NEWS - Archive March 2012

Headlines 30 March, 2012

KOSOVO SERBS JAILED FOR SPREADING HATRED

Four Kosovo Serbs arrested for breaching Kosovo’s Constitutional Order and suspected of organising Serbia’s election in Kosovo, are now being charged with inciting hatred and intolerance among ethnic groups.

30/3/2012- A Kosovo prosecutor amended charges against four Serbs arrested for allegedly carrying material to be used in the Serbian local elections. Instead of charging them for breaching Kosovo’s Constitutional Order, charged them with inciting hatred and intolerance among ethnic groups. Kamenica’s Municipal Court President, Zijadin Spahiu, told Balkan Insight on Friday that the defendants were brought before his court on Thursday afternoon and charged with inciting hatred under Clause 115, Article 1 of the Penal Code of Kosovo which carries a maximum penalty of five years. The Court ordered the four suspects should be put under house arrest for 30 days. “They have no right to contact each other or anyone else, other than members of their families,” Spahiu said.

Serbian minister for Kosovo, Goran Bogdanovic, said the arrests were “ethnically motivated” with the aim to frighten Serbs who are engaged with Serbian institutions on Kosovo. “These counts are ridiculous, this is abuse of law and selective enforcement of the law by so-called Kosovo authorities. „The fact they were working for Serbian insitutions and they were carrying election lists is no basis for acusations of spreading hate and intolerance. This is indeed absurd,“ Bogdanovic told Balkan Insight. A Balkan Insight source explained that the prosecutor has the right to amend charges filed by the police, then change them again when filing the indictment, after the period of house arrest expires. Given that another article of the Kosovo's Penal Code Clause 115 includes the breach of Constitutional Order the prosecution can add more charges later. According to the source, Kosovo prosecution is planning to expand the case by adding the charges for breach of Constitutional Order at a later stage.

The Kosovo Serbs were arrested on Tuesday night at the Kosovo-Serbia border crossing of Dheu I Bardhë/Bela Zemlje. They included the Mayor of Vitina, Srecko Spasic, two of his employees, and a police officer from the Ferizaj/Urosevac police. The four were on their way to Gnjilane/Gjilan. After their arrest, the police found a list of eligible Serb voters in the municipalities of Gjilan and Vitina in their possession, and another list of those working for the Serb parallel institutions in Kosovo. The Serbian police retaliated by arresting two Kosovo Albanians on Wednesday. Hasan Abazi, the President of the Metalworkers Union, was arrested for alleged espionage, while Adem Urseli was arrested for drug smuggling. Both sets of arrests have drawn criticism from non-governmental organisations, who describe them as politically motivated and based on the men's ethnic background. Earlier this month, Serbia announced that it was extending its May 6 local elections to Kosovo, which it still considers part of its territory, even though the country declared itself independent in 2008. This move was condemned by the Kosovo government and by the international community as a violation of Kosovo's territorial integrity and sovereignty, which Belgrade does not recognise. The Kosovo Police announced on Thursday that is has drawn up operational plans for implementing the government’s call to prevent the Serb ballots within the territory of Kosovo.
© Balkan Insight

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30/3/2012- Austrian prosecutors said Friday they are investigating the far-right Freedom Party for alleged incitement of racial hatred after complaints about campaign posters for local elections next month. The FPOe party’s posters for the election in the western city of Innsbruck carry the slogan “Heimat-Liebe statt Marokkaner-Diebe,” meaning “Patriotism not thieving Moroccans.” The Moroccan embassy in Vienna issued an angry statement attacking what it called the FPOe’s “defamatory and discriminatory behavior” and accusing it of “humiliating, stigmatizing and discriminating against” the Moroccan community. “The embassy condemns in the strongest possible terms this hurtful practice aimed only at winning votes at the cost of respect for fundamental human rights,” the Austria Press Agency (APA) quoted the statement as saying. The FPOe, led by the charismatic Heinz-Christian Strache, is neck-and-neck in national opinion polls with Chancellor Werner Faymann’s Social Democrats, with Faymann’s federal coalition partners, the People’s Party, in third place. The FPOe is hoping to win seats in Innsbruck city council, where it is currently not represented, in local elections on April 15. The next national vote is not due until 2013. In January Strache provoked outrage after he allegedly said that the “persecution” of members of the far-right attending a controversial Viennese ball made them “the new Jews.”
© AFP

