NEWS - Archive July 2010

Headlines 30 July, 2010

EU TURNING BLIND EYE TO DISCRIMINATION AGAINST ROMA, SAY HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS

Criticism comes in wake of France's decision to expel illegal Roma immigrants and destroy hundreds of their encampments

30/7/2010- The European Union was today accused of "turning a blind eye" as countries across Europe carried out a wave of expulsions and introduced new legislation targeting the Roma. Human rights groups criticised the EU for failing to address the real issues driving Europe's largest ethnic minority to migrate in the first place and for choosing not to upbraid countries for breaking both domestic and EU laws in their treatment of them. The criticism came after France announced it would round up and expel illegal Roma immigrants and destroy hundreds of their encampments. Elsewhere, it emerged that the city of Copenhagen had requested Danish government assistance to deport up to 400 Roma, and that Swedish police had expelled Roma in breach of its own and EU laws. In Belgium a caravan of 700 Roma has been chased out of Flanders and forced to set up camp in French-speaking Wallonia in the south. Italy, which in 2008 declared a state of emergency due to the presence of Roma, and evicted thousands of them, mainly to Romania and Bulgaria, is continuing to implement the policy to this day. Germany is in the process of repatriating thousands of Roma children and adolescents to Kosovo, despite warnings they will face discrimination, appalling living conditions, lack of access to education as well as language problems, because many of them were born in Germany and do not speak Serbian or Albanian.

In eastern European countries that are EU members, such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, accounts are rife of widespread discrimination against Roma, including physical attacks. Amnesty International said the EU had "turned a blind eye" to what it called a "serious breach of human rights" towards Europe's Roma, who are roughly estimated to number about 16 million. "There is a clear and systemic programme of EU governments targeting Roma," said Anneliese Baldaccini, a lawyer at Amnesty's EU office. The Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), which monitors the situation of Roma in Europe, called on the EU to be "much more forthright" in pointing out to member states "the clear requirements of the free movement law". "Poverty, discrimination and a whole host of things make life unbearable for Roma in their countries of origin," said the ERRC's executive director, Robert Kushen. "We would welcome strong EU involvement to address some of these issues," he said.

The campaign groups were responding to the European Commission's insistence this week that the issue was one for individual states to handle. "When it comes to Roma and the possibility of expelling them, this is up to the member states to deal with – in this case France – and for them to decide how they are going to implement the law," said Matthew Newman, spokesman for the European justice commissioner, Viviane Reding. French president Nicholas Sarkozy was this week accused of pursuing a "xenophobic" and "discriminatory" crackdown on the country's 400,000 Travellers, Gypsies and Roma – most of whom have French citizenship. Interior minister Brice Hortefeux announced new measures including the dismantling of about 300 encampments and the "quasi-immediate" expulsion to Romania or Bulgaria of Roma with a criminal record.

Amnesty said the EU should penalise countries that have persistently failed to uphold the human rights of Roma. Among the harshest measures applicable under the charter of fundamental rights that came into force with the Lisbon treaty last year is the withdrawal of voting rights, or even expulsion from the union. "The EU under the Lisbon Treaty...has the responsibility to address human rights within the 27 member states," said Amnesty's executive officer for legal affairs in the European Union, Susanna Mehtonen. Campaign groups say the EU's failure to intervene calls into question its commitment to the Charter of Fundamental Rights that came into force with the passage of the Lisbon Treaty last year, and was heralded as a "new dawn" for human rights in Europe. They have accused Brussels of cowardice when it comes to the Roma. While the commission has no competence to defend gay rights, either, it has frequently been ready to criticise homophobic legislation in eastern Europe – largely, it is believed, because gay rights are well established in western European countries, unlike the rights of Roma.
The Guardian

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Otto Scrinzi has sensationally stepped down as honorary chairman of the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), it has emerged.

30/7/2010- Newspapers report today (Fri) that the former FPÖ MP disagreed with the party’s decision to team up with former members of the Carinthian department of the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ). Hundreds of BZÖ Carinthia members formed the Carinthian Freedom Party (FPK) earlier this year. The new group now cooperates with the FPÖ on a federal level. Scrinzi, 92, is considered an influential spearhead of far-right movements in Austria. The former member of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) has caused controversy with statements proving his extremist mindset for decades. His surprising retirement as honorary chairman of the FPÖ – which garnered 17.5 per cent in the 2008 general election – is expected to worsen the volatile situation the party is currently in.

