Headlines 29 June, 2007
MUNICIPALITIES REFUSE TO LIST ILLEGALS (Netherlands)
29/6/2007- the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) is opposed to handing over lists of illegal aliens to the government. The umbrella organisation of municipalities thinks this goes beyond the agreements made with State secretary for justice Nebahat Albayrak with regard to the amnesty scheme for asylum seekers that entered the country under the old Aliens Act. "Municipalities do not keep a list of illegal aliens," VNG chairman Wim Deetman said on Friday. "Nor do mayors have the authority to check whether someone is living in the Netherlands legally or not." The VNG chairman was speaking out in response to Groningen mayor Jacques Wallage's urging that municipalities should hand over information on illegal aliens to Albayrak. Hilversum mayor Ernst Bakker said in the Volkskrant today that he will not hand over information to the state on people who are not eligible for the amnesty. The VNG says that municipalities are only required to answer for whether an individual was living in the Netherlands in 2006. They send this declaration to the state secretary, who decides whether someone is eligible for a residence permit or not.
Albayrak wants list of illegal aliens
26/6/2007- State secretary for justice Nebahat Albayrak has asked mayors to submit a list of failed asylum seekers who have signed up for the amnesty scheme but who are not eligible. The state secretary wants to know who these illegal aliens are and where they are living so that they can be deported. Albayrak said this on Tuesday during question time in Parliament. Mayors can contact the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) to register asylum seekers who are eligible for the amnesty but whom the service is unable to trace. The mayor must however declare in writing that the individual in question has been in the Netherlands continuously between 2001 and 2006.
© Expatica News
'CUT BENEFITS TO BURQA WEARERS' (Netherlands)
27/6/2007- A majority in Parliament wants the government to allow municipalities to cut benefits if the recipients are unable to find a job because they wear a burqa. A motion to this effect from Liberal VVD MP Atzo Nicolaï and Labour PvdA MP Hans Spekman was passed on Tuesday. Coalition party PvdA and opposition party VVD are concerned about a verdict from the court in Amsterdam earlier this month. The court found in preliminary proceedings that the municipality Diemen had unlawfully docked the benefits of a Muslim woman who wears a burqa because she had been unable to find a job after four job applications. If this verdict becomes a precedent, Spekman and Nicolaï want to know what state secretary for social affairs Ahmed Aboutaleb plans to do to ensure that municipalities will be able dock benefits in cases like this. The state secretary first wants to wait for the final outcome of the court case before drawing conclusions. But he will "of course" inform Parliament of any steps he plans to take. Aboutaleb has said in earlier debates with Parliament that the case in Diemen should be put in perspective. He says it is just "one case," while there have also been court verdicts that have found in favour of municipalities in cases where the behaviour of the job seeker prevented him or her from finding a job. One of these cases also concerned the wearing of a burqa.
© Expatica News
MUTILATED FEMALES SEEK HELP (Norway)
28/6/2007- More than 250 girls and women have sought help from Oslo's largest hospital in recent years, because of physical problems resulting from female circumcision, also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The mutilation, which many of the female patients were subjected to as young girls in several Muslim African countries and Northern Iraq, has left the women with severe urinary dysfunction, infections and problems after their vaginal openings were sewn shut. Sarah Kahsay, a midwife at Ullevål University Hospital in Oslo, told newspaper Aftenposten that she and her colleagues have tried to help around 260 girls and women during the past three years. Kahsay, of the National Competence Center for Minorities' Health at Ullevål, said that 90 percent of the girls and women are ethnic Somalians. Female genital mutilation has also been found, she said, among female patients from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Gambia and Senegal. The mutilation also seems to have spread to the Kurdish community, with Kahsay mentioning that Norwegian Church Aid has claimed it's a problem for females from Northern Iraq. "Reports we've had from our health stations (in the Oslo area) involve Kurdish girls as young as 11 and 12, who've been circumcised," Kahsay said. The girls and women have almost always said the circumcision, which is illegal in Norway, occurred before they emigrated. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported over the weekend, however, that an alarming number of young girls born or living in Norway have been taken back to Somalia during school holiday periods and subjected to circumcision. The agonized screams of one young girl being forcibly held down while her genitals were being cut shook Norwegian viewers and has led to a political outcry on the issue. There have been calls for increased enforcement of the law prohibiting female circumciscion, a fatwa against the practice, and regular medical checks of young girls believed to be at risk.
