positive impact on Dutch academic life. He said the Dutch economy needs new impulses and must therefore invest in attracting foreign students. The statement was particularly aimed at graduates of exact sciences, of which a shortage exists in the Netherlands. Meanwhile, the funding paid to higher education institutes for EU students will remain unchanged, the ministry spokesman said. He did not have the annual funding figure immediately at hand.
    ©Expatica News

    A new project inspired by famous sitcom written for a Roma lineup

    6/9/2004- The famous Bill Cosby Show, about an upper-middleclass black family in America, has inspired screenplay authors and Slovak Roma politicians who are now campaigning to have a similar show produced in Slovakia featuring Roma actors. Roma politician Alexander Patkoló has even offered himself as a cast member, hoping the sitcom would help break the barriers between the Slovak majority and the estimated 350,000 to 500,000 members of the Roma community in this central European country. Patkoló, the head of the Slovak Roma Initiative (RIS) party, told The Slovak Spectator that that he would not refuse an offer to star as the new Roma Bill Cosby, joking that "an absolute majority of politicians are actors anyway." "I would love to play in a scene or two; of course, provided that I pass the auditions," he said. Roma people include some of the poorest in Slovakia, and some suffer high unemployment rates, bad health, lower than average education levels, and often fall victim to open or hidden racism - all factors that prevent their social advancement and complicate their competitiveness on the job market. They are often dismissed as lazy people who only live off the state, have many children in order to draw high social benefits, and care little about helping themselves escape the social misery they often live in.

    In Slovakia, where the national unemployment rate is still around 15 percent, and the average national wage is among the lowest of the new EU member states - around Sk15,000 ( 375) - improvement of the lives of the Roma comes slowly, a direct result of the many other problems this post-communist nation faces. There are Roma people of high academic and other achievements, businessmen, and politicians, though the latter are still unrepresented in the Slovak parliament. However, popular generalisations remain deeply rooted in Slovakia. The advocates of the new sitcom hope that it will help dispel these widespread beliefs. The working title of the series is Balá ovci (the Balá family) or Gypsies go to town. The basic premise of the series is that Anton Balá , a 40-year-old family father and mid-level entrepreneur in the building industry, and his wife Tereza decide to move to the centre of a big city. They live in one apartment with their six children and Anton's parents, surrounded by "white neighbours". According to the presentation of the project at www.makara.info, "from time to time the story becomes a portrait of 'white' society." The screenplay was written by ubomír Gregor and Oleg Makara-Kalmáry who, not being Roma, consulted with Roma people. "I often see negative reactions towards Roma and even towards this project. The majority 'white' population, including educated and respected people, often behaves in a racist way. I hope this show can help change this," Makara-Kalmáry said when asked what inspired him to write such a series. The show aims to promote ethnic and racial tolerance and coexistence, the web presentation of the project states. The authors want to offer the screenplay to the public TV broadcaster Slovak Television (STV) for consideration, and if that does not work out "we will be happy if any of the commercial or public broadcasters in Europe express interest in the show," said Makara-Kalmáry.

    According to Branislav Zahradník, a member of STV management, the TV station was not "against any good ideas". "I think that, despite his full schedule, TV director [Richard] Rybní ek will find some time to meet with Mr Patkoló within two weeks," Zahradník told the Nový as daily August 28. Patkoló already presented the idea to Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan who, according to Spokesman Juraj Tomaga, liked the idea because the Bill Cosby show had helped fight hidden racism in a witty way. "Minister Kukan likes the idea of supporting the RIS project because it can help, just like the US sitcom, to change the climate and bring about a more vigorous refusal of hidden racist expressions and opposition to the rights of national minorities," Tomaga said to journalists after Patkoló's meeting with the minister. Patkoló told The Slovak Spectator that he hoped the project would be realised and would contribute to a positive promotion of the Roma community among the majority population. According to Makara-Kalmáry, the show could help expose some of society's racist beliefs and then combat them through education and information about Roma people and their lives. "Racism is like alcoholism. No alcoholic admits that he is an alcoholic and neither do the majority of racists, except for the neo-Nazi types who are openly against other races. But unlike alcoholism, I believe that racism can be cured by education and knowledge," the author said. The Bill Cosby Show was launched in 1984 and fairly quickly became an established pop culture fixture until its end in 1992. In part the show argued that black families could be successful and could face everyday problems related to their lives, including racism.
    ©The Slovak Spectator

    7/9/2004- The Muslim community in Switzerland and the Federal Commission against Racism have condemned a controversial advert about Muslim birth rates. But they have decided not to make an official complaint against the advert, which was placed by a group linked to the rightwing Swiss People's Party. Publication of the advert comes less than three weeks before the country is due to vote on easing restrictions on Swiss citizenship for second- and third-generation foreigners. "Thanks to automatic naturalisations – Muslims soon a majority?" screamed the advert, which appeared in the weekend editions of several Swiss newspapers. It went on to suggest that the number of Muslims in Switzerland was doubling every ten years, and that they would make up 72 per cent of the population by 2040. The advert was published by a committee "against mass naturalisations", which is using the address of Ulrich Schlüer, a People's Party parliamentarian. The People's Party has denied responsibility for the advert, and says it does not finance the group concerned. However, the party – which is against easing the naturalisation process – did welcome the advert. "We think this advert is positive because it's important to inform the population ahead of the vote on September 26. It's helping us in our campaign," said People's Party spokesman Roman Jäggi. Jäggi also insisted that the content was in no way anti-foreigner.

    No complaint
    The Muslim community in Switzerland has condemned the advert but said on Monday that it would not make a formal complaint. Farhad Afshar, a professor at Bern University and a leading member of Switzerland's Muslim community, told swissinfo that it would be better to lead a political campaign against the advert instead. "But we Muslims have been hurt by this advert," said Afshar, who is also head of the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland. The Federal Commission against Racism has also decided not to make a complaint. But Georg Kreis, the organisation's president, said the advert was offensive and should be investigated by the authorities. "They must find out whether the anti-racism laws have been breached," he said.

    According to the Federal Immigration, Integration and Emigration Office, the statistics presented in the advert do not give a fair and accurate picture of the Muslim population in Switzerland. The advert shows a chart with official statistics for 1990 and 2000, and then "projects" its own statistics for the period up until 2040. "They say that every ten years you will have double the number of Muslims, so that by 2050 you will have more Muslims than inhabitants in Switzerland – that's absurd," the office's Mario Tuor told swissinfo. Tuor said it was true that the Muslim population in Switzerland had doubled between 1990 and 2000, due to the arrival of many immigrants from the former Yugoslavia. But he added that it was wrong to suggest that the Muslim population would double in the next ten years. According to Tuor, there are now fewer Muslims coming into the country and more immigrants from European countries. This is not the first time that the People's Party or groups allied to it have caused an outcry over the tone of their adverts. Last week anti-racism groups reacted angrily to a People's Party advert against easing citizenship rules which showed a box full of Swiss passports and coloured hands trying to grab them. In November 2003, the People's Party's Zurich wing – the home branch of Justice Minister Christoph Blocher – was accused of running an inflammatory campaign during the run-up to a vote on whether to recognise non-Christian faiths in Zurich, including Islam.
    ©NZZ Online

    8/9/2004- Representatives of Swiss towns and cities have criticised moves at a federal level to tighten the country's asylum laws. At a conference on Tuesday, they argued that politicians should be focusing on helping asylum seekers to integrate into society. Around 100 representatives of towns and cities across the country attended the one-day conference on asylum, which was organised by the city of Zurich. Monika Stocker, an official in charge of social welfare issues in Zurich, said one of the aims of the event was to make the voice of Swiss cities heard in the asylum debate. Stocker said towns and cities felt "excluded" from discussions on asylum issues, which were led by the federal government and the cantons. Conference delegates also described moves to tighten the country's asylum laws as "repressive", adding that they would drive refugees underground. Earlier this year the federal authorities introduced new measures stopping welfare payments for asylum seekers whose applications have been turned down. In May the House of Representatives voted in favour of stricter immigration and asylum procedures. The controversial package of measures, which still has to be debated in the Senate, aims to curb illegal immigration, crack down on abuse in the labour market and promote integration.

    Zurich project
    The conference also heard details of a pilot project which began in Zurich in 2003 to provide community work for asylum seekers. Regulations prevent any asylum seeker in Switzerland from working during his or her first three to six months in the country, depending on the canton. But Zurich city officials said the scheme had to date given more than 200 of the city's 5,000 asylum applicants the opportunity to work in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and parks. Zurich politician Andres Türler said that those who participated in the scheme received a "motivational" payment of around SFr210 ($165) per month. He added that participants also found it easier to integrate into the local community. One resolution adopted at the conference called for asylum applicants to be required by law to accept this type of community service work, adding that the cost of their wages should be shared by the federal government.

    But not everyone attending the conference welcomed the pilot project in Zurich. Oscar Tosato, responsible for youth and education in the city of Lausanne, said he approved of helping asylum applicants to integrate, but cautioned that there were risks involved in the community work programme. "It must not be used as a means of providing cheap labour. Shouldn't we really be creating jobs which are paid at the normal levels for these kinds of [community] tasks?" he asked. But Stocker said those who signed up to take part in the scheme were not stealing work from others who had the right to employment, adding that programme participants were assigned jobs which could not otherwise be filled. "A commission made up of representatives of the city, business owners and trade unions makes sure of this," she said.
    ©NZZ Online

    7/9/2004- Black schoolboys have been betrayed by the education authorities for almost half a century and are struggling to overcome racism from many of their own teachers, according to a damning new report out today. Members of an influential education commission say the failure of the schools system and individuals within it to successfully engage with students of African-Caribbean origin has severely hindered them and contributed to massive underachievement. Last year 70% of African-Caribbean boys in London left school with fewer than five or more GCSE's at the top grades of A*-C or equivalent, while African-Caribbean men are the least likely of any group to have a degree. During the research, which was commissioned by the London mayor, Ken Livingstone, and conducted over the past year, black boys complained of racism and stereotyping from teachers. They said chances of success were also limited by an archaic curriculum. Their parents told researchers they felt schools did not welcome their input. Black teachers spoke of discrimination. Only 7.4% of London's teachers are from ethnic minorities and 2.9% are black. The 285-page report, which represents the most exhaustive study to date of the educational underachievement of black boys, concludes that: "The English schooling system has produced dismal academic results for a high percentage of black pupils for the best part of 50 years."

    Mr Livingstone, who has called for action to ensure that the number of ethnic minority teachers in the capital rises to least 33%, said: "The composition of the teaching staff, governors and other professionals dealing with the education of our children must change dramatically to fully reflect the diversity of London's children." His officials have organised the London Schools and the Black Child conference to be addressed by schools minister Stephen Twigg on Saturday. In the study, conducted under the direction of the mayor's London Development Agency and an advisory board led by Diane Abbott MP, focus groups reached a wide degree of agreement: "The consensus was that low teacher expectations played a major part in the underachievement of African-Caribbean pupils. In addition inadequate levels of positive teacher attention, unfair behaviour management practices, disproportionately high levels of exclusions and an inappropriate curriculum took their toll." Pupils were acknowledged to suffer from negative peer pressure and many are said to be disadvantaged by inadequately funded schools with a high turnover of teachers. The insufficient level of involvement by some black parents is also singled out. The commission also heard evidence of direct discrimination. "Racism manifested itself most harshly in being over looked for answering questions, verbal aggression from teachers and harsher reprimands than for students from other ethnic groups for the same misdemeanour." The report says that relationships between black pupils and white teachers was generally characterised by "conflict and fear". One participant complained: "When it is white boys, it is a 'group' but when it is black boys it is a 'gang'. I think that's wrong."

    The commission found that in 2002, black boys started to lag behind from primary school year two. The gap widened every year after that. It plays down the role of social backgrounds because working class boys from other communities outperformed middle class African-Caribbean boys. In a series of recommendations, the commission calls for intervention on several levels. It urges ministers to give every parent three days a year paid leave so they can play a part in the schooling process. It also says black teachers should benefit from fast tracking and "golden handshakes". The commission calls for urgent action to reduce the number of black pupils excluded. Controversially, it suggests that heads should not exclude pupils for a first serious offence unless the catalyst is an incident involving a knife or gun. It calls for clear procedures which would allow pupils to report racism by teachers. But they also call on black parents to play a more proactive role with their children and schools, "regardless of resistance". Last year the government launched a new package - Aiming High - backed with £10m of extra funding to tackle the problem of African-Caribbean pupils' underachievement in both primary and secondary schools. A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We recognise that many pupils, particularly from African-Caribbean backgrounds are not achieving their full potential. That is why we are working with parents and community representatives to raise the achievement of minority ethnic pupils." Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "It is grossly unfair to blame teachers alone for a phenomenon which is more complex than the report appears to make out."
    ©The Guardian

    Former minister calls for entry to be restricted to people earning over £25,000 a year, writes Brendan Carlin

    7/9/2004- Tory leaders adopted a cautious approach last night to controversial proposals to restrict immigration to people earning over £25,000 a year. A report commissioned by David Davis, the shadow home secretary, called for the party to scrap Labour's "low-skilled, mass immigration" in favour of restricting immigration largely to highly-educated people capable of earning above-average salaries. The idea would help lower-skilled Britons to find jobs while also benefiting race relations, said a commission chaired by Tim Kirkhope, a former Tory immigration minister. But the proposals received a guarded welcome from Mr Davis. He said: "We will study the report carefully and consider what, if any, bearing its recommendations have on policy formulation." However, the party dismissed reports that it had already rejected the key recommendation to restrict immigrants to high-earners. "Nothing is ruled in or out," said a spokesman. Labour described Mr Kirkhope's high-earners recommendation as "rubbish", claiming that thousands of low-paid jobs would go unfilled as a result. A spokesman for David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said: "Can the Tories explain how anybody in London or any big city in the South East would get served in a restaurant or get their hospital ward cleaned?" Labour seized on Mr Davis's decision not to attend yesterday's launch of a book on immigration by Steve Moxon. The former civil servant was sacked after disclosing a visa scandal involving east Europeans that led to the resignation of Beverley Hughes, the immigration minister. In the book - The Great Immigration Scandal - Mr Moxon argues that the term "Paki" is often not derogatory. Mr Moxon denied any allegations of racism.

    A Conservative spokesman said: "David Davis had agreed to go provisionally and talk in favour of Steve as a whistleblower. "But that was before he saw the contents of the book. He then felt unable to attend. We do not endorse the views in this book. "We are not endorsing or agreeing with anything in the book." Yesterday's report by Mr Kirkhope, who is now a Tory Euro-MP, is his second on immigration and asylum in a year. Last September, an earlier Kirkhope commission came up with the idea of establishing asylum processing centres in remote parts of Britain or possibly off-shore - an idea quickly ridiculed by Labour as "fantasy island". Mr Kirkhope was commissioned to lead a second inquiry into what the Conservatives describe as the "current immigration shambles". His "innovative" report, published yesterday, stopped short of agreeing with the bald statement that "Britain is full". But it warned that Britain was "certainly one of the most densely populated countries in the world". The report contained 14 recommendations put forward for consideration for the Tories' election manifesto. At its heart is the proposal to move from "the current, low-skilled mass immigration to high-skilled economic migration". It says "work permits should only normally be granted for high-skilled jobs which pay more than the average salary (currently £25,000)". The findings will re-open the debate over whether migration benefits the economy or harms it by depriving existing residents of work. But Mr Kirkhope, who served as immigration minister from 1995 to 1997, said the proposals would be good for low-paid, low-skilled British workers, would reduce pressure on over-stretched public services and would also boost race relations.
    ©Daily Telegraph

    Police tell of sick threat by racists

    8/9/2004- Ethnic minority groups in Northern Ireland are to be given police protection following chilling warnings that they will be attacked on the anniversary of September 11, it emerged today. Police have confirmed that they have received "uncorroborated information" about possible attacks and that they would take "appropriate action to protect those who are vulnerable". The Belfast Anti-Racism Network today announced they would be holding a rally on Friday in defiance of the warnings and called for public support. A number of members of ethnic minority groups have been forced from their homes in sinister racist attacks in recent months. Loyalist paramilitaries have been blamed for some attacks in the past. Anna Lo of the Chinese Welfare Association said police told their members that minority ethnic groups may be a target for attacks around the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. She said: "We totally object to being linked with international terrorism and terrorist groups. "This is absolutely ridiculous to associate us or any other minority ethnic groups with 9/11. "The people who issued these threats are looking for excuses to frighten ethnic minority groups and this is totally unacceptable." The Anti Racism Network has announced it will be holding a public rally on Friday in Shaftesbury Square at 4.30pm as part of an initiative called Standing Together Against Racism. Spokeswoman Barbara Muldoon said members of the public would be encouraged to oppose racism and welcome ethnic minorities in the city. "It is a visible action by anti-racism activists and ordinary people from the area and is therefore very important as a step towards creating a climate where racism won't be tolerated and where diversity is respected. "It is very concerning that more attacks seem to be well planned and orchestrated, particularly after so many others recently. "Unfortunately, they are becoming more violent and increasingly frequent, yet there have been few, if any, successful prosecutions of those behind the attacks. "At Friday's event, it is planned that individuals will line the road holding letters that spell out an anti-racist message."
    ©Belfast Telegraph

    8/9/2004- Racism is "subtle and selfish" in Irish society and lack of services in deprived areas is often a major cause, it was claimed today. Community Affairs minister Eamon O Cuiv said the problem was inherent in Irish society and directed against asylum seekers, Travellers and even native speakers of the Irish language. He said that part of the source of racism in Ireland is in deprived areas where groups are competing for scarce resources and services. He explained: "It's got to do with poverty and lack of opportunity. People are afraid if they're on a housing list and they think somebody coming into their community is going to put them 10 places down that list. "I will continue to fight for the resources to ensure that we target the racism issue in all its forms." The minister was speaking at the launch of an information pack by a Government sub-committee on the issue of racism. National racism watchdog, NCCRI has recorded an average of 47 incidents every six months since its records began in 2001. It has already seen 50 such incidents in the last four months, many of which occurred during the Government's citizenship referendum campaign. Recent incidents included a racist attack on a South African asylum-seeker in Limerick, an assault on a Pakistani woman in Dublin and racially-abusive post sent to a Nigerian local election candidate. Minister O Cuiv pointed out that most forms of racism were indirect or subtle. He said: "People can be non-racist on one hand but act in a totally racist way on the other hand. This is a very complex issue. "We must adequately deal with racism and be equally hard on the subtle forms as well as the upfront forms that are easily identified." He referred to the "traditional antipathy" towards to the Traveller community but pointed out that "we embrace somebody like boxer Francie Barrett who comes from the Traveller family." Minister O Cuiv also said it was "absolutely fascinating" to watch how people objected to Government policy allowing for the translation of public documents into the the Irish language. He said: "People forget that there are two official languages in this country."

    7/9/2004- Five young members of France's small Sikh community were refused access to classes Tuesday, as a row broke out over whether their headwear constitutes a breach of the country's new ban on religious insignia in state schools. Parents of the teenage boys expressed anger that a compromise deal under which the pupils could wear a kind of under-turban - a more discreet version of the full turban worn by all Sikh males - had been broken by education authorities in the northeast suburb of Bobigny. "My son was supposed to go to classes today. He was able to get into the lycee but was not allowed into the classroom. Right now he is in the dining-room," said Gurdial Singh. "And yet he was wearing an under-turban, just a thin cloth for hiding the hair, just as we agreed with the authorities," he said. In all, five boys attending three high schools in the area were being barred from the classroom. Schools re-opened across France last Thursday, but the boys were told to stay away till Tuesday in the hope the dispute could be resolved. Teachers from Bobigny quoted in Liberation newspaper said they did not recognise any exemption for Sikh pupils from the "secularity law," which was passed in March with the aim of reinforcing the separation of religion and state in France. "You can't have two standards - one for the headscarf, one for the turban," said Daniel Robin of the SNES teaching union. Though the law's main target was the growing number of girls wearing the Islamic headscarf to school, large Christian crosses and Jewish skull-caps are also banned. However the authorities admitted that they had failed to consult the country's 7,000-strong Sikh community, for whom wearing the turban is a mandatory injunction. In January, Sikhs from across Europe rallied in Paris to demand a dispensation from the law. In discussions with the government, the community argued that the turban is not a religious symbol but a cultural one because the rule contained in Sikh scriptures is for men not to cut their hair and the turban is merely a way of containing it. "In a letter on May 10 the prime minister (Jean-Pierre Raffarin) gave us guarantees that our children would receive an education. In fact they were promises made out of thin air," said another parent Karmvir Singh.
    ©Expatica News

    7/9/2004- A rightist German party known for agitating against foreigners and Jews narrowly failed to win seats in state parliament elections last weekend - but experts warn the far-right is likely to sweep to victory in two upcoming polls later this month. The National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) stunned observers by winning 4 percent in the western Saar state election Sunday. Germany's proportional representation electoral system - which requires a party get at least 5 percent to enter parliament - means the NPD will not be represented in the state's Landtag. But the upswing for Germany's oldest rightist party, which is widely viewed as the best organised and most dangerous in the country's far-right field, has many people nervous. Unlike other rightist parties, the NPD has close ties to violent neo-Nazis and skinheads who are estimated by the Verfassungschutz, Germany's domestic security agency, to number 13,000 nationwide. Boosted by its success, the NPD is now campaigning hard in eastern Saxony state which holds elections in 19 September. Another far-right party, the German People's Union (DVU) is running in neighbouring Brandenburg state which votes the same day. Both parties have backed protests over the German government's planned cuts to unemployment benefits and they provide an alternative for people who can't bring themselves to vote for the former East German communists. Indeed, the NPD preaches what it terms "social-revolutionary nationalism" and voter surveys in the Saar show it drew former supporters of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) from either the working class or the ranks of the unemployed.

    Peter Loesche, a political party researcher at the University of Goettingen, said the publicity splash won by the NPD in the Saar is giving both parties a crucial bounce in final weeks of campaigning. "The NPD in Saxony and the DVU in Brandenburg will make it into parliament," he predicted in a Thueringer Zeitung newspaper interview. Opinion polls show the NPD in Saxony at 5 percent with a further 9 percent saying they "may" vote for the far-right. Polls have in the past sometimes underestimated rightist support in Germany because voters refuse to reveal their true preferences to pollsters. In Brandenburg polls currently put the DVU at 3 percent. Both the NPD and DVU make no secret of their dislike of foreigners who comprise about 7 percent of the German population with Turkish nationals, who number almost two million, being the biggest group. "Have a good trip home," declares one NPD poster with a picture of Turks carrying bags over their shoulders walking toward a minaret. The DVU is even more direct and its campaign banners plastered along Brandenburg's roads demand "German jobs for Germans first" or for "criminal foreigners" to be expelled.

    Germany's Verfassungsschutz says the 5,000-member DVU, led by Udo Voigt, has a strong "affinity" with Adolf Hitler's Nazis. Former Third Reich leaders including Hitler deputy Rudolf Hess are viewed as heroes and regularly celebrated in NPD marches. The Schroeder government tried to ban the NPD but this was slapped down by a high court ruling last year. "The NPD agitates ... in an unchanged and aggressive racist and anti-foreigner manner," says the Verfassungsschutz in its latest annual report. NPD officials talk about "bio-cultural roots" and warn allowing Turkey to join the European Union is nothing less than a question of Germany's "survival or fall." Turkish membership, says the NPD, threatens "the continent of white nations with disintegration and decomposition." The NPD candidate in Saxony, Holger Apfel, calls for recreating Germany in its old borders prior to 1945. This would mean seizing lands belonging Poland and Russia since World War II. "Nothing and nobody will keep us from our struggle for the Reich," said Apfel as quoted in the news magazine Der Spiegel. NPD leaders also "spread anti-Semitic propaganda," says the domestic security agency. The party claims with regard to the Iraq war that the "beaming winners are under the Star of David with neo-conservatives in the U.S. being either Jews or serving the state of Israel." An NPD document quoted by the security agency describes Judaism's Torah as being "the orginal document of Jewish national hatred." Unlike other European countries such as France, Austria, the Netherlands or Italy, Germany has never had a united far-right with a single charismatic leader. Instead, three rightist parties have struggled to win support with the NPD having been founded in 1964 but only winning its last seats in a regional election in 1968. In the early 1990s the Republikaner (Reps) party, founded in 1983 and led by a burly former Waffen SS trooper, entered several regional assemblies but after infighting was tossed out of office. More recently the DVU, founded in 1987, scored its biggest victory in eastern Saxony Anhalt state in 1998 winning a stunning 12.9 percent. It also won a more modest victory in western Bremen. But like the Reps its deputies were later voted out of office.
    ©Expatica News

    By Thomas de Waal, Caucasus Editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London

    7/9/2004- The shock of the horror of Beslan will linger for a long time, but the local repercussions are only just beginning. It is time to start paying serious attention to the North Caucasus. One small cause for relief throughout the entire decade of the Chechnya conflict has been that the rest of this complex multi-ethnic region was not sucked into the turmoil. Even the incursion by Chechen fighter Shamil Basayev into Dagestan in 1999 failed to destabilize the region, as Basayev - and whoever else planned it - had hoped it would. Things have changed. The turmoil had begun to spread even before Beslan and the hostage crisis will make things much worse. This is not a happy part of the world. It is poor, mostly Muslim and increasingly alienated from the rest of Russia. Unemployment is high, particularly among young people. Local rulers are authoritarian and corrupt. Racism by ethnic Russians towards North Caucasians is on the rise. Over the past four years Moscow has shored up its chosen leaders, kept up the subsidies and helped suppress dissent but by doing so it is storing up hidden problems for itself. On current trends, in a generation much of the region could resemble parts of the Middle East or North Africa more than it does Russia. And sure enough radical Islam is finding willing recruits among young men, particularly in places like Kabardino-Balkaria that seem quiet on the surface. North Ossetia has now been shaken to the core. It was partly chosen as a target by the terrorists because of its traditional loyalty to Moscow. The anger we have seen among the Ossetian public is putting that loyalty under strain. It looks as though President Vladimir Putin decided not to go out and talk to ordinary people in Beslan because the public mood was too angry. The North Ossetian authorities - with the possible exception of President Alexander Dzasokhov himself - also acquitted themselves badly during the siege, failing to communicate properly with relatives. Here, as in the rest of the North Caucasus, the gap of trust between the public and its leaders is widening.

    Most worrying is the threat posed to Ossetian-Ingush relations. The two neighbors have had a long-simmering conflict since the Ingush returned from Stalinist deportation in the 1950s and tried to reclaim the small territory, the Prigorodny region, that had formerly belonged to them and been transferred to North Ossetia. In 1992 the two sides fought a small but nasty war that resulted in 600 deaths. Since then Ingush have been slowly returning to the Prigorodny region and the two sides have begun living side by side again. Now, following Ingush involvement in a siege where Ossetian children died, there is the frightening prospect of retaliation by the Ossetians. Ingushetia itself is in a precarious state. Two years ago Moscow decided to push out President Ruslan Aushev, who had steered a skilful path between the Chechen rebels and Moscow and kept Ingushetia out of the Chechen conflict. Aushev's independence of mind was no longer acceptable in post-Boris Yeltsin Russia and he was replaced by Ingush FSB General Murat Zyazikov. But Zyazikov lacks Aushev's authority and Ingushetia has slowly fractured. The bloody rebel attack on Nazran on June 22 made Ingushetia part of the battle-zone for the first time and revealed the existence of Ingush Islamic radicals. So it was significant that on Sept. 2 it was Aushev, not Zyazikov, who was called in to negotiate the freeing of 30 hostages in Beslan. Finally, Chechnya. It should be obvious to all but the most blinkered now that the Kremlin's dogged policy of "normalization," with the Kadyrov family as its venal agents, has failed. The appointment-by-election of Alu Alkhanov on Aug. 29 was a cynical exercise, particularly after the exclusion of popular Chechen businessman Malik Saidullayev from the poll - more or less on the grounds that he would have won it. The thuggish Ramzan Kadyrov is still the power behind Alkhanov's throne and corruption remains rife. Meanwhile fighting claims a few dozen lives each month. The world looks very different from Chechnya. Most Chechens will have looked on what happened in Beslan with the same horror as everyone else, but the terrible truth is that this kind of event is not so shocking to them as it is to others. The Chechens have experienced their own Beslans over the past 10 years: the bombing of Grozny in 1994-5 and 1999, the massacre at Samashki in 1995 and in Aldy in 1999, to name but a few.

    It cannot be stated often enough that the Chechens are not Afghans. They are a small mountain people with a history of resistance to the Russian state, but also one of pragmatic accommodation with it. Most of them speak Russian much better than they do Chechen. They are Sufis practicing a form of local Islam that is all but incomprehensible to Arab incomers. For years Chechens have sent these foreign interlopers away with curses when they were told to stop visiting their local shrines or to start veiling their women. Over the last 10 years the Russian state has given these ordinary Chechens nothing but contempt and violence, yet they remain the key to restoring some kind of stability to the North Caucasus. The trouble is that the Kremlin will have to make some difficult changes if it wants even to begin to enlist their support. For one thing the Kremlin will - eventually - have to begin a broad-based political process, which it cannot manipulate. It will have to abandon warlords like Ramzan Kadyrov in favor of authoritative figures such as Saidullayev and Ruslan Khasbulatov. Most difficult for Moscow, they will have to accept that most Chechens would want to see the inclusion of people from the former regime of pro-independence rebel President Aslan Maskhadov. Despite what is said in public, contacts have never dried up. The North Caucasus is a small region and, despite appearances, there is a deep strain of pragmatism in its politics. The late pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov talked to Maskhadov all the time. And it was significant that on Sept. 2, Aushev and Ossetian president Dzasokhov telephoned his envoy in London, Akhmed Zakayev - a man whom Russia tries to label as a terrorist. Beslan suggests that the radicals in Chechnya have fully eclipsed the moderates amongst the rebels and that Chechen nationalism is almost dead as a political force. I also doubt that Maskhadov would win a free election in Chechnya today, as he did in 1997. My point is a different one. Recent events show that Moscow badly needs men like Ruslan Aushev, while the North Caucasus badly needs some consensus politics and some unrigged elections. Both parties would benefit enormously from a political conversation in which ordinary North Caucasians are consulted and the men in Moscow listen to some uncomfortable truths.
    ©St. Petersburg Times

    8/9/2004- About 130,000 people packed a square near the Kremlin on Tuesday, with tens of thousands of others turned away, in an emotional rally to express revulsion against terrorism and backing for tougher security measures. Huge banners and hand-held placards expressed the crowd's sentiments: "We Will Not Go Down on Our Knees Before Scum" and "We Will Defeat the Enemy." Energized by a nation's sorrow for the 335 victims who died in last week's school hostage seizure in the southern Russian town of Beslan, the officially sanctioned rally carried a strong tone of support for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his tough stance on terrorism. It also had an undercurrent of racism against people from predominantly Muslim republics in Russia's Caucasus region, with some participants saying darker-skinned people should be driven out of Moscow. The rally was held as part of two days of nationwide mourning while residents of Beslan continued burying the dead, seeking to identify disfigured bodies and frantically searching for missing relatives. "Our hearts brought us here," said Galina Akhmedova, 49, a Moscow city-government employee given time off to attend. "We can't just go out and fight somebody, but we can hope the entire country and the entire world will hear that we are against terror, and maybe the government will take more resolute measures." Konstantin Raikin, a popular actor and stage director, declared to the crowd: "We are faced with a very terrible enemy: so-called people driven by a satanical, alien, hostile and destructive philosophy. They are aliens, extraterrestrials." Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov called for tougher measures against terrorism, expressing some criticism of the country's secret services and police. "We must ask the power structures when at last there will be efficient struggle, resolute struggle, a struggle which must end in a victory," Luzhkov said. "We must ask our power structures why the weapons that the terrorists were using in Beslan were the most sophisticated and of Russian origin. Where did they get them?" Luzhkov criticized the national government for not allowing Moscow to tighten its already strict rules on police registration for temporary residents from other parts of Russia. More severe controls "would make it possible to protect Moscow, and any other city for that matter, from terrorist encroachments," he said. Viktor Novikov, 40, who carried a Russian flag at the rally, said he opposed the presence in Moscow of Muslims from Russia's Caucasus region, which includes war-torn Chechnya. A group of right-wing youths and teen-agers exchanged Nazi-style salutes, and one said in English, "I am Ku Klux Klan Russia." The school seizure was carried out by militants who appeared to be linked to guerrillas fighting for an independent Chechnya. A former hostage, Soslan Dzugaev, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that a makeshift bomb in a 2-liter water bottle suspended from basketball hoops in the school gym fell to the floor and triggered the disastrous final shootout Friday between hostage-takers and security forces.
    ©Los Angeles Times

    7/9/2004- The EU's Enlargement Commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, has said Turkey must do more to improve the cultural rights of its Kurdish minority. "What we have seen so far can only be the beginning," he said on a visit to the Diyarbakir region, in the mainly Kurdish south-east of Turkey. Mr Verheugen is on a fact-finding tour ahead of an EU Commission report next month on Turkey's EU membership bid. EU leaders will decide in December whether to open EU accession talks. Mr Verheugen, quoted by Reuters news agency, said Turkey needed to step up efforts to help displaced Kurds return home. "I think one should strongly support the wish of people to return to their villages," he said. The Turkish military was blamed for widespread human rights abuses carried out during a campaign against Kurdish militants in the 1980s and 1990s. Tens of thousands of Kurds fled or were evacuated from their homes during the heaviest fighting, which largely subsided after the capture of Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Ocalan in 1999. Turkey's constitutional and judicial reforms are now under close EU scrutiny. Mr Verheugen earlier applauded the reforms that Turkey has made over the past three or four years. This is his last trip to Turkey as commissioner responsible for enlargement. Sweeping reforms of the constitution and penal code have already been made. Mr Verheugen said that it was important that they should continue. In June, Turkey allowed the first, very limited Kurdish-language broadcasts on state radio and television. Kurds, who form some 12 million of Turkey's 70 million population, are also pushing for Kurdish language education in schools. The commission's job is to make sure that Turkey conforms with the political criteria laid down by the EU as a precondition for membership. There is much focus now on how the reforms are being implemented. Mistreatment of those in police custody was one concern that many held about Turkey.
    ©BBC News

    28/8/2004- The abortion debate has been re-ignited by the news that a Dutch vessel has set sail for Portugal where it plans to assist women in having abortions. While leftist parties have welcomed the news that the "Aurora" will be arriving in Portugal this Sunday, the smaller of the two parties that form the coallition government, the rightist Popular Party, have already stated "any person promoting abortions in Portugal should be punished. We have a law in Portugal that has to be respected". Police have already said they will be "identifying" women boarding the ship, while the Defence Minister Paulo Portas has said he will give orders to "act in the event of the law being broken on national or international waters". According to the group, Women on waves, in a statement sent to The Portugal News, they are in Portugal on "invitation" by four pro-abortions groups and are planning to be in the country for two weeks. The Dutch boat is equipped to carry out non-surgical abortions and currently sailing towards Portugal has already been authorised to moor at several ports, Portuguese pro-choice groups have said. The ship, as a European Union-registered vessel, "has every right to enter a Portuguese port", Paulo Vieira, a representative of on of the four pro-abortion groups involved in the initiative told Lusa on Monday. Abortion is only allowed in Portugal in special cases and backstreet termination of pregnancy is common. The Dutch ship, staffed by a doctor, gynecologist and nurse, will offer medication to women in the first six weeks of pregnancy to induce abortion. As the boat will move into international waters to administer the pills, it will not be breaching Portuguese law. The group operating the ship, Women on Waves, has said it wishes to relaunch the debate on abortion in Portugal, which is surrounded by "a terrible taboo". In addition, Women on Waves further revealed to The Portugal News that there is also to call attention to the "right for objective sexual education, and to availability of contraceptive and legal and safe abortion services." It is estimated that 20,000 to 40,0000 illegal and unsafe abortions take place in Portugal each year. "As a result of the restrictive Portuguese abortion laws a Portuguese woman has a 150 times higher risk of dying from an abortion then a woman in the Netherlands. Each year approximately 5,000 women are hospitalised with complications and about 2 or 3 women die from unsafe illegal abortion practices in Portugal", a spokesperson for the group added. The Dutch boat has visited Ireland and Poland in recent years, provoking demonstrations from pro-life groups and the Roman Catholic Church. The gynaecologist on board the boat, Gunilla Kleiverda, said she expected protests when the boat arrives in Portugal.
    ©The Portugal News

    2/9/2004- In a bid to break a tense standoff in international waters, Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot asked Portugal on Thursday to allow a Dutch abortion ship to enter Portuguese territory. In a telephone conversation with his Portuguese counterpart, Antonio Monteiro, the Christian Democrat CDA minister also said a Dutch parliamentary majority is urging Portugal to allow the ship to take on board Portuguese women. The abortion ship is currently off the Portuguese coast in international waters, and Portugal has said it is willing to use force if necessary to prevent the ship from entering its territory. Under the wing of the Dutch foundation Women on Waves, doctors on board the ship hope to provide the abortion pill to Portuguese women in international waters, where they can operate under Dutch legislation which allows such treatment. They also hope to distribute information. Abortion is illegal in staunchly-Catholic Portugal except in situations where the mother's life is in danger. Termination is also allowed if there is a risk to the woman's physical or mental health, or in conditions such as sexual violence or possible congenital deformity. The abortion ship set sail last month from the Dutch port Den Helder, but was blocked from entering Portuguese waters on 28 August. Portuguese navy vessels are monitoring it. And in an emergency debate on Wednesday, Dutch MPs asked Bot to intervene in the standoff on the side of Women on Waves, newspaper De Telegraaf reported. Bot said in his conversation with Monteiro that Portugal was within its rights to refuse entry to the ship, but said he wanted to make an attempt to persuade the Portuguese government to change its mind. Monteiro said he would discuss the issue with the Portuguese Prime Minister, Pedro Santana Lopes
    ©Expatica News

    2/9/2004- France's academic year got off to a quiet start Thursday as a controversial law banning the Islamic headscarf in state schools went into effect, with the hostage crisis in Iraq taking the heat out of the debate. "The first day of school is going smoothly, the pupils have gone into their schools, everything is normal," said Hanifa Cherifi, member of an education ministry crisis team set up to monitor implementation of the "secularity law". Cherifi told AFP there were "no indications that students have refused to remove conspicuous religious insignia", which are prohibited under the law passed by the center-right government of President Jacques Chirac in March. Though the law does not single out any specific faith -- Jewish skullcaps, large Christian crosses and Sikh turbans are banned along with headscarves -- many in France's five-million-strong Muslim community believe the hijab worn by teenage girls is the main target. As more than 12 million pupils attending 60,000 primary and 11,000 secondary schools returned to classrooms across France, the country waited anxiously for news of two journalists kidnapped by Islamic militants in Iraq. The extremists holding Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot hostage are demanding that Paris repeal the headscarf ban in schools, a threat that has sparked widespread indignation in France and fostered a sense of national unity. Education Minister Francois Fillon, speaking at a primary school west of Paris, said the resumption of classes was "marked by fraternity, the idea that all children are treated fairly and equally." "If France is a reference in terms of human rights, it's because this is a secular republic that integrates all children, whoever they are," noted Fillon, who added that the government was open to the idea of creating a bank holiday for non-Christians.