Things have not gone too well for the third-strongest party in the federal parliament so far this year. Leader Heinz-Christian Strache has come under fire from several high-ranking FPÖ officials for nominating Barbara Rosenkranz as the party’s presidential candidate. The ultra-conservative mother-of-ten garnered a paltry 15 per cent of the overall vote in the April ballot won by incumbent President Heinz Fischer, a former Social Democratic (SPÖ) president of the federal parliament. Political analysts claimed ahead of the election the FPÖ would have fared better nominating Strache as such a step would have helped it to increase in popularity despite his non-existent chances of winning the election.

Rumour has it that Strache actually opposed the nomination of Rosenkranz, but was pressed by influential party board members to pick her. It will be a "make or break" autumn for the party headed by late BZÖ founder Jörg Haider as Styrians (26 September) and Viennese (10 October) head to the polls. The FPÖ is expected to gain in both ballots after poor showings in the 2005 provincial elections which took place months after its federal ministers left to join Haider’s new party. Strache admitted wanting to become mayor of Vienna someday, with the federal chancellorship to follow. Election experts have however claimed the FPÖ might do less well than expected in upcoming elections if it continues to focus solely on aggressive campaigning against "criminal immigrants".
The Austrian Times

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A DISCRIMINATION ISSUE (Canada, opinion)

By Amtul-Hye Sosan

30/7/2010- Born and raised in Canada, I have had great freedom in practising my faith, Islam, without any legislation or law prohibiting me otherwise. My parents, however, were not as fortunate. They immigrated to Canada because of systematic government-run propaganda that targeted others like them, Ahmadi Muslims. When my parents came to Canada, they were grateful for the freedom to practise their faith without fear or persecution; therefore you can imagine my shock at recent legislation in Quebec and other democratic nations such as France that are bent upon condemning the burka and punishing Muslim women for practising their faith. My parents' experience in Pakistan is a clear picture of the dangers of state legislation against religion.

By prohibiting or making illegal a religion or part of a religion, a door is opened for people with extreme views to carry out acts of hate and violence. Extreme views exist everywhere, even in western democracies. The laws against the burka will allow the indirect validation of Islamophobia. Once a law is passed, it opens new avenues of scrutiny, and anything that is not in congruence with the mainstream could be made illegal; what is left is a very small window of normality.

Hypothetically speaking, the Islamic way of prayer or congregating in mosques could also be deemed illegal if it does not fit the ideal picture. Then what do you have? Essentially western democracies becoming just like nations such as Pakistan, where no one is free and everyone is controlled with an iron fist. The burka is observed by a very small fraction of the Muslim population, and none of these women have ever been charged with a crime, so why are they so persecuted for their belief? These policies are very destructive to the essence of freedom and equality.
The Edmonton Journal

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SWITZERLAND FINED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION

The European Court of Human Rights has found Switzerland in the wrong in the case of two rejected Ethiopian asylum seekers.

29/7/2010- For years, the two women were not allowed to live with their husbands. On Thursday, the court announced that both women would be awarded €5,000 (SFr6,800) in compensation. Both the women and their husbands – all Ethiopian – came to Switzerland independently and sought asylum between 1994 and 1998. While awaiting the decision, the women were sent to cantons Saint Gallen and Bern, the men to canton Vaud. After their asylum applications were turned down, the Ethiopian authorities blocked them from returning home. During their continued stay in Switzerland, the women met and married their countrymen in Lausanne in 2002 and 2003. However, the Federal Migration Office refused to re-assign the women to canton Vaud so that they could live with their new husbands. The authorities said that a change of canton was against policy for rejected asylum candidates. The woman living in Saint Gallen decided to move to Lausanne anyway, but was eventually arrested and sent back in handcuffs in 2003. The canton also withdrew her welfare payments. Both women were finally permitted to join their husbands in canton Vaud in 2008. In response to their complaints, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Switzerland had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by preventing the spouses from living together.
Swissinfo

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CHURCH CALLS FOR SWEAR BAN AFTER GAY SEX RANT (Sweden)

The Church of Sweden is being asked to introduce football-style penalties for swearing, after a priest used foul language at last year’s meeting of the church’s governing body.

29/7/2010- Dag Sandahl, a priest and opponent of gay marriage, told gay marriage supporting priest Karin Långström Vinge:
“So you think that when you fuck people you should do it up the arse." Sandahl reportedly made similar comments to another woman at the meeting. “He wanted to make us aware, in a provocative way, that this wasn’t just a question of marrying homosexuals, but that they also had sex with each other. As if we wouldn’t have understood that otherwise," Långström Vinge, a curate in Skövde, told The Local.

Now Långström Vinge is calling for such language to be banned. In a motion to the church’s general synod, she and fellow delegate Maria Abrahamsson call for those who swear at a church event to face fines:
“It is tempting to compare how language, behaviour and restraint are handled in sport, which seems to have come a lot further than the Synod,” the motion reads.

