Headlines 26 November, 2010
GREEK POLICE PREVENTED ARSON ATTACK AGAINST THE ATHENS SYNAGOGUE (Greece)
26/11/2010- Two young men were arrested last Tuesday by the police and charged with attempting an arson attack against the Synagogue of Athens. The two men were stopped for control by the police while riding a motorcycle without plates. They were carrying all components for the construction of Molotov explosive mechanisms, thus, a bottle of gasoline, empty bottles and rugs. After searching their houses, the police found and confiscated –inter alia- 20 litres of gasoline. During police questioning, the two men expressed their ultra-nationalist ideology and they confessed that they were planning an attack against the Synagogue of Athens. The police announced that the arrested have no prior criminal record and are not officially listed members of any extremist organization. State Security Agency has opened a preliminary investigation on the case, while the arrested were brought before the Prosecutor. The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece issued a press release recognizing the promptness of the police in preventing the attack. “Such criminal attempts are the result of anti-Semitic feelings that are systematically cultivated and incited by various circles. Society has to be alert and mobilized to fight against the manifestations of racism and anti-Semitism, taking also into consideration the dangers deriving from the increase of these phenomena”, the press release concludes.
© The European Jewish Congress
BULGARIAN CLERIC SENTENCED FOR CURSING THE DISABLED
25/11/2010- Bishop Theodosius, Abbot of the Troyan Monastery, has become the first Bulgarian cleric to be sentenced for discrimination, after inexplicably insulting disabled laymen. Back in 2008, Bishop Theodosius chased away a group of disabled believers from the Troyan Monastery, calling them "sinners" and "cursed". The Bishop's obnoxious behavior has cost him the humble BGN 250, as decided by the Bulgarian Protection Against Discrimination Commission on Wednesday. Petar Kichashki, who made the discrimination complaint, appealed to the Bulgarian church to officially excommunicate Bishop Theodosius. "I am glad there is finally a verdict. The BGN 250 fine is not much, but it is a sign that Bishop Theodosius' behavior is unacceptable," Kichashki stated. Bishop Theodosius commented that he will not appeal against the fine and that he does not feel remorse, since the disabled were "very noisy with their wheelchairs and behaved badly."
AUSCHWITZ MUSEUM CREATES ONLINE HOLOCAUST HISTORY COURSE (Poland)
Museum authorities at the site of the Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Wednesday said they were launching an online study programme to teach people about the Holocaust.
25/11/2010- Museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki told AFP that the pilot project would begin Thursday, and would be divided into two parts. One will examine the broad history of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany's programme of genocide during World War II which claimed the lives of six million Jews. The other will centre on the history of Auschwitz-Birkenau, set up in southern Poland during Germany's wartime occupation. 1,3 million Jews perished there, mostly in the camp's notorious gas chambers, along with tens of thousands of others including Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war. Eighty Polish-speaking students have signed up for the pilot distance-learning programme. The museum said it hoped to gather funding to translate the teaching materials into English in order to broaden participation. Project chief Jacek Marciniak said one of the goals of the programme was to counter erroneous information about the death camp in cyberspace. "The Internet is full of information which is sometimes unreliable and even outright false," he said. "This initiative will allow access to reliable, in-depth knowledge that is approved by the museum". The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum is state-run. Polish authorities, plus revenues from publications and guided tours, cover most of the annual four to five million euros (5.4-6.8 million dollars) needed to maintain the site. Last year saw the creation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation to seek global donations and ensure the long-term survival of the enduring symbol of the Holocaust. On Tuesday, the International Auschwitz Committee which oversees the site launched a 6.3-million-euro (8.5-million-dollar) appeal to create an education centre. "This is an essential project for the museum, to allow it to fulfil its education mission," said Sawicki. "There isn't a proper education centre and for logistical reasons we can't handle the growing number of groups interested in studying the Holocaust," he added.