    Although some feared that girls could deliberately wear headscarves to provoke a confrontation, only a few incidents were reported early Thursday, with most girls agreeing to remove their head coverings. Eight high school girls wearing headscarves and bandanas came to school in Mantes-La-Jolie west of Paris but agreed to remove them once the principal explained the new rules, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported. Two other girls in the eastern city of Strasbourg, one in a black headscarf and the other in a blue and white covering, were allowed to enter their school but the principal said they would not be able to attend classes if veiled. School administrators in areas with large Muslim populations like the northern suburbs of Paris, the eastern region of Alsace and the Belgian border area remained on alert, with mediators prepared to intervene in any dispute. But even the most outspoken critics of the headscarf law like Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan and Lhaj Thami Breze of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France (UOIF), close to the Muslim Brotherhood, have condemned the hostage-taking as unacceptable blackmail and are urging girls to obey the law. The country's officially recognized Muslim umbrella group, the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM), has sent a delegation to Baghdad to help secure the release of the two journalists, who went missing on August 20. "The resumption of classes is a difficult moment to get through. The hostage-takers are waiting for some kind of provocation. We have to be responsible," CFCM vice-president Mohamed Bechari told Le Figaro. Bechari, part of the team that arrived in Baghdad on Thursday, added: "Today we have to worry about the fate of the two hostages. The political battle, a purely French one, for religious freedom will resume later on. "The secularity law is not a law specifically aimed at the Muslim community, and France is not at war with the Islamic faith," he added. Introduced as a result of a report last year which warned against the breakdown of society into racial and faith-based groups, the law was designed to reinforce the strict separation of religion and state, a basic value of modern-day France. The law was also supposed to end the uncertainty that prevailed under the previous school regulations which outlawed only "ostentatious" religious signs -- a formulation that was prey to widely differing interpretations.
    ©The Tocqueville Connection

    2/9/2004- Two Muslim teenage girls in eastern France on Thursday found a creative way to both abide by a new law banning headscarves in state schools and keep their heads covered -- they wore wigs. "It's annoying but we have to deal with it," explained 18-year-old Fatima, who has worn a headscarf since she was 10 years old, as she arrived at her high school in Bischheim north of Strasbourg. The teen's face was framed in a wig of straight medium-length dark brown hair and her headscarf remained tied in a knot around her neck so she could put it back on upon leaving the school. France's 12 million students returned to the classroom on Thursday as a controversial law banning the Islamic headscarf and other "conspicuous" religious insignia in state schools went into effect. Some had expected girls to spark a confrontation by wearing headscarves but very few incidents were reported, perhaps as a result of an ongoing hostage crisis in Iraq, where two French journalists are being held by Islamic militants demanding that Paris repeal the headscarf ban. Another 16-year-old girl in Bischheim, who asked not to be identified, also wore a wig but wore her headscarf until she reached the school gates. "This is because I don't have any other choice," she said, adding that the wig was less than the perfect solution. Samia and Samira, 17-year-old twins, wore their headscarves as they entered the building. Another girl named Salima also chose to keep her headscarf but said she would be willing to wear a bandana if required. The school's principal refused to comment to reporters at the scene.
    ©Expatica News

    1/9/2004- The Commission for Racial Equality is to be asked to investigate allegations of racism by staff at a major prison, a lawyer said today. A solicitor representing 16 Asian and black prisoners at Leeds Prison, in West Yorkshire, claims his clients have been subject to verbal or physical abuse. Lawyer Daniel Machover said he is highlighting allegations of attacks on five of his clients by prison officers at the jail and a further two attacks by other prisoners in which, it is suggested, staff did not take the appropriate action. Mr Machover said he had written to the CRE alleging a culture of racism among some staff at the prison. He said that although a racial motivation could not be proved in each allegation of assault he had pinpointed, he is concerned about the number of attacks on black and Asian prisoners and alleges a catalogue of other racist actions by officers. He said that in one case a prisoner believes he was asked to hang up a telephone because he was speaking in Urdu. Mr Machover said: "We are concerned that after the publication of a major action plan about racism in the Prison Service by the CRE in December 2003, in 2004 we have got this range of allegations by prisoners. "The complaints system for dealing with them doesn't seem to be picking them up." The claims emerged following the death of an Asian prisoner, Shahid Aziz, who was found dead in his cell earlier this year. His cell mate, Peter McCann, was jailed for life in July after admitting his murder. Today, a West Yorkshire Police spokesman confirmed they had been asked to look into allegations of incidents at the prison but could give few further details. A spokesman said: "We are looking onto several incidents alleged to have taken place within HMP Leeds between March and May this year. "Police inquiries are at a very early stage." A CRE spokesman said they had not yet received any letter from Mr Machover.
    ©The Scotsman

    2/9/2004- The Institute of Race Relations publishes today a catalogue that details how hundreds of Muslims have been arrested under terrorism powers before being released without charge; how the special powers granted by parliament to tackle terrorism are being deployed in other spheres, such as in routine criminal investigations or in the policing of immigration; how the media have become 'embedded' in a process that leads to the stigmatisation of Muslims as terrorists. Yet the facts show that most convictions secured in an open court under the 2000 and 2001 Terrorism Acts have been of non-Muslims. In the most detailed study yet of Britain's use of anti-terrorist laws since 11 September 2001, the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has examined 287 out of the 609 arrests made so far. Harmit Atwal, author of the study, said: 'There are two criminal justice systems in Britain today. In the first, under the ordinary rule of law, there is a balance between the rights of the citizen and the rights of the state. But in the second, under the special provisions of anti-terror laws, you can be arrested, questioned and publicly accused of being a threat to civilisation on the thinnest of pretexts, detained without fair trial and go slowly mad in the cells of Belmarsh, Woodhill or the immigration detention centres. The first system applies to white Britons. The second system applies to foreign nationals and, increasingly, British Muslims too.'

    The huge gap between the number of arrests and the number of convictions under anti-terrorist laws (only fifteen convictions have so far been secured) is already well known and confirmed by this study. In numerous cases, there is a great media fanfare as the police herald the arrest of a so-called terrorist cell, only for the case to be quietly dropped days, weeks or months later. In some cases, suspects face up to fourteen days of questioning by police and intelligence officers before being released. In other cases, they are charged with all manner of terrorist offences, only for these charges to be dropped just before coming to court or thrown out by a judge soon after reaching court. Often, there are what appear to be deliberate leaks from the police and/or intelligence services to the press at the time of the arrests. Not only may this prejudice any potential trial, it also serves to damage the reputations of innocent individuals. The subsequent admission that those arrested had done nothing illegal hardly registers at all in the media.

    Examples of such arrests, documented in the study, include:

  • Algerian Lotfi Raissi, his wife Sonia Raissi and brother Mohammed Raissi were arrested in London in late September 2001 in connection with the World Trade Center attacks. Lotfi spent five months in prison before extradition proceedings to the US were rejected in court for lack of evidence.
  • British Muslim Sulayman Zain-ul-abidin was arrested in London in October 2001 and charged with being a fundraiser for Islamic Jihad, a proscribed organisation under the Terrorism Act. He was acquitted by an Old Bailey jury the following year.
  • Six British Muslim men were arrested in January 2002 in Darlington, Redcar, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool on suspicion of fundraising for Islamic terrorist groups. All charges were dropped after a year-long investigation.
  • Four Turkish men were arrested boarding a ferry at Dover in March 2002 and charged with supporting the PKK, a proscribed organisation under the Terrorism Act. They were acquitted when the case was brought to court.
  • Seven British and Turkish men were arrested in London and Cheshire in December 2002 on suspicion of involvement in fundraising for the DHKP-C, a Turkish political party. The trial collapsed after the defence produced a letter from the Home Office stating that the organisation they worked for had never been proscribed under the Terrorism Act.
  • Eight Algerian men were arrested in Edinburgh and London between December 2002 and February 2003 and charged with a range of terrorism offences. In December 2003, the CPS decided to take no further action against the men but their names remain on a public MI5 list of al Qaida suspects.
  • Two Kurdish men, Soner Koyuncu and Gultekin Onur, were arrested in Cumbria in December 2002 on suspicion of supporting the PKK, a proscribed organisation under the Terrorism Act. Both walked free after the CPS said there was insufficient evidence. British Muslim Shazad Ashraf was arrested in London in June 2003 and was allegedly found in possession of 'combat books, quasi-military information and tactical planning material'. The allegations were withdrawn when the CPS offered no evidence.
  • Noureddine Mouleff, an Algerian, was arrested in November 2003 along with four other Algerians and charged with 'possession of items in connection with terrorism'. He later walked free from court after it emerged that the dangerous device in his possession was a rucksack containing batteries and wires.
  • Four British Muslim men were arrested in Dudley, Walsall and Luton in December 2003 and charged with, among other things, receiving training in the making of chemical and biological weapons. A sum of money, thought by police to be funds for terrorist activity, was also seized from Dudley Central Mosque during a police raid. Four months later all charges were dropped and the money returned.
  • Ten Iraqis and North Africans were arrested in April 2004 in Manchester, Staffordshire, Yorkshire and the West Midlands on suspicion of involvement in a plot to bomb Old Trafford football ground. Details of the alleged attack plan were leaked to the media, making for extensive coverage. The men were held for eight days of questioning; yet no terrorism charges were brought. It later emerged that the so-called terrorists were ardent Manchester United fans.

    The low conviction rate of those arrested points to the excessive and discriminatory use of arrest powers against Muslim communities. This is further supported by the discrepancy between the religious background of those arrested and those convicted. While almost all of those arrested are Muslims, the majority of those so far convicted appear to be non-Muslims. The IRR has documented eleven of the fifteen convictions under anti-terrorist laws since 11 September 2001. Only three Muslims have actually been convicted under the 2000 Act and two of them have been given leave to appeal their convictions. Six of those convicted under the Terrorism Act 2000 are white and were convicted for offences such as wearing a ring or carrying a flag with the symbols of banned Loyalist organisations. The 2000 Act makes it illegal even to wear a T-shirt supporting a banned organisation. A further two non-Muslims have been convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, one for sending a racist letter containing white powder to the office of Mohammad Sarwar MP. Since arrests under anti-terrorist laws attract widespread media coverage while convictions of non-Muslims in court have not been widely reported, most people are left with the impression that the criminal justice system is successfully prosecuting Muslim terrorists in Britain. The reality is that large numbers of innocent Muslims are being arrested, questioned and released while the majority of those actually convicted in an open criminal trial are non-Muslim.

    Extending anti-terrorist powers
    Another aspect of the discriminatory use of anti-terrorist powers is the charging of Muslim individuals with terrorist offences, following their involvement in routine criminal offences. In a number of cases, Muslims who have been involved in crimes such as credit card fraud or forgery have also been charged as suspected terrorists. In this way, the police have, it seems, used the extra powers available under terrorism legislation against ordinary criminal suspects. This is a worrying trend in which powers granted by parliament to the police specifically for tackling terrorism are extended to other spheres in a discriminatory way (only Muslim criminal suspects receive this treatment). What this study further illustrates is the extent to which anti-terrorist powers are often used, in effect, as an alternative way of policing immigration. One in eight of the cases studied was of an individual who had been arrested on suspicion of terrorist-related activity and then later handed over to the immigration service. Again, since anti-terrorist powers were introduced on the pretext of responding to a particular issue - international terrorism - and police powers were hugely enhanced for this purpose, their application to other areas of crime (or even to legal activity, such as seeking asylum) is cause for great concern. The IRR has spoken to solicitors representing some of those who have been arrested under the Terrorism Acts and then subsequently re-arrested by the immigration service. A number of individuals in this situation are still being treated as though they were national security cases although they have not been officially charged under anti-terrorist legislation. Most of them have not faced any other criminal charges yet are still being held in prisons as security risks pending deportation. There are reports that some have attempted suicide. Many will be detained for months, even years, before being deported. Like those detained without trial at Belmarsh under the 2001 Terrorism Act, they are serving a prison sentence for being a suspected Muslim terrorist, rather than a convicted one.
    ©Institute of Race Relations

    2/9/2004- Racist thugs launched a pepper spray attack on a tram carriage full of passengers. The incident - which affected 40 people and left one person needing hospital treatment - took place after a row broke out between two white teenagers and a group of five Asian youths as the packed Metrolink tram passed through Salford Quays during the evening rush hour. The two teenagers got off at the Anchorage stop and fired a jet of pepper spray through an open window into the tram towards the group of youths they had been arguing with. The driver stopped the tram at the next stop, Harbour City, after 12 passengers, including the Asian youths, aged 16 and 17, complained that they were suffering from the effects of the spray. One person had to be taken to hospital suffering from breathing difficulties and several others received treatment at the scene. Police are treating the incident as a racially-motivated attack as the two youths were directing racist abuse at the group. A spokesman for Serco Metrolink said: "This was a thoughtless assault that a number of innocent passengers got caught up in. All resources necessary including CCTV footage from the stop will be used to support the police in their investigation into this assault, to ensure that these youths are successfully apprehended. "Although Metrolink is a very safe and secure system, with one of the lowest crime rates on public transport in this country, we would ask any passengers who witness an offence taking place on a Metrolink tram or platform, to use the passenger emergency call facility and communicate directly with the Driver or Metrolink Control." All Metrolink stops are covered by CCTV and are monitored and recorded. Police are now studying footage. The spokesman added: "As well as an increased number of inspectors and public safety officers roaming the system, there is a dedicated police presence on Metrolink, and having GMP to police the system ensures that we maintain our low crime rate. We wish the members of the public all the best for a speedy recovery." The incident happened just after 5.30pm on Friday, August 27. Details have only now been released. The offenders are described as aged 16 to 18. Both had shaven heads and wore tracksuits. One was also wearing a baseball cap.
    ©Manchester Online

    2/9/2004- Obtaining the Dutch nationality is the "main prize" foreigners hope for when they move to the Netherlands and giving up their original nationality should not be difficult, Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk said on Thursday. "By taking on Dutch nationality, you convey that you have a bond to the Dutch society," she said. The minister was speaking in Parliament during a debate about the Dutch government's integration policy and the latest installment, which will force many immigrants to give up their original nationality if they choose to become naturalised in the Netherlands. Verdonk said immigrants wanted first to become Dutch nationals, followed by European Union nationals and then world citizens, De Telegraaf newspaper reported. The Liberal VVD minister was responding to a famous statement by the late Prince Claus, referred to again on Thursday by green-left GroenLinks leader Femke Halsema. Speaking in 2001, Prince Claus reversed the order of loyalty. "One question that is very difficult for me to answer and which is repeatedly asked of me; how does it feel to be Dutch. My answer is: I don't know how it is to be Dutch. I have various loyalties and I am a world citizen and European and Dutch," he said. Verdonk said she did not see how restricting the opportunities of immigrants obtaining dual nationality could impede the integration of foreigners in the Netherlands. She was responding to concerns raised by Labour PvdA leader Wouter Bos, Democrat D66 leader Boris Dittrich and Halsema, who said the government's legislation will prompt immigrants to decide against becoming a Dutch national in order to keep their original citizenship. They said that would hinder integration. But Verdonk said he had full faith immigrants will opt to take out Dutch nationality. A special naturalisation ceremony would further stimulate that choice, she said. But the minister could not back up her claims with hard facts. Bos then reminded the minister that the number of naturalisations in the Netherlands has decreased in recent times, basing his view on figures the immigration minister had provided.

    Under the government's plans — agreed by Cabinet ministers on 27 August — foreigners will lose their original nationality if they marry their Dutch partner and opt to take out Dutch nationality. The legislation will not be backdated and must still be ratified by Parliament. It is expected to come into force sometime next year. The restrictions will also affect immigrants born in the Netherlands, the Netherlands Antilles or Aruba. Immigrants who have lived in these regions for at least five years in their childhood will also be required to give up their foreign passport when taking out Dutch citizenship. At the start of her speech Thursday, Verdonk indicated she had difficulty expressing a positive attitude towards the Islamic faith, pointing out that many innocent people have suffered in the name of Islam. But she hopes to break the negative climate around Islam by setting up a special Muslim-government contact group (CMO). She also said the Cabinet did not intend to impose a ban on Islamic veils similar to the French ban on the wearing of religious symbols. But the government is devising ways to intervene when there is an indication of force involved in the wearing of a veil. Verdonk also said the government did not intend to force already integrated long-term immigrants to do an integration course, but asylum seekers will be offered education in the Dutch language and culture in refugee shelters. Furthermore, the government is keen to introduce a course for Islamic imams as quickly as possible, but does not intend to tell them how to pursue their religious faith. She also said Muslim groups are increasingly positive about the course, which will teach imams about the Netherlands. The government's immigration policy was a "hard but clear line" and the government hopes to start next year with an integration campaign involving both immigrants and Dutch natives. The Netherlands has encountered strong social polarisation problems in recent years and the Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and Democrat D66 coalition government believes the integration of foreigners and the restriction of immigration will help ease society tension. These were views expressed before and after the rise and fall of Pim Fortuyn — the anti-immigrant politician shot down in Hilversum in May 2002 — but his then politically-incorrect policies have largely become the present day politically-correct. The Dutch government is thus moving towards the compulsory integration of new and long-term immigrants and will deport some 26,000 asylum seekers in coming years. It is also set to become the first country to legislate compulsory pre-arrival integration courses for would-be permanent immigrants wanting to join their Dutch partner in the Netherlands. EU nationals plus US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and Japanese expats joining their Dutch partners in the Netherlands are exempt from the requirement because of various treaties agreed on with the Dutch government.
    ©Expatica News

    3/9/2004- Canton Vaud has said it will "as a last resort" forcibly remove more than 500 asylum seekers whose residency applications have been rejected. Vaud has come under pressure from the federal authorities in Bern to fall into line with other cantons and ensure that those without permits are not allowed to stay. Thursday's announcement came in response to a resolution adopted by parliamentarians in canton Vaud calling on the regional authorities not to remove rejected asylum seekers by force. But the government said in its response that there were no legal grounds for granting them permission to stay. "The government [of canton Vaud] reaffirms its commitment… to remove those who do not have temporary resident status. If necessary, and as a last resort, this will be done by force." Vaud is the only canton in Switzerland which has until now not followed instructions issued by the federal authorities to expel rejected asylum seekers. In its resolution submitted to the cantonal government, Vaud parliamentarians said those who remained in the canton illegally should not simply be thrown out. "A significant number of these people… could suffer a traumatic experience if they are expelled," read the resolution. "There are women from Kosovo, survivors of the [1995] Srebrenica massacre and families with young children who have until now lived all their lives in our country." The resolution added that it would be "inhumane" to remove them by force.

    Falling into line
    Jean Martin, the parliamentarian from the centre-right Radical Party who tabled the resolution, admitted that canton Vaud could not continue to be the exception to the rule. "Vaud has to fall into line with the other cantons and the federal government in Bern when it comes to asylum. But that doesn't mean that we should turn our backs on people who have been protected by the canton," Martin told swissinfo. "The decision… is doubtless perfectly legal. But it is also profoundly unjust." Vaud's cantonal government has for several years shown itself to be reluctant to expel all rejected asylum seekers. Claude Ruey, in charge of asylum issues in the canton during the 1990s, said the authorities had never hesitated to expel those whose applications could be immediately turned down. But he told swissinfo that the canton had traditionally tried to find a "humane" way of dealing with asylum seekers whose requests were more complex and which could not be resolved quickly by the federal authorities. "Also, the criteria for granting asylum applications on humanitarian grounds were constantly being tightened as a result of pressure from the rightwing Swiss People's Party," said Ruey. Canton Vaud has a long tradition of offering humanitarian assistance and a number of organisations – including a legal aid service – have been established to help asylum seekers. But parliamentarians cried foul in May, when the cantonal government signed an accord with the federal authorities aimed at resolving the fate of 1,280 people living in the canton illegally. Around 700 of them have since obtained residency permits. But the authorities said they would not reassess the applications of just over 500 others, who have been given a ten-day extended deadline to register for repatriation programmes or face expulsion from the canton. Denis-Olivier Maillefer, a Social Democrat parliamentarian in canton Vaud, admits that nothing more can be done to challenge the government's decision. But Martin of the Radical Party says the campaign to stop the government from removing those who are living illegally in the canton had served a purpose. "By standing up against these measures to remove people, we have shown our determination to distance ourselves from [the policies of] the People's Party," he said.
    ©NZZ Online

    DANCES WITH ROMA(Bulgaria)
    3/9/2004- A proposal by one of the most influential trade union leaders in Bulgaria has sparked political controversy in the country, which considers itself a model of ethnic tolerance. Podkrepa Labour Confedera-tion leader Konstantin Trenchev made a proposal, labelled shocking by most of the local media, on how the state should deal with what he described as the constantly increasing criminal activity among the Roma population. Trenchev said in early August that citizens should form a voluntary national guard, to chase Roma criminals. According to him, this so-called ‘national guard' would be a paramilitary formation, which will guard the property of citizens against mainly Roma criminals. The appeal was voiced as a result of the beating of two forest guards by Roma from Samokov, involved in illegal timber felling. Representatives of human rights organisations could not believe that such an idea could be raised in Bulgaria in the 21st century. "This is a shocking, racist idea," said Margarita Ilieva from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, reacting to the first statement by the trade union leader. Human rights activists said Trenchev was calling for behaviour and practices, incompatible with the civilised world, which recognises the superiority of the law. Criminals should be dealt with only by the authorities. No one else can form voluntary organisations to enforce the laws, activists said. But Trenchev himself did not spare human rights organisations any criticism. He said that the only activity they have been involved in so far, has been to spend other people's money and do nothing. Trenchev's supporters said that he had only put his finger on a sore point that authorities ignore. Police called Trenchev's idea unacceptable. "We believe that Parliament will soon pass our draft bill on legal voluntary squads," said the deputy head of National Police Directorate Colonel Pavlin Dimitrov. The bill will be submitted to the Cabinet soon. The voluntary squads will not have the same wide-ranging powers as the ones existing before 1989, when they were even drawing up statements on breaches of the law. Their new role will be strictly regulated and they will act within the framework of the law, contrary to the proposed guard, which will be nothing more but another Ku Klux Klan, Dimitrov said. Roma stick together and if a formation attacks them, this will lead to riots, he said. Trenchev later backtracked and said that strong men in each village or a neighbourhood should organise themselves and spend at least one day and night every month, under the aegis of the police, to counteract the spread of small crimes.

    Meanwhile, 27 Roma and human rights organisations called on the President and the Speaker of Parliament to condemn Trenchev's statement as "instigating racial or national hostility and hatred". They threatened to sue the trade union leader in Bulgaria and abroad. Later, state and local authorities met to try to solve the problems of Roma, involved in illegal timber felling which sparked the row. National Administration of Forests head Ilia Simeonov suggested that the Roma engaged in illegal felling and transportation of timber in the Samokov region be appointed to do this legally. The initiative was announced on August 19 at an extended session attended by the mayor of Samokov, leaders of the Evroroma party and Interior Ministry officers. The economic activity will be carried out with the licence of the municipality under direct contracts with state-owned forest farms which will also dispose of the felled timber, Simeonov said. To this end the Roma will have to register their own company at the municipality. This would give the Roma a legal livelihood, participants in the meeting said. Tsvetelin Kunchev, leader of Evroroma National Movement, the second political force in the region, described the measure as a very important blueprint for similar future initiatives. And when everybody thought the problem was successfully resolved, Trenchev spoke again. On August 24 he proposed that some of the unemployed people, listed in the programme ‘From Social Assistance to Employment', be transferred to working at archaeological sites. This way, according to him, the money spent by the national budget on the jobless would be utilised more efficiently. The idea, which has been submitted to Labour and Social Policy Minister Hristina Hristova, provides for developing archaeological sites into tourist destinations. There is no danger of the hired, mainly Roma, to rob the sites, as they are monitored by highly qualified experts, Trenchev said. Further he would not withdraw his idea to fight Roma criminal activity. "My conscience is clear," he said. Trenchev also attacked Roma organisations for embezzlement and a failure to assist intergration.
    ©Sofia Echo

    He tells a rights tribunal a battle with London-connected white supremacist groups got personal.

    31/8/2004- An Ottawa human rights lawyer testified yesterday he feared for his safety and sought police help after a long battle with London-connected white supremacist groups turned personal. "I was shocked. I had never anticipated they would stoop to something like that," Richard Warman told a Canadian Human Rights tribunal. "I contacted police and they have made alternate arrangements in terms of my personal safety that would not be the case for an average person." A white supremacist group gave out his home address on the Internet and suggested he would suffer the fate of Jews in the holocaust, Warman said. "It will be a gas," the Internet site concluded. The two groups at the centre of the tribunal hearing also urged followers on the Internet to declare war on Jews and Muslims and offered suitable targets -- "any Jew/Arab temple, building, house and even cars." The groups also made fun of the lynching of blacks and the death of Jews during the Second World War. One cartoon showed a Sikh and a Muslim with the caption: "Please beat according." Warman's testimony also gave a glimpse of the unusual world of white supremacists. Members greet each other with the words "88," referring to the eighth letter of the alphabet,* and H, standing for Heil Hitler, Warman said. They often proclaim RAHOWA, short for Racial Holy War, an apocalyptic battle between the races, he added. Warman's testimony took up the first day of the hearing into the activities of former Londoner James Scott Richardson, now living in Hamilton, North York resident Alexan Kulbashian and two websites -- Tri-City Skins.com and Canadian Ethnic Cleansing Team. Warman contends the sites violate the Canadian Human Rights Act by discriminating on the grounds of religion, race and national ethnic origin on the Internet. "They're some of the most vicious and vitriolic material I've ever seen," Warman said. "It is ignorance and hatred that leads to tragedy." Neither Kulbashian nor Richardson attended yesterday's hearing. But Kulbashian's father, Vahe Kulbashian, promised surprising revelations. "The things that will come out, they will rock London off its feet," he said. In a high-profile case that garnered praise from anti-racist advocates, London police charged Richardson and Kulbashian with uttering death threats and counselling to commit murder. But the charges were dropped last year by assistant Crown attorney Peter Kierluk. Yesterday, Canada Human Rights Commission lawyer Monette Maillet led Warman through dozens of pages from the websites of the two groups, trying not only to show the messages incited hate but that Kulbashian and Richardson were the site leaders and frequent contributors. Kulbashian signed his messages as Totenkopf, the German word for the symbolic skull emblem worn by SS troops in Nazi Germany, Warman said. Richardson signed his writings with WPCANADA, standing for White Power Canada, he added.
    ©The London Free Press

    experts: Racial profiling accusations go beyond bars

    3/9/2004- Tougher provincial human rights legislation is needed to combat increasing incidents of racial profiling at certain downtown Calgary nightclubs, says a city race relations researcher. A Vancouver man has filed three complaints with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission against three Calgary nightclubs, claiming he was denied entry because of his race. Race relations experts say the discrimination reported by Jas Randhawa is an example of the escalating use of racial profiling at some downtown Calgary nightclubs. David Este, associate dean in the faculty of social work at the University of Calgary, said human rights legislation is a "positive thing, but it's also limited." "I don't think it's enough to facilitate significant behavioural change," said Este, a researcher with the Racism, Violence and Health Project, a five-year, $1.25-million study looking at the health effects of discrimination in Calgary, Toronto and Halifax. Este said Thursday racial profiling is manifested in a "whole host of societal institutions in this city." He said human rights legislation needs to be toughened, adding if people are not held accountable, "I don't think there will be substantive change. Human rights legislation needs to be much more stronger."

    A Global News report Wednesday investigating widespread claims of discriminatory practices included recent video shot by a hidden camera of two Indo-Canadian men -- Randhawa and a friend -- attempting to enter five Calgary nightclubs. At four of the clubs they were allowed in, but at the fifth entry was denied. Bouncers could be heard telling the two the club was hosting a "private party," and the pair was not "on the guest list." During the lengthy exchange, a number of white patrons could be seen entering the club with apparent ease. The discussion became more heated and, within a few minutes, a bouncer shoved Randhawa. Cassie Palamar, manager of education services for the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission, said the province's human rights legislation is not "punitive." "It's not designed to punish, but to remedy the situation," she said. Palamar said the commission works towards a resolution and remedy with the parties involved in the dispute. She said in 96 per cent of the cases, the parties will settle the dispute between themselves. In four per cent of cases, the dispute will go to the commission's panel, which hears the evidence and makes a ruling. The resolution of a complaint calls for anything from an apology to monetary settlement. Palamar said the purpose of the human rights legislation is to "prevent these kind of discriminatory behaviours."

    Calgary Mayor David Bronconnier said "as a city, we certainly don't support any type of discriminatory practice." He said the Diversity Calgary task force was established about a year ago to look at these issues as more visible minorities call the city home. "Incidents like this are very unfortunate," he said of the complaints of racial profiling at downtown nightclubs. Bronconnier said the city attempts to engage business leaders from an education-awareness perspective. Vilma Dawson, co-ordinator for the Committee on Race Relations and Cross-Cultural Understanding, said the organization wants to work closely with city council to address the issue. "If they have a zero-tolerance policy for city staff, it should be extended to contracts they give out and (business) licences they give out," said Dawson. "I think we can have pressures at different levels. Pressures from all legal angles will prevent some of this behaviour from continuing." Brian Edy, a Calgary human rights lawyer, said the issue boils down to education. "I don't know if penalties are the way to go," he said. "The general problem is one of educating doormen to the appropriate ways of screening people and the inappropriate ways of screening people."
    ©The Calgary Herald

    28/8/2004- The Moroccan government last Wednesday warned the European Union that the burgeoning number of African immigrants pouring across its borders in transit to Europe was reaching crisis point. According to the Moroccan immigration authorities thousands of sub-Saharan Africans are gathering in northern Morocco in an attempt to cross the Gibraltar Straits on their way to Portugal and Spain. Meanwhile in Brussels, arguments between EU commissioners over whether or not to set up asylum seeker and immigrant camps in Tunisia to help alleviate the problem continue. Morocco reported last week that nearly 500 would-be immigrants attempted to crash through metal barriers dividing northern Morocco from the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Sixty of the sub-Saharan immigrants, nicknamed "harragas", managed to scale the barriers but were later arrested by Spanish police. The Moroccan authorities are saying that over one thousand people from Mali, Cameroon, Niger, Senegal and Nigeria are now encamped on hills overlooking the city of Melilla - some of them have been there for several years and have tried repeatedly to cross over the border. Both the port city of Melilla and a similar enclave, Ceuta, face a steady stream of people trying to enter the EU - whether on a perilous boat crossing or stowed away in a truck. A place on one of these trips coasts 1,000 euros - a huge amount when one considers that the average annual wage in sub-Saharan Africa is around 850 euros. "There are about 5,000 sub-Saharans living in the Moroccan forests around Tangiers, and near to the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta," said Khalid Jemmah, head of Families of Victims of Illegal Immigration, in a state Moroccan TV interview. "Those who fail to cross into Europe are joined by new would-be immigrants," he said, adding that they faced harsh treatment from the authorities, whether caught on Moroccan or Spanish territory. So far this year 3,300 of these immigrants have been arrested for attempting to gain illegal entry into the frontline EU states of Portugal and Spain. The Spanish and Moroccan governments have set up a joint security operation involving police helicopter fleets patrolling the northern Moroccan coastline and the Gibraltar Straits. It is estimated that last year more than 15 thousand African immigrants managed to smuggle themselves into Portugal and Spain - but at a heavy cost with at least 500 people drowning at sea due to rough seas and sinking boats. The latest move by the immigrants to gain entry to the EU has been to target the Spanish Canary Islands. But once again the Spanish and Moroccans have joined forces to set up maritime surveillance fleets on the north west coast of Africa. So far over 1,600 illegal immigrants have been arrested. Because of ongoing trade talks between Brussels and Rabat, the Moroccan government is keen to be seen to cooperate as much as it can with the EU in keeping down the number of illegal immigrants crossing over its borders into Europe.
    ©The Portugal News

    1/9/2004- A leading MEP has hit out sharply at controversial proposals to build transit camps for potential immigrants to Europe. Speaking to journalists on Wednesday (1 September), Graham Watson, head of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the third-largest group in European Parliament, said that Liberals "have resisted and will continue to resist" such plans. The proposals - originally proposed by the British and recently revived by German interior minister Otto Schily - have been supported by the incoming Commissioner for justice and home affairs, Italian right-winger Rocco Buttiglione. Mr Buttiglione explained the proposals last week in a Reuters interview. "The camps would take in immigrants who, for example, arrive from sub-Saharan Africa, to offer them humanitarian aid and information about job possibilities in Europe". "But they would also investigate, identify and send back those who don't meet the criteria or who would not be able to integrate", he added.

    Rocky road for Rocco
    However, Mr Watson promised that his group would provide tough opposition to the project, threatening, "If Mr. Buttiglione chooses the road of confrontation he can expect a rocky ride". He stopped short of threatening to vote against Mr Buttiglione. The EU rules state that the European Parliament can reject the whole Commission but not individual members. But Liberals are set to pose some awkward questions for the incoming commissioner in the hearings beginning on 27 September. They are set to ask Mr Buttliglione why he is making such controversial statements about his portfolio before he has been officially approved by the Parliament. And Mr Watson stressed that the idea - which he said runs counter to the Geneva Convention on human rights - was already rejected by the European Parliament in Spring.