Långström Vinge told The Local that there was a clear need to clamp down on bad language:
“You might think that it would be natural for people to behave themselves in an ecclesiastical context, but that is clearly not always the case.” “Schools are far ahead of churches in dealing with bad language like this.”

Dag Sandahl laughed when The Local told him about the motion:
“That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s totally mad. Those words are in the Swedish Academy’s dictionary, so it’s perfectly OK to use them.” “I could have chosen other words, but these words were justified in the context,” he added.

Sandahl vowed to oppose the motion when it comes up for debate in September:
“These liberals are always such tyrants. They want to rule over us all,” he said. The Synod will now be asked to vote on the move when it meets in Uppsala at the end of September.
The Local - Sweden

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TRANSGENDER NEED MORE PROTECTION IN LAW (Sweden)

Transgender people need more protection, the Liberal Party has announced, adding it proposes that the hate crime law be clarified so that it is clear that it also applies to this group, Sveriges Radio's news bulletin Ekot reported on Wednesday.

28/7/2010- The proposal is part of a national action plan to combat hate crimes, the report said. "It is always important that the law be as specific as possible," Integration and Gender Equality Minister Nyamko Sabuni told Ekot. "It is also important to note that there is a group in our society who are neither bi- nor homosexual, but have a different gender identity than the one we believe that they have." The Swedish Federation for Lesbian Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (Riksförbundet för homosexuellas, bisexuellas och transpersoners rättigheter, RFSL) has long demanded that transgendered people, or people with other gender identities, should be mentioned in hate crime law. "We fear that transgender people fall through the cracks because the individual courts are not as familiar with the law's preparatory work and miss that the section on hate crimes can be used for transgender people," said RFSL chairwoman Ulrika Westerlund. The Liberal Party's plan of action for LGBT people's rights will be presented by Sabuni and European Union Affairs Minister Birgitta Ohlsson on Wednesday in connection with the Pride Festival in Stockholm.
The Local - Sweden

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Danish People’s Party would give exemption to Western immigrants

28/7/2010- If the current law requiring foreign spouses to be at least 24 years old to secure residency is not toughened, then the Danish People’s Party will not support the Liberal-Conservative government’s upcoming reform plan, reports Berlingske Tidende newspaper. The Danish People’s Party (DF) normally provides the minority coalition with its majority. And with the opposition leading in most polls and an election to take place sometime prior to November 2011, the party is able to take advantage of the situation to bolster its get-tough stance on immigration. As the 24-year rule now stands, Danish citizens who marry a foreigner must both be at least 24 to live together in Denmark. DF wants that age requirement raised to 28 years of age and also wants the law change to include an exemption for spouses from Western countries. Kristian Thulesen Dahl, DF’s party secretary, said the idea behind the party’s proposal was to avoid creating unnecessary difficulties for immigrants ‘who were not a problem’. Both the Liberals and Conservatives have indicated they would not support such a rule change.
The Copenhagen Post

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STEEP FALL IN BIRTH RATE FOR MINORITIES (Denmark)

Greater integration and the ‘24-year rule’ explain drop in birth rate

26/7/2010- The latest figures from Statistics Denmark have revealed that women from non-Western immigrant groups are now having fewer children than their white Danish counterparts. Twenty years ago women from ethnic minorities had twice as many children as their Danish sisters, but by 2009 their birth rate had fallen to just 1.6 children per woman, below the 1.9 rate for Danes. Garbi Schmidt, a senior researcher in Islamic studies at the Danish National Centre for Social Research (SFI) pointed out a number of explanations for this trend. Speaking to Kristeligt Dagbladet newspaper, she said: ‘One explanation is that women from ethnic minorities are waiting to have children because they are getting an education. At the moment there is a great focus on education and many are extremely ambitious about what they want to achieve in the educational system.’ Another explanation is that minorities are beginning to behave in the same way as the general population with regard to marriage, starting families and getting an education, she added. ‘This means that women from ethnic minorities are waiting longer before starting a family.’ The stricter rules now in force regarding residence permits for foreign-born spouses also make it more difficult for immigrants to marry people from their home country, Schmidt said. Last year SFI carried out a study among immigrant groups and discovered that minorities were delaying marriage as a direct result of the ‘24-year rule’. The rule, which has been part of immigration legislation since May 2002, stipulates that ‘naturalised citizens’ must have lived in Denmark for at least 24 years before being allowed to bring their spouse here.
The Copenhagen Post

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FAR-RIGHT NPD UPS ANTE WITH MEDIA OFFENSIVE IN EASTERN GERMAN STATE

Five new newspapers have gone into print in the eastern state of Thuringia with the aim of furthering the far-right. The much-maligned National Democratic Party, widely seen as a neo-Nazi group, is behind the move.

