NEWS - Archive September 2009

Headlines 25 September, 2009


A decision in one school in Antwerp rapidly led to a general ban on headscarves in public schools in the Flemish region of Belgium this month. Some in the Moroccan community now want to found their own schools.

25/9/2009- If it was up to her Saïda El Fekri would take off her headscarf in a second. In fact, she does take it off whenever she goes on holiday abroad. But not now. "It would give the impression I'm doing it under pressure from others," says the 36-year-old spokesperson of Baas Over Eigen Hoofd (BOEH, Boss of my own head), a 'feminist' action group in the Belgian city of Antwerp. "The girls who are being forbidden to wear the headscarf to school would lose their role model." Two weeks ago the public school system in the Flemish region of Belgium decided to introduce a blanket ban on headscarves. On Thursday, BOEH filed a complaint against the decision with the council of state, the highest administrative court in Belgium, on behalf of several girls in Antwerp who themselves prefer to stay out of the spotlights.

Universal values
About sixty Muslim girls in Antwerp have dropped out of school since the ban came into effect, says El Fekri. "Some have simply stayed home; others have started their own class and plan to take their exams. But all of them have lost contact with the rest of society." The headscarf controversy was recently brought to the forefront once again after the Royal Atheneum, a school in Antwerp, decided to ban the Islamic headwear. The move was all the more controversial because the Royal Atheneum was one of the last schools in Antwerp not to have a ban. The school's principal, Karin Heremans, in 2005 co-authored a book by then socialist party president Steve Stevaert, in which she argued against a headscarf ban. Heremans advocated cultural differences are an enrichment, and she wanted to introduce universal values to the mixed bag of children at the school: tolerance, separation between church and state. Not for nothing the Royal Atheneum was founded by Napoleon. But Heremans' principled stand put the school in a difficult position. As one of the last refuges for headscarf-wearing girls in Antwerp, it became the school of choice for religious Muslims.

80 percent Muslim
"In 2001 46 percents of all pupils was Muslim", Heremans says, "in 2008 it was 80 percent." Some girls started showing up in the niqab, a veil that leaves only the eyes visible. The niqabs were banned, but the discussion didn't end there. "The debate was no longer about to ban or not to ban the headscarf. It was about how long the headscarf should be. Girls who chose not to wear it were put under pressure. An ex-pupil slipped into the school to take down the names of the girls who took off their headscarves once they were inside. After a few years of this I thought: in a little while we will be a Muslim school. Then what will be left of our project?" Heremans' decision to introduce a ban at her school had far-reaching consequences. After one student filed a complaint with the council of state, it voiced a legal opinion saying it was not up to individual schools to decide on a headscarf ban, but to the supervisory school boards. As a result the board of the roughly 700 public schools in the Flemish region of Belgium decided to introduce a system-wide headscarf ban, much to the displeasure of principals in other parts of the country where the headscarf was not yet an issue. In Antwerp the boards of the various school systems - the public schools and the mostly Catholic 'free schools', which are also state-funded - got together and agreed on a local headscarf ban covering all the schools in the area.

Flowers and chocolate
Heremans says she knew her decision would cause a shock because of the emblematic function of her school - to the degree that she took a crash course in communications before she announced it. But she says there have been many positive reactions too, both from Muslims and non-Muslims. "People have sent flowers and chocolates. Several school principals from the Netherlands called me to give their support." But there have been numerous negative reactions too. "This is a slap in the face," says Mohamad Chakkar, using an expression usually reserved for Flemish politicians to express anger at their French-speaking counterparts. Chakkar is the president of the Federation of Moroccan Associations. He says he was shocked by the speed with which the decision was taken. "The Flemish consultation model was completely abandoned. This is all anyone talks about in the mosques these days," he says. The Moroccan community is now thinking about founding its own schools. Those plans have existed for a while, and they are not directly linked to the headscarf issue. "Research has shown that the education gap between immigrant and non-immigrants students in Flanders is the widest in Europe. We are not looking for religious schools; we're looking for a pedagogic answer to this problem."