Politicians try to ‘do something’ to stop female circumcision
A 24-hour crisis line, an information campaign at the airport, passport denial and planned health screenings of young girls at risk are among steps being taken by Norwegian officials to prevent female genital mutilation.
29/6/2007- Norway's center-left government unveiled a list of 14 emergency measures they're putting into place immediately, in an effort to keep girls from being sent out of the country for the procedure many describe as barbaric. The measures come after state television channel NRK broadcast a shocking report last weekend that nearly 200 girls living in Norway have been sent by their own families to Somalia in recent years, to undergo female circumcision. The practice is illegal in Norway and the country has had a law for years preventing it. Prosecution has been minimal, however, with only a handful of cases brought to court. Now officials are trying to crack down and enforce the law. That can include preventing girls at risk from leaving the country, if their families are suspected of sending them abroad to be circumcised. "Skin color and travel destinations won’t be enough," Justice Minister Knut Storberget of the Labour Party was quick to point out. "The authorities must have concrete suspicions that circumcision is planned, in order for the family to be denied passports." Storberget promises, tough, "more binding" cooperation between the police and local township officials. The government will also launch a public information campaign in local taxis and on the local public transport system. A 24-hour phone line is being set up to take calls from potential victims or members of the public wanting to report cases of suspected circumcision. The number is 02800. Mandatory genital screenings for girls at risk are proposed, but that must be approved by Parliament, which is currently on summer recess.
OBIORA CASE TO BE REOPENED (Norway)
28/6/2007- State officials have ordered a special agency to reopen a probe of alleged police brutality, and investigate more thoroughly the death of immigrant Eugene Obiora. Obiora was a 48-year-old native of Nigeria who died after police in Trondheim used a special maneuver to subdue him, after he'd created a disturbance in a social welfare office. An internal affairs division within the police (Spesialenheten for politisaker) investigated the death, which has prompted public protests and charges of police brutality. The probe concluded that the officers involved hadn't intentionally carried out any measures that would have stopped or hindered Obiora from breathing. No case was brought against the officers. Now the state's Director General of Public Prosecutions (Riksadvokaten) has said it needs more information on the case, and wants more thorough questioning of witnesses, the police officers involved and what the police knew about the risks of using a controversial grip around his throat that led to his suffocation. "The goal is to gather more information... to evaluate whether any offenses have been committed on the part of the police," said state prosecutor Tor-Aksel Busch on Thursday afternoon.
COURT CASE OVER SAMI RIGHTS (Norway)
Property owners in Tydal in South Trøndelag County will fight for their right to deny free fishing to Norway's indigenous people, the Sami.
27/6/2007- Property owners insist that Sami must pay for fishing licenses like everyone else, while the Sami argue that they should be able to maintain the tradition of many generations, newspaper Adresseavisen reports. "The Sami culture is built up around hunting, catching and fishing. It has been natural for us to fish for many hundred years. Why should this right be contested now?" asked reindeer herdsman Idar Bransfjell. Bransfjell represents about 40 Sami from the local reindeer grazing district. "I compare this with when the white man came across the water and took the land of the Indians because they had no deeds. The Sami also have very little written down, but as the native people of Norway we have rights above those that are written," Bransfjell argued. Bransfjell also believes that the Sami fishing has no negative effect on the 540 disputed lakes. The dispute has gone on for nearly ten years, and finally the Tydal association of property owners has taken the matter to court. They argue that the fish in the area's attractive lakes are worth a great deal.