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ST. PETERSBURG'S GAY NIGHTLIFE IS ALIVE AND KICKING (Russia)

30/3/2012- Perhaps what's most surprising amid the homophobic rhetoric and the new law targeting the "promotion" of gay lifestyles is the fact that St. Petersburg's gay scene has never been more visible or felt less threatened than it does today. Like many aspects of Russian civil society that tentatively grew up in the early 1990s, the gay and lesbian movement characterized itself by keeping its head down, not upsetting the authorities and trying hard to avoid creating trouble, a strategy most unlike that used by other, more provocative European gay rights movements. Many gay people in Russia still consider the mere existence of a gay rights movement a nuisance that will simply serve to turn an intolerant society's attention toward a group of people that the average Russian rarely sees or even thinks about. While gay rights groups have become far more vocal in recent years, it's still no exaggeration to say that the political side of the gay scene remains small and rarely visible, even as political protest seems to be returning to St. Petersburg.

Nevertheless, the city's gay scene is surprisingly busy and accessible to all, with four well-established clubs and a smattering of bars and saunas — it differs little from the scene to be found in any other European city. While visibility is increasing, nearly all establishments remain somewhat discreet about their nature, so you can still expect good old-fashioned videophone entries and unsigned venues, which just adds to the sense of adventure. The biggest and most European-style gay club in town is Central Station, at the end of Dumskaya Ulitsa, a multi-floor fun house of Russian estrada, mainstream pop and house, which is busy nightly throughout the week. In the summer months crowds of clubbers mill about outside, rubbing shoulders with the largely straight overspill from nearby bars such as Dacha. Inside, there are two crowded bars, a big dancefloor, a VIP room and a dark room. The club is very much the center of the St. Petersburg gay scene and is mainly popular with gay men, though it does have a girls' night (Female Station, on Thursdays), where guys are still welcome, though they have to pay twice as much to get in. More typically, the menu features dance shows compered by drag queens, club nights with international DJs and karaoke competitions.

Next door, a short distance down Ulitsa Lomonosova, is the self-styled "trash bar" the Blue Oyster (Golubaya Ustritsa), its name both a pun on the Russian word for gay (goluboi) and a reference to the notorious leather bar that is the butt of constant jokes in the now rather dated Police Academy movies of the '80s. Inside you'll find few leather daddies though — the bar is actually the favored hang out of a young, slightly more alternative mixed-sex crowd that knocks back the cheap drinks and then throws itself into the sweaty scrum on the dancefloor; the most egregious-cum-suicidal of them also climb over the rails of the balcony above the dance floor and hang off it above the crowd, somehow still managing to smoke and drink, while the bouncers look on unperturbed. The Oyster is also free to get in to at any time (though security is tight and face control is still exercised), which ensures a young and more mixed bunch of people than at Central Station next door.

A St. Petersburg gay scene highlight by any standards is the fantastic, fun and silly Cabaret club, now in its umpteenth incarnation and venue, but having been on the go in one largely unchanged form since the late 1990s. Now housed in a new venue just off Ligovsky Prospekt, the focus of any evening at Cabaret is the 2.30 a.m. weekend show. Be prepared for a staggeringly campy, heavily Soviet performing style from ageing drag queens, lots of Alla Pugacheva and plenty of sharp, old-school tranny humor (your Russian will be severely tested). Before and after the lip synching activities, the club plays a mix of Russian and international pop, the bar is crowded and the older and richer clientele enjoy table service around the stage. Cabaret is also popular with and welcoming to curious straight people wanting to enjoy some camp performances, and it's not unusual to see Russian theatrical celebrities rubbing shoulders with the decidedly relaxed and unusually friendly crowd.

The third large gay club in the city is the inventively titled The Club, which used to be a straight venue, but has been totally overhauled and is now marketed to the more elitny sections of the gay world. It's a slick place, with table service (though you're not allowed to sit down unless you've reserved ahead), friendly bar staff, Moscow DJs and nightly shows with dancers and drag queens. In the summer it has a great outdoor area in the building's courtyard where you can enjoy cocktails under the stars and mix with the "in-crowd" tusovka gays in their shiny clothes. As with any such club, you can expect your face to be controlled quite thoroughly, although they mainly seem to be keen to check that people know they're entering a gay club. Russia's first lesbian club, Triel, keeps itself to itself, and its location in the south of the city in a warehouse just by Moskovskiye Vorota helps it do just that. This is a friendly space for lesbians and their friends (there's still a relatively small cross over between gay male and lesbian nightlife in St. Petersburg), but men as guests of girls are welcome at weekends, although the entry prices for them are high (600 rubles). Inside, it's a modern space with a busy dancefloor and parties that go on all night.