29/7/2010- Far-right nationalists in the German state of Thuringia are seeking to reach a wider audience by founding five new newspapers in the region. The worrying move by the National Democratic Party (NPD) is aimed at capturing more voters. The publications purport to address regional issues, running headlines such as "Is Erfurt broke?", "Venturing more democracy," and "Schools are the future." But behind this veneer of seemingly harmless headlines lies the NPD's true agenda. "The NPD's ideology is communicated above all else in these articles," said Stefan Heerdegen of the Mobile Council in Thuringia for Democracy - Against Right-wing Extremism, based in the state's capital, Erfurt. "There is always a hostility towards democracy being piggybacked [in these stories]," said Heerdegen. The NPD is the official political arm of the right-wing neo-Nazi movement in Germany. It is often involved in far-right extremist marches and is widely opposed throughout the country. There have been numerous attempts to have it banned from German politics. Its existence is permitted through somewhat of a legal loophole. The party is allowed to operate because its founding documents pledge allegiance to the German constitution, unlike other far-right and far-left parties that have been banned.

Racist messages
Stefan Kausch, a political scientist who works with the Forum for Critical Research of Right-wing Extremism, said "the topics of the articles are connected with the party's objectives - racist ideologies are repeatedly conveyed." An example of this is given in an NPD article on municipal finances:  "Instead of prescribing to the protection of identity, sovereignty and solidarity of Germans," the article reads, "The anti-German political cartel instigates a well-planned policy [serving the] interests of foreigners, foreign countries and high finance." Heerdegen says the far-right party is trying to use the new publications to position itself as the lone voice of political opposition in Germany. "And so these are NPD newspapers, not true newspapers in the sense of journalistic seriousness," he said.

New take, old idea
Publishing regional newspapers is not new for the far-right. Since 2001, publications such as the Inselboten, a regional paper in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, have been in print. The state's largest city, Rostock, is home to the right-wing Rostocker Boten, while a far-right newspaper can also be found in the city of Trier, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Pre-election periods usually see an increase in the number of these far-right publications. "We have also noticed this [in the eastern city of] Leipzig," said Kausch. "However, these publications don't last." Two exceptions to the short-lived nature of many right-wing newspapers are the Wartburgkreisbote and Der Rennsteigbote in Thuringia. In its 14th edition the former printed 22,000 copies, according to the NPD District Council Chairman and the paper's publisher, Patrick Wieschke. "The new regional papers are financed in mixed ways," said Wieschke. The lion's share comes from the NPD's associations at the state level, but local groups must also pay up, he says.

Parliamentary push
The NPD in Thuringia wants to use its five new publications to strengthen its grass-roots movement and create the conditions for entry to state parliament in 2014, says Wieschke. In 2009, the party only marginally failed to garner the 5 percent of votes needed for representation. The right-wing party says it wants to appeal to common voters by focusing on local issues in the hope this will demonstrate some kind of capacity to serve communities. The front and back sheets of the four-page publications attempt to deal with local issues and differ from paper to paper. The inner two pages, however, are identical in each of the five publications. Most Germans still view the NPD as embodying the neo-Nazi movement, and the new publications are unlikely to sway voters from these firmly held positions.
The Deutsche Welle

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GERMAN SOCCER GETS RULING ON RAMADAN FASTING

29/7/2010- A Muslim group and German soccer authorities said Wednesday they have determined that professional Muslim players may break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan. The announcement followed a dispute involving second-division club FSV Frankfurt, which last year gave a formal warning to three of its players for fasting. During Ramadan, devout Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, abstaining even from water. The club had a clause in contracts stating that wasn't allowed without its express permission. Germany's Central Council of Muslims said it sought advice from Al-Azhar in Egypt, the pre-eminent theological institute of Sunni Islam, and elsewhere. Al-Azhar ruled that if a player is obliged to perform under a contract that is his only source of income, if he has to play matches during Ramadan, and if fasting affects his performance, then he can break his fast, the council said. The European Council for Fatwa and Research supported that ruling, it added. "The Muslim professional can make good the fasting days in times when there are no matches, and so continue to pay God and the holy month of Ramadan honor and respect," Aiman Mazyek, the general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims, said in a statement. He noted that "keeping the body healthy plays a leading role in Islam." "We very much welcome it that an arrangement has now been found that allows players to carry out professionally their work in high-performance sport and in doing so live their faith to the full," FSV Frankfurt manager Bernd Riesig said.
The Associated Press

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