LITHUANIAN HISTORIAN QUITS AFTER HOLOCAUST ARTICLE
A Lithuanian historian quit his civil service job Thursday after seven ambassadors from fellow European nations accused him of denying the Holocaust.
25/11/2010- Lithuania's interior ministry said that Petras Stankeras, an independent historian who also held a middle-ranking post in its planning department, had left at his own request. Interior Minister Raimundas Palaitis said Stankeras's views were personal. "Such interpretations have nothing in common with the position of the interior ministry with regard to the Jewish genocide," Palaitis said in a statement. The announcement came a day after the ambassadors of Britain, Estonia, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden slammed an article by Stankeras in the mainstream weekly Veidas on the Nuremberg trials, where thevictorious Allies tried top Nazi German officials after World War II. Stankeras wrote that the trials "provided a legal basis to the legend about the six million purportedly murdered Jews". The ambassadors blasted Stankeras in a letter to the interior ministry dated November 24 and obtained by the Baltic News Service on Thursday. "This amounts to denial of the Holocaust and merits the strongest condemnation," they said. They also chastised Lithuanian authorities for failing to react rapidly, and questioned Veidas's publication of the article. But Gintaras Sarafinas, the magazine's editor-in-chief, said neither Veidas nor Stankeras denied the Holocaust, and blamed a style error. "Our weekly does not deny the Holocaust, never did and never will. The author, who is a professional historian, only wanted to discuss the number of victims," Sarafinas told AFP. "We admit that the sentence is wrong stylistically, as the word 'purportedly' should have been elsewhere," he added. In a statement, Efraim Zuroff of the Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said Stankeras should be prosecuted under Lithuania's Holocaust-denial law. He also called the article "only the tip of a very dangerous iceberg of lies and distortion", saying the nation of 3.3 million was failing to live up to its past. Pre-war Lithuania was home to 220,000 Jews, but 95 percent perished during the 1941-1944 German occupation at the hands of the Nazis and local collaborators.
On 21 October 2010, the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Alekseyev v Russia (application nos. 4916/07, 25924/08 and 14599/09) found that freedom of peaceful assembly should be guaranteed without discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, irrespective of the moral and religious beliefs of the majority of society. The Court held that the banning of gay pride marches due to the anticipated violent reactions and threat to public order could not be justified as necessary in a democratic society and was therefore a violation of both Articles 11 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
25/11/2010- In this case, the mayor of Moscow had refused to grant permission for several gay pride marches to take place, between 2006 and 2008, on the grounds that they would provoke disorder and violence against the participants in the march. The domestic courts had upheld the decisions of the mayor and rejected the challenges of Mr Alekseyev who had been responsible for organising the marches. Rejecting the Russian government’s argument that its decision to ban the public marches organised by Mr Alekseyev was justified by its obligation to protect the rights of those people whose religious and moral beliefs included a negative attitude towards homosexuality, the Court stated that:
“[I]t would be incompatible with the underlying values of the Convention if the exercise of Convention rights by a minority group were made conditional on its being accepted by the majority”.
The Court unanimously held that the banning of the gay marches in Moscow was a breach of both Article 11 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Referring to the earlier case of Kozak v Poland, it reiterated that sexual orientation is a concept covered by Article 14, and stated that:
“[W]hen the distinction in question operates in this intimate and vulnerable sphere of an individual’s private life, particularly weighty reasons need to be advanced before the Court to justify the measure complained of. Where a difference of treatment is based on sex or sexual orientation the margin of appreciation afforded to the State is narrow, and in such situations the principle of proportionality does not merely require the measure chosen to be suitable in general for realising the aim sought; it must also be shown that it was necessary in the circumstances. Indeed, if the reasons advanced for a difference in treatment were based solely on the applicant’s sexual orientation, this would amount to discrimination under the Convention.”