SWISS POLICE CRITICISED FOR RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
25/6/2007- Amnesty International has accused the Swiss police of human rights abuses and of rarely investigating these incidents or punishing those involved. Swiss police reacted with outrage at Monday's report, "Switzerland: Police, Justice and Human Rights", which they described as unreliable, and vehemently denied the accusations. At the launch of the report on Monday Amnesty said it had uncovered 30 cases in 14 cantons over the past three years in which police had committed often serious human rights violations. At least six civilians, in addition to several police officers, had been killed in these incidents, it added. The organisation also denounced police behaviour against asylum seekers, blacks, anti-globalisation protestors, football fans and minors, who it said were victims of a disproportionate number of interventions, arbitrary detention and degrading treatment. The use of tear gas in enclosed spaces and electroshock weapons such as Tasers were also criticised, as was the use of potentially lethal forms of constraint, such as throat holds or shackling people's hands behind their back while they lay on their stomach. The organisation said there was a "wall of silence" within the police about abuses. "We have ascertained that fallible police officers are almost never punished because there has not been an independent or broad investigation," said Denise Graf of Amnesty International Switzerland. Graf called for the creation of an independent court of appeal, which she said was the only way for complaints against the police to be objectively examined. Amnesty said it was also concerned by the growing number of private security firms, whose staff, it said, had a less than perfect awareness of and interest in human rights. It called for clear conditions on authorisation for these companies.
The Swiss police immediately rejected the Amnesty report. "The report is marked by a mistrust of the police, the criminal authorities and the courts," said Karin Keller-Sutter, vice-president of the cantonal police directors' conference. She said Amnesty was implying the police reacted disproportionately and were latently racist. Dismissing accusations that fallible officers mostly went unpunished, Keller-Sutter said she knew "no other state service that was scrutinised and disciplined in such detail". She admitted that individual cases could exist, but fundamentally the rule of law was working. Beat Hensler, head of the Lucerne cantonal police force, found Amnesty's claims that the courts would go easy on police officers "questionable" and called the report "unreliable".
In March 2006 the Swiss government found itself having to answer a hard-hitting report by Doudou Diène, the Senegalese United Nations special rapporteur on racism, which accused it of racist tendencies. Diène noted that racism, xenophobia and discrimination were "trivialised" in political debate in Switzerland. He also observed strong evidence of institutional racism, including within the police. Allegations continued of ill-treatment, excessive use of force and racist abuse by police officers, and of subsequent impunity for the perpetrators. The government rejected Diène's use of "individual incidents to draw conclusions about the general dynamism of racism and xenophobia in the country as a whole", but said it would seriously examine the report and would step up efforts to combat racism and discrimination.
RUSSIA MOST CONCERNED WITH ITSELF IN THE BATTLE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
29/6/2007- In a discreet but systematic diplomatic effort, Russia is seeking to weaken international human rights supervision so it can hinder outside scrutiny of its policies at home and in the sphere of influence it claims. One assault is taking place in Strasbourg, where the Council of Europe, established in 1949 to promote democracy and the rule of law, and its European Court of Human Rights, are based. This week, after two years of negotiations among the 47 member states, Russia blocked a crucial reform aimed at improving the court's efficiency. In Vienna, Russia is trying to undermine the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, founded in 1976 when Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. It wants to curb the activities of the organization's division that monitors elections. "Russia is using the old language of the Soviet era by accusing international organizations which monitor its human rights as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state," said Markus Kaim, a security expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. "The present Russian administration is also defining human rights that would reflect its national interests rather than universal values." At the European Court of Human Rights, the judicial guardian of the European Convention on Human Rights, judges wanted reforms to cope with a backlog of cases. By May of this year, there were 89,000 cases pending even though 90 percent of cases brought before the court are declared inadmissible. Nevertheless, each case has to be considered. During a parliamentary assembly this week of the member states of the Council of Europe, diplomats worked in vain to amend Protocol 14 to the Convention on Human Rights. "The idea was to process all applications within a reasonable period of time by simplifying the procedures," said Jean-Louis Laurens, director general of democracy and political affairs at the Council of Europe. In practice, a committee would filter applications and one judge would issue a judicial decision, leaving the court to deal with important cases.
Russia blocked the reforms.