Across the way from Triel is another queer hangout, Malevich, which refreshingly welcomes everyone on equal terms and with equal entry prices (elsewhere they tend to be stacked in favor of men, just as entry to straight clubs in St. Petersburg is nearly always stacked in favor of women). With a focus on community, LGBT activism and fostering an environment for creative self-realization, this place is very different to other venues on the scene and hosts various groups and classes (including queer tango, film screenings, singing lessons, games nights and concerts). However, on the weekends there's always lots of dancing and drinking and a pleasantly mixed and "non-scene" crowd.

Finally, if you want to get down and dirty, the bar you're looking for is Bunker, the kind of place that probably keeps Milonov up at night. Just finding this men-only place is a challenge enough, hidden away as it is in an enormous courtyard on the Fontanka (enter through the archway on Ulitsa Borodinskaya, and it's in the second courtyard on the right). Inside there's a small bar and social area and a maze of dark rooms where guys wander from encounter to encounter. The same management also runs Fitness Sauna, a small male sauna just off the Fontanka, which serves the same purpose as Bunker, only you're able to use a small gym as well. Girls don't need to feel left out either — yes, St Petersburg has a private club for lesbian encounters too, although of course it's far classier than the male equivalent, and also far more discreet. But if you ever needed a reason to go to Prospekt Prosveshcheniya, then Raduzhny Zamok ("the Rainbow Castle") is it. Looking like the spiritual successor to long-dead 90s gay club Greshniki with its hilarious mock-medieval interior complete with cats in chainmail, this place boasts numerous "thematic parties" (a Russian euphemism for gay), has a sauna, mini-hotel and restaurant on the premises and is a favourite with discreet ladies.

So despite the current legal climate, there's plenty of choice and variety for gay and lesbian life in the northern capital, and for the most part no climate of fear exists for the men and women who lead their lives openly. Travelers shouldn't feel scared of joining in the fun either, most clubs are totally accessible to non-Russian speakers and you'll usually find locals more than happy to meet foreigners. Just don't expect to get to bed before sunrise.
© The Moscow Times

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POLICE TO CREATE EXTREMISM ASSESSMENT CENTERS (Russia)

30/3/2012- Russia’s seven federal districts will get special centers to assess hate-mongering in mass media, including online publications, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said on Friday. Audio and video publications will also be assessed for ethnic and religious hatred, Nurgaliyev said in an obvious reference to content aggregators such as YouTube, where extremist groups often try to post their content. The minister did not say when the centers may be created. Two already operate in Moscow and St. Petersburg and a third is under way in Rostov region, all of them affiliated with local state universities. Police has intensified a crackdown on online extremists in 2011, opening 67 criminal cases and taking down 47 websites, Nurgaliyev said at an official meeting on extremism in Moscow. The ministry came under attack from rights activists over its online vigilance, with independent anti-xenophobia watchdog Sova accusing police and other law enforcement services in a report released this week of ignoring court procedures and cracking down on Internet service providers rather than actual uploaders of extremist content.

The new centers, which will conduct assessments for ongoing criminal probes, are redundant because in most cases, investigators are perfectly able to identify extremism content themselves without resorting to costly and lengthy assessment procedures, Sova head Alexander Verkhovsky told RIA Novosti. “It’s an insane and pointless practice,” Verkhovsky said by telephone. He added that courts and law enforcements have begun to demand mandatory expert evaluation in extremism cases in mid-2000s. Russian anti-extremism legislation is often criticized for being too vague, which allegedly allows authorities to use it as a tool for political prosecution. Verkhovsky said the threat of extremism is real enough, but bureaucratic procedures only serve to distract investigators.
© RIA Novosti

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RUSSIAN NATIONALISTS UNITE TO FORM NEW PARTY

A number of prominent Russian nationalists united on Thursday to announce the creation of a potential new political force – the National Democratic Party.