    "Catastrophic" conditions
    The leader of the Greens in the European Parliament, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, drew attention to the state of existing camps in Libya. "You need to see how catastrophic the conditions are there", he said. Hans-Gert Pöttering, head of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the largest parliamentary group, said that the focus should be on improving economic conditions in the home countries of potential immigrants to the EU. "The problem is that the young people in these countries need jobs", he said. Despite high-profile disasters involving illegal immigrants drowning off EU coastlines, statistics show that asylum claims have dropped sharply in Europe. A report released yesterday (31 August) by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that asylum applications in traditional destinations such as France, Germany and the UK have fallen sharply whilst claims in the new EU member states have risen. Overall, according to the UN, "The 25 European countries included in the report received 147,340 claims during the first six months of this year, a drop of 18 per cent compared to the same period last year".

    24/8/2004- A report by a Swiss non-governmental organisation has accused Geneva police of heavy-handedness in its treatment of black people. The study comes less than two weeks after an internal police investigation was launched over a racist stunt carried out in public by three Geneva officers. According to the Swiss-based anti-racism platform, known as "CRAN", police brutality and racism against blacks is on the rise across the country. The group, which based its report on eyewitness accounts of alleged abuse, said the problem was particularly acute in Geneva, where an anti-drug campaign was launched in 2002. "More and more, we're seeing young blacks, especially foreigners, being targeted by the authorities as part of a the crack-down on drug traffickers," said CRAN's secretary general, Kanyana Mutombo. "Little or no effort is being made, however, to distinguish between real criminals and honest citizens," he told swissinfo. "Anyone with black skin is in danger of being singled out and subjected to some form of humiliation or violence," added Mutombo. When contacted by swissinfo, the Federal Police Office declined to comment on the allegations, saying that it had did not have blanket authority over cantonal police services. But Geneva's chief of police, Urs Rechsteiner, confirmed that the introduction of the canton's anti-drug taskforce in 2002 had resulted in a higher number of arrests among Africans. According to Rechsteiner, 75 per cent of people detained in Geneva on drug-trafficking related charges during the first three months of 2004 were asylum seekers. "The most frequent places of origin are Guinea, Mali and Liberia," he said. "And this phenomenon of traffickers coming from Africa… has led to a perception that they are being targeted by the police." He also insists that Geneva's police force has adopted a series of measures over the past few years to prevent racism in its ranks. "These allegations aren't new," Rechsteiner told swissinfo. "And we've taken steps to provide training on human rights and multicultural awareness to our officers and to internally investigate any abuses."

    Racist stunt
    But the effectiveness of the police department's sensitivity training was called into question on August 13, when three Geneva officers carried out a racist gag at the city's main train station as part of a bachelor party stunt. According to eyewitnesses, two of the officers faked the arrest of their soon-to-be-married colleague, who was disguised as a "dark-skinned Brazilian in an ‘afro-style' wig". The two reportedly then handcuffed their colleague, tied him to the back of their police car and forced him to run behind the vehicle until they reached the station's police office. Rechsteiner immediately opened an internal investigation into the matter, describing the incident as "intolerable". CRAN said the gag was proof that the authorities had allowed an "intolerable level of laxity to reign" in the city's police force. The group claims to have received at least six reports of black youths being forced to strip and to submit to body-cavity searches in public, including two such incidents at the end of June in Geneva. Rechsteiner told swissinfo that Geneva's prosecutor had been asked to look into those two incidents, but that he was not aware of similar cases in other cantons. "We are taking these allegations seriously and as soon as a witness brings something to our attention, we respect proper procedure and take any necessary disciplinary actions," he said. "It should also be made clear that pat-down searches over clothing are allowed but that full-body searches are prohibited in public," added Rechsteiner.

    Chorus of criticism
    CRAN is not the only human rights watchdog to have criticised the Swiss authorities of heavy handedness in recent months. In its annual 2004 report, released this May, Amnesty International also condemned the country's police for using excessive force against foreigners and asylum seekers, including the mistreatment of detainees in cantons Geneva, Zurich and Bern. "This is all very disturbing," said Mutombo. "And what's worse is that Swiss politicians have turned a blind eye to the abuse." "We've alerted the federal authorities but there has been no political reaction whatsoever," he added. "No one is willing to admit that this is a nationwide problem and it's getting worse."
    ©NZZ Online

    30/8/2004- More than 80 Swiss and South African women have been meeting in Bern to share experiences about female equality in their home countries. Although there are many differences between Switzerland and South Africa, delegates agreed that the problems faced by women in the two countries were very similar. The two-day conference - which ended on Friday - was organised by the South African Embassy in Bern, along with several Swiss partners, to mark National Women's Day in South Africa. It is also one of the events being held in Switzerland to mark the tenth anniversary of the fall of apartheid and the start of democracy in the African country. Delegates to the conference were mostly from the political, business, social services and health sectors. The South African ambassador to Bern, Nozipho January-Bardill, said the discussions focused on how to fight gender inequality and promote the role of women in society. "The issues are the same, [but] the context is different, and the way we deal with them is different," January-Bardill told swissinfo. "So it's good to recognise how these issues are dealt with in Switzerland and for us to share with Swiss women how we deal with [our] issues at political, social and economic levels," she added.

    Great strides
    Delegates heard that great strides had been made towards equality in South Africa since the advent of democracy. This included changes to domestic violence legislation and a new act that gives equal rights to women married according to African traditional law. But January-Bardill said that South African women were still less liberated than their Swiss counterparts. This was because Swiss women generally had better access to education and social security. The ambassador said that poverty, particularly in rural areas, was still a major problem in South Africa. Women, especially black women, also suffer from a very high rate of HIV infection and many are unemployed. Social and economic changes which would benefit women, such as better education and access to services, had therefore become priorities for the government. "We feel that until women are liberated in South Africa we will not achieve freedom for the whole society," said January-Bardill.

    Long way to go
    All sides agreed that that there was still a long way to go before full equality was achieved for women. In Switzerland, the principle of gender equality was enshrined in the constitution in 1981, but women are still paid on average 20 per cent less than men and are under-represented in politics and managerial positions. The country still has no statutory maternity leave, although the population is due to vote for a third time on the issue on September 26. Women only received the right to vote at a federal level 33 years ago. "What is similar in Switzerland and South Africa is that women are disadvantaged in many areas and that although our goals are nicely put down on paper, it's not easy to achieve them in practice," said Pia Hollenstein, a Swiss parliamentarian for the Green Party. "The patriarchal world is found both in the South and in the North, and there we have something in common," she told swissinfo. One of the main topics of interest for the South African delegates was how Swiss democracy - which gives the population a say on many issues - works. "The Swiss live in a democracy which is hundreds of years old. Ours is ten years old and so we can learn… in terms of politics about your democracy, how you express your freedom and how you use your languages," said January-Bardill. "I have lived here for nearly four years and I've learned a lot about the positive aspects of Switzerland. "But I think there's also something to be said for youth and I'm very excited about what we're doing [in South Africa]."
    ©NZZ Online

    23/8/2004- The role of the mainstream media in suppressing resistance to injustice will be explored as part of the anti-slavery week of activities Friday's Rendezvous of Victory programme will look at how the media has been used to perpetuate acts of injustice and oppression, but also how the industry can also promote change. Friday's Rendezvous of Victory programme will look at how the media has been used to perpetuate acts of injustice and oppression, but also how the industry can also promote change. Lester Holloway, editor of Blink and a co-facilitator of Friday's media workshop, said: "The media is rightly blamed for perpetrating false messages about the oppression of Black peoples, and maintaining the stereotypes which fuel racism.

    "But we must also give attention to exactly how this process works, analysing the decision-making processes within the media and connections between media agendas and powerful decision-makers. "As a journalist I believe media is on balance a force for good which we cannot do without. But while there are many occasions when the media has displayed fearlessness in standing up against the status-quo, there are sadly even more examples of collusion with political and economic interests. "There is no worse example of this than the media's failure to tackle the legacy of slavery. There is precious little coverage of racism, but where there is only one piece of the jigsaw will be covered. Never the whole jigsaw." Explo Nani-Kofi, another co-facilitator, says black professionals working in the media can get targeted if they stand up for what they believe. "The media perpetuates acts of injustice and oppression by being a mouthpiece for the establishment. "Those who find themselves on the wrong side could lose their jobs like Henry Bonsu and Geoff Schumann. " Andrew Muhammad, author of Free Your Mind a book launched this month about black people and our contribution to history says that the media plays a part in the negative stereotypes we see of black people. "The media are part and parcel of the whole system by perpetuating the myth that being black is something we should be ashamed of. "They achieve this through words such as blackmail, or black Tuesday so black is pushed as something negative. "The articles in the mainstream Press are limited to gang violence and we are deemed as only positive in areas of sport, play and music. The media is an obstacle to us loving ourselves."

    Resistance and tackling oppression the media has been used in the past to communicate at grassroots level through community radio stations, and fly posting. Friday's seminar will explore the media's role in slavery and resistance, colonialism and Apartheid and how it has helped to create a context for the fragmentation within and between communities today. Finally, the day will tackle ways in which we can bring community issues into the mainstream and breaking the silence and how we can learn from those who used the media creatively in the past to effect change in people's minds and lives. Media influence helps individuals to form opinions on the world which is why it is such a powerful medium of communication whether it is positive or negative. Black people have made an outstanding contribution to music but the mainstream media tends to sway towards the derogatory aspects of hip hop and errs on the side of caution when it comes to conscious, positive lyrical artists. Kofi Mawuli Klu calls this the bastardisation of black culture. He said: "The way music channels portray black music and culture is a lie – our music and culture is not to portray immorality. "They misuse our culture as a way of pedalling other peoples' ideas. We want to show an alternative as a way of advancing our community interests."
    ©Black Information Link

    23/8/2004- Events are being held worldwide to mark the abolition of the slave trade and to highlight the fact that millions still live as slaves in all but name. The United Nations is leading the celebrations in Paris, while a new slavery museum is to open in the US state of Ohio later on Monday. Senegal is holding a commemoration on Goree Island, once a major transit centre for the slave trade. A UN official said the full extent of slavery had still to be recognised.

    Human trafficking
    The UN's cultural organisation, Unesco, set 23 August as International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. It chose the date to commemorate the 1791 San Domingo (Haiti) revolt, which marked the first decisive victory of slaves against their oppressors and led to the creation of the first black independent state. The UN General Assembly has also proclaimed 2004 as International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition. Koichiro Matsuura, head of Unesco, described slavery as an "unprecedented tragedy... concealed for many years and... yet to be fully recognised". "Although abolished and penalised in international instruments, [slavery] is still practised in new forms that today affect millions of men, women and children across the world," he said. The Anti-Slavery International group - which is working with Unesco to raise awareness in schools globally of the transatlantic slave trade - has described human trafficking as the fastest growing from of modern-day slavery. The group says the majority of trafficked people are women and girls, and experts believe that most of them are sent from Africa and Eastern Europe for the sex trade in Western Europe. Anti-Slavery International's Beth Herzfeld told the BBC earlier this year that chattel slavery, involving a class of hereditary slaves, still existed in parts of Africa, and bonded labour remained common in South Asia. Human trafficking remained a problem in every African country, the UN's Children's Fund, Unicef, said in its April's report. The report, which covered 53 African nations, said children were the biggest victims, describing how they had been forced into slavery, recruited as child soldiers or sold into prostitution.
    Click here to see a map of modern slavery hotspots

    'Underground railroad'
    Events at Unesco's Paris headquarters on Monday include poetry readings, lectures, a film screening and an exhibition. Ohio is opening a museum dedicated to slaves and anti-slavery activists, focusing on the "Underground Railroad" - the clandestine network which existed up to the American Civil War to help captives escape to freedom. A grand opening ceremony for the Freedom Center's museum will include a special concert later on Monday. "We want to provide a powerful experience that demonstrates how the conviction, dedication and passion of some very diverse people changed the world 150 years ago," Spencer Crew, executive director of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, told AFP news agency. Commemorative ceremonies are also being held in Senegal's Goree Island, where captives were held on the way to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade. The Goree Island is now a World Heritage site.
    ©BBC News

    23/8/2004- Yahoo Inc. will likely have a tough time getting U.S. courts to intervene in a dispute over the sale of Nazi memorabilia in France after a federal appeals court ruling Monday. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a U.S. district court judge did not have authority to hear a case or make a decision that could affect two French human rights groups trying to ban the sale of Nazi-related items on Yahoo's popular auction site. France's Union of Jewish Students and the International Anti-Racism and Anti-Semitism League sued the world's leading Web portal in 2000 and won a French court order requiring Yahoo to block Internet surfers in France from auctions selling Nazi memorabilia. French law bars the display or sale of racist material. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo stripped Nazi memorabilia - including flags emblazoned with swastikas and excerpts from Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" - from its French subsidiary, yahoo.fr. To the anger of French Jews, Holocaust survivors, their descendants and other activists, Yahoo kept such items on its vastly more popular site, yahoo.com, which is based in the United States but accessible to Web surfers anywhere in the world. Yahoo filed a lawsuit in San Jose in December 2002, asking the U.S. District Court to rule that the French order was invalid because it violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. District Court Judge Jeremy Fogel of San Jose concluded that he had jurisdiction over French defendants, but Monday's ruling reversed that decision. In a 2-1 decision, Ninth Circuit Judge Warren Ferguson emphasized that the French groups had not sued Yahoo in U.S. courts, so the case was "not ripe." "The district court should have abstained from hearing the case," Ferguson wrote.

    Although Monday's ruling doesn't require Yahoo to change the way it operates yahoo.com or any other site, it will likely make it tougher for Yahoo to argue its case in U.S. courts. Ferguson said if Yahoo wants to continue selling items on a site that can be accessed around the world, the company must assume the risk that it could violate laws of other countries and be subject to more lawsuits. "Yahoo cannot expect both to benefit from the fact that its content may be viewed around the world and to be shielded from the resulting costs," Ferguson wrote in the 35-page decision, Judge Melvin Brunetti, dissented, saying because French groups specifically "targeted" Yahoo in California, U.S. courts should have jurisdiction in the case. The opinion is a small but important victory for French human rights groups, said attorney Richard Jones, who represented the Union of Jewish Students and the International Anti-Racism and Anti-Semitism League. "Yahoo would like the world to be covered by America's First Amendment because that would make it easier for Yahoo to do business around the world," said Jones, of the San Francisco office of Covington & Burling. "But that puts Yahoo in the ironic position of trying to impose American values on the rest of the world." Attorney Robert Vanderet, who represented Yahoo for Los Angeles-based O'Melveny & Myers, said the opinion "really doesn't mean much." The ruling may make it tougher for Yahoo to get this case heard in U.S. courts - but the French groups must first sue Yahoo in the United States for breaking the French court order. "This means that Yahoo would have to wait until they tried to enforce the French order in the United States to have it declared unconstitutional," Vanderet said. "It doesn't disturb the court's ruling - it just says that you have to wait until they come into this country to try to enforce it."
    ©Associated Press

    23/8/2004- A same-sex couple may go to the European Court over being prevented from living in Austria, said the gay lobbying group Hosi on Monday. General Secretary Kurt Krickler said the couple, with one German and a US partner, had been married in the Netherlands. However, the marriage was not recognized by the Austrian state. When the German man decided to move to Austria, his non-EU American partner was refused Austrian residence and working permits. "That's a clear violation of EU law", said Krickler. He said that any EU citizen settling in another EU country had the right to bring along his or her married partner, even if the partner was a citizen of an outside country. It was also forbidden by the EU Charter to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation, and the European Human Rights Convention also guaranteed respect for private and family life, Krickler said. First the case would be taken to the Austrian Constitutional Court, said Krickler. In the event of a negative decision there, "we're confident of getting justice either at the EU Court in Luxembourg, or at the latest at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg." Krickler cautioned however that even a positive outcome of the courtcases "will not oblige Austria to introduce lesbian and homosexual marriages for its citizens".
    ©Expatica News

    23/8/2004- The row over the Spanish government's plans to offer legal recognition to illegal immigrants with jobs blew up on Monday. The Socialist administration is to offer amnesty to immigrants who are already living in Spain and who have a contract of employment. It also plans to stop using its navy to turn back the boat-loads of illegal immigrants, transported by human traffickers, who land on Spanish soil from Africa on an almost daily basis. The controversial plan will start from next month. The opposition has criticised the plan, claiming it will mean Spain is out of step with the rest of Europe. Mariano Rajoy, opposition Partido Popular (PP) leader, said: "I think this is very serious and we are asking the government to answer questions in parliament. "It is very dangerous and in fact they do not do this in any other country in Europe." Rajoy claimed that the government had committed a "grave error". He added that it sent out the message that in Spain "anything goes" and it had undone all efforts to regulate immigration. But Consuelo Rumi, the immigration minister, said Monday the government rejected claims that the new plans meant it had bowed to pressure to give "papers for all" illegal immigrants. Rumi hit back, saying the government wanted to uncover the hidden economy in which many immigrants without legal status work in Spain. She said it also wanted to undue some of the problems created by the previous PP government and regulate the flow of immigrants. Rumi denied the government would give legal status to those without work contracts. But the NGO Alicante Refuge, which works with illegal immigrants who arrive in southern Spain, said criminals had already sold false offers of work to desperate migrants after hearing of the government plans. Another pressure group, SOS Racism, called on the government to make the new system clear and not to create uncertainty.
    ©Expatica News

    24/8/2004- Spain's socialist government is offering an amnesty to illegal immigrants in the country in an attempt to regularise their situation. Illegal immigrants who can prove they have a valid work contract will be eligible for the amnesty, according to remarks made by Consuelo Rumi, the state secretary for immigration, published in El Pais. "It is about easing the social integration of foreigners but also about combating the black market in immigrant labour", said Ms Rumi. "This does not mean we are going to give papers to all foreigners. Let that be very clear", she emphasized. Under new plans, which are to be unveiled next month, the government will also issue residence papers for immigrants who blow the whistle on employers who employ immigrants without a work contract, reported El Pais. Legal immigration will be promoted by offering 3-month visas to immigrants so they have time to look for a job before applying for a residence permit. The minister also said that Spain is planning to ask the EU for more funds to strengthen border controls. The Spanish government's stance contrasts strongly with that of Italy - another country that has large immigration flows due to its long sea borders. There, Europe minister Rocco Buttiglione, who will be the EU's justice and home affairs commissioner from November, has said that people seeking asylum for economic reasons is a 'time-bomb'. Mr Buttiglione has also revived the controversial idea of camps in countries outside the EU where prospective immigrants can be processed. Illegal immigration is also the top theme of a visit by Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to Libya tomorrow (25 August). He is to ask Colonel Gaddafi to try and do something to counter the flow of would-be immigrants setting sail for Italy from the North African country. Libya has already in principle agreed to Italian-Libyan navy patrols to try and stop the immigrants - many of whom have paid huge sums of money to be shipped by Libyans to Italian shores

    26/8/2004- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has met Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi for talks on curbing illegal immigration into Europe. After the meeting in the Libyan port of Sirte, Mr Berlusconi called for closer international co-operation. He said the problem of illegal immigration was not just Italian and Libyan, but European and African. The two countries signed an accord in July agreeing to mount joint sea, air and land patrols from mid-September. The problem was highlighted on Tuesday by the arrival of 275 migrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa - the largest single landing there so far. The boatload of illegal migrants - including 89 children - claimed to be Bangladeshis and Palestinians. Many migrants try to reach Italy via Libya. "We clarified the importance of collaborating on illegal immigration to find a solution to a problem which is not only Italo-Libyan but European and African," Mr Berlusconi told reporters before returning to Italy. Libya has some 9,654km (6,000 miles) of maritime and desert frontiers and lacks equipment and personnel to patrol these effectively. The two countries also plan to work on deporting illegal immigrants directly from Libya. Italy and Libya have close economic ties, despite a long-standing dispute over Libya's unsatisfied claim for compensation for the period at the beginning of the 20th Century when it was under Italian colonial rule. Mr Berlusconi visited Libya in October 2002 and again in February this year, becoming the first Western leader to meet Mr Gaddafi after the Libyan leader announced that he was abandoning programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction.
    ©BBC News

    Cool reception from Armenia's tiny minority communities to a draft law designed to help them.
    By Zhanna Alexanian in Yerevan

    25/8/2004- A proposed new law intended to protect the rights of minorities in Armenia has met with a lukewarm response from members of the country's small ethnic communities even before a first draft is on the table. When the team of experts designing the law complete their deliberations, which have been going on for two months, the document will be sent for review at the Council of Europe and then submitted to parliament. Armenia is, in contrast to its south Caucasian neighbours Georgia and Azerbaijan, virtually a mono-ethnic republic in which just 2.2 per cent of the population is not Armenian. However, it is the first country in the region to work on a law on its ethnic minorities. "I think that passing a law on national minorities may set a positive example for other countries of the region," said Stepan Safarian, an expert at the Armenian Centre for National and International Studies and a member of the team drafting the law. "It will be important for Armenia in terms of harmonising relations between the majority and the minorities." This is not the first attempt to pass such a law. An earlier document was rejected by the minority communities themselves. After that, in January this year, the government formed a new Department for National Minorities and Religion which started drafting a new bill. "We weren't obliged to do this, but there was a recommendation," Hranush Kharatian, head of the minorities department, told IWPR. "The framework convention on national minorities which Armenia signed up to [in 1997] recommends adopting a law in which their rights are defined." Armenia's constitution does not specifically refer to the rights of minorities and they are barely mentioned in laws on education and language. The new law will set out their legal rights in terms of religious practice, education and language and will specifically outlaw discrimination against them. "On the whole, legislation in Armenia is liberal towards national minorities," said Kharatian. "But if we have an appropriate law, they will know their rights better. At the end of the day adopting this law signifies the state's attitude towards its minorities. "It's true that the constitution forbids discrimination of any kind, but banning discrimination or violence gives minorities a passive right, whereas this law will above all give them active rights."

    There are more than 20 ethnic minorities in Armenia, chiefly Assyrians, Yezidis, Kurds, Greeks, Jews, Russians and others. In the last Soviet census of 1989, minorities formed 6.7 per cent of the population. But the number has fallen drastically since then, in part because of the mass flight of Armenia's Azerbaijani population and in part because of emigration. The team of experts debating the new law includes government figures and scholars. They have studied similar laws from around 20 other countries, and have paid particular attention to the laws of Hungary and Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro). However many minority leaders are cool towards the whole project. "I am not in favour of passing this law, but as the discussion concerns us I am participating in it," said Irina Gasparian, who represents the Assyrian community. Around 6,000 Assyrians were living in Armenia in 1989, but there are only about 3,400 here now. Charkaze Mstoyan, chairman of the Kurdistan Committee, is strongly against the law as a matter of principle, because he feels that the act of defining a separate identity for minorities is a form of discrimination in itself. "Passing a law like this is a form of national persecution and infringes our rights," he said. "If I am a citizen of the Republic of Armenia, why should I have this label pinned on me?" "There is a taboo on everything Kurdish here," continued Mstoyan. "If the president of the country were to declare just once that Kurds or other peoples have lived together with us for centuries, if we were to be mentioned officially, I assure you that the atmosphere in Armenia would change." He said that the Kurds and the Yezidis, a Kurdish-speaking but non-Muslim group, were leaving Armenia because of social problems, in particular the poor educational system. "School buildings are falling down, it's impossible to hold lessons there. The state has just forgotten about us," he said. Another problem for Kurds is bullying when they are conscripted into the army, leading the Kurdish leader to ask aloud, "Will there be a point in the law which stops a member of a minority group being persecuted in the army?… I don't think so. For members of our community, army service is a tragedy for the whole family. And another thing: will there be a point in the law which allocates university places for Kurdish children?"

    Hranush Aratian argued that the law was needed to protect minorities against discrimination from organisations like the nationalist Union of Armenian Aryans. This group is calling on ethnic minorities to leave Armenia, and has called on the Jewish community in Armenia to put pressure on the Israeli government to change its position on the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Hersch Burstein, chairman of the Mordechai Navi society which represent's Armenia's Jewish community of just 300 people, declined to answer IWPR's questions, saying only that he was not taking part in discussions on the draft law because he was not sufficiently informed about it. Shavarsh Khachatrian, a specialist in international law and the chief expert in the drafting group, argued that passing the new bill was chiefly in the interests of the ethnic minorities themselves. "They ought to explain why they reject the need to pass a law like this," said Khachatrian. "National minorities are a section of society which always get used when tensions are rising, either between states or in anti-government movements. The problems that create the most tension have to do with inter-ethnic relations, and that is why many countries have adopted laws like this one." "We do not have minorities with separatist demands," said Khachatrian. "Historically, our state has not been intolerant towards minorities. I think we have all we need to pass a normal law. "How this law is used is another matter. That is connected with the way our country is developing. It has retreated from democratic values and is moving towards authoritarianism."
    ©Institute for War & Peace Reporting

    25/8/2004- An increasing number of immigrants are changing their first name or surname in Belgium, it was reported on Wednesday. Flemish dailies Het Laatste Nieuws and De Nieuwe Gazet learnt from the authorities that name change applications had soared by 20 percent. And a large percentage of these requests come from ‘new Belgians' who have moved to the country from overseas. The trend has Belgian Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx worried She see the efforts by immigrants to hide their origins as evidence that integration is failing in this country. Onkelinx is understood to be looking at whether the name-change procedure – which takes 18 months – needs tightening up. Every year, 1,000 name changes are sought and 40 percent are turned down. About a quarter of the requests are ‘new Belgians' giving ‘integration' as the reason they want a new name.
    ©Expatica News

    27/8/2004- The Pentecostal Church has created a controversial revival movement among Muslim asylum seekers in the greater Oslo area. In the past six years 16,000 refugees have visited the white wooden church in Sandvika, a suburb in Bærum just west of the capital. Some asylum center leaders say the church is tricking their visitors. Coffee, cakes, Iranian pop music, a little proselytizing and a special bus - these are the ingredients behind the church's popular meetings with asylum seekers. Since 1998 over 16,000 asylum seekers have attended the church's Thursday meetings. About 70 percent of these visitors have been Muslims. The revivalist campaign has also resulted in 80 former Muslims letting themselves be baptized. The congregation drives their own bus around and often enters the centers to meet the refugees. This has led to tighter security, and the Hvalstad center for underage asylum seekers banned the Pentcostalists earlier this year. The Hvalstad center found the recruiting unpleasant, and felt the youngsters were being lured with refreshments and day out without being warned in advance that they would be attending a Christian meeting, an aspect that can lead to various complications. The Directorate of Immigration (UDI) said that how the arrangement and approach of the Pentecostalists is handled is up to the respective centers to decide. NOAS, the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers, tries to inform and advise refugees, and often feels that the revivalists are putting problematic pressure on the newcomers. The church said that they would abide by the rules of the centers and were just trying to spread the light. "We are not so naive that we baptize someone who has hopes that this could help their asylum application. We could have taken in many more, but we are restrictive," said Robert Leine, who leads the church's meetings. "Anything is better than being bored at the center!" says a Muslim guest, one of a group about 50 visitors made up of 20 nationalities at last Thursday night's meeting. A group of Iranian asylum seekers say that boredom is the main reason that any form of entertainment appeals. Earlier, some Iranians tried baptism as a route into Norway, but claim that the UDI now know about this. A 26-year-old Iranian said a switch to Christianity would mean liquidation if he eventually returned to Iran, and none of the group said that they felt the church tried to convert them. "Your God or our God, it is the same thing. We have come here to relax a little, eat cake and air our thoughts," he said.

    IMMIGRATION... A DANGER OR A RAY OF HOPE?(European Union, Comment)
    By Aleksander Abram,Polish academic, currently pursuing graduate studies in agricultural economics at the Ohio State University in Columbus, OH.

    27/8/2004- Immigration has become something of an obsession in European debate recently. The whole uprising of EU scepticism, popular or not, cherishes rejecting immigration in all shape or form. Dutch politicians talk of a "flood," Italy speaks of a "wave," and some right-wing Austrian and Polish crusaders predict the "revolution." I think it is time we asked ourselves if the newcomers constitute a real danger or rather a ray of hope for our aging European population. It is undeniably true that people are coming to European shores. Large-scale labour-driven migration into Western Europe started roughly in 1960. Since the late 1980s, the number of people applying for asylum has also increased. In 1984 there were only 104,000 applications in Western Europe. This figure grew to 692,000 in 1992 and then declined during much of the 1990s, only to climb back up at the beginning of this century. It is not possible to stop it – even if we wanted to. The US, for example, which spends enormous quantities of financial resources under the new Homeland Security Legislation, is unable to. But more importantly, why would Europe want to stop immigration?

    Declining European population
    Its population is set to decline over the next 50 years – Italy, for example will lose 28% of its population by 2050. In order to maintain its working age population, it would either need to start allowing in more than 350,000 immigrants per year or keep its citizens working until they are 75. That very inability or simple reluctance of EU governments to recognize the reality and to act promptly is what should be scaring us – rather than the idea of unstoppable immigration. The EU is in such disarray when it comes to immigration policy that the first step towards any solution would probably be to gather in a coffee shop to break the ice. Then, maybe standardization of the law. I would even go further: what about creating an EU institution responsible solely for dealing with immigration? What about an all-encompassing database holding information about all registered alien-residents? What about joined goals, and priorities, and future planning systems?

    The EU needs immigrant labour
    The Union finds itself in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, the EU needs immigrant labour, and as a democratic power advertising the "International Bill of Rights", has to accept a number of refugees. Conversely, it faces its own inability to regulate the immigrant workforce, and help its quicker assimilation. What should it do? One of the solutions encompasses the development of a number of recruiting stations abroad, which would take and process applications of people wishing to come and work in Europe. The UK could have its nurse shortage problem dealt with by a particular station that recruits nurses to come and work in the country. The same could be done for regions looking for engineers, road workers and farmers. The US, for example, recruits doctors for 5 years of service in a remote area, such as Alaska, conferring the right to become a permanent resident. Australia, New Zealand and Canada also do just that. Such an approach would not only allow Europe a little bit of macro-control, proving a quicker solution to labour shortages, and a more profound picture of those who come into the Union, but it would also encourage potential immigrants to gain special skills and so contribute to development in their local area.

    Sponsoring asylum camps
    By sending that signal, you create hope that if they attain a particular level of experience, they have a chance to move legally to Europe. Europe needs to provide a better set of assimilation incentives such as easier access to education, and professional improvement programmes, and encourage the currently settled resident-aliens to try out for opportunities across various member states. As far as asylum applicants are concerned, the EU must be ready to sponsor asylum camps in safe third party countries, which would check the validity of applications. Other options, naturally, are more development aid, debt relief, and, most significantly, fair trade. The EU will need to be better equipped to prevent conflict and keep the peace in trouble-spots around the world. If we really want to scale down asylum settlement in Europe, we need to address issues of African or Asian conflicts for example. But we have even yet to see the EU reaching any consensus on Iraq. How far behind are we?

    13/8/2004- Claims of discrimination against publicans have reduced to a trickle, according to the latest figures from the Equality Tribunal. Just 36 complaints involving licensed premises were referred to the tribunal for the six months to June 30, a 90% drop on the 325 cases referred during the same period last year. A spokesperson for the tribunal yesterday said future complaints were likely to be referred to the District Court, which has had jurisdiction for the claims since September 2003. The Courts Service was not available for comment last night on whether there had been a corresponding increase in discrimination claims against licensed premises before the District Court. The transfer of these cases followed extensive lobbying by publicans who claimed they were easy targets for complaints of discrimination. Over the past six months, the highest number of claims referred to the tribunal on a single ground continued to be membership of the Traveller community (33), followed by disability claims (30). There were 19 claims on race grounds and 15 relating to age discrimination. Mediation is proving highly successful in resolving disputes, with three out of four disputes settled in this manner. "I am glad that more people are realising the advantages of mediation to both sides and are making use of our very successful mediation service," said Equality Tribunal director Melanie Pine. Issuing her half-year report to June, Ms Pine said 76% of cases referred to mediation were successfully resolved, compared to 55% in the same period last year. For the first six months of this year 127 claims were referred to mediation (compared to 60 in the first half of 2003). This equates to 42% of all claims dealt with by the tribunal and reflected its new policy of referring all claims to mediation unless a party formally objected to it. "I particularly welcome the extended jurisdiction in relation to pensions and discriminatory dismissals, which means that our position as the forum of first redress for employment discrimination is now comprehensive,'' said Ms Pine. "On the other hand, the drop in equal status claims because of the transfer of jurisdiction regarding licensed premises (to the District Court) will facilitate us in tackling the backlog built up over the last couple of years," she said.
    ©Irish Examiner

    16/8/2004- The home of a man, injured in a possible racial assault in Armagh at the weekend, has been attacked for a second time. A petrol bomb was thrown at the Lithuanian man's house in Alexander Park on Monday. It damaged the door. The partner and baby of the 34-year-old were at home but were not injured. The man is still in hospital after being attacked by about seven people at about midnight on Saturday. He suffered fractures to his ribs and upper body fractures. Two of his attackers were believed to have been women. The police said they were investigating a possible racist motive for both attacks. SDLP assembly member Dominic Bradley said the attacks seemed to be part of a concerted campaign against ethnic minorities. Mr Bradley said: "This was a vicious attack and should be condemned by all fair-minded people. "For too long we, in the north of Ireland, have been familiar with the horrific results of sectarian attacks. Racist attacks are equally sinister. "All people in our community deserve equal respect regardless of their religious, ethnic or cultural background." Meanwhile, a number of people have escaped injury during a possible racist attack on a house in south Belfast. It is believed stones were thrown at the house on the Donegall Road, breaking a window, shortly before 2100 BST on Sunday. A racist motive is one of those being investigated by police, who are appealing for witnesses. It is believed the people living in the house are eastern European. The incident is the latest in a series of racist attacks in the area.
    ©BBC News

    18/8/2004- The SDLP is to organise anti-racism training for its entire party membership after the Belfast Telegraph exposed one of its councillors using the word "nigger" at a public meeting. The party has decided to take swift disciplinary action against Newtownabbey councillor Tommy McTeague and has also organised the diversity training for all members to show how seriously they are treating the race row. Mr McTeague, (78), today said he was sorry for all the embarrassment he had caused his party colleagues but said he had not ruled out running again in next year's local government elections. The veteran politician caused outrage last month after this paper revealed he had said councillors were being "treated like niggers" at a public meeting. Mr McTeague faced calls to resign his position as vice-chairman of Newtownabbey District Policing Partnership, which deals with the sensitive issue of racially motivated crimes. The SDLP ordered an immediate investigation and last week Mr McTeague appeared before the Management Committee. A party spokesman said: "The SDLP takes very seriously the remarks made by Tommy McTeague and apologises for the damage done. "While we fully accept that he is not a racist and never has been, we unanimously decided that disciplinary action is necessary. "Mr McTeague has received a written warning that any remarks of the kind used will not be tolerated. He has been instructed to undergo diversity training. "He has been requested to reaffirm his commitment to the SDLP pledge on racism." The spokesman said the party had also "set in train programmes of training for all elected representatives and party members".
    ©Belfast Telegraph

    21/8/2004- Northern Ireland's security minister has described a racist attack on two Portuguese families in County Armagh as "utterly deplorable". Ian Pearson was speaking after the doors of three apartments in Moeran Park, Portadown, were smashed in by a gang at about 0130 BST on Saturday. Temporary accommodation was arranged for the couple and their two children, aged four and six, who were living in one of the apartments. The brother-in-law and two sisters of the couple, all aged in their 20s, were also moved. Paulo Fialho, whose home was attacked, said the gang would not stop despite the screams of his wife and children. "Maybe a few guys here don't like us, maybe because we are Portuguese". His friend Toni Antonio, who has also been in the province for 10 months, has not had any problems before. "I am not angry but a bit sad because we are in 2004, we are in a democracy," he said. The Police Service of Northern Ireland confirmed the attack was racially motivated. Mr Pearson called on the local community to support the police in bringing those responsible for such attacks before the courts. He said: "New legislation which comes into effect next month will give courts the powers to impose heavier sentences for hate crime and racist attacks." There have been a series of racially motivated attacks in Northern Ireland in recent months. The Anti-Racism Network warned that people would be killed if the attacks did not stop. Spokesman Davy Carlin said: "People are being put out of their homes left, right and centre just because of the colour of their skin or the culture they believe in.