"A more efficient court would work against Russia's interests," said a Swiss diplomat who requested anonymity. "Cases related to alleged human rights abuses, particularly Chechnya, would reach the court more quickly." Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, recently told the Council that the Duma, Russia's lower house of Parliament, was holding up reforms. "The Duma sees the European Court of Human Rights as interference in Russia's internal affairs," Laurens said. Since joining the court in 1996 and implementing the European Human Rights Convention in 1998 but not banning the death penalty, more than 48,790 complaints have been filed against Russia, the largest against any one country. In 2006 alone, 10,569 applications were lodged and the court found 96 violations. Lavrov himself is no great fan of the Council of Europe and its court. When Russia was the chairman of the Council last year, he said it should "readjust" its priorities by shifting away from the defense of human rights to education, culture, illegal migration, human trafficking and combating terrorism. In Vienna, Russia is trying to muzzle the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, an autonomous division of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "The office is a real success story because it monitors elections and human rights," said Allison Gill, director of the Russian branch of Human Rights Watch. "But Russia sees it as interference in its internal affairs, the way the former Soviet Union did." Russia stepped up the criticism of the division after it had monitored the elections in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, where Russian-backed regimes had been toppled by pro-democracy revolutions. This intrusion into countries Moscow regards as its sphere of influence made the Kremlin even more determined to curb the office.
Last month, during a closed session of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, Lavrov proposed bringing the office under the direct control of the 55 member states and argued that reports from election monitoring missions required unanimity before they are publicly released. He also proposed further changes, calling for "an update of the organization's agenda." Similar in content to his Strasbourg speech, Lavrov added, "We need to pay closer attention to the issues of countering new challenges and threats," like combating terrorism. Russia's attempt at reinterpreting human rights and democracy reflects more than its new self-confidence bolstered by high energy prices. It is underpinned by a political philosophy emanating from the Kremlin itself. An essay published last November by Vladislav Surkov, deputy chief of the presidential administration and the Kremlin's ideologist, said Russia would pursue a "sovereign democracy," in which democratic values would be subordinated to national interests. "This logic is based on the refusal to undergo foreign supervision and meddling," according to Jean-Pierre Massias, law professor at the University of Auvergne in France and a legal adviser to the Council of Europe. "The decisions of the Council of Europe are seen as such in Russia.' Despite Russia's criticisms of the Council of Europe and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, it has no intention of quitting, either. Instead, it is supporting new, parallel structures more in line with its priorities. One is the Collective Security Treaty Organization, set up by Russia in 2003. It includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan - all of which have very weak human rights records. Its main purpose is to coordinate military and political cooperation and come to the assistance of any member state that is attacked. Above all, the treaty is based on the strict principle of noninterference in members' internal affairs. Another is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, founded in 2001 and which includes Russia and several Central Asian countries. Its agenda is to fight terrorism and cross-border crime. It also has its own election observer missions, entering into direct competition with the Office for Democratic Institutions. "This is clearly an attempt to create an alternative to the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe and insulate Russia from external intrusion," Gill said. If so, it is a saddening turn-about for a rich and self-confident country that during the 1990s had fought hard to be accepted into Europe's human rights organizations.
© International Herald Tribune
FEAR DRIVES A REPORTER OUT OF NALCHIK (Russia)
29/6/2007- Fatima Tlisova had been beaten, harassed and, she suspects, poisoned while working as a journalist in Nalchik. But she finally decided to flee the country the day she sent her 16-year-old son on an errand last year and he did not come back. Tlisova later tracked him down at a police station in the custody of drunken officers who said they had put the boy's name on a list of suspicious people -- a tactic often used by police in roundups of suspected Chechen sympathizers. Sometimes, human rights advocates say, those caught up in such sweeps are savagely beaten. Sometimes, they vanish forever. "Do you know what these lists are? These are lists of broken lives," Tlisova said. "The fact that a drunken policeman can drag an innocent young man into a police station in broad daylight and put him on such a list -- I didn't want that to happen to my son." Tlisova, who worked for The Associated Press in the North Caucasus region for nearly two years, was speaking Thursday at a U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus roundtable in Washington. She has moved to the United States to study journalism, keeping her hand in her profession while getting far from the dangers of working in her native land. Tlisova said her son's detention came just one day after the killing in Moscow of Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter who, like Tlisova, often had written about civilians being killed, beaten and abused in the North Caucasus. Tlisova said her troubles began in 2002, a few days after writing a story for the newspaper Obshchaya Gazeta documenting soldiers' abuse of Chechens. After a party celebrating her 36th birthday, she walked her friends to the door of her apartment building. After the last guests departed, a hand grabbed her and she says she was dragged around a corner and beaten by two large men. She spent several days in intensive care with broken ribs, a concussion and other injuries.