29/3/2012- “We intend to file for party registration in the near future and then take part in elections, at which we are counting on doing well,” party leader Konstantin Krylov told journalists at a downtown Moscow news conference. Russia has seen a dramatic rise in nationalist sentiments since the break-up of the Soviet Union, with far-right movements prominent at this winter’s mass protests against the policies of President-elect Vladimir Putin and his ruling United Russia party. “The spirit of the times has changed and the wind is blowing in our sails,” said party executive committee head Vladimir Tor. He also said he was “100 percent” sure the party would not be denied registration. “Russians must become the genuine masters of their own country – its land, its wealth and, most importantly – its government,” read a party manifesto distributed to journalists.

A Levada Center opinion poll carried out last December indicated that 69 percent of Russians agree to some extent or another with the nationalist slogan “Russia for Russians.” Another 62 percent supported the slogan “Stop Feeding the Caucasus!” a reference to generous Kremlin funding of the mainly Muslim North Caucasus, which includes Chechnya. Tensions have been exacerbated by clashes in big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg between ethnic Russians and youths from the North Caucasus, as well as by mass immigration from impoverished former Soviet Central Asian republics such as Tajikistan. Racial violence led to the deaths of 21 people of “non-Slavic appearance” in 2011, a decline from 42 in 2010, according to the Sova organization, which monitors race-hate attacks in Russia.

Anti-corruption blogger and opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny has frequently expressed nationalist sentiments and attends the annual Russian March, organized in part by both Krylov and Tor. He has also been invited to join the National Democratic Party’s supervisory board. “We are holding talks of a positive, constructive character with him,” Tor told RIA Novosti by telephone later on Thursday. The party looks to bring together Krylov’s Russian Public Movement, Tor’s Movement Against Illegal Immigration, and the Russian Civil Union led by Anton Susov, as well as a number of other organizations.

Suits, no Skinheads
Dressed in sharp suits and ties, both Krylov and Tor were keen to stress the party’s distance from traditional images of skinheads and swastikas and highlight the “democratic” aspect of the party’s name. “We want to create a classic, European national-democratic party,” Krylov said. “We share democratic values and believe democracy needs to be restored to Russia.” “The Russian nationalist movement has been almost entirely cleansed of the so-called skinhead elements,” he said. And analysts suggested the party’s prospects were good, if it gains registration. “Nationalism is a political trend in demand whose ideas have been used even by Putin, who has called himself a ‘Russian nationalist,'” said analyst Alexei Mukhin of the Moscow-based Center for Political Information think tank. “The nationalist movement has been boosted by this.”

Putin has described himself as a nationalist on a number of occasions, and in January pledged in a pre-election article to crack down on “aggressive, provocative and disrespectful” internal migrants who fail to respect “the customs of the Russian people.” But he also warned against the promotion of the idea of the creation of a “mono-ethnic, national Russian state,” calling it “the shortest path to both the destruction of the Russian people and Russia’s sovereignty.” “Judging by Russia’s nationalist-orientated electorate, it’s natural that the possibility for such a party exists,” said analyst Lilia Shevtsova of the Moscow-based Carnegie Center. “But the success of the party will depend not only on the electorate, but also the authorities. The Ministry of Justice could disband the party at any time.”

Reforms on party registration has led experts to suggest a host of parties with similar names and aims could appear as soon as Medvedev approves the relaxing of regulations and it appears the National Democratic Party may face competition for the hearts and minds of the country’s nationalists. “It will be good if there are lots of nationalist parties,” Dmitry Dyomushkin, the leader of Russia's outlawed Slavyansky Soyuz nationalist movement, told RIA Novosti by telephone. “That way it will be harder to fight against us.” “I don’t mean any disrespect to our colleagues, but our party will be bigger,” he said. Dyomushkin’s potential party has yet to settle on a name.

Feeding the Caucasus?
National Democratic Party leaders hit out at a number of occasions on Thursday at the Kremlin’s funding of the North Caucasus and proposed the region’s “golden thread” of financial support be cut off. Krylov said budget spending on average on residents of the North Caucasus was ten times higher than spending on ethnic citizens. “North Caucasus people are perfectly capable people, who are able to work,” said Krylov. “It’s insulting to them to even suggest otherwise.” But the head of the Russian Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus dismissed claims that the volatile region was being “overfed” by the Kremlin “Nationalists just take these figures without examining them,” said Aliy Totorkulov. “A lot of the money supposedly bound for the Caucasus doesn’t end up there at all due to money-laundering.” “You only have to visit the region to see how people live,” he said. “Many people can’t find work, that’s why they are forced to move to Moscow.”
© RIA Novosti

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SWISS RACISM ON THE RISE: HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF

Switzerland's government needs to do much more to tackle rising racism and xenophobia, a Commissioner from the European Council on Human Rights said in a letter to the Swiss foreign ministry.