Speaking about the recent decision, ERT’s Executive Director Dimitrina Petrova said:
“The European Court has confirmed that differential treatment based on sexual orientation cannot be justified, irrespective of any attempted justification relating to public safety or public morals. In confirming that states will be kept on a very tight rein when making decisions relating to public displays of sexual orientation, the Court has sent out an important message, not only to the signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights but also to States across the globe, that persons of a different sexual orientation have equal rights which cannot be overweighed by arguments in favour of the “superior” rights of the sexual majority.”
To read a summary of this case, please click here
© The Equal Rights Trust
SWEDEN GETS ALL-CLEAR FOR IRAQ DEPORTATIONS
Sweden can resume deportations to Iraq, the migration authority has announced, following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights to lift its suspension.
25/11/2010- "The European Court of Human Rights has today (Wednesday) informed us that all cases of deportations to Iraq sent to the court will be handled individually," the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) said in a statement. On October 22nd, the Court had informed Sweden, Britain and the Netherlands that it would rule in favour of the plaintiffs in all cases where Iraqis appealed their deportation order until it had gathered more information on the security situation in the war-torn country. Since then, Sweden had suspended around 200 deportations at the request of the court, the Migration Board said. "We have stopped the deportations that the court asked us to stop," the board's legal chief Mikael Ribbenvik told AFP, adding that Sweden had never completely stopped sending rejected asylum-seekers back to Iraq. Wednesday's ruling "confirms the Swedish, and also the European practice, that these cases should be determined individually," he said. "We will continue to deport Iraqis who do not need protection," he said, stressing however that "many are also given asylum." Sweden, which has in recent years taken in more Iraqis than any other Western country, tightened its asylum policy in 2007, when a record 18,559 Iraqis arrived in the Scandinavian country. Since then, all Iraqi asylum-seekers have needed to prove they are personally threatened at home to be granted asylum in Sweden, and in 2009, 3,230 Iraqis asylum-seekers were rejected while 1,524 saw their applications granted.
REFUGEE CHILD DENIED CARE BY SWEDISH HOSPITAL
A hospital in central Sweden refused to perform an operation on a 16-year-old unaccompanied refugee boy because the doctor didn't think the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) would pay for the procedure.
24/11/2010- The boy, originally from Somalia, sought treatment for a broken arm that hadn’t healed properly, Svergies Radio (SR) reports. Pain from the poorly healed break, which occurred while the boy was living in a transitional housing facility in Italy, made it difficult for him to sleep, prompting him to seek medical attention in Sweden. He visited Kärnsjukhuset, the largest facility within the Skaraborg Hospital system in Skövde, where he had his arm x-rayed by an orthopedic specialist. While the doctor said an operation was necessary, he refused to go ahead with the surgery in part because he claimed the hospital would only reimbursed by the Migration Board for emergency care. Even though health authorities for Västra Götaland region explained to the hospital that Swedish laws stipulate that children seeking asylum have the same right to healthcare as other children, the hospital nevertheless refused to treat the boy. Now Mölndal municipality, where the 16-year-old first came when he first arrived in Sweden, has reported the hospital to the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen).
© The Local - Sweden
NGOS TO LAUNCH ANTI-RACISM CAMPAIGN (Malta)
25/11/2010- A number of individuals and NGOs have teamed up to conduct a campaign against racism. The campaign, which will be launched on Saturday morning, groups lecturers, writers, artists, the Migrants’ Network for Equality (a network composed of migrant community representatives), the Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta), Migrants Solidarity Movement, Moviment Graffitti, General Workers’ Union, Amplify, CEER, Koperattiva Kummerc Gust, Greenhouse, Third World Group, Get Up Stand Up, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity, Kopin, Moviment Azzjoni Xellug and Alternattiva Demokratika. A spokesman for the grouping said that the campaign will take various forms. There will be a media campaign which will highlight cases of racism, an education campaign on diversity and migration, and street art activities. It was hoped, the spokesman said, that diversity and migration issues would eventually be given greater importance in educational curricula. Another aspect of the campaign will be action against discrimination at the workplace. The spokesman said that many migrant workers were exploited by being given lower wages than other workers. At the other end of the scale, highly qualified persons were not employed because of the colour of their skin or their country of origin. The spokesman said another frequent instance of racial discrimination was the way some foreigners were barred from places of entertainment. Some foreigners had also suffered verbal and physical abuse.