Flemish education minister Pascal Smet hopes it doesn't come to that. "Our schools should be a reflection of society," he says. But he is also powerless to stop it: it was a consequence of the so-called "school wars" between the Catholic schools and the secular state schools that anyone who qualifies for state subsidies has the right to start a school. Smet, who has a legal background, has questioned the constitutionality of the Flemish headscarf ban. A national headscarf ban for all schools, like in France, might stand a better chance, but that would require amending the constitution. And it would mean a return to the school wars, because the Catholic schools too would have to ban all religious symbols.



Discrimination on the grounds of disability and age biggest categories

24/9/2009- The largest number of complaints received by the Equality Authority last year were made on the grounds of disability, according to its annual report. Out of 4,640 complaints made to the authority under the Employment Equality Acts and the Equal Status Acts, almost 650 were made on the grounds of disability. These included complaints related to the provision of education, health services and government departments. Discrimination on the basis of age was also high, with a total of 558 complaints made under both pieces of legislation and gender was the basis for 434 of the complaints. Some 372 complaints were made on the basis of race, up from 307 last year. People complained of general harassment, provision of services, education and accommodation under the Equal Status Acts and access to employment, working conditions, dismissal and bullying under the Employment Equality Acts. Almost 10,500 people contacted the authority's public information centre with queries on equality and family leave legislation, with over 4,000 queries under the Maternity Protection Acts, over 1,500 on the Parental Leave acts and 97 on the Adoptive Leave Acts. Chairwoman of the Equality Authority, Angela Kerins, said the organisation's ambitions for an Ireland of equality for all were not in any way diminished by the "challenging times". She said it made sense for society to take active measures to ensure economic downturn did not create any downturn in values or ambitions for equality. The organisation, which was given a 45 per cent cut in its budget last year, was working "smart", Ms Kerins said. "2008 was a very busy and challenging time for the Equality Authority; the board's energy, vigour and commitment sustained the organisation's progress and focus in the emerging new context," she said.
The Irish Times



24/9/2009- Neo-Nazi Ivo Müller has written a letter to Anna Siváková, the mother of serious burn victim Natálka, in which he apologizes for his horrible deed and asks her forgiveness. Both Ms Siváková and State Prosecutor Brigita Bilíková view the letter as Müller’s attempt to make sure his upcoming punishment will be reduced, Czech Television reports. "Please believe I never intended to injure anyone in such a way, and certainly not a little girl. I am asking you for forgiveness with all my heart, even though I know it is probably in vain, not only after what has happened to you, but most of all what has happened to little Natálka,” Ivo Müller says in the letter. Müller regularly participates in neo-Nazi events organized by the Autonomous Nationalists and the Workers’ Party. "I thank God she survived and is fighting so bravely, she is a very strong little girl. I pray she makes as complete a recovery as possible as quickly as possible. ... I wish I could turn back the clock. Once again, I beg your forgiveness,” the letter from the neo-Nazi says. "I am shocked. If they want forgiveness, they need to go look her in the eyes. I am not able to forgive any of them,” the girl’s mother said on Czech Television. Markéta Polišenská, defense attorney for Müller, said her client has not empowered her to say anything to the media about the case.

Some of the attorneys for the four men charged said earlier they would strive to have the attack reclassified as a less serious crime. "It is the right of the defense and of those charged to choose their method of defense," Bilíková told Czech Television. Speaking through their defense attorneys, the other neo-Nazis are also working on receiving reduced punishments. "At the very least, my client was under the impression that no one was living in the house,” Ladislav Myšák, defense attorney for Václav Cojocaru, told Czech Television. "They can’t excuse one another, saying one of them didn’t know. They knew they were going to set someone on fire, they had to all have known,” Siváková said. Unofficial information from the court file confirms that the defense will rest its case on the claim that the suspects were unaware of the details of the attack. The leader, Jaromír Lukeš of Opava, who has been a neo-Nazi for many years, was at the wheel of the car during the attack and was therefore the only one who did not actually throw a Molotov cocktail through the window of the Roma family’s home.