29/3/2012- The ECHR Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg sent his strongly worded letter earlier this month to Swiss foreign minister Didier Burkhalter. “Manifestations of racism and xenophobia appear to be on the rise in Switzerland. Disturbing political campaigns with aggressive, insulting slogans against foreigners are tendencies of great concern,” the letter read. Hammarberg said that he recognized “the value and importance of an open political debate”, but went on to say that freedom of expression should not be absolute. “It can and at times must be restricted by the authorities in order to safeguard the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others,” he said. A cause for concern, the Commissioner also noted that “political discourse of xenophobic and racist nature is... not criminally sanctioned by the courts”, and he called for an overhaul of the Swiss criminal law “in order to put an end to impunity for xenophobic and racist public discourse.” Hammarberg went on to say that discrimination laws also needed to be strengthened to protect not only the rights of non-nationals, but also of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

“Switzerland’s human rights protection system would greatly benefit from the establishment of Ombudspersons in all cantons, complemented by a Federal Ombudsperson with a coordinative function and a long awaited National Human Rights Institution”, the Commissioner recommended. The letter also raised concerns about the recent move to restrict migrants’ abilities to include family members in their applications, making family reunification even harder than it previously has been. Burkhalter replied on Wednesday, thanking the Commissioner for his comments, promising that the comments would be given close consideration by the relevant bodies of authority. He reiterated the government’s commitment to tackling racism, and he confirmed that the compatibility of certain popular initiatives with human rights legislation was under review. He also replied that the Federal Constitution already guards against discrimination on the grounds of a person's chosen lifestyle, and that respect for family life is also taken into consideration when considering migrants’ applications.
© The Local - Switzerland

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STOP THE ANTI-ROMA RHETORIC, CROATIA! (press release)

29/3/2012- Amnesty International has expressed concern at yesterday’s speech by Croatia’s interior minister, which accused the Romani population in the northern county of Međimurje of being the main perpetrators of property-related crime. He also implied that social security payments to the Roma community went mainly on alcohol rather than living costs. “The interior minister, Ranko Ostojić, by explicitly linking the Roma community with crime and social problems like alcohol abuse, is reinforcing discriminatory racial stereotypes”, said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “He should instead examine the connection between poverty, crime and marginalisation, and ask why, according to his own remarks, Romani people find it difficult to obtain the very jobs which would allow them to earn a living for themselves.” Amnesty International is concerned about stigmatising rhetoric of this kind, which is a feature of widespread climate of anti-Gypsyism which is currently prevalent in many European countries and leads to severe discrimination against Romani people.  This trend has been highlighted by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights in his recent report on the subject. Amnesty International has urged the European Commission to condemn every instance of anti-Roma rhetoric and to raise the matter with the Croatian Government in connection with Croatia’s accession to the EU next year.
© Amnesty International

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BITS ABOUT GEERT WILDERS/PVV (Netherlands)

No break with the PVV, talks on spending cuts to continue; Student cleared on charges of threatening Geert Wilders; 'Geert Wilders' anti-Pole website crashes after Polish tv satire'

NO BREAK WITH THE PVV, TALKS ON SPENDING CUTS TO CONTINUE
29/3/2012- The three parties involved in finding a €9bn package of spending cuts have agreed to continue their negotiations after all, Nos television reports on Thursday lunchtime. The state information service RVD issued a statement saying: 'The negotiators have decided to continue their talks. They see sufficient perspective to be able to reach an agreement which will answer the problems facing our country.' The talks were halted early on Wednesday because they were at a 'difficult stage'. There were also widespread media reports that PVV leader Geert Wilders was about to pull out.

STUDENT CLEARED ON CHARGES OF THREATENING GEERT WILDERS
28/3/2012- A 22-year-old art school student was on Wednesday found not guilty of threatening the safety of PVV leader Geert Wilders by The Hague appeal court. A lower court also found the student not guilty. Yaïr C was arrested after hanging a shop dummy from a tree next to The Hague's central station in 2009. The dummy had a plastic bag over its head and a photo of Wilders was pinned to it with a knife. C. said it was an art project. According to Elsevier, he was given a pass mark for the project. The public prosecution department decided to prosecute the student, saying objects which are said to be art can also be seen as a threat.