In 2005, a car with tinted glass pulled up to her on a Nalchik street and she was told to get inside if she wanted to see her children again. She said she then was taken to a forest and held there for three hours. She said several men dragged her about by her hair and extinguished cigarettes on her fingertips, telling her they were doing it "so that you can write better." Tlisova believed reporting her abduction to the police was out of the question because she said she recognized her abductors as local officers of the Federal Security Service. A few weeks after her son's detention in October 2006, Tlisova said she came home one night to find signs that her apartment had been broken into. The next morning, she awoke feeling seriously ill, then fainted. Hospital tests showed she was suffering acute kidney failure, although tests 10 days later showed her kidneys functioning normally. She believes an intruder put poison in her food. Tlisova stepped up her efforts to find a way to get out of Russia but fell ill again. As she lay in a hospital, she vowed she would get out of journalism -- but the decision sat uneasily with her. Then a woman called her and asked her to come to her village to investigate the mysterious illnesses afflicting children at a school there. "I got this urge, this feeling that I had to go, I had to find out what happened," she said, and she went to cover the story. Two months later, she arrived in the United States, relieved to be in a safer place, but frustrated that she can no longer tell the world about the violence in her homeland. Injustices "are happening every day, one cannot be silent about them," she said. Some day, she hopes, she will return.
© Associated Press
ABOUT 98,000 TEENAGERS INVOLVED IN EXTREMIST GROUPS EXPOSED (Russia)
27/6/2007- About 98,000 teenagers, who are involved in antisocial and extremist groups, are exposed in Russia, Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said in an interview with the newspaper “Rossiiskaya Gazeta” on Wednesday. He emphasized that 302 informal youth groups totaling more than 10,000 people are registered in police now, Nurgaliyev remarked. “About 150 of them we believe inclined to aggressive actions,” the minister noted. The interior minister believes that “it is useless to fight against this phenomenon (involvement of teenagers in extremist activities – Itar-Tass) only by police, repressive methods.” “A good groundwork for the work with adolescents exists in the country. There are about 180,000 cultural, sport and military patriotic organisations in the country. As many as 8.7 million people attend them every year,” Nurgaliyev said, adding that “it influences considerably the reduction of the crime level among teenagers.” “The measures were taken to attain positive results in the crime prevention among adolescents. This year the number of crimes, which teenagers committed or in which they were involved, reduced by more than eight percent,” Nurgaliyev remarked. However, according to him, “in regions, where there are few foresaid organisations or none of them at all, the criminogenic situation remains tense.”
RUSSIAN CHRISTIANS "PURGE" GAY CRUISE WATERS
26/6/2007- More than 200 Orthodox and right-wing Russians, including a fiercely anti-gay member of parliament, sailed an icon-bedecked ship down the Moscow River on Sunday to cleanse the waters after a gay cruise took the same route the night before, the Interfax news agency reported. Participants hired a ship and decorated it with church banners, icons, Russian imperial flags and their motto, "We are Russian, God is with us." "Our great Orthodox capital is in spiritual vacuum and experiences ideological aggression from the West. So our aim was to demonstrate that the Russian people's spiritual and moral ideals are alive and will be so forever," Yury Ageschev, coordinator of the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods, told Interfax. He said one of the action's aims was "to purge the Moskva River after a large group of gays, who hired a similar ship to have a party going the same route last night." Participants included state Duma member Nikolay Kuryanovich, who in February introduced legislation to recriminalize homosexuality. Joining him were members of Cossack groups and assorted religious believers. They sung a prayer as they passed the Novospassky Bridge, then listened to a Christian rock band, Interfax said. Gay rights continue to be a sore point in Russia. This month, anti-gays asked Moscow officials to support their nightly patrols aimed at emptying a park where gay people meet. On Friday, Russia's Supreme Court upheld earlier court rulings banning last year's Moscow Pride parade, which had been scheduled to take place in May. Gay activists rallied anyway and were pummeled by right-wing protesters and detained by police.