    Police appeal
    "I believe it's only a matter of time before someone is killed." Craigavon Mayor David Simpson also condemned the attack. He said the people who carried out the attack were "not fit to live in the borough of Craigavon." The Chairman of the local District Policing Partnership, Jonathan Bell of the Democratic Unionist Party, said the community was outraged by the latest incident. "The council would be united, the district policing partnership would be united in unequivocally condemning those who perpetrate these actions and seeking to have them made amenable to the courts at the earliest opportunity," he said. The police want anyone who noticed suspicious activity in the Moeran Park estate to contact them.
    ©BBC News

    Campaigners claim protest against singer is working

    17/8/2004- Police, the Crown Prosecution Service and a leading barrister were meeting yesterday to discuss whether charges could be brought against the Jamaican reggae star Beenie Man over lyrics which allegedly incite the murder of gay men and lesbians. The move coincides with attempts by leading companies to dissociate themselves from the homophobic lyrics of the singer and fellow dancehall artists including Buju Banton. J-Flag, the Jamaican gay rights group, believes that violent lyrics have contributed to attacks upon and even the murders of gay men and lesbians in the country. Campaigners across Europe and the United States say their protests against the controversial stars are now bearing fruit. Puma, the sportswear company, last week announced that it would not support singers who performed songs with anti-gay lyrics or made "hate statements of any sort", following controversy over Buju Banton's appearance at an Olympics show it was sponsoring. Last week the tobacco giant RJ Reynolds dropped Beenie Man from a tour it had organised in the US, saying it did not "tolerate this or any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation". Peter Tatchell, a spokesman for the gay rights group Outrage!, said yesterday: "The campaign against murder music is escalating across the US and Europe. We're teaching these singers that inciting homophobic violence does not pay. It is costing them dear in lost revenue and income." But a prosecution over the lyrics would be contentious, with complicating factors including arguments over free speech, varying translations of the patois Beenie Man uses and the question of who should face charges for which offences. The director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, has taken personal responsibility for the case, an indication of its sensitivity. Chief Superintendent Clive Driscoll, the officer leading the Metropolitan police inquiry, said: "It's a difficult investigation. I have no wish to stop someone's freedom of speech. But by the same token, I would not want offences to be missed." He added: "We will be looking at whether there are grounds for prosecution and if the answer is yes, then who will be liable to prosecution. That's where the complications will come in." A CPS spokeswoman said: "An offence of incitement can be committed through a performance of written material or its distribution or broadcast. It doesn't just cover the writing itself." Beenie Man's new album was released yesterday on Virgin Records. But a spokeswoman for the label's owners, EMI, stressed that none of the controversial lyrics had appeared on tracks issued by Virgin. She declined to comment on the label's decision to sign the singer. The songs which allegedly incite violence have been released on smaller labels, most if not all of which are based in Jamaica. They include lyrics such as "Hang chi chi gal wid a long piece of rope" [Hang lesbians with a long piece of rope] and "Tek a bazooka and kill batty-fucker" [Take a bazooka and kill gay men].

    Outrage! hope that last year's prosecution of the extremist Muslim cleric Abdullah el-Faisal for soliciting the murder of Jews, Hindus and other non-Muslims has set a precedent for bringing a charge of incitement to murder. It might also be possible to bring charges under the Public Order Act, such as using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour. However, that would require someone to have been put in fear of immediate unlawful violence. A defence lawyer would be likely to argue that a singer could not expect those individuals to be put in fear when he recorded a track. There is no offence of inciting homophobic hatred as there is in the case of racial hatred. Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said: "It's absolutely appropriate that there should be legislation [protecting the gay community] that matches incitement to hatred in relation to race. In a civilised society the right to free speech does have constraints and one of those is that you shouldn't incite violence against other people." Earlier this month Virgin Records issued a statement from Beenie Man, which offered his "sincerest apologies to those who might have been offended, threatened or hurt by my songs." But the following day the head of his management company in Jamaica said that the statement was "not an apology" and that the singer reserved his right to criticise "the homosexual lifestyle".
    ©The Guardian

    17/8/2004- Lobby groups have begun an online campaign encouraging the public to bombard Channel 4 with emails of protest against its documentary Edge of the City which claims that white schoolgirls are being groomed for sex by Asian men in Bradford. The campaigners, who are running the protest through the Black Information Link website, want the programme axed because, they claim, it will incite racial violence and increase support for the British National party (BNP). Edge of the City was dropped just hours before it was due to run in May after West Yorkshire police warned Channel 4 it could create public disorder in the runup to local elections. Protesters claimed the programme was pulled after it was advertised on the BNP website as a "party political broadcast". But Channel 4 says this had nothing to do with the decision and the programme has been rescheduled to run on August 26. The National Assembly Against Racism, the Churches Commission for Racial Justice, The 1990 Trust, the London mayor, Ken Livingstone, and the Jewish Council for Race Equality have joined the campaign. If people click on the name of Channel 4's chief executive, Andy Duncan, or that of the secretary of state for sport, media and culture, Tessa Jowell, on the Blink website a formulated email of protest appears which can then be added to before sending. The editor of Blink website estimated that yesterday up to 100 people had lodged their protests. However, Channel 4 told the Guardian yesterday that Black Information Link was making judgments without having seen the documentary. "It is balanced and fair and focuses on child protection issues that Bradford social services face, not the individuals perpetrating this form of abuse." Keighley social services is said to have recorded 50 to 70 cases of sexual grooming. But West Yorkshire police released a statement saying they found no evidence of systematic exploitation.
    ©The Guardian

    17/8/2004- A black activist has won a £5,000 payout from a London council after exposing racism within its services. But Lambeth council is refusing to follow a tribunal ruling and reinstate Alex Owolade - prompting Mayor Ken Livingstone to intervene. The case has become a touchstone for race relations in the borough, where four in 10 are from an ethnic minority. Mr Owolade, 40, led a campaign to expose racism within the department that provided a 24-hour alarm service for the disabled and elderly. A prominent activist against deaths of black people in police custody, he was sacked for gross misconduct in November 2001 for allegedly abusing a council manager. Last year a tribunal found he was unfairly dismissed and victimised because of his campaign and union membership. This sparked a public inquiry that unearthed racist bullying, victimisation, sexual harassment and unprofessional conduct. It praised Mr Owolade's persistence in highlighting racial abuse but strongly criticised his campaigning tactics of making personal attacks on managers. Now the tribunal has reconvened to set compensation for Mr Owalade. He has been awarded £5,000 plus back pay, and Lambeth has been ordered to give him his old job back by October. But the borough claims that would be "impracticable" because of his personal attacks on management. Mr Livingstone said he was "deeply concerned". He said: "Mr Owolade ought to be reinstated. If the council is serious about ending the racism documented in both the employment tribunal decision and the findings of the 2003 public inquiry, nothing short of his reinstatement will do." Mr Owolade, who chairs the Movement for Justice civil rights group, said he was sacked for defending junior black staff from racism and bullying. He said: "Management are still refusing to reinstate me. "They say it's not practical because I was critical of named senior managers in the public inquiry, but the council leader gave a written assurance that none of the evidence was going to be used against anyone. "All my line managers have written to the tribunal saying they would welcome me." He said the council would simply face an extra £5,000 fine if it refused to reinstate him - money that would come from taxpayers. In its finding, the tribunal noted how two council managers were driven out after verbal attacks from Mr Owolade and his supporters. A statement from Lambeth said: "The campaign which Mr Owolade and his supporters have waged has engendered such antagonism and he has made so many personal verbal attacks on staff that the relationship of trust and confidence no longer exists and could no longer exist."
    ©This is London

    Liberals appease Muslims for fear of association with anti-immigrant thugs
    By Polly Toynbee

    18/8/2004- What is the rationalist to do? Atheists, feminists and anti-racists are paralysed by Islam. Whichever way they turn, they find themselves at risk of alliances with undesirables of every nasty hue. Last month, the website of an organisation called the Islamic Human Rights Commission made me the 'winner' of their 'Most Islamophobic media personality' award. It has caused me a bombardment of emails of both extreme pro- and anti-Islamic poison, each one more luridly threatening than the last. The occasional note of reason from moderate Islamic groups is so weak it hardly makes itself heard. I had challenged the legitimacy of the idea of Islamophobia and warned of the danger to free speech of trying to make criticism of a religion a crime akin to racism. I pointed out yet again that theocracy is lethal. Wherever religion controls politics it drives out tolerance and basic human rights. The history of Christianity has been the perfect exemplar, a force for repression whenever it holds any political sway. It only turns peace-loving when it is powerless. People led by some unalterable revealed voice of God cannot be tolerant of the godless. At present it is Islamic states that head the danger list - though the dread power of southern Baptists in US politics endangers world peace, as do extreme Jewish sects holding power in Israel. Women are always the main victims, since extreme religions express their identities through male priestly supremacy and disgust of women. To give a flavour of the Islamic Human Rights Commission awards, Nick Griffin of the BNP won the most Islamophobic British politician award, Jacques Chirac and Ariel Sharon shared the international Islamophobic politician award and Islamophobe of the year was George Bush. That's the company I found myself in. When Griffin was interviewed on Newsnight after he was filmed saying disgusting things about Muslims, bizarrely accusing Islam of encouraging the rape of non-Muslim girls, he quoted my name in general support. So these days criticising any aspect of Islam risks landing you down among the worst racists.

    Other voices claim you for their cause. There is a particularly virulent swirl of extreme Hindu emails spreading fear and loathing of Muslims. But it's not all one-sided. A dangerous stream of Muslim anti-semitic venom also billows out on to the airways, inciting maximum hatred against Jews and sometimes Christians. The government wants to make incitement to religious hatred a crime, caving in to a vociferous Muslim campaign, although it is unlikely to make a spit of difference to these rabid religious enmities. (If the government really wants to foster religious harmony, it should abolish all religious schools, not build more.) To reassure outraged rationalists, ministers say that only a couple of people a year are expected to be prosecuted under it. So, why bother? That will inflame the religious even more as they refer case after case, expecting the law to protect their right not to be offended by mockery or criticism. They want religion placed in a realm beyond ordinary argument - and it is beginning to happen. Fear of offending the religious is gathering ground on all sides. It is getting harder to argue against the hijab and the Koran's edict that a woman's place is one step behind. It is beginning to be racist for teachers or social workers to object to autocratic patriarchy and submission of women within many Muslim communities. Islamic ideas that find the very notion of democracy incompatible with faith are beginning to be taken seriously by those who should defend liberal democracy.

    Of course most Muslims are not extremists. They speak of the peacefulness of their faith - as most religious people do. But they still too rarely speak out against terror when they should be combating their own extremists and being seen to do it. Moderate groups protest often against arrests of Muslim terror suspects, while the Muslim Council of Britain has sent out just one tepid call to mosques to cooperate with the police. Moderates excuse, rather than refute, the many ferocious verses calling for the blood of infidels in their holy book, verses that justify terror. Both the Koran and the Bible ought to be banned under the new law, since both are full of God's incitements to smite unbelievers. It is bizarre how the left has espoused the extreme Islamist cause: as "my enemy's enemy", Muslims are the best America-haters around. The hard left relishes terrorism: a fondness for explosions and the smell of martyrs' blood excites their revolutionary zeal, without sharing a jot of religious belief. More alarming is the softening of the brain of liberals and progressives. They increasingly find it easier to go with the flow that wants to mollify Muslim sentiment, for fear of joining the anti-immigration thugs who want to drive them from the land. The liberal dilemma over Islam is not unlike the prevarications of some over communism in the cold war. To attack the atrocities of the reds put you in bed with the anti-socialist Thatcher/Reagan red-baiters. What would George Orwell write about Islam now? He would probably ignore what others said about the company he kept, shrug off those claiming him for their own ends and plough his own furrow, speaking out against both the danger of religious fanaticism and the Muslim-hating racists - the polite ones in Times immigration panic articles or those with steel-toed boots on the streets of northern towns.

    There is a coherent non-Islamophobic position and Turkey holds the key. Here is a democratic Islamic society, where the radical secularising reforms of Kemal Ataturk make it a model for states needing to escape a theocratic past. It is progressing fast to meet human rights and economic criteria for joining the EU and should be welcomed with open arms, as a symbolic embrace for moderate secular Islam. Giscard d'Estaing's claim that the EU is "Christendom" was sheer racism, the same deranged clash-of-civilisations thinking that led to the disastrous Iraq war. Expecting a terrorist attack on Britain soon, this week the Muslim Council of Britain and chief police officers are preparing a booklet for Muslim households, warning them to prepare for a backlash. If these grim events happen, it will be more important than ever to keep a rational perspective on both the Muslim community and its back-lashers. Fellow-travelling with terrorism, either within the Muslim community, or by the left and woolly minded progressives, will not serve. It will be more important than ever to stand like Voltaire, ready to defend Muslims, their right to be here and to practise their beliefs against the growing swamped-by-aliens talk that Anas Altikriti warned against on these pages last week. But if he wants to stop the right 'smearing and demonising' Islam, it would be wise to be more outspoken against its deformed branch that fosters terror. Muslims must also accept the right of others to criticise religions without smearing any critic as a racist.
    ©The Guardian

    19/8/2004- A week of events commemorating the struggle against slavery is to begin next week. In a series of performance and educational activities the organisers Rendezvous of Victory aim to give historical context to present-day problems. Esther Stanford, co-chair of Rendezvous of Victory said: "It is a week of commemorating the struggle against slavery. It is to win recognition for the fact that there is a need to address the fundamental issues of the black condition. "The week aims to give historical context to the racism and discrimination we face. We cannot look at issues such as – school exclusion, over-representation in prison and psychiatric institutions, unemployment and work placement discrimination outside an historical context". The United Nations have declared 2004 as the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition. And from 2004-2007 there will be extensive discussions around the issue of reparation and a series commemorative events. These will be held in association with a number of African heritage community groups including Rendezvous of Victory (ROV) and Anti-Slavery International. Blink is one of the sponsors.

    Beginning on Monday, Anti-Slavery Week will highlight areas of London connected to the transatlantic slave trade and the role the UK played in slavery. The events are London-centric and will take place at different venues across the boroughs of Greenwich and Lambeth. Workshops, seminars; community arts celebrations (live music; spoken word, book and food stalls); river tours, trails highlighting landmarks pertaining to slavery, spiritual healing ceremonies, and film and discussion forums including a screening of Lee Hirsh's Amandla will facilitate the education of the community on the real history of slavery both now and then. Britain was a key player in the transatlantic slave trade. The insurance for the ships was done in London, the shackles were made in the capital and the growth of the economy has slavery stamped all over it. There will be a rare opportunity to participate in a boat trip and heritage trail led by historian, S. I Martin pinpointing places of historical interest. Places like Montague House that have an historical connection with enslavement. 2004 also marks the 200th anniversary of the Haitian (Haiti was then known as Saint-Domingue) revolution (the uprising began 23 August 1791) resulting in the first independent black republic in the world. The revolution was through the self-empowerment, struggle and resistance of African peoples and led to the liberation and emancipation of the people's who had been robbed of their basic human rights to justice, equality, dignity and liberty. 13 years later this revolt culminated in Haiti's independence from the French in 1804.

    August 23 marks International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition and is the official launch of ROV week. On this day is the official launch of the programme at Greenwich town hall and will address the fundamental issues of the commemoration and what it will achieve between now and 2007. Mary Cunneen, chair of Anti-Slavery International had this to say: "ROV week is about looking forward, remembrance and understanding. At the launch I will be talking about society's responsibility for the slavery that occurred in the past and its impact on slavery today. "I will address the issue of slavery not just being historical phenomena but continues to exist today in the UK, Europe, Africa and other continents. " Contemporary slavery exists in two forms – domestic and trafficking and it is important to draw the public's attention to the fact slavery although abolished and illegal globally it is still rife and still goes hand in hand with violence and disregard to human life. Beth Herzfeld, PR officer for Anti-Slavery International explains: "Female migrants are used as domestics who work long hours, have no access to their papers and are not allowed to leave the house. Or people are trafficked and brought here or elsewhere for prostitution". Around 25 – 30 million men, women and children of African descent were tragically enslaved captured and sold through the triangular trade. The trade was through the deportation of black people in exchange for cotton, sugar or coffee for example. Slave ships departed from Europe with goods which upon arrival in Africa were then exchanged for slaves who were transported to America or Europe in tightly packed ships where they were eventually sold. The income generated from slavery was then used to buy tropical produce and marketed in Europe. The significance and horror of transatlantic slavery is its duration; the victims were African men, women and children and its legacy, which still globally affects black people.

    "We need to recognise that victims still suffer and the reason why can be traced back to the historical phenomena of enslavement", said Esther Standford, co-chair of ROV. ROV is a movement seeking to globally advance and continue historical work pertaining to communities of anti-slavery abolitionist resistance. The name Rendezvous of Victory is inspired by the French-Caribbean poet who hailed from Martinique, Aimé Césaire. Césaire had a dual career as both a leading writer of the last century and postcolonial theorist who protested against French colonial rule and the idea of assimilation. He was also a co-founder of the Negritude literary movement. The group of French speaking African-Caribbean writers believed that Africans must look to their own heritage for values and traditions. Similarly, ROV aims to encourage ordinary people to release their own potential through meaningful change in themselves by critically engaging with each other to build unity and advancement across local, national and international communities. Awura Adwoa Adu, PR and Communication officer for ROV and Community Development Specialist had this to say on the importance of attending ROV events: "It is important for people to attend as everyone needs to be told the truth of our global history. The truth has never been told especially from Pan-African perspectives both historically and contemporary. "Because this year has been declared by the UN as the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition it is an opportunity for the whole world to come together for open dialogue on this history and to make sure that the truth comes out in a constructive way". There are a number of diverse activities taking place during ROV week which the community is strongly advised to get involved with. The activities are aimed at people of all ages and are an opportunity for people of different cultures to learn more about the tragic historical events that occurred during 400 years of slavery.
    ©Black Information Link

    20/8/2004- Britain's role in the slave trade will be just one issue scrutinised at the National Maritime Museum's anti-slavery festival which starts on Saturday. As part of the event there will be presentations by maritime history experts, storytelling at the Cutty Sark and African drumming workshops. Young people will also have the chance to discuss what slavery means to them. The event also marks International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade, which will be held on Monday. Millions of people today are still affected by slavery - in every country of the world - including in Britain, say slave trade activists. But the subject is taught badly or not at all, say those behind the event.

    Slavery's impact
    "It's not given the same treatment as say the holocaust," Emma Clarke, community development officer of London's National Maritime Museum, told BBC News Online. "It's quite difficult teaching it... people have difficulty relating to what was a hideous atrocity." According to Awura Adwoa Abu of Rendezvous of Victory, slavery's impact can still be felt. "Its legacy is today's racism and xenophobia," she said. "We need to learn from our heritage to fight against racism... and remember the effort the slaves put into freeing themselves." Anti-slavery International which campaigns against slavery worldwide points out that even today forced and bonded labour still exists. In the UK, migrant women are being forced to work as domestics by employers who withhold their papers, make them work long hours and restrict their liberties, says the organisation's Beth Herzfeld. Children, women and also men trafficked through the UK end up being forced to work in the sex industry or as servants. Ms Herzfeld said the weekend's events were also an important reminder of London's role in the Transatlantic slavery trade. "Ships left from London for Africa to pick up slaves, the ships were insured in London, the chains used were made in London and the wealth from the trade made London and other cities wealthy," she said. The United Nations launched its International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery earlier this year.
    ©BBC News

    22/8/2004— As the year 2004 is observed by the United Nations as the International Year Against Slavery, millions of men, women and children around the world face conditions that can be likened to slavery. These include bonded labor, child labor, and trafficking of people. Although such exploitation is often not called slavery, the conditions are the same, say United Nations officials in New York. Slavery is prohibited by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is banned in most countries. The United Nations General Assembly officially named the year 2004 as the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition, to mark the 200th anniversary of the founding of Haiti as the first republic by freed African slaves. Prior to Haiti's establishment, for four centuries from 1400 to 1800, millions of African men, women and children were captured and sold into slavery in the Americas, Caribbean and Europe. Of particular importance to the observation of the International Year, is tomorrow's commemoration marking the tragedy of trans-Atlantic slave trade. Tomorrow about 100 schools in 22 countries, participating in the education project of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will examine the causes and consequences of slave trade. Teacher training and youth forums will seek to "break the silence" shrouding slave trade. As the United Nations General Assembly session opens in September, activities in observation of the International Year continue to focus on exhibitions, scientific meetings, training seminars, conferences, research studies, lectures, concerts and awards ceremonies. With guidelines provided by UNESCO, each country is responsible for organizing its own activities. A highlight of the International Year is a major multi-media traveling exhibition, which will be at the United Nations, during the UN General Assembly session from September to December 2004. The exhibition has been organized by New York City's Schomburg Center for Black Culture and Research, New York Public Library and UNESCO Slave Route Project. The exhibition is entitled "Lest We Forget: the Triumph Over Slavery " and the aim is to create new perspectives about slavery.

    "Our emphasis for the exhibition is to focus on slavery's pain and struggle," said Christopher Moore, a Schomburg Center director, in an interview. "The exhibition and related book projects emphasize the tremendous contribution of the enslaved Africans, who in effect were the colony builders of North America, South America and the Caribbean." "Of the first 6.5 million immigrants to the so-called New World, 5.5million were black, Moore stated. "This represents about 80 percent of the population by the time of the revolutionary war in the United States." Director-General of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsura, officially inaugurated the year by stressing the world must fulfill its "duty" to remember the unprecedented tragedy of slavery, and to "sound the alarm about all forms of contemporary racism, discrimination and intolerance." The official inaugural ceremony of the International Year was held in Ghana which was a center of slave trade up to the year 1800, and is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's home country. However, in Ghana today "Trokosi" slavery continues, according to the US State Department report on human rights practices. Under the "Trokosi" system, virgin girls are given to priests as property, for appeasement for crimes committed by relatives. In spite of the observation of the International Year, abuse persists. Today in Haiti, children as young as four are trafficked internally as "restavek" domestic workers, and an estimated 10 percent of children are forced to work without pay, and risk sexual and physical abuse, according to Anti-Slavery International, the non-governmental organization that documents such abuse. "The UN decision to name 2004 as the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle Against Slavery and its Abolition, draws attention that slavery continues to be a brutal reality for millions of people around the world," said Anti-Slavery International spokeswoman, Beth Herzfeld, in an interview. "It is also crucial to create greater awareness of this abuse, and to address the root causes such as poverty and societal marginalization," she elaborated. She said during the International Year, governments need to give priority to key issues, presented to the UN by Anti-Slavery International. The final declaration of the World Conference Against Racism, held in South Africa in 2001, recognized slave trade as a crime against humanity.

    21/8/2004- Children as young as five are being subjected to racist attacks in Scottish schools. The number of alleged racist incidents among pupils in East Dunbartonshire has more than doubled in the past two years, to 96 in the school year just ended, according to local authority figures. Racial equality campaigners say the problem is not confined to one authority and are calling on the Scottish Executive to introduce national guidelines for the recording of racist incidents in schools, to reveal the true extent of the problem. Hanzala Malik, chairman of the West of Scotland Race Equality Council, said that through the collating of information by larger education authorities, the figures on racial incidents in schools were beginning to be "realistic". He said the arrival of asylum seekers in communities for the first time and the growing confidence of people to report racist incidents were both contributing to a rise in the figures. "It is time for the Scottish Executive to start producing national figures. We need a proper log of these incidents to identify national hotspots and get those communities to work to overcome this problem," Mr Malik said. "More people also need to realise that these problems are not just white on black, but black on white as well." Most incidents reported in East Dunbartonshire involved name-calling and verbal abuse. Most of the incidents were reported by primary school pupils, with primary schools also the setting for the first reported racially motivated physical assaults. In 2001-2, 44 cases were reported to the authority, rising to 49 in 2002-3 and reaching 96 incidents in 2003-4. John Morrison, leader of East Dunbartonshire Council, said: "We are always looking at ways to improve best practice even where we are not statutorily obliged to do so. "Recording of these incidents followed one or two previous incidents in the recent past and it was felt helpful to collate them in this way as a valuable information tool for officers." Maureen Fraser, director of the Commission for Racial Equality in Scotland, said that while most Scottish education authorities had policies to track racial harassment, these did not go far enough. She called on the Executive to record figures at local and national level. A spokeswoman for the Executive said: "We encourage local authorities to collect and publish this data. We are considering how best to develop a comprehensive national picture which would require discussion with a wide range of services - not just education."
    ©The Scotsman

    16/8/2004- An unemployed man who said he painted swastikas on Jewish graves and attacked a man of Arab background with an axe in the eastern French city of Lyon earlier this month risks life in prison if convicted, officials said Monday. The 24-year-old suspect, a Frenchman who was not identified by name, was to face a judge later in the day who was expected to place him under formal criminal investigation for desecration and attempted murder of a racist character - one step short of charges being laid. "We have proof... that it was he who committed these two attacks," a regional prosecutor, Xavier Richaud, told a news conference, citing DNA evidence found on a sweatshirt left at the cemetery. He said the suspect had turned himself in to police in Paris on Saturday carrying an axe and was quickly taken back to Lyon to face justice. French President Jacques Chirac and other officials have condemned the August 9 desecration of the Jewish cemetery in Lyon, in which swastikas, Celtic crosses and references to Adolf Hitler were daubed across some 60 tombstones and a Holocaust monument in black paint, and called for tough penalties for the perpetrator. Police who had been looking for a man who wielded an axe in an August 5 assault in Lyon on a victim of north African origin said a witness account linked the suspect to that crime, too. The man, who quit his job at the start of August, appeared to be a solitary figure who had "a visceral hatred of Arabs" and who thought the cemetery desecration would prompt further actions by neo-Nazi groups, Richaud said. A search of the man's home in Lyon turned up another axe he had bought the day before the graffiti attack. He also told investigators that he had sent a piece of a gravestone to a Paris newspaper in a quest for publicity for his act. "He was determined. He would surely have kept going," the prosecutor said. Officials said the suspect walked into a police station in Paris and confessed he was "Phineas" - a name that had been painted on some of the defaced tombs. In the Bible, Phineas was a priest who killed a fellow Israelite and a Midianite (Arab) woman because the two were having relations. A regional police chief, Jean-Christophe Ladarde, said the man had surrendered because he wanted the media attention, and because he was in Paris with no money. Richaud said the man claimed he graffitied the cemetery because he felt xenophobic extreme-right groups were not being radical enough and he wanted to stir them up. France has taken steps to crack down severely on those who carry out racist acts because of a wave of attacks against those of north African or Jewish background that has been fuelled by Israeli-Palestinian tensions. The number of racist and anti-Semitic acts committed in the country soared in the first half of 2004, according to interior ministry statistics, with 135 physical acts carried out against Jews and 95 against north African and other ethnic groups. France boasts Europe's biggest Muslim and Jewish communities, put at five million and 650,000 respectively.
    ©Expatica News

    22/8/2004- An arson attack destroyed a Jewish social club in the heart of Paris yesterday, alarming and infuriating French politicians and Jewish leaders who are struggling to halt an epidemic of anti-Semitic incidents across France. Before it was set alight, anti-Jewish graffiti and swastikas were scrawled on the walls of the social centre on the first floor of a building in the 11th arrondissement in eastern Paris, near the Place de la Bastille. No one was injured and the fire was halted before it spread to the rest of the building. Nonetheless, politicians - led by President Jacques Chirac - expressed outrage that such a potentially murderous attack should be made on the Jewish community in the heart of the French capital. President Chirac spoke of his "profound indignation" and promised that the arsonists would be hunted down and "punished with the greatest possible severity". Jewish leaders expressed impatience, however, that little progress has been made in tracing the perpetrators of other anti-Semitic incidents in France this year, including a series of graffiti attacks on Jewish cemeteries and the destruction of a frieze painted by Jewish children in a wartime transit camp near Perpignan. Most of the verbal and low-level physical attacks on Jews in France are carried out by youths of Arab origin, who support the Palestinian cause and make no distinction between Jews and Israelis. But the cemetery attacks and yesterday's fire at the community centre bear the hallmarks of the neo-Nazi and white supremacist ultra-right, several groups of whom operate on the fringes of French society.

    A neo-Nazi bookshop exists a couple of blocks away from the scene of yesterday's blaze in the Rue Popincourt, near the Rue de la Roquette, in a former working-class area of the capital, which has been gentrified. The social centre, which was once a synagogue, offered companionship and free, kosher meals to elderly and deprived members of the Sephardic Jewish community in Paris. Many of the people who attended the club were in their 70s and 80s and had survived the Nazi Holocaust and the round-up of Jews by the collaborationist Vichy regime in France in 1940-44. The fire was started in the early hours of yesterday, using petrol or heating fuel. Swastikas were scrawled on the walls of the centre in red pen. There were also slogans in ungrammatical French saying, "the world will be purer when there are no more Jews" and "death to the Jews". Similar anti-Semitic slogans were scribbled on a wall beside Notre Dame cathedral on Saturday. Many of President Chirac's ministers have expressed outrage at the attacks. Mr Chirac issued a plea to the French nation last month to stand firm against all forms of racism. A few days later, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, infuriated French politicians and French Jewish leaders when he urged all French Jews (more than 600,000 people) to leave a country where, he said, they were in "imminent danger".
    © Independent Digital

    20/8/2004- Under increasing pressure after accusations of brutality, Moscow police have raided the office of a human-rights group set up to protect people from abuse at the hands of those meant to serve and protect them. Public-transport division officers searched the offices of Moye Pravo (My Right) on Wednesday, although the officers have no jurisdiction outside the underground Metro. They had raided My Right's offices in July, seizing documents, computers and the cash-box. Mikhail Anshikov, the group's chairman, said Muscovites were feeling increasingly terrorised. "People are scared; they feel the need to protect themselves from the police instead of the police protecting them." My Right was set up this year after a brutal attack on German Galdetsky, a 19-year-old university student campaigning against police abuse. Mr Galdetsky is recovering in a Moscow hospital, barely able to walk or speak. After Metro police allegedly tried to rape a female friend, Mr Galdetsky persuaded several people to report similar assaults and press charges. A few days later, he was assaulted in the Metro by two men in camouflage uniforms, and was shot twice in the head with rubber bullets. Mr Galdetsky's mother, Alyona, is convinced her son paid the price for taking on the police. "He behaved like any normal, decent person should have," she says, dismissing any suggestion her son is a hero. "How is that doing something normal makes you a hero nowadays?" In the months since the attack on Mr Galdetsky, Moscow police have been accused of a series of brutal beatings and murders. On 21 June, Viktor Zolotsev, 26, was beaten to death by a police officer after being detained in the Metro for being drunk. On 31 July, Rustam Baibekov, a 20-year-old from Tajikistan, was shot in the face by a policeman who stopped him trying to jump turnstiles on the Metro. Mr Baibekov is recovering in hospital. The same day, 25-year-old Dmitri Marakin, from the Russian region of Tatarstan, was beaten to death at a Moscow police station by three officers who had detained him for not having the proper documents to live in Moscow. Observers believe the poor wages, rock-bottom morale and inadequate training combine to allow police brutality to flourish.
    © Independent Digital

    21/8/2004- Makis Yerassimakis, a Greek Gypsy who has spent a lifetime on society's margins, thought he could join the rest of Greece and cash in on the Olympics. So last Friday, he took about $600 worth of Greek flag trinkets to sell outside the opening ceremony. Within minutes, he said, police officers kicked him into a van and jailed him overnight before confiscating his merchandise -- part of a concerted campaign, Greek Gypsies say, to keep them invisible while the world's spotlight shines on Athens. "Why should they lock me up? At this rate, I'll have to resort to stealing," said Yerassimakis, 23, who has five children. "Is this the Olympiad, for everyone to go hungry?" An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 thousand Roma -- the people colloquially known as Gypsies -- live in Greece. Many are Turkish-speaking Muslims and suffer the brunt of double racism in this overwhelmingly Greek Orthodox country with historical antipathy toward its larger neighbor and former colonial master. With the expansion of the European Union to include 10 new countries the Roma are now the continent's largest minority. Echoing a pattern described by many Gypsies who earn a living as itinerant peddlers, Yerassimakis said the police officers who arrested him told him he was to stay away from Olympic venues. He now spends his afternoons drinking beer at a pool hall in the downtrodden Athens neighborhood of Kolonos, a drug-ridden area south of the city center. Nearly a dozen Gypsies interviewed in the Athens area said police had started cracking down on them with unusual strictness about two months ago, fining Gypsies who were selling flowers and second-hand goods at their usual spots in downtown Athens and the Monastiraki flea market. The country's poorest minority, most Gypsies hold Greek citizenship but live in parallel existence. An estimated half are homeless. Many live in camps with no plumbing or electricity.

    Ethnic Albanians are the largest minority in Greece -- making up as much as 10 percent of the country's nearly 11 million residents -- but do not have citizenship status. Most Gypsies eke out an existence on the economy's periphery, and those such as Yerassimakis who live in the city, rather than in transient Gypsy camps, say they face enormous discrimination on the housing market. There has been some progress: this summer, for example, the government adopted what amounts to a speech code, ordering police not to refer to Roma as "athigganos," the derogatory Greek word for Gypsies. Eleftherios Oikonomou, spokesman for the public order ministry, said that police haven't targeted any ethnic group, but that Gypsies, like all Greeks, were simply seeing the result of heightened law enforcement surrounding the Games. "The law is being enforced without exceptions," he said. "And the Roma, as a group, regularly show elevated levels of illegal conduct." In a report released this summer, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, an independent monitoring group established by the Council of Europe, said the Greek government had done little to improve the lot of the Roma, despite a scathing report issued by the same group four years ago. "The situation of the Roma in Greece has remained fundamentally unchanged . . . they face the same difficulties -- including discrimination -- in respect of housing, employment, education, and access to public services," the report said. The gap has been further exacerbated by the Olympics, which have driven an enormous economic boom in the construction and service sectors, creating tens of thousands of temporary jobs -- but apparently leaving the Roma behind, and in some cases literally pushing them out. About 150 Gypsies living on the site of the main Olympic sports venue, the OAKA Complex, were expelled in 2002 and promised new housing that never materialized. Street peddlers have fled the city, fearing fines or arrest by police who in the past turned a blind eye to Gypsy peddlers working without permits, as most do. "There's no room for us anymore," said Ahmed Oglou Tunsel, 23, who lives with his wife and two children in a gutted car, parked on the outskirts of the distant coastal suburb of Porto Rafti. "The police told us they don't want the tourists to see us during the Olympics."