'GEERT WILDERS' ANTI-POLE WEBSITE CRASHES AFTER POLISH TV SATIRE'
28/3/2012- The website set up by the anti-immigration PVV to collect complaints about central and eastern European workers, crashed for a time on Tuesday evening after a Polish satirical television show called on viewers to leave a reaction, according to the AD. The show featured presenter Szymon Majewski interviewing himself made up as Wilders in a blonde wig and posing against a backdrop of sheep and a windmill. 'I do not hate Poles who work in the Netherlands. I hate all Poles,' the fake Wilders says. According to Radio Netherlands, another clip from the show features a Chinese man telling his audience that all foreigners, even Dutch, are welcome in Poland. 'Poles are friendly and helpful. All the ugly, nasty, greedy Poles are over in the Netherlands,' he says. According to the AD, the PVV's website is no longer accessible to Polish internet users. PVV parliamentarian Ino van den Besselaar refused to say if steps had been taken to keep people with a Polish internet address from making a comment. On Tuesday evening, MPs voted by a large margin to distance themselves from the website, which has been condemned by ambassadors, European commissioners and employers' leaders. The motion to condemn the website was not supported by the PVV, the ruling right-wing Liberals (VVD) and the fundamentalist Christian SGP. Hero Brinkman, who left the PVV last week, voted in favour. Prime minister Mark Rutte has repeatedly refused to distance himself from the motion, arguing it is a matter for the PVV alone. D66 leader Alexander Pechtold has asked the prime minister to explain how he intends to put the motion into practice.
© The Dutch News

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MIGRANTS LEFT TO DIE AFTER CATALOGUE OF FAILURES, SAYS REPORT INTO BOAT TRAGEDY

Council of Europe investigator says deaths of migrants adrift in Mediterranean exposes double standards in valuing human life 

28/3/2012- A catalogue of failures by Nato warships and European coastguards led to the deaths of dozens of migrants left adrift at sea, according to a damning official report into the fate of a refugee boat in the Mediterranean whose distress calls went unanswered for days. A nine-month investigation by the Council of Europe – the continent's 47-nation human rights watchdog, which oversees the European court of human rights – has unearthed human and institutional failings that condemned the boat's occupants to their fate. Errors by military and commercial vessels sailing nearby, plus ambiguity in the coastguards' distress calls and confusion about which authorities were responsible for mounting a rescue, were compounded by a long-term lack of planning by the UN, Nato and European nations over the inevitable increase in refugees fleeing north Africa during the international intervention in Libya.

The Guardian first exposed the tale of the "left-to-die" migrant vessel in May last year, after gathering testimony from the voyage's few survivors. Having set sail from Tripoli in the dead of night, the dinghy – which was packed with 72 African migrants attempting to reach Europe – ran into trouble and was left floating with the currents for two weeks before being washed back up on to Libyan shores. Despite emergency calls being issued and the boat being located and identified by European coastguard officials, no rescue was ever attempted. All but nine of those on board died from thirst and starvation or in storms, including two babies. The report's author, Tineke Strik – echoing the words of Mevlüt Çavusoglu, president of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly at the time of the incident – described the tragedy as "a dark day for Europe", and told the Guardian it exposed the continent's double standards in valuing human life. "We can talk as much as we want about human rights and the importance of complying with international obligations, but if at the same time we just leave people to die – perhaps because we don't know their identity or because they come from Africa – it exposes how meaningless those words are," said Strik, a Dutch member of the council's committee on migration, refugees and displaced persons, and the special rapporteur charged with investigating the case.

The incident has become well known due to the harrowing accounts of the survivors, but the report makes clear that many similar "silent tragedies" have occurred in recent years. Last year a record number of migrant deaths were recorded in the Mediterranean. "When you think about the media attention focused on the [Costa] Concordia and then compare it to the more than 1,500 migrant lives lost in the Mediterranean in 2011, the difference is striking," Strik said. Despite Nato's initial claim that none of its ships received a distress signal regarding the migrant vessel, the report reveals that distress calls were sent out by the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) in Rome and should have been passed on to at least one ship under Nato command – the Spanish frigate Méndez Núñez, which was in the immediate vicinity of the migrant boat and equipped with helicopters. A rescue would have been "a piece of cake", said one Nato official. "Nato declared the region a military zone under its control, but failed to react to the distress calls sent out by Rome MRCC," the report says. It claims that Nato's high command in Naples failed to pass on the distress messages to its naval assets in the area, but points out that the Spanish ship should still have received subsequent emergency calls that were broadcast on different satellite networks by the Rome MRCC.