Police are investigating connections between the Vítkov attack and others in the region. Should police gather enough evidence, they will want to charge the defendants for the other attacks as well. "We have concrete indications that they may have participated in those attacks. Bringing them to trial is a question of further investigation,” Bilíková confirmed to the on-line daily TÝDEN.CZ. The level of punishment will also be influenced by the timing of when the prosecution is announced. A new criminal code will start to apply as of January which sets forth stricter punishments for the most serious violent crimes. Natálka is still hospitalized and has more operations for her burns ahead of her. The family is still living in a temporary shelter with their three older children, as the house they purchased with money from a public collection requires partial reconstruction. The family is conducting the repairs themselves and using what remains in the collection fund to purchase materials. Next week the house will be registered in the cadastre as the property of Anna Siváková and work on the house can begin full-time.
Romano vodi



23/9/2009- The Czech Interior Ministry Wednesday presented a project aimed to ease tension between the local Romanies and other residents of Chanov, Most's housing estate with prevailing Romany population. Minister Martin Pecina said the project named Usvit (Dawn) has been prepared by the ministry in cooperation with the Most town hall and NGOs. Its goal is to raise the local Romanies' feeling of responsibility, Pecina said. Usvit is a pilot project that should be later introduced also in other socially deprived localities. "Its aim is to make the Romanies join [public life] more intensively, accept responsibility for their lives and for the environment they live in," Pecina continued. "It is important that it will be fellow Romanies who would exert influence on them. The project involves the Romany elites who have influence in the [Romany] community and who can use it positively. We've chosen personalities who are not linked with criminal activities, such as usury or drug trafficking. That is also why Chanov has been preferred [as the project's pilot locality]," Pecina said.

The ministry has earmarked 1,265 million crowns (500.000 EUR) for the project. It will focus on an improvement of people's safety in Chanov, prevention of crime, creation of conditions for a new approach to the education of Romany children, field social work, saving the property purchased for public money and an improvement of the image of Romanies. The Council of Europe (CE) said in its recent report that the previous persisting discrimination against the Romany minority has improved in the Czech Republic in the past years but the country has still a lot to do in this respect.
The Prague Daily Monitor



22/9/2009- The Czech Forum 50 % civic association promoting a higher women's representation in public posts is calling on politicians to introduce quotas for women's proportional representation in parties' lists of candidates for election, its director Jana Smiggelsova Kavkova said Tuesday. According to the association, Czech women's representation in politics is minimal, she told journalists. "Not only women but the entire society suffers from this as political decisions do not meet the criteria of justice and democracy," Smiggelsova Kavkova said. Although women make up more than one half of the Czech population, their political representation is far from corresponding to this share, she said. Women hold only three ministerial seats in the 17-member caretaker government of Prime Minister Jan Fischer, she said. There are only 35 female deputies in the 200-member Chamber of Deputies, which is 17.5 percent. The Czech Republic ended on the 76th position in the Inter-Parliamentary Union's standings on female participation in parliaments, following Bolivia, Cambodia and Kazakhstan. There are 14 women in the Czech 81-member Senate, the upper house of Czech parliament, which is 17 percent. Women make up 17.6 percent among regional assembly members and a quarter among local councillors.

The Czech Republic ended almost at the very bottom of the EU countries' ladder as regards female participation in the European Parliament after the June European elections. Only four Czech women became members of the new European Parliament. Malta alone which has no female representative in the European Parliament at all ended after the Czech Republic. Forum 50 % fears that the share of women in the Chamber of Deputies after the elections expected to take place in May will further decrease. It has estimated it to fall to 15.5 percent if the mainstream parties do not make considerable changes in their lists of candidates in favour of female candidates, Smiggelsova Kavkova said. "However, I do not expect any considerable changes to occur by this spring although we will naturally work on it," she told CTK. Vladimir Spidla, current Czech EU commissioner in charge of employment, social affairs and equal opportunities, and Senate deputy chairwoman Alena Gajduskova (Social Democrats, CSSD), are among the supporters of women's political representation quotas.