    Tunsel, who calls himself Sakis in public so that other Greeks won't realize he's a Muslim, served in the Greek Army and considers himself a patriot. But it burns him that while other Greeks cash in on the Games, he and his father have been pushed deeper into poverty by them. Other trends have put the squeeze on the Gypsies too. Tunsel grew up in the Gazi neighborhood, a decrepit area behind the city's now defunct gas works. In the last 10 years, however, a fast-growing bar and restaurant scene has gentrified Gazi; by 1999, Tunsel and his father couldn't afford to rent there anymore. The 50 families who were pushed out to make room for the Olympic complex, after living on the lot for three decades, have scattered throughout the region after the government reneged on its plan to build them new housing. Some live in a camp near the airport northeast of Athens. Others have ventured south of the city, to Aspropyrgos, an industrial area on the coast near Greece's main oil refinery. Families camp along a barren stretch of earth between the highway and a strip of major factories and warehouses. Each family shares a one-room dwelling pieced together from salvaged construction materials, insulated with thick plastic from discarded advertising banners. The seven members of the Karahalios family have lived in the settlement for more than a decade. They own a truck and sell scrap metal to nearby factories. In the winter, they sell rugs and furniture at flea markets across the region. Several times the family has tried to move to camps east of Athens, in the cooler mountains there, but each time they say police have driven them out. One of the children, Eleni, 18, recently married. But while her husband works for the summertime tourist crowds on the islands and her father languishes in prison -- as a result of an ongoing feud with another Gypsy clan, she said -- Eleni is whiling away the summer painting her fingernails with intricate patterns under a tree in the family's yard. "Our lives are a lost cause," she said. "Our world has gotten narrower and narrower."
    ©International Herald Tribune

    21/8/2004- Residents of the northern Bavarian town of Wunsiedel temporarily stopped a neo-Nazi march to commemorate the 17th anniversary of the death of Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, who had been jailed for life in 1946. Carrying colorful balloons that read: "Wunsiedel is colorful, not brown," several hundred people opposed to the march had gathered on Saturday to show neo-Nazis that they were not welcome in their town. Brown is a color associated with the Nazis in Germany because of the brown shirts they wore as part of their uniforms. "We can't stick our heads in the sand," said Wunsiedel's mayor, Karl-Willi Beck, according to the online service of Der Spiegel newsmagazine. "We can't allow this city to be dragged into brown dirt." According to police estimates, more than 2,000 neo-Nazis had gathered in Wunsiedel for an annual march to honor Rudolf Hess (photo), who hanged himself aged 93 in a Berlin prison on Aug. 17, 1987. Hess had been captured in 1941 after parachuting into Scotland to allegedly start peace negotiations with Britain. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1946 by the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal for helping to plan World War II, but was found innocent of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Hess is buried in Wunsiedel and neo-Nazis see him as a martyr. By early Saturday evening, 105 people had been arrested for carrying guns and illegal symbols such as swastikas. No violent clashes between neo-Nazis and left-wing demonstrators had taken place. City officials had tried to prevent the march but the Bavarian Administrative Court had ruled against a ban. Last year, Germany's consitutional court had also allowed the march to go ahead, saying that a demonstration could not be stopped merely because the event could get violent. As a result, Bavarian Interior Minister Günther Beckstein, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union party, has appealed to the federal government to support Bavaria's plan to change Germany's right of assembly.
    ©Deutsche Welle

    14/8/2004- The European Commission has decided not to back proposals to protect front line states such as Portugal and Spain from African asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants. The proposals included the setting up of camps in Tunisia to prevent African immigrants entering European Union states until their applications had been considered. In a statement put out last Monday the Commission said that German proposals to house African asylum-seekers in the camps until their applications had been dealt with were in conflict with both the Geneva Convention on asylum laws and the United Nations (UN) charter on human rights. The Commission said it is still working on ideas for the EU to speed up the processing of asylum applications and to help southern European countries, including Portugal, who are struggling to cope with the growing number of illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers from Africa. The EU debate on the asylum question was launched in June last year by the EU's Portuguese Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino. A spokesman for Vitorino's office told reporters last week in Brussels that the EU will continue to work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees "on ways to protect refugees in host countries through training of personnel, improvement of the infrastructures supporting asylum- seekers and to ensure that they are made to feel welcome." The spokesman added that the Commission has no plans to jettison the "cardinal" principle that asylum-seekers who make it to European shores should be accommodated in the recipient country and have their applications dealt with in Europe. Brussels decision to comply with UN recommendations on how asylum-seekers and economic immigrants should be treated by host nations was applauded by Amnesty International, which described the German proposals as "unlawful and unworkable." However, German Foreign Minister Otto Schily, who has proposed the setting up of the Tunisian camps, remained adamant that unless the EU takes positive measures to stem the rising tide of African immigrants and asylum-seekers into Europe, front line EU nations will experience insurmountable problems affecting housing, health, education, and state pension schemes. In a German TV interview last Thursday Schily told his interviewer: "People who put their fate in the hands of traffickers or set out to sea in ‘nutshells' should not be deluded into thinking that they automatically have the right to arrive in Europe." The German minister's suggestions echo plans put forward by Britain to its EU partners last year for asylum-seekers' applications to be processed outside the bloc. But after behind-closed-doors meetings with the Commission Britain withdrew its proposals.
    ©The Portugal News

    21/8/2004- A study of the world's immigration patterns by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reveals that Europe is now the world's main recipient of asylum seekers. The study shows that during the past eight years Europe has become the number one entry point for asylum seekers and their families from the Far East, South America and Africa. According to the OECD study, more than one million people sought asylum in the European Union during 2003. Britain, France and Germany proved to be the most popular destination points for the majority of asylum seekers, who gained entry into the EU primarily through Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. In spite of claims by the British government that it is clamping down on the volume of asylum seekers entering the country, the survey found that in 2003 Britain received more asylum seekers than any other country in the world. The OECD study confirms the findings of a report published by the Policy Exchange think-tank for the G7 industrialised nations, which shows last year Britain received 61,050 new asylum claims compared to France and Germany's 50,000 a piece. Figures for the United States were slightly less than those for Britain. In total during 2003 Britain granted just under 27,000 applications with Germany agreeing to 18,400 and France 18,000 - the US accepted 20,080. The Policy Exchange report estimates that 276,000 asylum seekers are now living legally in Britain, which is 55 per cent more than in Germany and 50 per cent above the number in France. However, the report's statistics take no account of the thousands of failed asylum seekers who disappear in order to avoid deportation. Current estimates from several asylum watchdogs in Europe put the number of legal and failed asylum seekers living in the EU at around 12 million or 2.6 per cent of the population. These figures do not include the number of immigrant workers who have entered the EU either legally or illegally during the past 15 years. Opposition MPs in the UK are blaming the British government and Brussels for the ease with which asylum seekers and immigrant workers find their way into the EU. They are calling for stricter border controls and a more rigorous approach in deporting failed asylum seekers and illegal immigrant workers. Mr. David Davis, the UK Conservative party's Shadow Home Secretary in a newspaper interview said: "The government must ask itself why we are still the most attractive country in the world for asylum seekers. The answer is, our borders are not properly manned, our visa system is in chaos, and we hardly deport anyone who is found here illegally."
    ©The Portugal News

    17/8/2004- The new Italian commissioner has spoken out in favour of a controversial German idea for a refugee camp in north Africa to process asylum-seekers trying to reach Europe. Rocco Buttiglione, who is due to start on 1 November as justice and home affairs commissioner, told Deutschlandfunk radio that it was a "good idea". He added that refugees could then come to Europe "in a totally legal way" if only they knew how. But the idea would only work if the countries involved were in agreement, said Mr Buttiglione. The camp idea was recently revived by German interior minister Otto Schily, who suggested that Tunisia might be a camp for housing Africans trying the reach Europe. It has sparked fierce debate in Germany and beyond. When Mr Schily aired his ideas with his European counterparts at a justice and home affairs meeting in Brussles last month he said: "The problems of Africa should be solved with the help of Europe in Africa, they cannot be solved in Europe". The idea to create EU asylum outposts in so-called third countries was brought up by the British in 2003, and was initially viewed sceptically by other EU states who argued that this would mean the end of asylum. Germany was among the countries who attacked the proposals most fiercely saying that it would break the Geneva Convention on Refugees. But Berlin has been changing its mind particularly after last month's "Cap Anamur" incident, in which 37 African refugees were forced to make a three-week voyage aboard a German aid agency ship across the Mediterranean. Both Italy and Germany are now working on a joint plan, to be revealed at a meeting of the big five (Italy, Germany, France, UK and Spain) in Florence in mid-October. This plan is to look at the overall EU fight against illegal immigration to the 25-nation bloc. It follows recent public calls by Italian interior minister Giuseppe Pisanu for European solutions to the problem. After a meeting with Mr Schily last week, Mr Pisanu said "There is, first of all, a full agreement in recognising that, well beyond formal-juridical bonds, immigration is a problem which regards Europe as a whole and should be tackled with European solutions". The renewed impetus from Italy come after an illegal immigration boat tragedy at the beginning of last week (8 August) off the coast of Italy which claimed several lives. At the time, Mr Pisanu called on his European partners for help.

    A London man's postings on websites target blacks, Jews and gays.

    19/8/2004- Police have launched a hate crimes investigation of a London resident who regularly ridicules blacks, Jews and gays on the Internet. London police confirmed the investigation yesterday, just as four Ontario anti-hate groups and an Ottawa human rights lawyer publicly called on the province and London's force to investigate the man. "Hate of one is hate of everybody. That is completely contrary to what Canada is supposed to stand for," said Leo Adler, director of national affairs for the Toronto-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies. The joint call for action is also a response to the attorney general's recent calls for Ontarians to help fight racism. "The government must demonstrate it is going to do its job as well," said Ottawa human rights lawyer Richard Warman. "The extent and the virulence of the messages has to be addressed," Warman said. The attorney general's office must approve any charges laid under the hate crimes provision of the Criminal Code, he said. London police can say little about the investigation except that it has begun, Const. Jeff Arbing said. Police were first alerted to the site several months ago, he said. Investigators are looking at the issues raised in the letter released by the four groups yesterday, "and beyond what the letter covered," Arbing said. The investigation centres on Tomasz Winnicki. The anti-hate groups claim Winnicki's postings on Internet sites promote hatred against various ethnic and religious groups.

    Under the Criminal Code it's a crime to wilfully promote hatred or incite hatred against "any identifiable group." Winnicki did not respond to e-mailed requests for an interview. He was in the news last year, when his own website prompted a complaint to Canada's Human Rights Commission. That website has disappeared, but Winnicki is still writing regularly on a site called Vanguard News Network Forum. The forum website says whites "have a group interest in preserving their race, and that all modern politics is aimed to destroy that idea because it is true." Forum participants, with code names such as Hitler Goddess and the Final Solution, regularly criticize gays and members of ethnic groups. Winnicki writes under the name of Thexder 3D and is called a "senior member" of the forum. On the forum, Winnicki blames Jews, blacks, gays and evangelical Christians for a variety of social problems. Winnicki signs off each message with "We're coming for you." His postings go beyond simple ravings, said Debbie Lee, executive director of the London Association for the Elimination of Hate. "There is action and motive attached," she said. "We need to take a social and moral stand against the statement they are making." The Africa Canadian Legal Clinic and the Guelph Multicultural Centre are also calling for a police investigation. Warman sparked the investigation this spring when he handed over material on Winnicki to London police. Since then, several other groups have joined the effort, he said. Yesterday's call for action was not an attempt to pressure police to act quickly but to raise public awareness, Warman said.
    © The London Free Press

    17/8/2004- The screaming mob first stoned the fleeing man, then they stabbed him, hacked off his ears and nose, before severing his genitals and sticking them in his mouth. It was retribution Darfur-style, in this most vicious of communal conflicts. Medibor Ahmed Mohammed, an aid worker with the charity Care, was attacked at a refugee camp after he was accused of being a member of the Janjaweed Arab militia, and of being personally involved in murderous ethnic cleansing. For two days after the killing of Mr Mohammed and the stabbing of three of his Arab colleagues by the African crowd, which included a large number of women, the authorities shut Kalma camp to outsiders, including aid workers. On Sunday, soldiers and police charged in and arrested 270 people. In the process, it is claimed, they indiscriminately beat up many of the refugees, sexually assaulted women and stole money and property. The murder of Mr Mohammed has led to an upsurge in ethnic tension and anxiety about further violence. Among those being held by police are a number of local employees of Care, and a 9pm curfew has been imposed by the United Nations and the aid agencies on their staff.

    At the Mussei camp, where Mr Mohammed and his family lived among other Arab refugees, there is talk of revenge attacks on Kalma. The authorities say it is almost inevitable that there will be retaliation by Arabs against Africans. Many of Mr Mohammed's compatriots are also blaming foreigners for taking him and his fellow Arabs to the waiting mob at Kalma. Yesterday, there were patches of dried blood where Mr Mohammed was lynched and pieces of his white shirt, stained dark crimson, stuck to barbed wire fences through which he had tried to escape. But for the inhabitants of Kalma, it was the actions of the police which were the cause of most complaints. "They said they were looking for knives, but they stole a hundred thousand Sudanese pounds [about £25] from our hut," said Mohammed Adem Ahmed. "They also took our watches and a radio. I protested, and they beat me with their sticks, and then kicked me when I fell down." Fauzia Selim Bashir, 22, said a family lost 60,000 Sudanese pounds during police searches: "They said they could do anything they liked. There was no one there to stop them." Rahima Abdullah, 19, standing next to her, added: "My aunt would not tell them where she had hidden her family's money, so two of them took hold of her, and a third man started touching her in her private parts." Two sons of Suleiman Ahmed Ali, 57, were taken away. "I don't know where they are and I'm very worried," he said. "Hassan, my eldest one, was already bleeding from his head, mouth and nose after being hit with a rifle butt. They knocked one man down and stamped on him, I think his arm got broken. "They dragged a girl behind some huts, they said they wanted to question her. They kept her there and she started crying. After a while an officer came and told them to let her go."

    Omar Mahmud Mohammed, 27, was one of the Mussei Arabs who was attacked at Kalma. He recalled: "We were worried about going there, but the man from Care said we must go for training. While we were working at Kalma, people started coming over and shouting that we were going to be killed. "One of the Care officials put us in a car and tried to drive us out but a large crowd surrounded us. They said they wanted Medibor, they even knew his name. We were then put in a store house, and we were told the police are being called. But we waited for hours, and the only people who came were more and more crowds. "Then they forced their way in, and with everyone shouting and fighting, I ran away. They tried to stop me and I was kicked and punched. "Medibor was near the front of the room as the crowd came in, he was very afraid, that is the last time I saw him." Adem Yahir, another Care official, said: "The crowd cut their way through the canvas wall of the store room. At the end, Medibor and another man rushed at them with knives. Both were attacked, and I think the other man has died, too." Yusuf Ali Hamid, a Kalma refugee, countered: "The man was a Janjaweed. At Tabaldial [near by] more than 50 people were killed, and he was part of that gang. He deserved to die."
    © Independent Digital

    22/8/2004- There is little left in Silaya except burnt-out huts and a row of graves in the fields beyond, the only reminders of one of the worst atrocities of the savage conflict in Darfur. On 30 July, three weeks after the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, announced that he had reached agreement with the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, on ending the violence, the village came under sustained and murderous attack from government troops and their Janjaweed allies. Under a UN resolution, Sudan has until the end of the month to meet a set of conditions aimed at alleviating what the UN calls "the worst humanitarian disaster in the world". This week, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, the latest international dignitary to visit the country, will tell President Bashir that his failure to disarm the Janjaweed remains the most serious unfulfilled obligation of the UN terms. However, the British government is expected to agree with Mr Annan that Khartoum has made efforts to rein in the terror unleashed on African villages and established "safe" areas, even though another 35,000 refugees, fleeing fresh attacks, are threatening to cross into neighbouring Chad. About 200,000 Sudanese are already filling camps to capacity there. The Sudanese government, some argue, should be given more time. But the people of Silaya, in south Darfur, have a far different experience of the government. More than 100 people were killed in one raid. Most of them were shot, but 32 were tied up and burned alive. Twenty-five young women and girls were taken away; the bodies of some were found later. Also discovered were the remains of many who had fled the onslaught but were pursued and slaughtered. Survivors say that the raiders had specific, targeted victims whom they hunted down and set alight - teachers, clerics and those who had returned after further education in the cities. In some cases, other members of the family were shot while one person was dragged off for burning. Picking off the educated few in the rural areas is not a new practice. Influential figures in the Islamist administration and the military blame them for organising opposition to the government, and those taught in the past by foreigners are suspected of imbibing non-Muslim beliefs.

    Priests in African villages are particularly blamed for not using their influence to condemn the rebels. Many of those who did manage to escape from Silaya had ended up in Muhajariya, an enclave south-east of Nyala, the capital of south Darfur, which is controlled by two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement. They are among 50,000 refugees driven into the area after government troops and their Arab militia allies burned an arc of villages around Muhajariya. The rebels, who have sparse resources and little aid coming in from the international agencies, now have to look after these dispossessed as well as their own fighters. Commander Abdul Majid of the SLA said: "The attacks on the civilians are part of a military campaign. This war is not just against the SLA or JEM but against the people of Darfur. They are following a scorched-earth policy. They are burning the villages and driving the people into our area because, that way, they can finish off both the fighters and the civilians." Babikir Ali, from Silaya, described how the village was attacked. "It was in the morning," he said. "We first had two helicopters which were flying very low. They fired from the air and hit some of the huts. Then we had troops in Land Cruisers, and the Janjaweed on horses and camels. They shot a lot of people before catching some others, putting them together and setting them on fire. It was a terrible, terrible thing." "One of them was my brother," said Bahir Hashim al-Bakr. "He was a schoolteacher. When they arrested him, he was in the classroom. There were about 12 children hiding under tables and crying. They were all shot. They were looking for the educated people, the leaders we had. They're the ones who were being burned. I've heard about this happening at many places, but it is the first time I saw such a thing with my own eyes." Yahir Ali, 33, recalled: "They were carrying matches and they set fire to people. Some others they threw back into the burning huts. They were shooting at everything and shouting 'Zurghas' [a pejorative term for blacks] and they were laughing, 'You are slaves, die like slaves'. My aunt was killed. She was an old woman and she had fallen. This man stood over her and just shot her." The refugees at Muhajariya were not aware of the minutiae of the UN resolution or the machinations of the big powers. Asked whether they felt the government had made the situation safe for them, Babikir Ali smiled bitterly. "We are a problem. If we go back to our village, the Janjaweed will come again and kill off the rest of us. Then there is no longer a problem. Maybe that is what the outside world wants."
    © Independent Digital

    Inspired by the example of al-Qaeda, Russian neo-Nazis say they are organizing themselves into a network of autonomous terror cells — and that the time of their jihad has come
    By Yuri Zarakhovich

    1/8/2004- When Katya Girenko answered the door of her family's rundown St. Petersburg apartment early one Saturday morning in mid-June, she saw two teenagers through the peephole. They asked if they could speak to her father, Nikolai Mikhailovich. When he went to the door and asked what they wanted, a gunshot rang out. The bullet smashed through the flimsy door and ripped into Girenko's chest, killing him almost instantly. At first glance, Girenko might seem an unlikely target for assassination. A tall, somewhat fragile 64-year-old with a bushy gray beard, he was an ethnographer and anthropologist who earned his reputation as an academic specializing in Swahili studies and research on kinship. But he was also the leading expert on an indigenous Russian tribe — the country's growing band of neo-Nazis. As founder of the Group for the Rights of Ethnic Minorities (GPEM), Girenko had been a key adviser in 15 Russian ethnic hate-crime trials, including the current prosecution of six members of the St. Petersburg neo-Nazi group Schultz88 for violent assault. Girenko's work has been crucial in ensuring that racially motivated assaults are classified as hate crimes, rather than mere hooliganism, and therefore warrant harsher sentences. He was gunned down as he was preparing for another trial, this one on charges of inciting racial hatred and violence involving a regional branch of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity (RNE) party in nearby Novgorod. Police cite Girenko's expert advice as the most likely motive for the hit, but are tight-lipped about possible suspects. No arrests have yet been made.

    "Pity they didn't knock off that bastard sooner," says Alexei, 22, one of the Schultz88 members being prosecuted in St. Petersburg. "He really tried to put me behind bars." In May, Alexei was released from six months in pretrial detention, but still faces the charges of violent assault. He says he had nothing to do with Girenko's murder. A squat, powerfully built man bristling with barely contained aggression, Alexei is part of a new wave of nationalism that's sweeping through Russian society. As democratic reforms have foundered and living standards plummeted since the collapse of communism in 1991, the country's latent xenophobia has morphed into a more radical, virulent form — and more and more young people like Alexei are coming under the sway of neo-Nazi ideology as a way to reassert lost national pride.

    Girenko's "assassination came as a catastrophe we had long been dreading," says Alexander Vinnikov, a friend and colleague who's also a member of the GPEM. That sense of dread is spreading among members of Russia's ethnic-minority communities. Just four days before Girenko's assassination, a group of neo-Nazis killed an Azeri passerby in Saratov, some 1,400 km south of St. Petersburg; and in May, human-rights groups claim a neo-Nazi gang beat a Pakistani student to death in Ulyanovsk, 350 km northeast of Saratov. According to the Moscow-based daily Izvestia, neo-Nazis have violently assaulted at least 15,000 people over the past seven years. A recent report by the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights says 20 to 30 victims a year die from such assaults, which are increasing at an annual rate of 30%. And according to Alexei, Girenko's murder marks a turning point for Russia's neo-Nazi movement. "[We are] a white man's al-Qaeda," he says. "We don't care how many [ethnic minorities] end up dead. The more, the better. The time of our jihad has come."

    Since 2001, Alexei says, Schultz88 and other neo-Nazi groups have organized themselves into cells, modeled on al-Qaeda, which come together for an attack and then disperse. Schultz88 is one of an estimated 50 neo-Nazi groups in Russia, 17 of them based in St. Petersburg. "Direct action [by Schultz88] has sent several hundred [people] to hospital," he says, lounging on a bench in St. Petersburg's lovely Arts Square, with two Schultz88 members sitting by his side. Members of the various neo-Nazi groups keep in touch "through the Internet and by other means, both domestically and abroad," he explains, instinctively clenching and unclenching his fists. Casting a glance at a bronze statue of Alexander Pushkin, Alexei twists his mouth scornfully and tosses off some vile talk about the father of modern Russian literature, who was descended from an Abyssinian slave. "How could he be the Russian national poet?" Not that Alexei cares much for culture. After what he considers to be a lifetime of oppression, he says he's ready for war. A lathe operator by trade, his role models include Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the 1995 Oklahoma Federal Building bombing and was executed by lethal injection in 2001, and Robert Jay Mathews, leader of the Order, an American white supremacist group, who died in a shoot-out with police in December 1984. "We don't consider ourselves Russian," Alexei says. "We belong to the white race!"

    According to Vyacheslav Sukhachev, professor of sociology at the University of St. Petersburg and an expert on Nazism, this kind of racism is seeping into society at large. Polls back this assertion up. In a survey by the All-Russian Center for Public Opinion Studies (VTSIOM) published last month, 61% of those polled approved of the "Russia for Russians" slogan, almost twice the 31% level recorded in 1998. According to a March study by the Moscow-based Ekspertiza Foundation, an independent think tank, 60% of those surveyed wanted to limit the presence of people from the Caucasus (Chechens, Dagestanis, Azeris and Armenians, among others) in the country, while 51% wanted similar constraints on the Chinese and 42% wanted to limit the influence of Jews. "The soft encroachment of nationalism increasingly permeates Russia," says Sukhachev. "What is happening is unprecedented. Milder forms of racism have long been part of the Russian political scene. The Liberal Democratic Party, led by nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, as well as the new Motherland Party and elements within the Communist Party, all espouse nationalist policies. The people of the Caucasus "must separate from us completely and never come over here!" Zhirinovsky recently told a reporter from the Armenian daily Novoye Vremya. Some 35% of the electorate supported nationalist parties in the last parliamentary elections, according to the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights. As leader of the neo-Nazi Freedom Party, based in St. Petersburg, Yuri Belyayev would love to be part of the political mainstream. A burly former police officer who positively beams with forced joviality, he supports President Vladimir Putin and believes the President shares some of his goals. "He is for rubbing out the [ethnic minorities] and for a strong Russia," Belyayev says, "and so are we." Back in the fall of 1999, Putin pledged "to rub out the terrorists on the john" in response to the bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities that were attributed to Chechen separatists. Sick of the war in Chechnya — in which more than 10,000 Russian soldiers have died over the past 10 years — and encouraged by nationalist propaganda, many Russians blamed people from the Caucasus as a whole. Though Putin was clearly referring to terrorists in his remarks and has repeatedly said all manifestations of racism "are absolutely impermissible," some wrongly took his statement to mean that nonwhite ethnic minorities were no longer welcome in Russia. Many people interpreted the remarks as "legitimizing what had been piling up in the mass psyche," says Olga Starovoitova of the Institute of Sociology in St. Petersburg.

    Belyayev now frets that Putin is not a tough enough leader, and the country is disintegrating under the influx of nonwhite immigrants. Unless the Kremlin formally recognizes the neo-Nazis and shares political power, he says, the movement will be forced "to launch our version of Sinn Fein to keep talking to the government and our version of the I.R.A. to practice terror." Belyayev sees himself as a defender of Russian interests, participating in politics but condoning violence "as the only self-defense left for Russian youth." He brags that a member of the Freedom Party pushed a Syrian student under a train in the St. Petersburg subway a couple of months ago. The student was killed. But Belyayev's political engagement leaves him open to accusations of weakness from more radical neo-Nazis. Alex, a member of the Nationalist-Socialist Society, a newly launched movement that seeks to build a "unitary Russian state," says older Nazi leaders "will be wiped out as failures." Future success, he believes, will come from attacks launched by networks of autonomous cells and the use of genetics to achieve racial purity. Alex, a post-graduate student at a major Moscow university, says his colleagues are intent on gaining positions in business, politics and the media. "Getting people to gradually accept our ideological maxims will get us further than just drawing blood in the streets," he says. "That way we'll pack them into ovens in the long run." According to Petr Khomyakov, a leading proponent of Russian nationalism, similar ideas are spreading among educated young people like Alex. "I've been watching these kids for years," Khomyakov says. "They meet each other in university classes and scientific seminars. They have this ingrained genetic friend-foe identification system." Khomyakov warns that both the government and established neo-Nazi leaders are losing control of this kind of grass-roots group. "Nobody knows what's brewing down there," he says. Sociologist Starovoitova agrees that neo-Nazi beliefs are slowly creeping into the mainstream. A few years ago, she says, neo-Nazis wouldn't dare court publicity over the murder of a scholar like Girenko who defended ethnic-minority rights. Now, they do. Neo-Nazism is like radiation, says the University of St. Petersburg's Sukhachev. "People don't see it, but it's here and it kills. Now it killed Girenko." It will certainly kill again, unless Russians wake up to the threat.
    ©Time Magazine

    3/8/2004- Dynamo Moscow's Senegalese defender Pascal Mendi has claimed that his career in Russia has been blighted by racism. The 25-year-old said he was afraid to go out in the Russian capital because he was frightened of being attacked. "In Russia, I have two main problems: racism and language," Mendi was quoted as saying by Russian daily Sovietsky Sport. "I have to stay at home most of the time because I'm afraid of racist attacks. "I was told these things happen quite often in Moscow," the paper quoted him as saying. Mendi, in his second season with Dynamo, claimed he was the victim of one such incident last year. "It happened after my first match in Russia. I was walking home from the game, it's only a 10 minute walk, when I was attacked by three strong-looking young men," Mendi recalled. "Luckily, I was able to run away from them. Such was my debut in Russian football." The full back said he rarely walks alone and has been given a driver by the club. Mendi's comments echoed those of other African players. Cameroonian Jerry-Christian Tchuisse, who played for Spartak Moscow, said he was also scared to walk the streets of Moscow. "I would only go to a nearby store to pick up groceries. I didn't go anywhere else," Tchuisse said in a newspaper interview last year. "Unfortunately, there are people in Moscow who hate blacks." Mendi said he would gladly move to France, where many of his compatriots play, or another western country if he got a favourable offer. "If I got the same pay I would move, but not for less," he said.
    ©BBC News

    12/8/2004- On Thursday, the court in the South Russian city of Voronezh began hearings into the murder of an African student by three young Russians, the Interfax news agency reports. Three Voronezh residents, a 16 year-old law school student and workers Roman Ledenev, 20, and Yevgeny Shishlov, 22 face charges are tried for murdering Amaro Lima, a student from Guinea Bisau, in the center of the city on February 21. The murder provoked a mass protest by foreign students who boycotted classes for a week and demanded protection. Police detained the suspects on March 17. The regional prosecution service completed the investigation late in June. Investigators found out that Ledenev and Shishlov were members of the neo-Nazi party "Russian National Unity". Racist literature was found in the apartments of all three men, a prosecution official said. Prosecutors seek to prove that the three suspects committed the murder driven by racial hatred. Suspect Yevgeniy Shishlov said at the Thursday court hearings that he had killed the African from "personal dislike", but refused to elaborate what had caused the personal hatred. He denied the charges that the attack was sparked by racial motives. If found guilty of premeditated murder by a group based on racial or ethnic hatred, the three may be sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors claim that the suspects had partially pleaded guilty in the course of the investigation.

    The education system in Chechnya is teaching mountain children how to be both illiterate and beautiful reciters of Pushkin.
    by Tanya Lokshina

    5/8/2004- Chechnya—Last spring, I happened to visit Rigakhoi, a remote mountain village close to the Chechnya-Dagestan border, to collect information that might shed light on a bomb attack that had left a woman and her five small children dead in the ruins of their own house. The work itself--interviewing witnesses to the tragedy--was finished within the day. But in that remote region, very high up in the mountains, roads are virtually nonexistent, and a 20-kilometer journey can be an insurmountable obstacle. It might take an ordinary car hours to cross the turbulent waters of the mountain rivers. And then, hours can be spent waiting for the engine to dry out, clearing heavy boulders from its path, inching forward to avoid precipitous drops, and, if there has been rain, pulling the car out of the mud. So making the roughly 75-kilometer journey to Grozny at dusk was out of the question, and I could not but accept the hospitality of a family in Nokhch-Kiloi, a village 20 kilometers down the slope from Rigakhoi but in a different district, Shatoi. The homestead was a small, whitewashed affair, with two rooms and a kitchen, typical of this village of a few dozen houses strung out along the slopes. With no electricity or gas, the heat in the house came from a huge stove, and the light from a kerosene lamp. With the exception of the flour in the bread, the food–milk, eggs, cheese, freshly baked bread and jam—came from their three cows, their sheep and chickens, or from the bushes. The man of the house spoke Russian fluently. His wife, probably in her early 30s but looking 10 years older, spoke the language with difficulty. The children, all five of them, knew not a word of Russian among them and looked at me with utter curiosity, laughing at my attempts to use sign language and chattering away in Chechen among themselves.

    "Is there a school in the village?" I asked the mother. There is, she said: a school with 80 pupils, including her five. The eldest, a fragile, white-skinned slip of a girl with shaggy black hair constantly escaping from the bondage of her scarf, was 12 and already in the fifth grade. "How come, then, she speaks no Russian?" I wondered. The language must be taught in school, and even very poor teaching would not explain Aset's ignorance. With the help of her mother, I asked Aset what subjects they studied in school. "Russian language, Russian literature, and math," the girl replied. In the fifth grade they are supposed to study natural sciences and history as well, not to mention fine arts, but this is a republic at war and you can't ask too much of the teachers. "Don't they study Chechen in school?" I asked her mother, by now feeling totally confused. "No, because there are no textbooks in Chechen. So the teachers refuse to teach it; they wouldn't know how to." "But all that Russian, and at the same time. … Do you mind asking her what they've just covered in their Russian lit. class?" Aset seemed pleased with the attention. She edged closer to me and, instead of simply answering the question, immediately launched into a long poem by Pushkin. She recited it with much fire and inspiration, in a singsong fashion, her diction clear and her pronunciation impeccable. I did not know what to think. Until now, this girl had laughed and shaken her head at even the simplest of Russian words. Aset finished the poem and smiled a proud and bright-eyed smile.

    And suddenly it dawned on me.

    "Please ask her what the poem is about," I said to the mother.

    She translated the question and Aset looked from her to me blankly. Then she said something to her mother, and, in her halting Russian, the woman muttered apologetically, "She does not understand your question. You did not like the poem? She skipped some lines?"

    "Oh, no, please tell her that she recited the piece beautifully, without a single mistake. I am really very impressed. I would only like her to tell me what happened in that poem, what the author was describing to us."

    After exchanging a few words with her daughter, the woman finally said, "That she can't do. She doesn't understand the words. She just knows them by heart."

    "And her teacher did not even explain to them the meaning of what they were learning by heart?"


    "Could you ask her to show me her textbooks?"

    Relieved to be faced with such an easy task, the girl ran to the back room and brought back three perfectly normal Russian fifth-grade textbooks, for math, language, and literature.

    "But how does she use them if she can't read them?" I asked with exasperation.

    "Oh, she reads very well. She'll show you," said her mother, eager to prove me wrong. And Aset opened her literature book and started reading a story out loud. She read very fast and seemed to like what she was doing.

    I smiled at her and turned to her mother, "That was very good. Does she understand the meaning of what she's just read?"

    "They do not teach them to understand; they teach them to read. She can also write, if you dictate slowly. But that's that."

    I found a simple equation in Aset's math book. She cracked it in no time at all. I found an equally simple problem about two men sharing 10 apples. She gave me another blank stare.

    "But how does she do them in school?"

    "The teacher translates for them."

    "And for homework?"

    "Her father translates. But they do not get much homework."

    The woman looked up at me with a challenge. "Aset is really bright. She's top of her class. She loves to study."

    "Of course, she is a very gifted girl. Please, don't take offense. It's just the way they teach her at school is absolutely unbelievable, making them read words whose meaning totally escapes them. Not even giving them an idea that reading is about understanding."

    "But the teachers, well, they're also graduates of the same school, and mostly quite young," Aset's mother sighed. "So, they never learned much themselves. Also, they have a lot of work to do around the house and the cattle to attend to. So often the teacher just leaves the kids in the classroom and goes to mind her own business."

    "But can Aset read and write in Chechen?"

    "Oh, no. I told you--there are no Chechen textbooks, and her teacher cannot work without a book. In class, her teacher speaks Chechen, and the books are in Russian, and they're so expensive, these books. I had to buy them myself."

    "And in the other mountain villages, the problems are all the same, right?"

    "Yes, there is no difference."

    Why not teach in Chechen?
    And so it seems that many hundreds of children in the mountains of Chechnya, particularly in the districts of Shatoi, Nojai-Yurt, and Vedeno, where Rigakhoi lies, are practically deprived of access to education. They never learn to read or write properly, instead putting together syllables and words in a language they do not understand. In a literate world, they are, in effect, a desocialized group with little future. And the price for Chechnya—and for Russia—is heavy. Over the past decade, Chechnya has lost many a talented writer, scientist, or professional to death or emigration. Having lost one generation and its skills, Chechnya is in the process of losing much of the next one. In schools far outside Grozny, the Chechen capital, there are no qualified teachers. Those who teach in remote schools are the schools' own recent graduates. And they are not the best students, because the best turn their backs on teachers' miserly wages and find better-paid jobs. In Grozny, there are at least some qualified teachers, but the patterns are similar. The changes over the past decade have been dramatic. In the Soviet era, most teachers in Chechnya were Russian. Whether they wanted to or not, they would be sent, as fresh graduates of teacher-training colleges, to Chechnya's towns and mountains. Naturally, they could speak only Russian, and their small pupils started chattering in Russian in no time at all. But after almost 10 years of bloodshed, Chechnya has become almost mono-ethnic. All those Russian teachers, many of them well-qualified, left long ago. Now it is a challenge to find anyone with adequate training.

    The teaching profession has become Chechenized. But teaching has not. There are textbooks that could be used to teach the Chechen language and its literature, but they are hard to come by even in Grozny. When they can be found, they prove to be books that Chechen children would not be able to relate to, produced in the Soviet era, with anachronistic vocabulary and paeans to Lenin, the Communist Party, and the achievements of the proletariat as they progress along the heroic path to communism. Even if that were not a problem, a parent might still opt for a Russian textbook, since those are much cheaper. And, although the Chechen Ministry of Education acknowledges that Chechnya receives the same share of free textbooks as other regions of Russia, Chechen parents usually must buy books for their children. Logic suggests that Chechnya should receive more free books, since the war has destroyed most of the old stock of books. But pervasive corruption means that much of the limited supply of "free books" ends up in the marketplace. There are plenty of Russian books on the market. At $30 for a set of fifth-grade books, even they are pricey in a republic where unemployment runs to 90 percent. But even in mountain regions parents like Aset's are willing to spend scarce money to provide their children with whatever education they can get, even if it is in Russian and teaches their children neither to read nor to write. A route out of this absurd situation would be to introduce Chechen as the language of tuition in primary schools and to provide decent textbooks. Opponents to the idea point to an experiment carried out in the Gudermes and Achkhoi-Martan districts of Chechnya in the 1990s that, they claim, failed. But teachers reply that the experiment was doomed to fail, since very few textbooks were prepared in Chechen to back it up. The result was similar to the situation in Nokhch-Kiloi now: the teachers spoke Chechen in class but their students mostly had to use Russian books. The authorities show no enthusiasm for the idea of even providing Chechen textbooks, though the Chechen Ministry of Education blames the scarcity of books on administrative mistakes. Apparently, last year it forgot to place an order with the printers for the fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-grade Chechen language manuals by the start of one school year (1 September) in time for the next. It does not seem to learn from its mistakes: exactly the same had happened in 2003. This undermining of the Chechen language as a school subject seems more a matter of choice, verging on contempt, than of negligence. There is not a single school in Chechnya where the language of instruction is Chechen, even in those remote districts of the republic where children have no chance of speaking Russian and gaining an understanding of it.