© The Times of Malta
ARAB LEAGUE CHIEF CALLS FOR STOP TO ANTI-CHRISTIAN DISCRIMINATION
25/11/2010- Arab League chief Amr Mussa on Wednesday called for an immediate stop to discrimination against Christians in Arab countries, and against Muslims in Europe. "Any discrimination based on religion must be condemned," Mussa said at the start of an Arab-European Young Leaders Forum in Vienna, sponsored by the Arab League and the Austrian government. "There are still misunderstandings, which are enforced by extremists on both sides," he added, calling for an "immediate" stop to discrimination against Muslims in Europe and Christians in Arab countries. Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger admitted that "many mistakes" had been made concerning the integration of Muslims in Europe, but added: "Extremism and populist movements have grown and we must fight them." Christians have faced insecurity and exclusion in several parts of the mainly Muslim Middle East in recent months. Participants from all 23 European Union members, Turkey and the Arab League's 22 countries are attending the Arab-European Young Leaders Forum, which runs until Saturday. The aim of the forum is to promote transnational cooperation between future leaders on political, economic and social issues.
SUPPORT FOR UN VOTE AGAINST DEFAMING RELIGION WANES
* Muslim states vote for resolution, Western ones opposed * U.S. says anti-defamation laws threaten free speech
23/11/2010- A U.N. General Assembly committee once again voted to condemn the "vilification of religion" on Tuesday, but support narrowed for a measure that Western powers say is a threat to freedom of expression. The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by only 12 votes in the General Assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, 76-64 with 42 abstentions. Opponents noted that support had fallen and opposition increased since last year, when the Third Committee vote was 81-55 with 43 abstentions. The 192-nation General Assembly is expected to formally adopt the measure next month. The resolution was amended from versions passed in previous years in an attempt to secure support from Western nations. Instead of defamation of religion, it speaks of "vilification." It also condemned acts of violence and intimidation due to "Islamophobia, Judeophobia and Christianophobia." Last year's resolution, as in previous years, focused on Islam and did not mention Judaism and Christianity. Despite the changes, however, the United States, European Union and their allies rejected the resolution's calls for legislation banning the defamation of religion. The text, submitted by Morocco on behalf of Muslim states, said the assembly "urges all States to provide ... adequate protection against acts of hatred, discrimination, intimidation and coercion resulting from vilification of religions, and incitement to religious hatred in general."
Freedom of Expression
U.S. envoy John Sammis told the Third Committee Washington believes the amendments are inadequate. "We are disappointed to see that despite our efforts and discussions on this resolution, the text once again seems to take us farther apart, rather than helping to bridge the historical divides," he said. "The resolution still seeks to curtail and penalize speech," he said. "The changes ... unfortunately do not get to the heart of our concerns -- the text's negative implications for both freedom of religion and freedom of expression." He also said it was wrong to try to apply international human rights laws to religious beliefs, since human rights are intended to protect individuals, not governments or religions. Islamic states say such resolutions do not aim to limit free speech but to stop publications like those of the Danish cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed, which sparked bloody protests by Muslims around the world in 2005. Pamela Kling Takiff of Human Rights First, a U.S.-based advocacy group, said the resolution fails to recognize the importance of freedom of expression and provides explicit support for national blasphemy and defamation laws that have been used to stifle freedom of expression. Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, issued a statement welcoming the decline in support for the resolution. "Each year, more and more countries are recognizing that laws protecting religions from 'defamation' or criticism increase intolerance and human rights violations, instead of reducing these problems," Leo said.