According to a poll conducted by the Centre for Public Opinion Research (CVVM) for the association in July, almost one-half of Czechs would welcome the introduction of quotas for women's political representation and public support for the quotas is growing. While 39 percent of respondents supported the quotas in November 2007, it was 47 percent in the latest poll. According to the poll, almost 90 percent of Czechs believe women's participation in public life is advantageous for society.
The Prague Daily Monitor



European watchdog sets wide-ranging goals in fighting intolerance

23/9/2009- The Czech Republic must take specific measures, including educating the police and judiciary, to combat racism, according to Europe's top anti-discrimination body. A report this month from the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) found that the Czech Republic must do much more to tackle racism, its chairwoman Eva Smith Asmussen, told The Prague Post from Denmark. "There are three areas which we would like to see improvement on," Asmussen said. "First, legal aid must be introduced to allow people who have a complaint the means to file it. At the moment, it is very hard for anyone who has been a victim of discrimination or racism to take their case to court. Second, apart from the legal aspect, the police, prosecutors and judges must be better educated. On too many occasions, they have brushed off claims of racism by saying it was just the work of hotheads or hooligans instead of going after those responsible. And third, we are concerned that Roma children are not getting into mainstream education. Practical or special schools are a great idea for those children who need it because of certain difficulties. But we see Roma children being sent to these schools when they should really be in mainstream schools."

The ECRI compiles 10 reports a year and is involved in 47 countries, a cycle that means one country is normally reported on every five years - though, in the Czech Republic's case, they will be reporting in two years' time to monitor the implementation of the three measures. Compiling a report means months of research and discussions with various parties. "We meet with government officials, NGOs, as well as minority groups and individuals who feel they have a grievance before any report," Asmussen said. Asmussen stressed that the government was cooperative in their discussions. "Our dealings with the government were friendly and productive," she said. "They maybe had a different perspective on some issues, but they did not try to hide anything from us. We found them forthright and willing in all our meetings." Before combating racism, it is important to define just exactly what it is, Asmussen said. "Racism does not always have to be violent. It is basically when someone judges themselves superior on the basis of color, creed or region. It can manifest itself in subtle ways like ignoring someone or stepping in front of another person in a queue. It doesn't have to be an attack by a group of skinheads," she said. Asmussen said that the real education against racism must come from parents and schools. "Young people must be taught that we all have so much in common. It is important for children to mix," she said.

The advance of the far right in Europe, due in part to the economic crisis and a general feeling of vulnerability among people, is a particular concern for the ECRI. "There is nothing wrong with nationalism as such. We all want the best for our countries, but, when this is allied to the politics of the far right, it becomes a dangerous cocktail," Asmussen said. "In times of economic crisis, we know the danger is there. Europe has a history of this, looking for scapegoats. Then, you have misguided people saying things like they are the liberators of the country and everyone who is different must be sent away."
The Prague Post



23/9/2009- OMEGA agency has addressed a statement to a number of embassies accredited in Moldova, as well as the Permanent Bureau of Parliament concerning unprecedented actions of the authorities, which have established censorship on TV, having closed one of few information programs in Russian language.

To: OSCE Mission in Moldova, US Embassy in Moldova, Embassy of the Russian Federation in Moldova, EU Special Representative in Moldova, Bureau of the Council of Europe in Moldova, Permanent Bureau of Parliament
Cc: Coordination Council on Tele-radio broadcasting

On Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009, an unprecedented action occurred in Moldova, the purpose of which was closing the information program TOP NEWS, objectionable for authorities, on the relayed channel Ren TV.

Chairman of Audiovisual Coordination Council, Gheorge Gorincioi, executing the instructions of the Speaker Parliament, Mihaj Ghimpu, has ordered by forcible method to Ren TV owners to exclude from broadcasting grid the information program TOP NEWS, which is made by news agency OMEGA and placed according to the legislation according to the contract dated on December 22nd, 2008. In this respect, the information program TOP NEWS has been compelled to stop broadcasting since September 22nd.

What is vivid here, that is the execution of political order generated by ACC Gheorge Gorincioi, as back in this January Mr. Gorincioi personally , having familiarised with the contract, has assured that for placing the informative programme on TV channel Ren TV in Moldova there is no lawful obstacles.

Despite his previous conclusion, the chairman of Audiovisual Coordination Council, personally, has conditioned the further activity of businessmen in the field of cable broadcast with the exception of the specified information programme, which is objectionable as to him, as well as to the highest political leaders of the country.

It is regrettably to realise that such a decision was also caused by the necessity of closing one of few informative programmes in Russian, which is being broadcasted in strict conformity with the law, and spread over exclusively by cable networks.