    Officials who oppose instruction in Chechen argue that Chechens would not learn any Russian and would not be able to continue their education beyond primary school. But it is not an either-or question: Russian should be taught in schools as a second language, with special textbooks adapted to the linguistic needs of Chechen-speaking children. Nor would this be making an exception for Chechnya; in fact, not teaching in Chechen is more exceptional, since many of Russia's national republics—including Tatarstan, a relatively powerful republic—have some schools where the language of tuition is the local language. Their students have not found that having Russian as a second language has limited their progress. What opponents of instruction in Chechen ignore is the consequence—that, like Aset, many Chechens end up unable to read or write either in Russian or Chechen. For Chechnya's small mountain villages, without qualified teachers and cut off from all use of Russian, there seems no option but to make Chechen the first language if a disaster is to be avoided. It would also be ideal if, in Grozny and other cities, parents could choose between Russian and Chechen primary schools. But a usable Chechen textbook available at an affordable price and an end to implacable opposition would be progress enough for now. Until then, in Chechnya's more rural and mountainous regions, the principal achievement of the Russian education system is to teach children how to be illiterate reciters of Pushkin.

    Tanya Lokshina is programs director at the Moscow Helsinki Group and chairwoman of the Information and Research Center Demos. She has been working in Chechnya since 2003 interviewing victims and witnesses of human rights violations and conducting field research. She has published numerous articles on the situation in Chechnya at one of the top Russian independent news resources, Polit.Ru. She is also editor and one of the key authors of the book Chechnya 2003: Political Process through the Looking Glass published by the Moscow Helsinki Group in spring 2004.
    ©Transitions Online

    9/8/2004- The rights group Helsinki Federation is protesting Russia's move to shut down an independent Chechen newspaper and have called on President Vladimir Putin to stop what it said was a "campaign of harassment" against the weekly. "The IHF and the Moscow Helsinki Croup join the Committee to Protect Journalists in calling the Russian President to ensure that government officials in the southern republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya uphold human rights obligations and end their campaign of harassment against the independent weekly and its editor," a press release from the group said. A printing house that published the Ingushetia-based Chechenskoye Obschestvo (Chechen Society) was forced to discontinue publishing the paper after its director, Suleiman Kostoyev, was summoned to a local Interior Ministry office, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) said in a press release. The editor of the paper, Timur Aliyev, was called into the Nazran office of the Interior Ministry's Organized Crime Directorate July 28 and questioned about the newspaper's recent reporting on human rights abuses. Aliyev was reportedly told that "the officials were not satisfied with the content of the articles, that they regarded his newspaper as "anti-government", and advised to suspend the publication of the paper at least for some time," the press release said. "Chechen Society represents a crucially important source of information for all those who are concerned with the situation in the Chechen Republic," Tanya Lokshina, Programs Director of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said in the statement. The group called the newspaper "one of the few print media that was still giving objective coverage to contemporary developments in the war-torn republic."

    Fears rise over two killings in 15 months

    5/8/2004- The killing of a gay American has caused shock in Prague's expatriate community, with some warning that after a string of deaths, the city is becoming increasingly dangerous for those who purchase sex. At the Pinocchio bar in Prague 3, a popular spot for picking up male prostitutes, young men with bleached-blond hair, white T-shirts and flawless tans greet middle-aged customers. Under the ultraviolet lights, clients and their companions drink beer, chat and swap jokes. But others are more somber. Much of the talk in the bar, which advertises itself as "the biggest gay center in Prague," has been revolving around the death of one of its regulars. Police are unwilling to release full details but the man's friends identified him as Roy Breimon, a 54-year-old artist from Washington, D.C., who had lived in the Czech capital for about five years. Breimon's death July 8 came 15 months after Grant Russell, a New Zealander in his 50s, was found slain in a Vinohrady apartment. Observers following the case suspected Russell was killed by a rent boy, or young prostitute, whom he had hired. That crime is still unsolved. Breimon was killed by robbers who broke into his rented flat at Masarykovo nabrezi in Prague 2 in the early hours of the morning and tied him up, according to police. How exactly he died is unclear from police statements. Officers say they have someone in custody whom they suspect of "robbery resulting in death" rather than murder, but they will not release the person's name. According to Prague police spokeswoman Daniela Razimova, Breimon's death was not linked to a rent boy. One official source who spoke on condition of anonymity said Breimon's killing had been linked to a drug dealer. The source also maintained that police investigating the case were doing a good job.

    Community in shock
    Gay men, however, are far from reassured. "The whole community was in shock after Breimon died. It still is," said a German businessman at Pinocchio's who wanted to be identified only as Peter. "Roy was a good friend of mine. It's terrible because I liked him very much and I liked Grant very much. They didn't deserve this. They have always been fair to the boys, and they never took underage boys." Peter, who frequently comes to Prague on weekends, said the mood in the city's gay bars has changed after the latest slaying. "Of course one gets worried," he said. "You never know what's behind it -- whether there are some people who hate gay people, whether it was robbery, or something else." Peter said he is concerned that Russell's murder is still not solved and that police have not put up posters asking for information about the latest killing. His concerns are echoed by the wider gay community. Travel writer Herbert Monty Hale, of Los Angeles, told The Prague Post by e-mail that Czech police seemed reluctant to investigate murders of gay men unless there were inquiries from the media. "I don't recommend for gay tourists to go to Prague to be subjected to harassment or even an untimely demise," wrote Hale, a frequent visitor to the city who advises travel agents on potential trouble spots for gay tourists. Despite the police statements, patrons at Pinocchio's suspect that Breimon's death was related to a pickup. One male prostitute standing by the bar said he thought Roy had picked up a man at nearby Hlavni nadrazi, the city's main train station. He said looking for prostitutes there is cheaper but more dangerous because many of them are drug addicts. Peter said rent boys could have been involved in both killings. He said that at Pinocchio's "the boys are known to the staff and the staff know who you go with," but that was not the case elsewhere.

    Czech authorities do not record statistics for homicides specifically related to gay people. Laszlo Sumegh, the founder of Project Sance, a civic group that helps homeless boys, said he hears of two or three such deaths every year. "It happens, but police do not publicize it. The only exceptions are cases of foreigners when there is pressure from abroad," he said. Referring to male prostitutes in Prague, Sumegh added: "These boys come here usually from Slovakia with high expectations. When they start to starve and lose hope they get nervous and aggressive, and do not hesitate even to take someone's life." "The story of the [murder] victims has been always the same," said Jiri Hromada, a spokesman for the homosexual-rights group Gay Initiative. "They met a stranger, took him home and there they were murdered." Before Breimon's killing, there had been no more than five known cases of a gay person being murdered in the last 15 years, he said. "Many foreign gays and lesbians travel to Prague in search of a new life or career." Hromada said. "There is a lot more freedom here." Jan Krc, a spokesman from the U.S. Embassy in Prague, said there is no specific danger to gay visitors coming to the capital. Asked if the authorities were doing enough to investigate killings of gay people, Prague police spokeswoman Razimova said: "It is of course mainly up to the foreigners themselves to decide what people they want to be in contact with," she said. "The police have no chance of influencing this."
    ©The Prague Post

    12/8/2004- The commemoration this weekend of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Provence is being marred by a political row within the French government that has highlighted unfinished business in the country's relations with its former colonies. The most controversial of the guests, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, is accused of betraying pledges he made before his country's independence in the 1960s. President Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast - where France currently has a role in brokering an end to the civil war - has snubbed his hosts. And there is pressure for the Djibouti head of state, Ismael Omar Guelleh, to be summoned by a judge if he attends the ceremonies to mark the sacrifice of thousands of colonial troops in the Second World War. The French veterans' minister, Hamlaoui Mekachera, claims Mr Bouteflika's invitation is part and parcel of moves to improve relations with Algeria and says "there should be no confusion between this page of history - which we wrote together in 1944 - and other, later events, however painful they may be".

    On 15 August 1944, 256,000 men of the African army, led by French General Jean-Marie de Lattre de Tassigny, landed in Provence immediately behind the Allied troops of US General Alexander Patch. Under the codename Anvil Dragoon, they linked up with the troops of the Normandy landings on 12 September at Montbard near the Swiss border. Historians say the 400,000-strong army - which also fought in Africa - was often used as cannon fodder but played a crucial role in liberating France. In the Provence landings alone, it lost at least 40,000 black Africans and "French north Africans" - settlers and indigenous Tunisians, Moroccans and Algerians. Last week, 60 right-wing MPs protested to the French Foreign Minister, Michel Barnier, over the invitation extended to Mr Bouteflika who, they said, had "always ignored and dismissed the memory" of the victims of Algerian independence. Foremost among these victims are the harkis - members of an indigenous Algerian militia which fought on the French side during the country's independence war. Repatriated to France after the war, they and their descendants are still viewed in Algeria as collaborators and do not have the right to buy property. The Tunisian President, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has let it be known that he will attend the commemorations because "our role in the liberation of France gave us the taste of freedom and inspired our own independence movements". But President Gbagbo. of Ivory Coast, sees "no reason to celebrate a brotherhood in arms" with France. He has been accused by the French media of ordering human rights abuses. President Guelleh of Djibouti has been named by a French judge as a potential suspect in the alleged killing in 1995 in Djibouti of a French magistrate, Bernard Borrel.
    © Independent Digital

    11/8/2004- Wednesday marks the 100th anniversary of Germany's brutal crushing of an ethnic uprising in Namibia. But reconciliation has been marred by a lawsuit filed by Namibia's ethnic Herero people against German companies. Then called German Southwest Africa, Namibia was a German colony between 1884 and 1915. Tensions between the ethnic Herero people and the German rulers spilled over in January 1904 when Herero warriors, seeking to revolt against their masters for suppressing them and seizing their land, killed around 200 German soldiers and settlers. The Germans were sent arms and reinforcements by the Emperor in Berlin and lashed back on Aug. 11, 2004, in what came to be known as the decisive battle of Warterberg. During the fight, German soldiers are said to have forced the surviving Herero into the Omaheke desert and blocked access to all water sources. Thousands died a painful death, from starvation and thirst. Between 45,000 and 65,000 Herero are believed to have been killed. German General Lothar von Trotha said at the time he would "wipe them out with rivers of blood." Historians have described his policy as one of "blatant terrorism" and "shocking brutality." That October, the Nama, another ethnic tribe, declared guerrilla war against the Germans. The Germans reacted with merciless tactics including poisoning watering holes. Thousands died in the mayhem, and the survivors were locked in concentration camps. Women and children were forced to work in the building of ports and railways. Outraged German missionaries who visited Namibia at the time spoke of inhumane conditions and of inmates "dropping like poisoned flies" under the strains of forced labor. The horror first ended when Germany was forced to hand over Namibia to South Africa after its defeat in World War I.

    'A special responsibility'
    In recognition of a difficult colonial history with some shameful chapters, the German government has spoken of a "special responsibility" towards Namibia. Much of that has taken the form of development aid, with Germany being Namibia's largest foreign aid donor. Berlin has pumped more than 500 million into Namibia since the country gained independence from South Africa in 1990. Most of it has been used for development and culture programs. This week Germany will send its first senior government official to Namibia. In a symbolic act on Saturday, Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul will remember the victims of the Waterberg massacre together with representatives of the Herero in Okakarara, the scene of the battle. The German minister will also inaugurate a cultural and tourism center built with German aid funds.

    'Healing the wounds of the past'
    Despite the attempts to overcome the divisions of the past, the reconciliation process has been marred by a lawsuit filed by the Herero People's Reparation Corporation in the US. It seeks $2 billion in damages from several German companies including Deutsche Bank, mining company Terex Corporation and shipping company Deutsche Afrika Linie, all of which allegedly profited from Germany's occupation of Namibia. The German government has refused to consider any compensation claims, pointing to its role as development aid provider in Namibia, as proof of its commitment to mend fences. Earlier this month Germany's Ambassador to Namibia, Wolfgang Massing, said the lawsuit would amount to naught. "It will not lead to any results. While it is necessary to remember the past, we should move forward together and find projects that will heal the wounds of the past."

    Apology awaited
    But the ancestors of the Herero insist on compensation as well as a public apology from Berlin, just as other countries did for the crimes of the Nazi era. "It was genocide," Herero tribal leader Kuaima Riruako told news agency dpa. "We were massacred and our land, our cattle, our culture was seized." Riruako added that the demand for reparation was an attempt to "restore our dignity and get back what was taken away unfairly from us." So far German leaders have skirted the issue of apologizing to Namibia's ethnic tribes. In January this year, German ambassador Massing regretted the brutal reaction of the German army to the Herero uprising, but refused to react to allegations of genocide. The fact that Germany hasn't officially apologized has angered many in Namibia. "The Germans have shown themselves as masters of racism, andthey lack respect for black people," Arnold Tjihuiko, the chairman of the Herero Committee for memorial festivities, told the newsweekly DER SPIEGEL. "We want the Germans to say, 'We're sorry!'"
    ©Deutsche Welle

    2/8/2004- Strengthening his calls for the creation of European Union centers for asylum seekers in Africa, German Interior Minister Otto Schily on Monday said, in his assessment, refugees no longer have the fundamental right to receive asylum in Germany if the centers are opened. In an interview, the Social Democrat said the EU should examine whether a "test center could be created in Northern Africa." However, the head of the opposition neo-liberal Free Democrats, Guido Westerwelle, said the government should end its debate over possible processing centers in Africa because he believes they are unconstitutional. Human rights groups have also criticized Schily's proposal, citing possible violations of the refugee provisions in the Geneva Convention. But Schily has said the constitution does not apply because the centers would be outside of EU jurisdiction. The current debate broke out last month after the German aid organization Cap Anamur rescued several dozen African refugees from their flimsy boat and illegally took them to port in Italy. The idea behind the centers would be to determine the validity of refugees' asylum claims before they reach the European continent.
    ©Deutsche Welle

    What is it like being Muslim in Germany? With many Germans converting to Islam in recent years, Clive Freeman talks to several Muslims living in Germany about their lives and how they have changed since the 9/11 attacks and the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East and the Gulf.

    12/8/2004- She kneels on the grass beneath an oak tree - the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin looming behind her - and explains what it feels like to be a Muslim in Germany. Born in London to Egyptian parents, Arwa Hassan, 31, has been working in Berlin for the past seven years. A petite, dark-haired woman, her head is not covered. "I've not yet reached the point where l wear the hijab in public," she says. "When l was a schoolgirl my mother wasn't one for making an issue out of my wearing a head-scarf. She was more interested in my learning prayers, and how l should conduct myself in everyday life." Employed by Transparency International, the Berlin-based anti-corruption organisation, Hassan is a member of the DMK(German Muslim Circle) in the city's Wedding district. She regularly participates in Friday prayer and lecture sessions at a city mosque. Quite a few Germans who have converted to the Islamic faith in recent years also attend the DMK gatherings. Paradoxically, Hassan maintains that interest in Islam has appeared to increase since the New York terror attacks. "There's a real thirst for knowledge about Islam," she insists. "Sales of the Koran have definitely gone up of late, and an increasing number of Germans attend the DMK sessions in Berlin." She claims that gatherings at the city's Trondheimerstrasse mosque are very international, with people coming from a variety of countries. People are attracted to Islam when they see how warm and generous Moslems are, and how welcoming and hospital they are in their homes," she says. "No radical Islamic activity or hatred gets preached at the mosque."

    Not all Muslim organisations in Germany are quite so tolerant or friendly. Three militant Islamic groups have been banned by German Interior Minister Otto Schily in the past two years. The last to be outlawed was Hizb ut-Tahrir, a known hard-line Islamic group active in German university circles, last year. Given that three of the men involved in the New York 9/11 Twin Tower attacks were once foreign students in Germany, the clampdown on the group's activities came as no big surprise last year, even though no arrests were made when government agents raided 25 of the group's premises in Bavaria, Berlin, Hamburg, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia. A recent report compiled by the German domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, warned that Germany is not just an area "where attacks can be prepared. Sites can also become targets for an attack." Germany's greatest danger was currently posed by radical Muslims, claimed the report - released by Schily in May. It spoke of Islamists identifying Germany "with the so-called crusaders, the helpers of the United States and Israel, and with its support of Afghanistan." In Afghanistan, German troops form part of the International Security Assistance Force trying to stabilise the country after the fall of the Taliban. The "security" report, however, makes clear such extremists constitute less than one percent of the 3.3 million Muslims living in Germany. It counted 24 Islamic groups in Germany with a total membership of 30,950 compared with 30,600 in 2002.

    Most Muslims in Germany are the offspring of Turkish guest workers who arrived to fill labour shortage gaps in the 1960s and 70s, later settling with their families in big cities like Berlin, Frankfurt, Duesseldorf, Wiesbaden and Cologne. Other Muslims emanate from Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, and from south-east Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Singapore and Malaysia. More than 220,000 Muslims are found in Berlin alone. In the central German state of Hesse, the figure is still higher at 300,000. Berlin-born Robert Paris, 42, is a photographer and museum technical adviser. He's one of about 100,000 Germans who have converted to Islam, mostly through marriage, in more recent years. Today he's known to friends as Zayd. The name-change he says helps bridge the gap in Islamic communications between his "brothers and sisters" in Islam. It's no surprise to find that German Muslim converts - once known as Wolfgang, Manfred, Walter, Bernd or Gerhard, today bear names such as, "Muhammad," "Khamis," "Rashid," "Khalid" or "Adel Qadir." Jasmin, 'Zayd' Paris' 31-year-old Indian wife, now awaits a first child in Berlin. Like Arwa Hassan, Zayd belongs to the DMK Muslim circle in Berlin. He became a Muslim in 1998 and now divides his time between Berlin and Kerala in southern India where he is presently building a house for his family. Asked about his conversion to Islam, Zayd says: "Before Berlin reunited l was a citizen of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). My father Ronald Paris was a well known artist in the socialist State. We had lots of people visit us from other countries even when the wall was in place. I yearned to travel. "After the barrier came down in 1989 l seized the opportunity, visiting Turkey, Egypt and then India in the 1990s. It was in India that my interest in Islam developed during lengthy discussions with friends. I'd never given Islam a thought before that." He's impressed by the close-knit structure of Muslim family life. India is now "home" for him, although he insists he will always remain a German citizen. He regards the current German controversy over Muslim women wearing headscarves as "puzzling" - terming it "purely political." "Thirty years ago most people in the German countryside were wearing headscarves and nobody got upset about that," he said. "Now offence is taken when Muslim women wear them to conceal their hair from view. "For most of the Muslim women l know it's natural for them to wear headscarves. It's part of their dress. In no way is it a form of repression. In fact, many Muslim women feel quite naked in public without a head-scarf," he argues. Hassan agrees. "It seems ridiculous that a Muslim woman can be denied a teaching post in Baden-Wuerttemberg ( a German state) - as happened last year - because of her insistence on wearing a headscarf in the classroom."

    Being a Muslim in Berlin has its complications. Not so long ago at a city swimming pool, Hassan was accosted by a naked woman bather for wearing a bathing costume when taking a shower at a pool-side cabin. Pointing at the offending bathing costume, the woman shouted: "We've fought so hard for freedom in our society. It's people like this woman (Hassan) who continue to hold us back. Hassan says she replied by saying, "What is this freedom you are talking about? Is it a freedom which allows a nude bather to dictate the rules of dress?" The woman was one of Germany's Freierkoerperkultur (nudist) adherents. A recent Allensbach Institute poll conducted in Germany claims that 53 percent of Germans polled about Muslims wearing head-scarves said they regarded them as a symbol of Muslim repression - something that was not reconcilable with traditional western values. The German states of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Saarland and Lower Saxony have all passed laws banning Islamic head-scarves from public schools in recent years. Now, Berlin's city-state Interior Minister Ehrhart Koerting has set out proposals aimed at banning symbols of "all religious faiths and creeds" early next year. The ban includes Muslim head-scarves, Jewish skullcaps, Christian crosses, as well as Islamic symbols. Some 60,000 out of 140,000 Berlin teachers, members of the police force and workers in the city-state's judicial system will be affected if the bill is passed by the city parliament. The proposal has already provoked protests from Christian denominations, who claim that "religiousness cannot be banned from the public realm and pushed away to the privacy of one's home." Iran-born Rahim Ansary-Lary operates a newsagent's shop on the Martin Luther Strasse in Berlin. He fled his homeland in the late 1970s during the Khomeini crackdown on leftist dissidents and has never been back. "I am against religious fanatics of any colour," he says, adding "thousands of political opponents were massacred in Iran in the 1980s, some of my colleagues among them. "It surprises me," he says, "that an increasing number of Germans are converting to Islam these days. Islam has its brutal side. Who can ever forgive the fanatics for what they did in America in 2001. What possible justification can such people have for wiping out 3000 people of different religious denominations? None whatsoever!" Ansary-Lary was granted political asylum in Germany after his escape from Iran, via Dubai, in the early 1980s. He has never returned to Iran.
    ©Expatica News

    7/8/2004- Human rights groups warned yesterday that racism was becoming increasingly tolerated in Italy after the country's biggest-selling newspaper published a book by a veteran journalist which warns of an Arab invasion of Europe. The 126-page tract by Oriana Fallaci appeared on newsstands with the Corriere della Sera newspaper. In the book Fallaci makes sweeping criticisms of authorities for failing to stop Europe becoming "Eurabia" and "a colony of Islam", in a stealthy process she describes as the "burning of Troy". Oddly, Fallaci interviews herself in the book, the third volume the New York-based journalist has written against Islam since the September 11 attacks in New York. The first two have been bestsellers in Italy and elsewhere. "This kind of argument does a lot of damage," said Luciano Scagliotti, head of the Italian branch of the European Network Against Racism. "We are very worried. Fallaci and others like her are using their popularity to create hatred. She is effectively telling thousands of people they must chase the Arabs out of Europe. "It's a kind of racism that was unacceptable in Europe until a few years ago. Now, with this kind of publication, it is becoming acceptable. The more these books are published the more people even feel urged, encouraged and justified in wanting to chase the 'enemy' out of Europe. "It's exactly the same thing we saw in Italy when the laws were brought in against the Jews in 1938."

    Human rights groups and immigration experts have warned that Fallaci's message, along with the frequently xenophobic messages from the Northern League, a member of Silvio Berlusconi's government coalition, feeds on fear of foreigners in a country that has only experienced mass immigration in recent decades. The Muslim community, now the second largest religious group in Italy, is made up of more than 800,000 first or second generation immigrants. Yet they are not formally recognised as a religious group. The Italian government has signed accords with representatives of most other, much smaller religious groups, but Islam remains on the sidelines. The fragmented Italian Muslim community has failed to identify one official religious representative. Fallaci's first book written after September 11, The Rage and the Pride, was an international bestseller, selling more than a million copies in Italy alone. Her follow-up, The Force of Reason, published in April this year as a tribute "to the dead of Madrid", has already sold 800,000 copies in Italy. Her latest book attacks world leaders including George Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger. But most of her venom is saved for Islamist terrorists, anti-war protesters and anyone leftwing, accusing protesters of "intellectual terrorism" and being "brainwashing", "philo-Islamists" who would happily allow Osama bin Laden to live in Italy. The veteran war correspondent warns of inertia comparable to that of Europe in 1938 in the face of the Arab threat. The Corriere della Sera, which belongs to RCS media group, hails Fallaci as "a woman who has the courage to write the truth about others and herself."
    ©The Guardian

    8/8/2004- A leading French journalist has prompted a debate over racism in Italy after he published a claim that Italian customs officials have a 'cretinous attitude' to any non-white person entering the country. In a letter this week in the left-leaning Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica, the editor-in-chief of the French newspaper Le Monde, Jean-Marie Colombani, accused Italian border police at Venice's Marco Polo airport of 'harassing' his 20-year-old adopted son, a French citizen of Indian origin. He said he had watched helplessly as his son was subjected to 'totally unjustified humiliation' and had been left 'deeply disturbed' every year for the past five years when his family arrived in Italy for their holidays. His son's luggage was always searched and he was asked questions about his private life and challenged about his nationality. 'It is almost as if Italy is also falling into a populist atmosphere that is in fashion, with the same old temptation towards xenophobia,' Colombani wrote. He acknowledged that border police at airports across Europe have intensified security checks since the 11 September attacks in 2001, but, he said: 'German or English police, when they do spot checks, do not display this systematic interest in coloured people.' The open letter offended Italian leaders and members of the public but many non-white Italians and immigrants responded with claims that they are systematically treated as lesser beings. 'I cannot deny this risk [that Italy is sliding into xenophobia],' Italy's Interior Minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, said in a letter in La Repubblica. 'But I see a culture of welcome and respect for others that is still well rooted in our country.' Pisanu apologised for any isolated incidents but said his police forces were not racist, inviting visitors to Italy to report any unjustified excesses or harassment.

    Justice Minister Roberto Castelli, of the anti-immgrant Northern League party, defended the Italian police for doing their job in times of high security alert, pitying them for having had the misfortune to 'disturb' an intellectual of the 'gauche francaise'. 'How did they dare, these Italians? These macaroni,' he wrote mocking the Frenchman in the same paper. The Italian press has rejected Colombani's accusation, complaining that racism is not Italy's but Europe's problem. Newspapers pointed out that Israel's Ariel Sharon had called on French Jews to move to Israel to escape rising anti-Semitism in France. But the success of an anti-Islamic tract by the veteran Italian war correspondent Oriana Fallaci, who says Europe is turning 'into Eurabia', added to fears that unabashed racism is winning an ever-wider audience in Italy. The book, Oriana Fallaci Interviews Oriana Fallaci, sold 500,000 copies in a matter of hours. Stocks of the volume, sold with the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, were exhausted and a new edition is being prepared. 'I say what I think and that is what people think but almost never say,' said Fallaci. 'They have found someone who gives a voice to their silence.' Many buyers said they read the volume because they wanted to know how extreme the extremist anti-immigrants were becoming. Racism monitors say non-white Italians and coloured immigrants are treated systematically with less respect than white Italians in Italy. 'We are still at a stage in this country where coloured people are considered different and treated, if not as inferiors, as children,' said Luciano Scagliotti, representative in Italy of the European Network Against Racism.
    ©The Observer

    9/8/2004- At least 26 Africans died trying to reach Italy in a rickety wooden boat, police said on Sunday, reigniting a political argument about how to staunch the flow of illegal migrants to Italian shores. A merchant ship from Gibraltar plucked 75 African immigrants to safety on Sunday who had been drifting in a 14-metre (45 ft) boat 75 miles off the coast of Sicily with little food or water. The migrants said about 100 people had been in the boat when it left Libya nine days ago but a quarter of those died on the way and the survivors threw their bodies overboard, police said. "My son didn't make it, I had to abandon him in the sea," said one of the survivors, quoted by ANSA news agency. Another man died from suspected hypothermia while being flown by emergency helicopter to a hospital in Malta, police said. Dozens of those rescued remained in hospital on Sunday evening suffering from severe cold and dehydration. The survivors said they were from Sudan, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone and had paid $800-$1,800 for their passage, police said. Small boats carrying illegal migrants regularly make their way between North Africa and Italy, with those on board aiming to cross the Mediterranean in search of a better life. Scores have died in recent years when overcrowded boats capsized or sank, raising calls for more preventative measures in addition to the constant patrol of Italian coastguards.

    But the flow has also fuelled Italian fears about the peninsula's long, largely sea-facing borders particularly after weeks of threats of attacks by Islamic militants. Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said in a statement the latest sea disaster reiterated the need for more international cooperation to help distinguish between genuine and illegal migrants, and criminal organisations also using the channels. He added a ministry representative would be shortly sent to Tripoli to discuss the situation. But while Pisanu was urging more contact between countries to deal with the problem, another member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition called for Italy to "immediately close the door" on such migrants to protect itself. "Islamic terrorism uses the open door of illegal immigration as an access channel," Roberto Calderoli, leader of the populist Northern League said. "If we do not remove the cause of the problem and shut the door on all illegal immigrants we risk having to empty the sea with a teaspoon." Several left-wing lawmakers demanded Calderoli withdraw his comments, made just as Italy faces accusations of racism. The editor of French newspaper le Monde wrote an open letter to left-wing paper la Repubblica this month accusing Italian border police of harassing his 20-year-old son of Indian origin. While, best-selling newspaper Corriere della Sera has come under fire for publishing a book by leading journalist Oriana Fallaci warning of an Arab invasion of Europe and criticising authorities for allowing it to become "a colony of Islam." In a full-page advertisement on Sunday, the newspaper said it had sold 500,000 copies of the book in a single day and had begun reprinting a second edition.

    9/8/2004- Italian police have detained two men after more than 70 African migrants were rescued from an overcrowded boat off the coast of Sicily. The police said the two men in custody were crew members suspected of having organised the trip, during which at least 26 migrants died. The two men are believed to be of Liberian origin. The migrants said they had been at sea for nine days, but others died on the way and were thrown overboard. The Italian authorities believe the boat began its journey in Libya. Those on board were mainly from Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast. "My son didn't make it. I had to abandon him in the sea," one survivor told Ansa news agency. The agency reported that 15 of the survivors were still recovering in hospital, while the rest had been transferred to a refugee centre. Small boats carrying illegal migrants regularly take people from North Africa to Italy. Migrants pay people-smugglers hundreds of dollars in search of a better life. Hundreds of people, mainly from Africa and Asia, have already tried to make the journey this year. An unknown number have died. The issue of illegal immigration has caused outrage in Italy. In July, nearly 500 migrants arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, south-west of Sicily. In a high-profile incident earlier in July, 37 Africans were denied asylum in Italy after being taken to Sicily by a German charity. Their plight touched the Italian public, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome, but the government is taking a tough line on illegal arrivals, tightening up a stricter immigration law which came into force two years ago.
    ©BBC News

    10/8/2004- At least 44 illegal immigrants are known to have drowned trying to get into Spain by boat so far this year. But the number of people detained on arrival has fallen by more than 9 percent to just under 7,300 compared with the same period last year, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs said on Tuesday. Of these, 292 were women and 183 were children, including just 13 girls. So far this year the number of clandestine boats detected by Spanish authorities has fallen from 430 to 307, while the number of boat owners arrested has dropped from 135 to 115. Most of the landings have been in the Canary Islands where 4.142 immigrants have been detained, the majority on Fuerteventura, against 3,149 on the peninsular coasts around the Straits of Gibraltar. With six boats capsizing, at least 44 people have drowned, while a further 131 people have been rescued from the sea, according to the Ministry's figures. Last year the number of known deaths by mid-August was 57 from seven shipwrecks, although a further 41people were listed as 'disappeared'. Nearly all the owners of the boats who have been arrested so far this year are Moroccans, although they also include eight from Sierra Leone, five from Ghana, and two from Spain. Morocco also saw the highest number of would-be immigrants, 3,050, followed by Mali, 1,317; Gambia 808 and Guinea 257.
    ©Expatica News

    2/8/2004- Police in County Antrim say they are treating weekend attacks on the homes of two care workers as racially motivated. Two houses in Tobar Park, Cullybackey, were attacked early on Saturday, but details were only released on Monday. In the first incident, at about 0120 BST, windows were broken at the home of a South African woman and her four-year-old son. Another house, where an Indian family were due to move in, was also targeted. No one was injured in the attacks, which police have described as cowardly. Sma Ndaba, whose husband is in South Africa on business, said she heard the brick crashing through her living room window. However, because the family have never had any trouble in the year since they moved into the area, she did not think it was her home that was being attacked. Mrs Ndaba said the local community had been very supportive following the attack. "My neighbours have been very good and I am very proud of the Cullybackey community, they have been supportive," she said. "Even the ones that live a bit further from me were coming to me and comforting me. "They were saying they would not allow this to happen in their community. I am sure it is just a minority who are not accepting of me, because the community has been really supportive to me." In the second incident, the window of another house in the area was also broken. An Indian woman who works at the same care home as Mrs Ndaba was due to move into the house with her family on Monday. Inspector Peter Wylie condemned the attack. "These victims work locally in healthcare and are well respected in the area, their contribution to this community contrast sharply with the cowards who attacked them," he said. He also appealed for anyone with information about the attack to contact the police. SDLP councillor Seamus Laverty said he was outraged by the attacks, which he called "heartless and senseless". "The racist bigots who carried out these attacks do not represent the broader community in Ballymena," he said. DUP councillor Tommy Nicholl said he was disgusted by the attack. "If I can appeal to whoever, and I understand that there are only about two or three involved, can I say please stop and realise what you are doing to the village of which you are part of," he said. Sinn Fein assembly member Philip McGuigan urged unionist politicians to join forces with others in the community in standing up to those behind sectarian and racist crime."These attacks are unacceptable and must end," he said.Last week, police in Belfast urged ethnic minorities in the south of the city to be vigilant following a spate of racist attacks. There have been 89 incidents in the area so far this year ranging from verbal abuse and graffiti to physical attacks on people and their homes, according to the police.
    ©BBC News

    30/7/2004- Shoppers stood by and did nothing to help as two teenage black girls were subjected to a terrifying racist attack. It took a pensioner to finally intervene and stop the two African girls being assaulted outside a city shopping mall. Runbi Musunhe and Nonkululeko Khawula, both 18, were attacked for up to ten minutes by a teenager who repeatedly pushed them, called them "f****** niggers" and told them to "go back to Africa". Ms Musunhe was also slapped across the face during the assault on Pennywell Road. Police today confirmed they were treating the incident as a racially motivated assault. Pensioner Stan Lawson, 66, of Pennywell, was also assaulted as he tried to help the girls. He said today: "I had no choice but to step in to try to help them. What I found hard to believe was that there was a group of shoppers just standing around watching. "There was a couple of big blokes there but not one of them bothered to help these poor young girls. I stepped in and got hold of the attacker and that was when he whacked me." The victims said the attack started when the white assailant, who is thought to be in his late teens, threw a tennis ball at them. Ms Musunhe, who is originally from Zimbabwe, said: "We were on our way back from shopping when this guy threw a tennis ball at us. Nonkululeko kicked it back at him, and thought nothing of it. He then came over and started pushing Nonkululeko around. I started shouting at him to stop and he hit me in the face. "He was raging. He was shouting and swearing at us and making racist remarks. He said that we should ‘go back to Africa' because we were ‘f****** niggers'. He kept pushing us around, calling us ‘black bitches'. It was awful, I don't know why he picked on us - we don't know him and did nothing to make him angry."