According to the report, another naval vessel, the Borsini, an Italian warship that was not under Nato command at the time, was also positioned close to the migrant boat when the distress calls went out. As well as Nato, the flag states of the two ships concerned, Spain and Italy, also come in for heavy criticism by the rapporteur. The report, which will be presented to the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly on Thursday and has been seen in advance by the Guardian, concludes that the deaths of 61 migrants on board the boat, plus two more who died soon after reaching land, "could have been avoided", and censures Nato and its member states for not co-operating fully with the council's investigation. "Many opportunities for saving the lives of the persons on board the boat were lost," it states, before going on to demand an overhaul of search-and-rescue procedures in the Mediterranean. Those who died "could have been rescued if all those involved had complied with their obligations", the report continues, adding that Nato and its individual member states should now hold their own inquiries into the incident and allow the full facts to come to light.

Abu Kurke Kebato, one of the survivors, said he hoped the report would pile pressure on Nato and the European community to unravel why so many of his friends were left to die. "I can't sleep, even now," said the 24-year-old Ethiopian, who is now waiting on an asylum claim in the Netherlands. "Every night I can see exactly what's happening once again, the hunger, the thirst, the falling [dying]. These powers, they knew we needed help and they did nothing. They must face justice." The identity of a military helicopter that briefly flew over the migrants, offering them food and water and motioning at them to remain in place only to then fly off and never return, is still unknown. On the 10th day of their ordeal the migrants drifted up to a large military vessel – so close that the survivors claim those on board were photographing them from the deck as they held up the dead babies and empty fuel tanks in a desperate appeal for assistance – but this too has not been definitively identified. The report concludes that the military vessel must have been under the command of Nato, adding: "Nato must therefore take responsibility for the [military] boat ignoring the calls for assistance from the 'left-to-die' boat." Strik said: "This report is only the beginning. The Mediterranean is one of the busiest seas on the planet, yet somehow nobody managed to rescue these migrants. We need more answers and I will continue to look for them. These people did not need to die and those responsible have to be called to account."

In response to questions from the Guardian, Nato said in a statement: "Clearly, this was a very tragic incident. However, as Nato has informed the Council of Europe rapporteur, there is no record of any aircraft or ship under Nato command having seen or made contact with the migrant boat in question, though a number of other search-and-rescue missions were executed by those ships and aircraft, including in the days preceding and following this incident. "On 27 March, Nato received a general notice from the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Rome of a small boat probably in difficulty, which requested to advise of any sighting of the boat in question. This was forwarded, according to usual practice, to all vessels under Nato operational control in the area." In a letter to the Council of Europe inquiry, Spain's defence ministry claimed the Méndez Núñez had not received any communication about the migrant boat – contradicting Nato's claims –and referred other questions to Nato.
© The Guardian

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JEWISH GROUP WANTS POLICE TO RECORD ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENTS (Norway)

The Norwegian Jewish group Det Mosaiske Trossamfund (DMT) has asked police in Oslo to start registering anti-Semitic incidents. Members claim they’ve been subjected to 11 incidents of harassment, vandalism and threats just in the past month.

28/3/2012- “If we don’t get an overview of these incidents, we’re in poor shape to combat the virus that anti-semitism represents,” DMT leader Ervin Kohn told newspaper Vårt Land. Police currently have no such overview, but DMT has been keeping track of anti-Semitic incidents on its own. Members of the organization have received threatening letters, been harassed during a funeral service and been subjected to Nazi-salutes by unidentified men. A Jewish taxi driver reported being harassed and threatened while on duty at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen, and someone also has thrown rocks and bottles at the synagogue in Oslo. The police have claimed there haven’t been enough incidents to warrant systematic registration, but Kari Helene Partapuoli, leader of Oslo’s anti-racism center, disagrees. “With a Jewish minority of around 1,000 persons in Norway, the numbers will always be small,” she said. “Many also don’t believe anti-Semitism exists in Norway, which also makes it difficult to deal with the problem.”
© Views and News from Norway

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