The actions taken by the head of AC also have hampered the intentions of some owners of regional cable networks, who planned to place in the near future this programme in their networks on contract basis, satisfying the demand of Russian-speaking population of Moldova.

We regard this step as intimidation not only of journalists, but also representatives of business circle, as well as an action directed on discriminating a part of not title nation, a step that is inadmissible in a democratic society.

We believe that the decision taken by Gheorghe Gorincioi, as well as by his patrons in the Parliament leadership, is caused by their totalitarian past and extreme immunity to pluralism of opinions, and also their propensity to discrimination by ethnic principle.

We express our confidence that such actions by ACC chairman will assessed politically and legally. We also call the representatives of international organisations, the embassies accredited in Moldova, to pay attention to non-democratic steps of the new leadership of Moldova, directed towards the establishment of censorships in the private mass-media - first displays of discrimination of national minorities.
The Obiectiv Media Group.



22/9/2009- A gang of racist youths have been sent to jail for a string of brutal attacks on foreigners in the Russian capital Moscow in 2008. Terms of between eight and 10 years were handed down to the teenaged ringleaders, including a 17-year-old girl, Yevgenia Zhikhareva. Several younger members of the gang got lighter sentences because of their age. The gang were accused of attacking foreigners at random on the streets of Moscow. One was killed. The victims were from China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. They were attacked in February and March 2008. The gang members were accused of four attempted murders and one actual murder. The dead man was an 18-year-old from Kyrgyzstan. He was stabbed eight times by Ilya Shutko, 19, who was jailed for 10 years. Human rights groups have documented increasing numbers of attacks on foreigners in Russia, especially in and around Moscow. A group of skinheads were jailed for up to 20 years last year after killing 18 foreigners in Moscow in little more than a year.
BBC News



22/9/2009- Migrant market traders held a protest in Dzherzhinsk, Russia (Nizhny Novgorod region) calling for the police to protect them from neo-Nazi gangs that they say have killed three victims over the past month, according to a September 16, 2009 article in the "Regions" supplement to the national daily "Nezavisimaya Gazeta." Two Azeris and an Uzbek have died and several other migrants have been assaulted in recent weeks in that city, and some of the attacks have been accompanied by
graffiti that explicitly threatens non-Russians with violence. On Monday, the migrants held a protest, but police dispersed it, claiming it was an "unsanctioned meeting." The vice mayor of Dzherzhinsk, Sergey Kleymenov, reacted with the following borderline racist comment: "An unsanctioned meeting is no way to address a complaint. We are not under the laws of the [Caucasus] mountains here, but under the laws of the Russian Federation, and those laws will be strictly followed."

The article cited law enforcement statistics putting the Nizhny Novgorod region behind only Moscow and St. Petersburg in the number of hate crimes committed there so far this year. In the first half of 2009, prosecutors opened investigations of extremist actions 21 times in the region, twice the number of cases than during the first half of 2008. In Dzherzhinsk, local neo-Nazis are on trial for beating a Tajik to death last year, and in the city of Balakhna, three members of the neo-Nazi group Russian National Unity (RNU) face charges of killing an ethnic Korean man near a train station. A federal law enforcement official is quoted in the article saying that, "police in Balakhna have not taken steps to stamp out incidents of neo-fascism and all the fences near the station are covered with swastikas." The article pointed out that two years ago in Balakhna, around 30 masked young men screaming racist slogans attacked market traders with baseball bats and chains, sending two the hospital in serious condition. In response, only nine suspects were eventually tried, all of whom reportedly admitted ties to the RNU. Incredibly, a court let them off with short, suspended sentences.

Prosecutors in the Nizhny Novgorod region are currently investigating three neo-Nazi groups: The Whites-88 gang, accused of five assaults on migrants; the Militant Terrorist Organization, charged with three murders and 12 assaults; and an unnamed third gang, suspected of one murder and seven assaults. In the regional town of Zavolzhe, members of a group calling itself the National Socialist Workers Party of Russia is on trial for allegedly blowing up the car of an Azeri man and trying to attack a group of Vietnamese men. The defendants reportedly trained with guns and explosives in the woods, and may have been involved in burning down a partially constructed mosque. Finally, an ethnic Russian professor at the Volzhsky State Academy of Water Transport, Stanislav Aseev, was allegedly murdered by a member of the Militant Terrorist Organization upset over bad grades.
FSU Monitor