    The attack happened outside the Muirhouse Shopping Centre at about 5.15pm last Friday. The women, who both work as nursery nurse assistants, live in Leith but had been visiting a friend in Muirhouse. Following the attack, the shaken pair walked to Drylaw Police Station to report the incident. Ms Khawula, who is originally from South Africa, broke down in tears as she spoke about her nightmare ordeal. She said: "I am never going back to Muirhouse. I am so frightened about something happening to me again. That man was so angry. I have never seen someone so angry. I felt so humiliated by what he was saying to me. I have heard about racism like this on the television but I never expected it to happen to me. Especially here. "People were just standing around and watching this man attacking us - no-one was helping. But it was very brave of the elderly man to come and help us. If he hadn't, the man could have become much more aggressive." Police are particularly keen to hear from anyone who may have seen the suspect. He has been described as being aged about 18, about 5ft 6in and "skinny". He had a pale, spotty complexion and was wearing dark jeans and a baseball cap. Councillor Dougie Kerr, who is executive member for equalities, said the council did not tolerate any racist behaviour in the city. He said: "I find it abhorrent that incidents still happen in this day and age. It is simply not acceptable. Anyone guilty of such offences should be brought to book as soon as possible."
    ©The Scotsman

    3/8/2004- A yob who terrorised a family is the first person to be thrown out of his home for racial abuse. John Ward, 61, was prosecuted under new anti-social behaviour laws after he attacked, threatened and abused Somali neighbour Amina Mohamed, 32, and her seven young children. Once he left her nine-year-old daughter sobbing after he ripped off her religious headscarf and threw it down. Jobless Ward - convicted of a racially aggravated assault two years ago - called the children "black dogs" who should go back to Somalia. Council chiefs took him to court after a police report warned he was a "serious risk to the safety" of the family. Under a section of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act introduced in June, Woolwich county court banned him from "threatening, assaulting or approaching" them and said he must leave his flat in Plumstead, South East London. Greenwich council said: "This is the first time a council has enforced this legislation. We will not tolerate racism by any of our tenants." The case comes during the Daily Mirror's Reclaim Our Streets campaign against anti-social behaviour. In a police statement Mrs Mohamed said she feared for her children's safety from "this very aggressive man". She added: "This aggression has occurred over four months, including chasing my children and swearing at them." She said her daughter was pushed to the ground in a scuffle during the headscarf incident. She told police: "Mr Ward started to rant in a drunken manner, 'I'm going to f*** you up'. I was very frightened." The police report said the incident was one of many caused by Ward to her and other black families. It also said he was released only six months earlier from a prison sentence for grievous bodily harm. Ward has a 40 year history of jail terms and 64 convictions including assault, criminal damage, theft and fraud. He is fighting eviction and insisted he is not racist: "I get on well with everyone of all colours on this estate. "There is a good community spirit here and everything was fine until they came. "There are seven children penned into a one bedroom flat so they are creating havoc for their neighbours. "They barge into me and I pulled at the headscarf of one because she refused to apologise. The incident has been blown out of all proportion."
    ©the Mirror

    3/8/2004- The British Council has suspended a press officer in an investigation into allegedly anti-Muslim newspaper articles. Harry Cummins has denied writing a series of opinion columns in the Sunday Telegraph under the pseudonym Will Cummins. Muslim groups had protested to the newspaper's editor about the articles. They said the author had described Muslims in derogatory terms and said Islam had a "black heart". The British Council has moved swiftly to distance itself from the articles. The organisation, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, was set up to develop closer cultural relations between the UK and other countries. A spokesman, Christopher Wade, said the organisation disassociated itself from the "deeply offensive" content of the articles. "The purpose of the British Council is to build mutually beneficial relationships between people in the UK and other countries on the basis of trust and mutual understanding," Mr Wade said. Mr Wade has also written to a Muslim group which asked the British Council to investigate the allegations against Mr Cummins. The Muslim Association of Britain said it welcomed the steps taken by the British Council but was awaiting the outcome of the investigation.
    ©BBC News

    4/8/2004- Librarians and race relations workers in London are shocked at proposals to close the library at the Commission for Racial Equality to members of the public. According to current plans, management has allocated no funds to the library service in the budget, current staff members are to be redeployed and the library itself is to be placed under lock and key - openable only to research staff under the Communications Team at the CRE's HQ in Victoria. Up till now the CRE's library, manned by one chartered librarian and a full-time assistant, was open to both CRE staff and the general public and provided an excellent, professional service on British race matters. Four months ago, when it became clear at the start of the financial year that cuts would have to be made across the whole of the CRE structure, management wanted to close the library altogether, even sell its assets to another body. But after representations from some of the Commissioners and organisations, including the unions at the CRE, that it was a valuable resource, management had a rethink. Now the library will be kept as an internal resource. But there appear to be no arrangements made, as yet, for obtaining new stock or for accessioning journals or cataloguing new materials. Concern at the move to close the library to the public has come from a range of groups, including the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals. With the Runnymede Trust having closed its library down and the Institute of Race Relations library running a skeleton service (because of lack of funds), the CRE library was the one place in the capital that could be relied upon. According to the CRE management, there have not been enough members of the public using their library. But, according to the unions, this only takes account of the number of visitors to the CRE's offices and not the many phone queries the library staff deal with and the help they give to CRE and Race Equality Council staff.
    ©Institute of Race Relations

    By Harmit Athwal

    5/8/2004- Concern is mounting that the issues behind the recent disturbance at Harmondsworth detention centre - the apparent failure of the private firms which run detention centres to provide full care to detainees and the emerging evidence of assaults by officers - will be ignored as prosecutions of at least seventeen detainees proceed. On 19 July 2004, Harmondsworth fast-track immigration removal centre suffered a disturbance and was damaged by a fire. What triggered the events of that night was the apparent suicide of an asylum seeker, a 31-year-old Ukrainian man, who was found hanged in his cell in the late hours. It is thought that the man had received bad news about his asylum claim. Rumours quickly circulated around the centre that a man had died during an attempted deportation and led to detainees damaging furniture and property. Some fires were also set but were quickly extinguished by sprinklers. No one was hurt in the disturbance despite detainees, reportedly, being left in the burning building as staff retreated for their own safety. The disturbance at Harmondsworth led to the transfer of the 440 detainees at the centre to other immigration detention centres and prisons across the UK. One of those sixty men transferred to Dungavel removal centre in Scotland, a 23-year-old Vietnamese man, was found hanged four days later on 23 July.

    Conditions in immigration detention
    According to a former detainee in Harmondsworth, who wishes to remain anonymous, conditions have been poor for some time. 'The conditions at the centre weren't good, people were very unhappy' he told IRR News. About the night of the fire he said 'they [Harmondsworth guards/management] closed the wing and then ran away. Everyone was scared and frightened, people tried to get out and they couldn't. I can't believe they left people inside that building, they should have taken us somewhere safe, but they ran away.' After the fire, he alleges detainees were treated like criminals. 'We were searched, had our photographs taken, I had to remove all of my clothes and we were give no food for many hours.' He was moved along with twenty-seven others to another detention centre where he has nothing, 'All of my property, my clothes and my documents are lost.' He also alleges that during an earlier attempted deportation he was assaulted by guards and has suffered injuries to his arms and legs. 'I am not going back to my country. I am here to save my life. I'm not a criminal. I'm not getting on a plane unless they put me in a body bag. That is the only way I will go back.' A lawyer from a leading human rights firm has told IRR News that she is currently handling ten cases of alleged brutality by guards against asylum seekers in detention - three of which involve Harmondsworth. She is dealing with a further two cases involving alleged assaults at airports and two cases of unlawful handcuffing during hospital visits. It is not just lawyers who are worried about conditions. The Chief Inspector of Prisons' report into Harmondsworth, published in September 2003, found that 'the centre as a whole was not well-equipped to ensure detainees' protection. Staffing levels were low, there was no means of locking down the centre in the event of concerted indiscipline, and no health and safety assessments of the risks to detainees had been carried out ... Harmondsworth ... did not meet three of our four tests for a healthy custodial environment.' Furthermore, the report found that that 'there were increasing levels of disorder, damage and escape attempts, with an average of seven assaults a week. In spite of an average of one self-harm incident a week, suicide, self-harm and anti-bullying procedures were not effectively managed. Nor was there sufficient mental health support for detainees held in the in-patient ward.' A similar report in September 2003 into Dungavel, which is the only immigration removal centre to detain children, declared that 'the detention of children should be an exceptional measure and should not exceed a very short period - no more than a matter of days.' In December 2003, three asylum seekers climbed onto the roof at Dungavel in protest at their detention. There are plans now to increase the number of asylum seekers Dungavel can house from 150 to nearly 200. The new unit is to house single men.

    Poor track records
    Procedures at Harmondsworth detention centre have been questioned before. In April 2003, an internal Home Office Inquiry into the death of Robertus Grabys in January 2000 found that Burns International, the company running the centre at the time, did not have a formal policy to prevent suicides and that there was insufficient care of Robertus. His body was not found for over one hour as guards did not check the room. But he was known to suffer from a depressive illness. As in many self-harm attempts in immigration detention, Robertus, a Lithuanian, was due to be deported on the day that he took his own life. Burns International lost its contract to run the centre soon after the inquiry by the Home Office. The Home Office was forced to publish its report only after Liberty, on behalf of the Grabys family, threatened to bring a judicial review of the Home Office's refusal to release it. The Grabys family had to wait eighteen months to see a copy of the report and it took another six months to persuade the Home Office to authorise its publication. Harmondsworth is now run by UK Detention Services, which is owned by Sodhexo - a multinational company, based in France, which runs prisons world-wide and previously managed the asylum voucher scheme until protests forced it to be scrapped. UK Detention Services run HMP Bronzefield, a women's prison in Ashford, Kent and HMP/YOI Forest Bank in Nottingham and is part of a proposed prison project in Peterborough to open in Spring 2005. Dungavel removal centre is run by Premier Detention Services which also operates Colnbrook immigration detention centre near Heathrow (due to open shortly housing up to 330 men), Ashfield, Doncaster, Dovegate and Lowdham Grange prisons. Its operation of these prisons has been criticised. For example in May 2002, the governor of Ashfield prison near Bristol was replaced after concerns about conditions at the prison. And, after an inspection report was published in February 2003, the prison was branded one of the worst in the UK causing the Youth Justice Board to pull out of the prison because of its conditions.

    Government prioritises reducing suicides
    According to IRR research (Failing the vulnerable: the death of ten asylum seekers and other foreign nationals in UK detention), over the last four years, at least eight asylum seekers and foreign national have taken their own lives in prisons and detention centres. Reducing self-inflicted deaths and self-harm attempts in prisons have been ministerial and Prison Service priorities and a three-year programme was begun in April 2001 to develop policies and practices. In March 2004, Paul Goggins, a Home Office minister, said the 'main principles of the strategy apply across all types of prison and to all prisoners regardless of nationality'. 'All immigration removal centres', he said, 'are required to comply with an Operating Standards on suicide and self-harm prevention, and a range of measures is in place to address the issue. These measures include: suicide awareness and emergency first aid training for staff... and systems for paying particular attention to detainees on their first night in detention or immediately prior to removal.' But recent events appear to show how much more needs to actually protect these particularly vulnerable people in immigration detention. But already at another UKDS-run establishment, HMP/YOI Forest Bank in Manchester, concerns are obvious over current practices. A prison officer was interviewed by police after the death of remand prisoner, Paul Dobbin, who was found hanged in his cell in March 2003. The officer allegedly failed to check on Paul who was a suicide risk and was supposed, therefore, to be checked on every thirty minutes. The death at Harmondsworth on 19 July is being investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and the death at Dungavel on 23 July is part of a fatal accident inquiry by a sheriff at the local Sheriff Court in Scotland.

    Could history repeat itself?
    The disturbance at Harmondsworth bears a striking similarity to one at Yarl's Wood removal centre in Bedford in February 2002. There, over half of the centre was destroyed after detainees rioted following the restraint of a 52-year-old Nigerian female detainee. The decision to fit sprinklers at Harmondsworth, which could house up to 550 detainees, was taken in the immediate aftermath of the fire at Yarl's Wood. Till then there were no sprinklers fitted in any immigration centre because of the 'operational and practical issues associated with managing sprinkler systems in such an environment' - the cost. After the fire at Yarl's Wood, twelve men were charged with various offences including arson and violent disorder - leading to just four convictions. In August 2003, after a four-month trial, two men were convicted of violent disorder, four men had the charges against them dismissed, three men were found not guilty by the jury and two men pleaded guilty to affray and violent disorder charges. Whether the men received a fair trial is questionable: the Home Office deported many of the witnesses to the events who might have exonerated those accused; key prosecution witnesses were trained in the 'art' of giving evidence in a courtroom; and a juror alleged that two other members of the jury had made prejudiced comments against asylum seekers. (See Yarl's Wood trial - a miscarriage of justice?) The two men convicted in connection with the fire have since been given leave to appeal against their convictions and four-year sentences. Bearing this history in mind, campaigners are anxious that witnesses to the events at Harmondsworth last month are not deported, as now at least seventeen men face charges in connection with the disturbance there. Emma Ginn, of the Stop Arbitrary Detentions in Yarl's Wood campaign, told IRR news, 'we were not surprised by the deaths and disturbance, and neither should the Home Office be. Locking people up without good reason, with little access to legal help, a high level of assault allegations, the fear of being sent back to a place where their life may be in danger, makes for a lethal cocktail. We want the Home Office to tell us why "failed" asylum seekers choose suicide rather than be deported? Furthermore we are concerned that the Harmondsworth defendants may not receive a fair trial. In the Yarl's Wood trial we heard how detention centre staff subverted the investigation in a series of 'wholly improper' actions'. One detainee charged over the Yarl's Wood disturbance was left standing in the dock with 24 of his 26 witnesses having been deported . There can be no fair trial in such circumstances. Will this scenario be repeated?'
    ©Institute of Race Relations

    Plan to admit non-white members may prove fatal for far-right leader as demoralised members begin to rebel

    2/8/2004- The British National party, which fielded a record number of candidates in this year's local and European elections, is in disarray, with senior figures leading a revolt against the chairman, Nick Griffin, and growing concern about the organisation's financial situation. The BNP got more than 800,000 votes in the European elections in June and has 21 councillors. But it failed to create the "political earthquake" Mr Griffin predicted and he has come under renewed pressure from activists who are uneasy with his attempts to portray the BNP as a respectable political party. In the past few months one branch and several organisers have been suspended for openly supporting Mr Griffin's opponents and many activists in the north-west and London are now opposed to his leadership. The Guardian has also learned that there is growing speculation about the party's finances. This month Barclays closed all of the BNP's accounts and on Friday the party failed to meet a second deadline to hand its accounts to the Electoral Commission, leaving it open to prosecution and a £5,000 fine. Last night a spokeswoman for the commission said the original extension had been granted in "exceptional circumstances". "But as of Friday [the second deadline] we had not received the BNP's statement of accounts."

    A BNP spokesman, Phil Edwards, said the delay was "administrative" and had been caused by the large number of people who had made donations since the elections. He said: "There is nothing wrong with our finances: these rules have been put in place by the Electoral Commission to catch us out." Tensions within the BNP have been heightened by the arrest of six members after a BBC documentary which revealed an organisation riven by racism and violence. It is thought the programme, in which a BNP council candidate revealed how he had conducted a series of attacks on an Asian business, has put off comparatively moderate supporters, who back Mr Griffin's leadership and provide the BNP with crucial financial help. The internal revolt is being led by a BNP founder and hardliner, John Tyndall, and his deputy, Richard Edmunds. Although banned from speaking at BNP meetings by Mr Griffin, they have been welcomed by several branches. This month Mr Edmunds spoke at a Rochdale BNP meeting, which resulted in the whole branch being suspended by Mr Griffin. Earlier in the year Mr Tyndall spoke at a meeting in Clitheroe, which resulted in further suspensions. Since the elections Mr Tyndall has also been a guest at a far-right meeting in Leeds and other branches in south and north-west London are openly supporting him, leading to claims that Mr Griffin is losing his grip on the party.

    Nick Lowles, from the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight, said: "Griffin is under pressure. There are now large sections of the party in the north-west, London and the south-east which are openly opposed to his leadership. "There is a lot of demoralisation among activists who be lieved that by following Griffin's moderate line they would have MEPs and London assembly members, and the fact that has not happened is leading to widespread anger." A split over whether to allow non-whites to become members - a move backed by Mr Griffin but bitterly opposed by most of the rank and file - has been the focus for anti-Griffin sentiment. Last week Mr Griffin, who had insisted that allowing non-white members was essential to avoid a potential legal challenge, was forced to climb down in the face of fierce opposition. Writing on the National Vanguard website Mr Tyndall said: "I have ventured the opinion that the agenda is one aimed at splitting the BNP, and that all these various liberal pos tures - of which this [allowing non-white members] latest one is clearly the last straw - have been aimed at driving genuine racial nationalists out of the party so that it can be reshaped and reinvented in a way that bears not the slightest resemblance to the intentions of its founders." It is thought that Mr Tyndall intends to stand against Mr Griffin as soon as the party's constitution allows. Mr Edwards said the Tyndall faction was "insignificant" and its aim was to destabilise the party. Mr Griffin's position may be safe for now because of a lack of suitable candidates. But Mr Lowles said the disenchantment with him could prove fatal in the long run. "His internal opponents scent blood and seem determined to expose any wrongdoing, whether political, financial or personal," he said.
    ©The Guardian

    Police call for official sites to ease tensions

    8/8/2004- Chief constables are demanding a network of new official gypsy camps across the British countryside to quell the growing tensions between travellers and villagers over illegal settlements. The shortage of legal pitches is forcing gypsies to seize or build on land illegally, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) warned, triggering 'real difficulties' for the police in tackling clashes between travellers and villagers. The backing from senior police officers for a long-held complaint within the gypsy community comes after a summer of tense stand-offs across rural England over illegal camps. 'The problem for travelling communities is that sites just don't exist for them to be able to move to, either with any sense of permanence or transit sites,' said Margaret Wood, assistant chief constable of West Mercia and Acpo spokeswoman on gypsy issues. 'The presence of a large group can be very difficult within sometimes very small communities. There are real difficulties there in the operational sense that is potentially a problem.' Wood said gypsies still suffered 'appalling' discrimination and claims of traveller crime sprees were often unfounded: 'You hear things such as "When that group arrived, crimes soared" and sometimes find that actually in the area of some of these unauthorised encampments crime reduced dramatically. They have been used as scapegoats.' However, she warned that, with too many people in small country communities fighting for insufficient services, tensions were understandable for 'a very small community that's now found itself greatly enlarged'. Although the police have new powers to move gypsies on under anti-social behaviour legislation, Wood said these could be used only if there was somewhere for the encampment to go - which is often not the case.

    The summer's clashes have given birth to a Middle England protest movement - with threats to picket Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's house and even warnings of vigilante action - that has clear parallels to previous outbreaks of hostility towards asylum seekers dispersed across the country. Alastair McWhirter, Chief Constable of Suffolk, told a Commons inquiry into traveller issues that he had 'never seen such racism' as was shown to gypsies. Ministers are reluctant to force councils to provide more sites, fearing a backlash from neighbouring communities. However, Acpo and the Commission for Racial Equality are demanding changes in this autumn's housing bill to create a legal duty forcing councils to provide sites. Sarah Spencer, CRE's deputy chairman, said it was prepared to take legal action against councils considered to be discriminating against gypsies over housing needs. More sites, she said, would help to break a 'vicious cycle': 'The lack of sites mean people camp where they shouldn't, which means residents are unhappy, which means there is press coverage, which means there is pressure to have no legal sites. It goes round and round and round. Vilifying gypsies and travellers is not going to help us find a solution.' Discrimination against gypsies, as with any ethnic minority, is illegal, but Spencer said it remained 'the last socially acceptable form of racism'. Rural pubs and shops still regularly display 'No Travellers' signs. Both the CRE and police also argue that legal sites are essential to provide regular access to healthcare and schooling for gypsy children. Police also want more intelligence sharing between forces to track a minority of antisocial elements and for more co-ordinated efforts to tackle tax and VAT evasion. The government is carrying out a review of gypsy issues, due by the end of summer. In a statement, Planning Minister Keith Hill said the government 'acknowledges there are concerns surrounding the provision of appropriate and authorised sites'.
    ©The Observer

    Public hostility and official indifference are forcing many Gypsies and Travellers to live in third world conditions. David Batty reports

    10/8/2004- Imagine you live on a foul-smelling, polluted wasteland with no electricity, no water and no sanitation. You have no access to family healthcare. You live in constant fear of being forced to move home in the face of racism. This is the situation faced by those who belong to what the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), Trevor Phillips, recently described as "probably the single most intensely discriminated against" ethnic group in the UK - Gypsies and Travellers. A series of court battles between local authorities and Gypsies and Travellers has highlighted the terrible conditions in which Britain's 300,000 travelling people often live. Last week, the high court ruled that a group of Gypsies could stay on a site they bought a year ago despite installing electricity cables, water pipes and septic tanks without planning permission from North Wiltshire district council. The judge, John Weeks QC, sitting at Bristol high court, said that to avoid suffering unnecessary hardship the 56 men, women and children could stay on the three-acre field in Minety, Wiltshire, until after a planning inquiry next February. Over the past decade the number of such illegal encampments on land privately owned by Gypsies has risen sharply. There were almost 2,000 last year - up 40% from 2003. Campaigners for travelling people blame this increase, and the bitter legal wrangles they provoke, on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994), which removed the statutory duty on local councils to provide caravan sites. There are now just 324 local authority sites where under 6,000 caravans are pitched. It was intended that the 1994 act would lead to the creation of more private sites. But government research shows that 90% of planning applications made by travelling communities are refused, so few new encampments have been created. The result is more travelling people being forced to live in unsanitary, even dangerous, conditions on unauthorised sites, according to Sasha Barton, senior policy officer (gypsies and travellers) at the CRE. She said: "The 1994 act had a massive impact on the availability and reduction in public sites. It was expected that more private sites would be set up but this didn't happen. This led to more unauthorised encampments that in turn lead to evictions and planning enforcement disputes. "With no official address, travelling people cannot start up treatment, and have no transferable healthcare records. While they do access hospital accident and emergency departments they don't get preventive healthcare such as childhood immunisation. Often they only get care once they reach crisis point."

    The CRE is lobbying the government to amend the housing bill to reintroduce a statutory duty on councils to meet the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers. The move is backed by the Local Government Association, which is concerned about the spiralling costs of litigation on small rural councils. Whatever the motivation, the move is backed by Luke Clements, director of the traveller law research unit at Cardiff University. He said: "All the legislation up to 1994 had been to integrate travellers and provide them with secure sites. Research shows that since the act there's been a significant decline in the number of sites and the condition they're in. "New sites have not been built and existing sites have fallen into disrepair, which has led to more precarious lifestyles with travelling people forced to move from place to place and camp on poor sites." Mr Clements, a solicitor and lecturer, said that due to public hostility and official indifference many official and unofficial sites are situated on roadsides, near sewage works or tips. "The most worrying aspect is the poor health of travelling children due to poor sanitation," he said. "Only around half of the sites have clean water and there's a lot where you can see raw sewage in puddles. I've come back from sites with a sore throat for a week. They're effectively living in third world conditions. There's also a high accident rate among the children due to the poor conditions, especially those living next to busy roads." One Traveller, called Mike, told SocietyGuardian.co.uk that a local council had refused to let them use the septic tanks despite several children falling ill. He said: "When we had the septic tanks cleaned the council got an injunction to stop us using them. We have no proper showers. We've only got running water because one of the local people who lives nearby has let us attach a water meter to her supply." Margaret Greenfields, of the Thomas Coram research unit at the London Institute of Education, said that the "appalling" conditions on unofficial sites were exacerbated by poor access to healthcare. "Unofficial sites, particularly those on the roadside may not get a regular postal delivery if at all," she said. "With the added problem of poor adult literacy, missed appointments are common."

    The travellers' rights campaigner said that she knew of cases where people had been turned away from GP surgeries either due to negative stereotypes about the travelling community or pressure from local authorities to deny them treatment. She said some councils fear that if Travellers register with a doctor it will be harder to move them on or to deny them planning permission. "High maternal death rates are a serious problem among travelling people," said Ms Greenfields. "But if you can't access a GP how can you access antenatal screening?" The campaigner said that there were a few isolated examples of good practice, such as the National Association of Health Workers with Travellers and a dedicated health visitor service. But she said health and social care staff needed more training to improve the quality of care provided to travelling communities. "The main stereotype is you cannot work with them, they're going to be non-compliant," said Ms Greenfields. "There are high levels of ignorance and fear among care staff. A lot of it's based on fear. Social workers think they will get attacked by dogs. They're worried about large numbers of children wandering about, and think traveller people won't necessarily be honest about their situation. "I remember one case where a travelling family asked for help from the local council for their daughter who was disturbed and kept running away. The local authority wouldn't help them. They said: 'She's a traveller - of course she'll run away' Over the past four decades a series of small-scale studies has found that the health and life expectancy of travelling people may be substantially worse than that of the general population. Perhaps most worryingly, researchers have repeatedly identified extremely high levels of infant mortality and stillbirth. Next month, the Department of Health (DoH) is due to publish a report on the health of adult Gypsies and Travellers. The research, led by Professor Glenys Parry at the University of Sheffield, should provide the first comprehensive national picture of the community's health needs. Sasha Barton blames the current dearth of information on the failure of local officials to recognise Gypsies and Travellers as an ethnic group. "Some people are aware that Romany Gypsies are an ethnic group but not Irish Travellers," she said. She hopes that the DoH research will provide health and social care agencies with the information to provide more appropriate support to Gypsies and Travellers. "There are poor outcomes but no statistics that could provide the basis of policy," she said. "There's a lot more to be done but we hope that the DoH report marks the start of a more positive attitude towards meeting the needs of travelling people."
    ©The Guardian

    10/8/2004- A sheriff has severely criticised attacks on asylum seekers in Glasgow claiming they are now being "committed for sport". Sheriff Michael O'Grady QC hit out as he locked up six teenage thugs for a total of eight-and-a-half years for an unprovoked assault on a group of Iranian men. The sheriff said these incidents had become "utterly endemic" and added: "Such appalling and cowardly offences are often completely unprovoked and happen because of one's race. "People come to this country seeking refuge and support but they end up victims of crimes committed for nothing more than sport - it is recreational racism." Glasgow Sheriff Court earlier heard how Mohammed Said, Mohammed Jolani, Mike Fard and Katenga Kabeya had been chatting when they were attacked in the city's Petershill Drive, Springburn, last August. They were set upon by a large teenage gang, which included Craig McGrath, Paul Keenan, James Hollands, Kenneth Twigg and Sean Kerr, all aged 17, Thomas Manuel, 16, and a 15-year-old girl. Mr Jolani and Mr Fard were petrified as the group chased after them while hurling racist abuse. McGrath, Keenan, Hollands and Twigg then caught up with Mr Said and knocked him to the ground. The court was shown CCTV footage of the man being punched and kicked on the body before being struck with a knife as he tried to defend himself. McGrath then carried out a similar assault on Mr Kabeya. The accused initially denied being involved in court. McGrath, of Wallacewell Crescent, Springburn, later pled guilty to two racially aggravated assaults and a breach of the peace. He was sentenced to three years detention. Keenan, of Bishopmill Road, Provanmill, was also sentenced to three years after he admitted attacking Mr Said. Hollands, of Auchenbothie Road, and Twigg, of Ryehill Road, both Springburn, were sentenced to nine months. Manuel, of Quarrywood Avenue, Provanmill, and Kerr, of Wallacewell Road, were sentenced to six months for breach of the peace. Sentencing on the 15-year-old girl was deferred for four months for good behaviour. Police had to step in as friends and relatives of the yobs vented their anger at the decisions with one mum claiming it was "a disgrace".
    ©Glasgow Evening Times

    Anti-racism campaigners have welcomed a sheriff's warning that attacks on asylum seekers will not be tolerated. Six teenagers were sentenced to a total of eight-and-a-half years in detention earlier this week over the assault of a group of Iranian men in Glasgow. Sheriff Michael O'Grady said that such "recreational racism" had become utterly endemic, with the victims being attacked "for sport". BBC Scotland's Sandy Murray spoke to some of those who have seen the problems at ground level.

    When Lorraine first arrived in Scotland from Kenya, she was scared and traumatised. She did not mix much at first, and when she started to attend college she was the only African and the only asylum seeker on her course. "Once we started understanding each other my fellow students were friendly towards me and I never once felt out of place in that class," she said. However, it was not the same story out on the streets. "One day I was at a bus stop waiting for a bus and there was a group of young boys," she recalled. "They started shouting at me, 'You refugee, your have HIV'. That really shocked me." On another occasion she was on a bus when another passenger started complaining about how asylum seekers got houses, cars and a lot of money.

    Reported crimes
    "That is not a fact. I wished I was in a position to challenge them, but if I turn around and try to tell them the facts that might spark into something that I might not be able to handle," she said. Figures have shown an increase in the number of reported crimes against asylum seekers. That has raised the question of whether attacks are becoming more frequent or whether they are being better reported. Ch Insp Alex MacDonald, asylum seeker liaison officer for Strathclyde Police, believes the answer is a bit of both. "We probably are experiencing a steady rise in racism and manifestations of racism in the form of either verbal abuse or physical attack," he said. "But I also think that in large part it is also due to increased confidence on the part of victims to come forward and report the fact that they have been victimised to the police." Robina Qureshi, director of the charity Positive Action in Housing, said people's behaviour could be influenced by the political debate on the treatment of asylum seekers. "When Home Secretary David Blunkett comes out and talks about our country being swamped or talks about bogus asylum seekers or talks about stopping the cheats of the asylum system or people abusing this country's charity, then that effectively does translate as a reason to victimise asylum seekers and carry out attacks at street level," she said. However, she said she was "very encouraged" by Sheriff O'Grady's comments at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Monday. "He made it very clear that attacks on asylum seekers, who have been victimised for many years in this country, are totally unacceptable. "We welcome the comments and we think it was courageous of him to make those comments. "We hope that more judges will take into account the importance of setting an example." The Scottish Executive said it had made it clear that racist attacks and harassment would not be tolerated. A spokesperson said several million pounds had been spent on helping asylum seekers and refugees integrate into their host communities. And the executive also pointed to its One Scotland, Many Cultures campaign, which encourages people to speak out against racist or bigoted behaviour.
    ©BBC News

    Courts can hear evidence if abusers are not British : Judges in row over torture ruling

    12/8/2004- Appeal court judges yesterday defied human rights campaigners by ruling that British courts could use evidence extracted under torture, as long as British agents were not complicit in the abuse. In a highly controversial judgment, the second highest court in the land rejected the appeals of 10 men suspected of having links to international terrorism and currently held without charge in what activists call "Britain's Guantánamo Bay". The court of appeal, sitting in London, ruled that the home secretary was right to hold the men in two high- security prisons and a high- security psychiatric hospital, and that the special immigration appeal commission (Siac), which backed the internments, was justified in doing so. Two of the men have since returned to their countries of origin but are still appealing. The judgment was immediately condemned as leaving the door open for torture evidence to be used in British courts - and the detainees plan to take their appeal to the House of Lords.

    Last night Amnesty International criticised the judges for giving a "green light for torture". It said: "The rule of law and human rights have become casualties of the measures taken in the aftermath of September 11. This judgment is an aberration, morally and legally." The decision comes just a week after three British men formerly held in Guantánamo Bay described how after ill treatment they had confessed to meeting up with Osama bin Laden when in fact all three had alibis, confirmed by British security services, that they were in the UK at the time. Ellie Smith, a human rights lawyer at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, said: "It is really dangerous and very worrying that any court is willing to use any evidence that has been obtained through use of torture or ill treatment." The decision to allow evidence from foreign torture was tantamount to contracting out the torture. "We have seen recent instances where the US forces have sent people to other countries for the purpose of extracting evidence," she added.

    The men - all of them foreign nationals and Muslim - are detained indefinitely under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 and do not know most of the evidence against them because it is kept secret in the interests of national security. In their appeals, they argued that to use evidence obtained by torture was "morally repugnant", adding that evidence may have been extracted from men detained in both Guantánamo Bay and Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Yesterday, one of the judges, Lord Justice Laws, ruled that there was no evidence to suggest the secretary of state had relied on material derived from torture or any other violation of the European convention on human rights. To suggest that it had been was "purely hypothetical". He and Lord Justice Pill said that torture evidence could be used in a British court so long as the state had not itself "procured" it or "connived" at it. The position facing the secretary of state on the use of such evidence was "extremely problematic". The law could not expect the secretary of state to inquire into the methods of how information was obtained. Mr Justice Laws said: "He [the home secretary] may be presented with information of great potential importance, where there is, let us say, a suspicion as to the means by which, in another jurisdiction, it has been obtained? What is he to do?" The judges unanimously dismissed the appeal but Lord Justice Neuberger dissented on the torture issue. He said he did not consider that a person would have a fair trial if evidence obtained through maltreatment was to be used, particularly since the person giving the statement would not be available for cross-examination.

    The majority decision was welcomed by the home secretary, David Blunkett. He said: "There has been a great deal of speculation about the cases put before Siac and whether they relied upon torture. Let me make it clear, we unreservedly condemn the use of torture and have worked hard with our international partners to eradicate this practice. However, it would be irresponsible not to take appropriate account of any information that could help protect national security and public safety." Gareth Peirce, solicitor for eight of the men, said: "This is a terrifying judgment. It shows we have completely lost our way in this country, morally and legally." Britain is a signatory to the European convention on human rights which enshrines a series of fundamental rights, including "freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment". Facilitating torture elsewhere is also illegal under the convention against torture to which the UK is committed. The lawyer for two other men, Natalia Garcia, said that human rights had become "a casualty of the so-called war on terror". She added: "We have sunk to an all-time low where a court can even contemplate that evidence obtained under torture could be admissible and where there is no attempt to provide any effective remedy against abuse of power. "This is injustice heaped upon injustice and we shall appeal to the House of Lords."
    ©The Guardian

    10/08/2004- The Government must cancel a deportation order against a Nigerian woman who faces the death penalty in her home country, an anti-racism group urged today. Residents Against Racism handed a petition into Justice minister Michael McDowell's party office on South Frederick Street in Dublin. Nimota Banidele, aged 38, could be stoned to death under strict Sharia laws because she had three children outside marriage with a Christian man. She was sentenced to death in her home country in August 2002 but she escaped from prison and fled to Ireland seeking asylum. However, her asylum application has been turned down and she now faces deportation back to Nigeria with others on August 12. Ms Banidele, who is considering a judicial review against her deportation, has been asked by the Garda National Immigration Bureau to report to its HQ before Thursday, when she fears she will be deported. "Minister McDowell has the power to allow her to stay in Ireland and thus save her life," said Residents Against Racism spokesman Mark Grehan today.
    ©Ireland On-Line

    3/8/2004- Amnesty International slammed Belgium on Tuesday, saying it was failing to respect fundamental human rights. The leading international human rights organisation said the Belgian authorities had to stamp out police brutality and racism. It called on them to take speedy action to put in place a string of concerns outlined by the UN Human Rights Committee last Friday. In a statement, Amnesty said when complaints were made against police officers, they were not always investigated properly and when guilty officers were punished, the sentences were "usually symbolic". The UN and Amnesty are also dismayed that the country has ignored a "long-standing call" for Belgium to introduce a law guaranteeing people in police custody the right to inform their relatives of their detention and have access to a lawyer and a doctor. After the death of Nigerian Semira Adamu in 1998, revised guidelines were introduced for officials involved in deporting foreigners from the country. However, Amnesty and the UN say excessive force is still being used. They want better training and monitoring of escorting police officers. Nor are they happy about the way an increasing number of rejected asylum-seekers are being released from detention centres by the courts, but ending up in the transit zone of Brussels National Airport. Being kept for several months in the airport in poor sanitary and social conditions was "inhuman and degrading treatment", said the UN, and "should end immediately". Human rights investigators are also pointing the finger at Belgium for failing to take judicial action against soldiers suspected of human rights crimes in Somalia in 1993. They also urge action to tackle prison overcrowding, human trafficking and to protect communities in Belgium from racist acts, including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim acts.
    ©Expatica News

    10/8/2004- The number of rejected asylum seekers leaving the Netherlands has hit record highs this year, with 2011 having already departed compared with 2,912 for the entire 12 months of 2003. And a record 353 asylum seekers returned to their country of origin last month, newspaper NRC Handelsblad reported on Monday. The director of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Albert de Dyker, said there is now a definite rising trend in the numbers of returning asylum seekers. Angolan asylum seekers form the largest group of those voluntarily returning to their country of origin, with 216 departing from the Netherlands this year. They are followed by Serbia-Montenegro nationals (204) and Iranians (124). Some of the asylum seekers — those who arrived before April 2001 and thus come under the old immigration law — are leaving in anticipation of the forced deportation arrangement that came into force for them from 23 June this year. Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk plans to forcibly deport over the following three years about 26,000 asylum seekers who come under the old immigration law. About 5,000 of them have already been officially denied asylum in the Netherlands. But those who voluntarily return to their country of origin within eight weeks of registering with the Justice Ministry will receive special funding. Since the introduction on 23 June of the forced deportation scheme, 162 asylum seekers have availed of the scheme. That means that every asylum seeker — besides their airfare and possible compensation for the shipping of household goods — receives EUR 2,320. For a family with two children, the funding amounts to EUR 6,050. Asylum seekers who do not come under this arrangement receive about half of that amount if they leave the Netherlands on a voluntary basis. The Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) started instructing the first group of asylum seekers at the beginning of July to leave the country. Due to the fact that the south of the Netherlands was the first region to go out on holiday this summer, the IND started by sending letters to rejected asylum seekers in the province of Limburg and Brabant instructing them to leave the country. The foreign police, IND, municipal authorities and the central refugee authority COA — known as the local task force — have already engaged in the initial deportation talks with asylum seekers in the south of the country. And the foreign police in the south of the country have confirmed the IOM claim that the willingness among asylum seekers to return voluntarily to their country is strengthening. This is perhaps due to the funding offered asylum seekers if they return voluntarily to their countries of origin. Since the introduction of the new immigration law in April 2001, the number of asylum seekers entering the Netherlands has fallen significantly, much more than in other Western European nations. A total of 13,402 applied for asylum in the Netherlands last year compared with a peak of 43,560 in 2000.
    ©Expatica News

    10/8/2004- In the first half of this year, the number of emigrants topped the number of immigrants to the Netherlands by 13,000, the largest exodus surplus recorded since the 1950s, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) said on Tuesday. The CBS attributed the figures to a large decline in the rate of immigration and a large increase in the amount of emigrants. It said 40,000 new immigrants were registered in the first six months of 2004, about 8,000 fewer than in the same period in 2003. The number of immigrants has steadily declined since tougher entry conditions were introduced in 2001. Among the immigrants, 600 Polish nationals entered the Netherlands in both May and June, compared with between 100 and 200 prior to the expansion of the European Union with 10 new member states on 1 May. The CBS said figures indicated that the number of immigrants arriving from other new EU member states is considerably less. In the first half of 2004, about 53,000 emigrants left the Netherlands, 6,000 more than the same period last year. More than 50 percent of them were born outside of the Netherlands and returned to their country of origin after staying several years in the Netherlands. The emigration of Turkish nationals particularly increased in the first half of this year. There were 200,000 births last year, 2,000 fewer than 2002 and in the first half of this year, the number of births was 3,600 lower than the same period in 2003. The number of births is not expected to top 196,000 this year. The CBS attributed the decline in the birth rate to the lower number of women aged about 30, the age that most women become mothers. Lower consumer confidence in the economy also plays a role in lower birth rates some 18 months or two years later. The decline in the birth rate in the last quarter of 2003 followed 20 consecutive months of falling consumer confidence, the CBS said. Meanwhile, in the record year of 2000, the Dutch population grew by 123,000, but this had fallen to just 12,000 in the first half of 2004. There are now 16.3 million people living in the Netherlands.
    ©Expatica News

    12/8/2004- The old man, tanned and bare-chested, swung a tattooed arm in a grand gesture of annoyance. "Tell them the whole story," he shouted, pointing out the new stadium towering over the squat homes and the streets - strewn with rubbish and rubble - of Athens' Ano Liossia district. "Tell the politicians they can come here and eat the garbage!" The Ano Liossia judo and wrestling stadium has brought the Olympic Games to the doorstep of Athens' Roma (Gypsy) community. Construction on this confident mass of swirling grey concrete was completed in January 2004 at a cost of £56m. It stands in a northern suburb of the city, in stark contrast to the area around it - a sun-baked expanse dotted with debris, abandoned furniture and the wrecked remnants of cars and caravan trailers.