EU Asylum Disparities Put Those Sent Back at Risk of Mistreatment

25/9/2007- Many of the hundreds of migrants arrested by French authorities following the destruction of their makeshift camp in Calais are at risk of being sent back to Greece, Human Rights Watch said today. The French police reportedly arrested 276 migrants, including 125 children, on September 22, 2009, and destroyed their makeshift camp. The French immigration minister said several months ago that many asylum seekers entered through Greece and should be returned there. The New York Times, reporting on the situation, cited remarks by French officials that those who had entered the European Union through Greece would be returned there. The UK's home secretary is quoted in The Guardian expressing his "delight" at the Calais operation and saying that the migrants there could seek asylum in the first country they entered, meaning that many are likely to be returned to Greece.

"France, the UK, and the rest of Europe act as if everything is perfectly fine in Greece," said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch. "But Greece denies 99.5 percent of all asylum claims, has recently eliminated its appeals procedure, and detains migrants in deplorable conditions." Human Rights Watch said that France and the UK should ensure that any children among those removed who have family members in the UK, including siblings and other close relatives, are able to join them on humanitarian grounds. Under the European Union's Dublin II regulations, the country where a person first entered the EU is generally held responsible for examining that person's asylum claim, whether or not the person applied there. European governments enter the fingerprints of all migrants they apprehend into an EU-wide database that allows other governments to trace where a person first entered the EU and to send that person back. While the Dublin II regulations are premised on the notion that all EU member states have comparable asylum and migration practices, there are wide disparities, with some countries like Greece effectively offering no protection at all. This disparity underscores the importance of reforming the Dublin system and ensuring that EU member states are held to account for their failure to respect their obligations under EU law to provide access to asylum.

Human Rights Watch has called on European governments, in two reports released in 2008, to stop sending migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, back to Greece under the Dublin II regulations. The reports said that Greece fails to guarantee a fair assessment of asylum claims, continues to detain migrants and asylum seekers in conditions that can be inhuman and degrading, and has not provided adequate reception conditions for migrants, or special protection for vulnerable groups, such as unaccompanied migrant children. Greece also adopted a law in July abolishing a meaningful appeals procedure. The new law leaves asylum seekers with no right to an appeal or remedy against risk of removal to inhuman or degrading treatment, as required by article 39 of the EU's procedures directive and articles 13 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Asylum seekers whose claim has been rejected are at risk of being immediately deported. Concerns are further heightened, Human Rights Watch said, due to Greece's recent arrests of large numbers of asylum seekers and their transfer to detention centers in the north, close to the Turkish border, where some are reported to have been pushed across the border back to Turkey. Greece has a record of systematically pushing migrants back to Turkey, including those seeking protection.

On August 5, Human Rights Watch wrote to the Greek interior minister asking him to take immediate steps to stop this practice and to treat migrants apprehended in Greek territory in a humane and dignified manner. In a November 2008 report, "Stuck in a Revolving Door: Iraqis and Other Asylum Seekers and Migrants at the Greece/Turkey Entrance to the European Union," Human Rights Watch documented how Greek authorities have systematically expelled migrants illegally across the Greece-Turkey border, in violation of international law. These "pushbacks" typically occur at night from the northern detention facilities, and they involve considerable logistical preparation. At that time, Human Rights Watch conducted private, confidential interviews in various locations in both Greece and Turkey with 41 asylum seekers and refugees, who gave consistent accounts of Greek authorities taking them to the Evros river at night and then forcing them across. France and other EU member states are bound under the European Convention on Human Rights not to return a person to a country where he or she is at risk of inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3) and bound by the international legal principle of nonrefoulement. The Dublin Convention allows parties to exercise their discretion under article 3 (2) (the sovereignty clause) not to return an asylum seeker and to examine the asylum claim themselves.

"It is hard not to have the impression that European governments are perfectly happy with Greece doing the dirty work for them and giving them the opportunity to get rid of these migrants, including potential refugees," Frelick said. "Instead of sending them back to Greece, French authorities should ensure these migrants have the chance to apply for asylum in France."
Human Rights Watch


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