    'No rubbish'
    The Roma live here, in modest houses where the colours and cleanliness heighten the contrast with the drab wasteland and monolithic stadium outside. For them, the rubbish and the stadium are symptoms of the same problem - their suffering at the hands of a system that interferes with their lives but remains indifferent to their needs. The local mayor, Nikos Papadimas, says the Roma are exaggerating the problem and insists the entire area will soon see the benefits of Olympic regeneration. There is no rubbish, Mr Papadimas says, only debris left by "construction works and an earlier earthquake" - a reference to the tremors that shook Athens in 1999. The Roma families say they have heard it all before. A local elder showed us a patch of land ringed by houses and filled with rubbish. "That used to be the house of a big family," he said. "They came and demolished the house because they said they were going to build a square. Now, there's nothing - no square, no house, just garbage." Another man told us how the municipality's rubbish trucks had long stopped coming to the area. "We have to put the rubbish in our own trucks and take it away," he said. "I have nine grandchildren. I am worried about the diseases. Tell them about us, tell them to clean up this filth."

    Coffee and cold water
    All those who spoke out wanted to remain anonymous, refusing to give their names or be photographed, saying they feared punishment for their criticism. Initially suspicious of the two strangers asking questions in their midst, the Roma of Ano Liossia soon showed a stronger instinct for hospitality. The men stopped work - or left their sun-loungers - to show us around the area. Their wives flashed gold-toothed smiles as we accepted offers of coffee and cold water. And children ran along the streets, posing for the digital camera and squealing with glee when their picture appeared on its tiny screen. As Athens counts down to what many predict will be the best-ever modern Olympics, the Roma living in the shadow of Ano Liossi stadium are invariably pessimistic about the future. They complain they are being swept under the carpet by a city that sees no place for them in the Olympic showcase. Many are bitter that a golden business opportunity - the chance to sell cheap plastic goods and clothing to tourists - has been ruined by the authorities' refusal to give them street-vendors' licenses. The younger children speak of being chased away by armed police whenever they go near the stadium - though that will not surprise anyone who has tried to approach an Olympic site this year without an appropriate pass.

    Broken promises
    When we arrived at the stadium, heavily-armed soldiers waved us away, refusing to be photographed. As we walked around the stadium's perimeter, a police car crawled behind us, the officers in sunglasses exuding an air of lazy vigilance. The vehicle stopped as we stepped off the freshly-laid road and onto the dirt track leading to the Roma's houses. "Before the elections, all the politicians came with promises of flower-beds and fountains," a gold-toothed Roma man said. "But the only thing they have built here is the road to the stadium." The 2004 Olympic Games have acted as a catalyst for the upgrading of downtown Athens. Locals and visitors are paying tribute to a city that, they say, is cleaner, prettier and more efficient than ever. Amidst the chorus of awe and acclaim, the Roma of Ano Liossia see themselves as an anomaly - the people the Olympics forgot.

    Tolerance or prejudice?
    Thousands of visitors may come to the state-of-the-art stadium in their backyard - but, they say, no one will come to collect the rubbish from their streets. Mayor Papadimas says the modern stadium will push up property values in the area. As for the Roma, he says, they are "human beings. We should try and incorporate them into society, but we can't paint them white." The Roma have long been persecuted in Europe so their presence next to the new stadium can be read, perhaps, as a mark of Athenian tolerance - where another city might have uprooted them altogether. For the families of Ano Liossia though, the tolerance has become a mask for prejudice and neglect. "We are Greeks," a Roma man told BBC News Online, patting his heart. "We were born here. We live here. We are victims."
    ©BBC News

    Prime Minister regrets controversy sparked by his father, Professor Tatu Vanhanen

    12/8/2004- The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is considering whether or not to launch a criminal investigation into comments made by Professor Emeritus Tatu Vanhanen in an interview with Kuukausiliite, a monthly magazine supplement of Helsingin Sanomat. In the interview Professor Vanhanen, a former Professor of Political Science at the University of Tampere, said that evolution has made Europeans and North Americans more intelligent than Africans. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said on Wednesday that he regrets the controversy sparked by Tatu Vanhanen, who is his father. Professor Vanhanen told Kuukausiliite that African poverty is not the fault of the white man. "Whereas the average IQ of Finns is 97, in Africa it is between 60 and 70. Differences in intelligence are the most significant factor in explaining poverty", Vanhanen said. He also said that it might be a good thing if as many Europeans, Americans, and Asians as possible were to take on leading economic posts in African countries. "Only they are capable of creating prosperity", he said. On the other hand, Tatu Vanhanen said that he favours economic solidarity toward poor countries, and he hopes that immigrants in Finland would inter-marry and assimilate into the population at large.

    Jari Liukku, deputy head of the NBI, says that the police are investigating whether or not Vanhanen's comments constitute public incitement against a national group, which is a crime under Finnish law. Liukku would not say if Helsingin Sanomat was being investigated for publishing the interview. "This is a precedent. Nothing like this has been put forward before. We want to go through international cases before making any decisions." Finland's minority Ombudsman Mikko Puumalainen hopes that a police investigation will be launched. He says that although freedom of expression is a fundamental right in Finland, the right is not unlimited. Puumalainen also dismissed the scientific validity of Vanhanen's claims. The Finnish League for Human Rights fears that Vanhanen's interview could aggravate the racism experienced by immigrants and ethnic minorities in Finland. "This interview could strengthen movements of the far right", says Aysu Shakir, a project head at the league. Shakir notes that after the publication of the interview, Internet chat rooms have filled up with comments by extreme right-wing groups and individuals who "swear by Vanhanen's name" Commenting on his father's interview, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said that it case was "more a sad matter than a burden" for him. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said that the controversy would not have arisen if the person making the comments were not his father. Asked if he felt a need to distance himself from the views that Tatu Vanhanen expressed, he said that he does not plan to engage in public debate with his father.
    ©Helsingin Sanomat

    Often called 'broken,' federal commission has new boss, new way of doing things

    9/8/2004- A dramatic turnaround at the Canadian Human Rights Commission has seen the time required to process a complaint cut in half and the total caseload drop by 7 per cent, even though the number of grievances filed in the past year climbed considerably. In January of last year, federal politicians were calling the commission "broken." People were waiting an average of 25.3 months to have their complaints resolved and more than a third of the active cases were at least two years old. As recently as May, 2001, current and past employees described the federal guardian of rights as being near collapse and a waste of taxpayers' money. But a new boss, and a new way of doing business, seem to have set the commission -- which handles disputes related to federal agencies and organizations that cross provincial boundaries -- on the road to recovery. "We have a ways to go, but I think we're starting to get some pretty encouraging early results," said commission secretary-general Robert Ward. Both the Auditor-General and the public accounts committee of the House of Commons had issued scathing reviews of the commission before the changes were implemented. "We took their comments extremely seriously and we are doing our utmost to try and advance what they had suggested, and what many others suggested," Mr. Ward said.

    Mary Gusella replaced retiring Michelle Falardeau-Ramsay as chief commissioner in 2002 with a mandate to overhaul a system in which cost overruns, management crises and bad morale were the norm. In 2003, the commission fielded 33 per cent more complaints than it did in 2002: 2,153, up from 1,653. The increase has yet to be explained, commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Vlasiu said. "We just note that the [provincial human-rights commissions] seem to have an increase as well." But during the same period, from December, 2002, to December, 2003, the overall caseload at the federal commission fell to 1,311 from 1,412. That's because the agency has largely managed to clear the backlog that was threatening its existence. "For all intents and purposes, the backlog is rapidly disappearing and we think that by the end of this calendar year we will be able to tell Parliament that it's pretty well under control," Mr. Ward said. By June, the average time to process a complaint had dropped to 11.7 months from more than two years. The reduction was critical, Mr. Vlasiu said, because the delays were creating significant hardships for complainants. When discrimination complaints are lodged against an employer, for instance, the employer is notified in writing -- often while the complainant is still on staff. "So, the longer it is taking with nothing being resolved and you're still face-to-face on a daily basis with your employer . . . that must have been horrible," he said. "There was heavy criticism about that, which was understandable." The number of cases reaching a conclusion has more than doubled in the past two years. In the first five months of 2002, for example, 288 were resolved. In the first five months of 2003, that number rose to 454. And in the first five months of 2004, final decisions were made in 582 cases.

    The problems were countered with a three-fold attack, Mr. Vlasiu said:
    First, through more rigorous screening, an increased number of potential complaints were dropped at the outset because they were more than a year old or there were better methods of redress. Second, multidisciplinary teams were put together to handle complaints in a single sitting, rather than having them bounce from desk to desk; And third, there was a 53-per-cent increase in the number of complaints sent to mediation, which circumvents long and costly legal processes. All of this means that the commission can now turn its sights to the bigger picture, Mr. Ward said. "Now that we have the management side moving along effectively, it is opportune to consider some broader questions about the whole human-rights system -- and there are many, from Treasury Board to Parliament to the court system and tribunals and so on. And we think it's time for a discussion about these things."
    ©The Globe and Mail

    10/8/2004- A delegation of EU officials has said that there are widespread killings in the Dafur region of Sudan but that the killings could not be qualified as genocide. "We are not in the situation of genocide there," said Pieter Feith, an adviser to the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, according to AFP. "But it is clear there is widespread, silent and slow killing going on and village burning of a fairly large scale. There are considerable doubts as to the willingness of Sudan's government to assume its duty to protect its civilian population against attacks".Mr Feith and his delegation had arrived in Darfur last Tuesday (3 August) for a five-day mission to evaluate how the EU can help implement a ceasefire in the western region.The International Criminal Court defines genocide as the "systematic and planned extermination of a national, racial, religious or ethnic group" but whether to apply the term is often a political decision. The EU delegation's conclusion is in stark contrast to that of the US House of Representatives which last month said that the campaign of looting and burning by Arab militiamen against African village farmers is genocide.The United Nations has set a three-week deadline for Khartoum to improve security and human rights in Darfur or it will face sanctions.According to the international organisation, around 50,000 people have died in Dafur and over a million have been forced to flee from the homes since the fighting began early in 2003.It was started by a rebel uprising in Darfur which led to a crackdown by Sudanese forces and an Arab militia known as Janaweed.

    UN tells of new attacks on refugees in Darfur
    11/8/2004- Sudan carried out fresh helicopter gunship attacks in the region of Darfur on Tuesday while Arab militia forces attacked refugees, the United Nations said. The Sudanese authorities are also pressuring traumatized refugees in all three Darfur states to return to unsafe villages where they face violence by militias, it said. In a strongly worded statement, the UN said that despite recent pledges, the Sudanese government was hampering humanitarian access to hungry people in Darfur by restricting relief flights and causing "major delays" in deployment of aid workers.
    ©International Herald Tribune

    By Kim Sengupta in Mirair, Darfur

    12/8/2004- Mirair lies in the cradle of a lush green valley, well-watered when the rains come and surrounded by fertile farmland. It is also the trading centre for 12 other villages, with a thriving and lucrative souk. Today, half of the population of 6,000 has disappeared, with little trace to show they were ever there. The evidence of what happened to them is in the bullet holes on walls, and a row of anonymous graves of brown earth across the fields. The village had a mixed African and Arab population. It is the African half which is missing, and some of their homes have been taken over by the Arab Janjaweed militia and the government security forces. In many ways, Mirair is a microcosm of what is going on in Darfur, a conflict and its consequences the United Nations describes as "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world''. Graphic accounts have emerged of murders and mutilations, rapes and families being chained together and burnt alive. More than 30,000 lives have been lost, and a million people made homeless. Yet the UN and the international relief agencies have no first-hand knowledge of what is going on. The road up to Mirair has been declared dangerous, and no official has been up there. Neither, it seems, have representatives of the government, apart from the military. The Sudanese administration has said repeatedly that persistent reports of ethnic cleansing were false, spread to create strife between the communities. Yet that is precisely what appears to have happened across swaths of Darfur.

    At Mirair, it was a clinical exercise. The attacks stopped precisely at a wadi which physically divides the Africans from the Arab population. Everyone who was killed or injured was African. The women abducted were African, as are the families now dispersed across refugee camps where there have been outbreaks of cholera and people speak of the likelihood of typhoid, malaria and hepatitis. Some refugees say almost 100 were killed in several attacks. We saw 18 graves - five of them of children - in a field. We could not find more on another field supposedly strewn with buried bodies. What was also apparent was the sheer number of deserted and looted villages along the road. The properties were relatively undamaged, unlike burnt ruins we had seen elsewhere. The refugees said helicopter gunships, flown by the Sudanese military, made attacks before the Janjaweed arrived. Yusuf Adem Ahmed once had his home and cattle at Mirair. Now, he, his wife and their four children are among the 60,000 dispossessed packed into Kelma camp, living in a tent. "The attack was the worst, but it was not the first," he said. "The first was almost five months ago; my father was killed in that. The next one came much later; this time my brother, Yaqub was killed, and my niece Hamida one of those taken away. A lot of people left after that, and we were preparing to go when this happened." Mr Ahmed's wife, Fadma, is bitter about the Arab neighbours. "They knew what was going on. They worked with the Janjaweed, they wanted to take everything we had. They lived beside us all our lives, and we trusted them. But we should not have done so; they helped the Janjaweed do this to us."

    At Mirair, Arab men under a straw awning said they were shocked to hear accusations of betrayal. As we drank cold yoghurt, the sheikh, Ibrahim Saied, flicking his fly whisk, said: "It was nothing to do with Arabs and Africans or the Janjaweed. They left because of fighting between the tribes, and they are African tribes. It was bad that they went, and they are always welcome back. We have lived together for generations here, why should that change now? Of course, we have heard of the Janjaweed. But I think they are bandits, and we are just farming people." Ahmed Bakr Ishaq, 22, added: "We went to school together, we played football together, people from one side married into the other. Of course we did not want them to go. Whatever happened was due to the tribes and outsiders, it was nothing to do with us. Look, no one attacked their homes; they are empty." But some huts have new occupants, a few families, part-uniformed young men carrying an assortment of weaponry, and soldiers. "We are the Civil Defence Force, we have been told to look after this place," said a man in camouflage trousers, and a blue shirt. "The people here had been threatened by the rebels [the Sudan Liberation Army]. We are here to protect them. We brought our families." Who chased the other villagers away? A soldier said: "It was a fight involving tribes, the Zaghawa and the Masalit. They both support the rebels as well as fighting each other. The villagers were in the middle." As we were leaving, a man waved down our car and introduced himself as the school teacher: "I used to teach children from both sides of the wadi," he said. "I am very sorry about what has happened. Very sorry. Do you know why they didn't burn the huts? There was a meeting of builders from lots of villages, and they said, 'Why should we burn down homes which will be ours anyway?' That is what it is all about. They will not allow the Africans to come back."
    © Independent Digital

    12/8/2004- The screen crackles with criminality as a gang of urban predators itch for a kill. The scene erupts into automatic-weapons fire in a drive-by nightmare of screaming car engines, senseless death and destruction set to a thumping rap soundtrack. The action is not part of a new film, but of a video game in development - the latest permutation of Grand Theft Auto, one of the most popular game series ever. Partly set in a city resembling gang-ridden stretches of Los Angeles of the 1990's, it features a digital cast of African-American and Hispanic men, some wearing braided hair and scarves over their faces and aiming Uzis from low-riding cars. The sense of place, peril and pigmentation evident in previews of the game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, underscores what some critics consider a disturbing trend: popular video games that play on racial stereotypes, including images of black youths committing and reveling in violent street crime. "They are nothing more than pixilated minstrel shows," said Joe Morgan, a telecommunications executive in Manhattan who is black and is helping rear his girlfriend's 7-year-old son, who plays video games. Mr. Morgan argues that games like the Grand Theft Auto sequel, which was described glowingly and at length in a game magazine the boy recently brought home, are dangerously reinforcing stereotypes. "A lot of young people are unable to discern between reality and satirical depictions," he said. "It makes them very vulnerable." His complaint echoes a concern that many civil rights and other groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have long raised about stereotyping in movies, and the detrimental impact it may have on racial understanding and relations.

    The issue, critics say, is not that the games' representation of racial and ethnic minorities is as blatantly threatening as the sort found at hate sites on the Web, where players are asked to gun down virtual black or Jewish characters. Rather, the racial and ethnic depictions and story lines are more subtle, and therefore, some say, more insidious. "It's not just the kinds of stereotyping people generally think of," said Eileen Espejo, a senior associate at Children Now, an advocacy group in Oakland, Calif., that has studied video games. "It is the kind of limiting what characters of color can do and cannot do in the games that sends a message to kids." Video game developers counter that no offense is intended. They say their games are simply parodies, or a reflection of a sort of "browning'' of popular culture that transcends race and sells to all in a marketplace captivated by hip-hop styles, themes and attitude. Several games scheduled for wide release this fall or early next year are notable for their portrayal of urban black culture:

  • Def Jam Fight for NY, from Electronic Arts, a sort of "MTV Raps" meets "W.W.E. SmackDown!" in which mostly hip-hop-style characters (one with the voice of the rapper Snoop Dogg) slap, kick and pummel one another in locations like a 125th Street train station in Harlem.
  • 25 to Life, from Eidos Interactive, an "urban action game" set to a hip-hop soundtrack that allows gamers to play as police officers or criminals, and includes lots of images of young gun-toting black gangsters.
  • Notorious: Die to Drive, described by its developer, Ubisoft, as featuring "gangsta-style car combat" with players seeking to "rule the streets of four West Coast neighborhoods." Ubisoft's Web site describes the payoff succinctly: "High-priced honeys, the finest bling, and millionaire cribs are just some of the rewards for the notorious few who can survive this most dangerous game. Once you go Notorious, there's no going back."

    The prominence of black characters in those story lines is all the more striking because of the narrow range of video games in which blacks have been present, if present at all, over the years. A 2001 study by Children Now, for example, found that of 1,500 video-game characters surveyed, 288 were African-American males - and 83 percent of those were represented as athletes. The portrayal of blacks as athletes has taken on a new wrinkle in NBA Ballers, released in April by Midway Games (with an "all ages" rating). It not only pits stars of the National Basketball Association, most of them black, in fierce one-on-one matches, but also encourages players to experience a millionaire lifestyle off the court - accumulating virtual cash that can buy mansions, Cadillac Escalades, yachts and attractive "friends." The style of play emphasizes a street-edged aggression, sizzling with swagger and showboating moves on the court. John Vignocchi, a lead designer with Midway who worked on NBA Ballers, contends that the world portrayed in such games is one that gamers take for granted. "Hip-hop culture has kind of crossed over," said Mr. Vignocchi, who is white. "Look at what everyone is wearing, at what everyone is listening to." Racial stereotyping, he insisted, is "not the intention of the game." Leon E. Wynter, a cultural critic and author of "American Skin: Big Business, Pop Culture, and the End of White America" (Crown, 2002), said that the infusion of popular aspects of black youth culture into the mainstream American media was a double-edged sword. On one hand, Mr. Wynter said, the game characters bristle with aspects "solidly associated with nonwhite people.'' "The bad news is that the larger aspects of the humanity of people who happen to be nonwhite are not always transferred," he noted. "This is an extension and reflection of what we're seeing in other forms of entertainment, especially filmed entertainment aimed particularly at predominantly young male audiences."

    As video games extend their prominence as a mainstream form of entertainment - the Grand Theft Auto series alone has sold more than 30 million games since 1998 - their share of consumer dollars rivals Hollywood box-office revenues. Video game sales in the United States reached $7 billion last year, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Game hardware, including consoles, added more than $3 billion to that total, industry analysts estimate. But with Hollywood-scale success have come Hollywood-style pressures, including the need for games to "open big" and achieve enough success to sustain lucrative sequels. "Games are attempting to drive market share beyond the traditional 8- to 14-year-old male player," said Michael Gartenberg, research director for Jupiter Research, an Internet consulting firm. Part of that drive, he suggested, involves having video games reflect what has proved to work in popular films. And as in Hollywood, that may mean subject matter that drives sales even as it draws criticism for gratuitous violence, sexual exploitation or racial insensitivity. In any case, limiting content to realistic, multidimensional portrayals of racial minorities may be unfair to game developers, Mr. Gartenberg suggested. "Video games are fantasies," he said, "and are not attempting to mirror any reality whatsoever." But Esther Iverem, editor and film critic for www.seeingblack.com, a Washington-based Web site offering black opinion on cultural and political matters, said she worried about the effects of games like earlier versions of Grand Theft Auto on black youngsters, including her 11-year-old son. "These games don't teach them anything about respect, tolerance and responsibility," Ms. Iverem said, but are instead "validating a much-too-accepted stereotype, an accepted caricature."

    Others, like the cultural critic Michael Eric Dyson, point out that racial stereotypes conveyed through video games have an effect not only on the self-image of minority youths but also on perceptions among whites. Dr. Dyson, a professor of religious studies and African studies at the University of Pennsylvania, describes some video games as addictive "video crack." "They are pervasive, and their influence profound," he said. Rockstar Games, the publisher of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (to be released in October for the Sony PlayStation 2), is known for infusing its games with gritty yet cartoonish violence. Players were famously rewarded in earlier Grand Theft Auto games for killing prostitutes and, more recently, brutalizing Haitians. After repeated requests for an interview, Rockstar Games, responded with an e-mail statement that read in part, "Rockstar Games is a leading publisher of interactive entertainment geared towards mature audiences and makes every effort to market its games responsibly, targeting advertising and marketing only to adult consumers over the age of 17." (While previous games in the Grand Theft series are rated Mature, for ages 17 and over, they have a wide following among younger players.) Those associated with the Def Jam games were more forthcoming. Kevin Liles, who recently resigned as president of Island Def Jam, which licensed the games, said they had been good for his company and for hip-hop. "We have a sense of responsibility, but we know that games are games," Mr. Liles said. Def Jam's co-founder, Russell Simmons, said the images of hip-hop culture, even those played out in video games, had been good for the country. "The most important thing for race relations in America in the last I don't know how many years is hip-hop." "Now Eminem and 50 Cent think they are the same people," Mr. Simmons said, comparing a popular white rapper with a popular black rapper. "They're faced with the same struggle, and they recognize their common thread of poverty." Mr. Morgan, the telecommunications executive, rejects that argument. In fact, he limits the 7-year-old gamer in his household, Elijah Wilson, to the cartoonish games for Nintendo Game Boy to avoid exposure to content he finds objectionable. "They ingest these images," Mr. Morgan said of racial stereotypes he had found in games like NBA Ballers. "The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy, something straight out of central casting." "It won't," Mr. Morgan added emphatically, "happen in my house."
    ©The New York Times

    12/8/2004- The governor of the US state of New Jersey has announced his resignation, admitting that he had an extramarital affair with a man. "My truth is that I am a gay American," Democrat James McGreevey, 47, told a packed news conference. He said his actions had left the governor's office vulnerable. He will leave his post on 15 November. Mr McGreevey, a Catholic, asked forgiveness from his wife, who stood beside him during the announcement. "It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable. And for this, I ask the forgiveness and the grace of my wife," he said. "Given the circumstances surrounding the affair, and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern, I have decided the right course of action is to resign." He said he had struggled with his identity since adolescence but had always acknowledged "a certain sense that separated me from others". Mr McGreevey's announcement came on the same day that the state of California annulled 4,000 gay marriages which took place in San Francisco earlier this year. New Jersey is one of four US states currently attempting to make gay marriage legal through the courts. Mr McGreevey's own position on gay marriage has not been clear: he refused to endorse a ceremony performed in the state in March on the grounds that it was against the current state law. But earlier in the year he signed a domestic partnership law granting inheritance and other rights to same-sex couples. Mr McGreevey took office two-and-a-half years ago but has seen his ratings slip following a series of fundraising scandals involving associates. He will be succeeded by state senate president Richard Codey.
    ©BBC News

    12/8/2004- California's Supreme Court has annulled about 4,000 gay marriages that took place in San Francisco. The court ruled that San Francisco's mayor had overstepped his authority by issuing same-sex marriage licences earlier this year. Thousands of same-sex couples were married in the city between 12 February and 11 March, when the court issued an injunction halting the wedding spree. Gay marriage is a controversial issue in the US. The marriages had virtually no legal value, but they angered conservative groups, which launched legal challenges to nullify them. The first couple to receive a marriage licence in San Francisco, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, expressed sadness at the judges' 5-2 ruling. "Del is 83 years old and I am 79," Ms Lyon said. "After being together for more than 50 years, it is a terrible blow to have the rights and protections of marriage taken away from us." San Francisco's Mayor, Gavin Newsom, gave the go-ahead to issue marriage licences, saying current legislation was discriminatory. His spokesman said at the time that Mayor Newsom was only following "the state constitution, which explicitly outlaws discrimination of any kind".

    Bush seeks ban
    In separate legal action, the city of San Francisco and gay rights groups are suing the state of California to get the law banning same-sex marriages overturned. That case will be heard later this year. A similar case in Massachusetts led to the legalisation of gay marriage in the state. The first gay weddings began there in May. President George W Bush strongly opposes gay marriage and is seeking to change the US constitution to specify that marriage can only take place between a man and a woman. Gay marriage is already banned in 38 states, but lawsuits in Florida, Nebraska, New Jersey and Oregon are seeking to have it ruled legal. Mr Bush hopes to make individual states' attempts to legalise gay married irrelevant, by outlawing it nationwide. But last month, a constitutional amendment failed to get enough support in the Senate, delaying the issue until after the November election. Mr Bush's Democratic challenger in the election, Senator John Kerry, opposes changing the constitution and says states should have power to decide whether to allow gay marriages. He favours civil unions, rather than gay marriage.
    ©BBC News

    Websites expressing extreme or racist views have increased dramatically this year. Nick Ryan on plans to crack down on haters

    12/8/2004- On a late Friday evening two weeks ago, I sat in a radio studio. I had been invited to take part in a talk show discussing the extreme right. The BBC had put out its programme The Secret Agent in July, in which an undercover reporter exposed criminality within the far-right British National party (BNP). Several party members had been arrested and its main bank accounts closed as a result. Since I had spent six years travelling among such extremists for my book Homeland, as well as helping to produce the BBC1 drama England Expects, the host was expecting a lively debate. Just before we went on air, my mobile phone rang. I left it. When I later checked, a familiar voice (belonging to a long-time BNP member) crackled: "He, he, hear you're going on the radio? Watch what you say!" At about the same time, mercian_valkyrie posted a message on Stormfront.org, the world's first and probably largest white nationalist website and online community. It read: "Discussion currently on Talksport ... has Nick Ryan, the author of that bilious book about the 'far right' ... and 'infiltrator' of the BNP working for [anti-fascist group] Searchlight. Talking about the BNP, saying nasty things about NG [Nick Griffin, BNP leader]. Anyone care to speak to him???" I had already warned the host that it was likely extremists would adopt such tactics. It dovetailed with a strategy adopted by groups such as the BNP, after Cambridge-educated Nick Griffin took over its leadership in 1999: get sympathisers to contact the media, preferably without revealing their affiliations. And it works.

    In April this year, I had seen BBC and Guardian Unlimited messageboards flooded with rightwing comments after the airing of England Expects. Few people posting messages openly identified themselves. I had received hate email and death threats myself - a German extremist posted to one messageboard that "someone should knife this c**t". Since I first wrote about online extremism in this paper five years ago, right wing and other extremists have become increasingly sophisticated in their use of online media. The scale of the problem has got so bad that international experts met in Paris last month to try and combat the spread of online anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic propaganda. Haters have found the net a potent tool, spreading fear with such grisly images as the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in 2002. France last year banned a website that was home to thousands of daily racist messages, one of which claimed responsibility for dousing mosques with paint in the colours of the French flag. "Our responsibility is to underline that by its own characteristics - notably, immediacy and anonymity - the internet has seduced the networks of intolerance," said French foreign minister Michel Barnier in opening remarks at the two-day Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conference. France, which is spearheading the effort, has faced a surge in anti- Semitic violence in the last two years.

    Websites expressing extremist, racist or religious-hate views have shown a huge increase worldwide since the start of this year. Sites promoting hate against Americans, Muslims, Jews, gay people and African-Americans have increased by 26% since last January - almost as much as the 30% rise during the whole of 2003, according to web and mail-filtering firm, SurfControl. Sites offering anything from scholarships to dating services for white supremacists, promoting the murder of homosexual people, offering revisionist versions of September 11 (ironic that neo-Nazis as well as militant Islamists love the idea of a Zionist conspiracy) and other extremist content have grown by about 300% since SurfControl began monitoring the net in 2000. Authorities on both sides of the Atlantic are committed to tackling the problem, with the FBI announcing a crackdown and Len Hynds, head of the UK's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, calling for a zero-tolerance approach to "abhorrent websites". One of the most infamous purveyors of this material has been Don Black. He founded and runs Stormfront, which was set up in 1995. Black has maintained that his Florida-based Stormfront is simply a "service for white nationalists: we provide information, a discussion forum and we do not advocate illegal violence." When I looked at the site the day after the BBC's Secret Agent, there were comments about a BNP member who had helped the undercover team. One talked of the short life this person should expect, before the moderator hastily closed down the thread.

    Yet the anonymity offered by the internet suits the fantasy world many of these people inhabit. Such fantasists can inflict deadly results, as Sally Kincaid and Steve Johnson found out to their cost. The first they knew something was wrong was when their neighbour came running out of her house shouting that their car was on fire. The two Leeds-based teachers were anti-racists who had been active in campaigns against the BNP. Their names, address and car registration details had been posted onto a neo-Nazi website called Redwatch. It is a form of hitlist for the far right and well-known within those circles, including among many BNP supporters. Anti-racists, leftwingers, campaigners such as comedian Mark Thomas and others have all been targeted. Most worrying, the real agenda behind Redwatch is revealed on a closed membership discussion list, monitored by anti-fascist group Searchlight and nicknamed Mole Intelligence. It states: "This group will provide those activists with up-to-date information on Red Targets ... now's the time to start a proper campaign of violence and intimidation towards those who seek us silenced." The group operates under the auspices of Combat 18, a violent neo-Nazi gang. A growing number of politicians, trades unionists and members of the House of Lords have now called for the people behind Redwatch to be prosecuted. The internationalising nature of the net has assisted many groups, too. Just take a look at the BNP website, for example. It bears a crude similarity to that of the Mouvement National R¿publicain (MNR). The MNR is an offshoot of France's notorious Front National, led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, and to whom almost all European far-right extremists pay homage. However, while the increase in such sites may seem huge, at least part of the rise can be attributed to an overall rise in internet subscribers: in the fourth quarter of 2003, 12.1m UK households could access the internet from home, compared to 2.2m in the same quarter of 1998.

    "Back when Stormfront launched, the net seemed to present huge opportunities for propaganda, raising money, selling merchandise in the white supremacist world," says Mark Potok, an expert in the extreme right and director of the Intelligence Project, part of the US civil rights organisation, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Towards the end of the decade, the number of sites began to slow, he explains. They now grow roughly at the same size as internet usage overall. For Potok, hate sites are actually "brochures" - much of the real information is swapped behind the scenes in encrypted email or closed membership email lists. Many of these are watched by the SPLC and occasionally exposed: one case involved the revelation that a Confederate heritage group was infiltrated by white supremacists. Shortwave radio is also very popular among white supremacists in the US but "recruiting happens face-to-face, not electronically," argues Potok. However, the advent of MP3 and the online music scene provided a huge boost and reach for white power bands and their backers to a nascent - and rebellious - teenage audience. There have been a whole spate of "ethnic cleansing" PC games, too, and much propaganda aimed at converting the potential US college kid. "You've got to remember, too, that in the 1970s and 80s the average white supremacist was isolated, shaking his fist at the sky in his front room. The net changed that. That person can now wake up, go to their computer and read a huge number of messages, newspaper headlines and a whole array of listings and information from across the country," says Potok. Suddenly the fantasists belonged. Many white power fanatics even set themselves up with their own servers, becoming hosts to other sites, as Stormfront has done. Extremists also tend to host their sites in jurisdictions geographically out of reach of the authorities of countries that might want to shut them down. For example, several hundred German neo-Nazi websites, aimed at German-only audiences, are hosted in the US because of the freedom of speech laws. In addition, various offshore and island nations have also provided a haven for extremists wishing to host sites and services beyond the reach of law enforcement. So the task facing those who police the internet is far from easy. Efforts such as those coming out of the Paris and OSCE conferences are the continuation of a long struggle to contain the excesses of the internet. As ever, technology moves faster than law and geography.
    ©The Guardian

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