Friday, September 30, 2011

Saudi Women Can Now Vote. But Their Plight Remains a Human Rights Calamity

New Republic
September 30, 2011

Sunday’s announcement that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had granted Saudi women the right to vote and stand for office in municipal elections was big news around the world. At a glance, it certainly sounded like terrific news—what, after all, is a more direct emblem of the march of progress than the right to vote? But while the announcement may represent some very marginal progress, Saudi Arabia remains one of the worst places on earth to be a woman. Because the country’s ruling regime is, nominally at least, an American ally, the plight of Saudi women doesn’t receive nearly as much attention in Washington as it should. But it is truly one of the human rights catastrophes of our time.

Despite the king’s announcement, the women of Saudi Arabia remain second-class citizens. They are forbidden from driving, and the religious police—the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice—oversees their public behavior, enforcing public segregation between the sexes. This means that employment opportunities for women are extremely limited. Women are considered legal minors, under the control of their closest male relative. In court, the testimony of one man is equal to that of two women. The World Economic Forum Gender and Development Index ranks Saudi Arabia 129 out of 134 countries.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A test case for Europe's creaking asylum system

by Cian Murphy


September 27, 2011

The state of Greece's economy is not the only issue that is causing a problem for other European states. In late 2008, Saeedi, an Afghan asylum seeker, arrived in the EU via Greece before making his way to the UK to seek refuge. Under the Dublin regulation it is for the EU country of first entry to consider the asylum claim, so the UK sought to return Saeedi to Greece. Saeedi challenged his transfer by claiming that Greece was unable to process his case and that return would violate his fundamental rights. If he is successful, no asylum seeker could be returned to Greece under current conditions.

Given the human rights claim, Saeedi's case also affords the European court of justice the opportunity to decide on the legal status of the EU charter of fundamental rights in the UK. If the ECJ follows the lead of its advocate general, Verica Trstenjak, whose opinion was handed down last week, Europe's creaking asylum system will be put under critical pressure.

The legal dispute turns on how a member state may exercise its discretion under EU law. While the Dublin Regulation dictates which state must process an asylum claim, EU law allows a state to take it upon itself to process any particular application should it decide to do so. Saeedi argued that the UK was obliged to consider his application because Greece would be unable to. The advocate general considered the position of the Greek asylum system, and concluded that transfer to Greece would give rise to a real risk of violation of Saeedi's fundamental rights. Though the UK was ordinarily free to assume other member states would comply with human rights requirements, it was open to an asylum seeker to rebut that presumption – as Saeedi had. As a result the UK should be obliged to protect him against that risk by processing his asylum claim.


Monday, September 26, 2011

An Indefensible Punishment

New York Times
September 25, 2011

When the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty 35 years ago, it did so provisionally. Since then, it has sought to articulate legal standards for states to follow that would ensure the fair administration of capital punishment and avoid the arbitrariness and discrimination that had led it to strike down all state death penalty statutes in 1972.

As the unconscionable execution of Troy Davis in Georgia last week underscores, the court has failed because it is impossible to succeed at this task. The death penalty is grotesque and immoral and should be repealed.

The court’s 1976 framework for administering the death penalty, balancing aggravating factors like the cruelty of the crime against mitigating ones like the defendant’s lack of a prior criminal record, came from the American Law Institute, the nonpartisan group of judges, lawyers and law professors. In 2009, after a review of decades of executions, the group concluded that the system could not be fixed and abandoned trying.

Sentencing people to death without taking account of aggravating and mitigating circumstances leads to arbitrary results. Yet, the review found, so does considering such circumstances because it requires jurors to weigh competing factors and makes sentencing vulnerable to their biases.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

The World's Top Executioners

by Joshua E. Keating
Foreign Policy

September 22, 2011

This week's execution of Troy Davis has provoked an international outcry and renewed debate in the United States over the death penalty. With the fifth-most executions per year of any country, America finds itself on a list with some of the world's worst human rights abusers.

CHINA: Number of executions: Thousands -- reliable statistics are hard to come by.

IRAN: Number of executions: 252 in 2010

NORTH KOREA: Number of executions: 60 in 2010

YEMEN: Number of executions: 53 in 2010

UNITED STATES: Number of executions: 46 in 2010, 35 so far in 2011

All figures from Amnesty International unless otherwise noted.

Two Women Fined for Covering Faces

September 22, 2011

The new "burqa ban" in France has produced its first trial and convictions: Two women who staged a protest in May will have to pay fines. One defendant on Thursday promised to bring her case before the European Court of Human Rights.

A court in suburban Paris on Thursday handed out fines to the first two women tried in France for violating a ban on wearing face-covering garments in public.

Hind Ahmas, 32, and Najate Naitali, 36, were both cited in May for wearing niqabs, traditional Muslim face veils, while trying to enter the Meaux town hall with a birthday cake for the mayor. Meaux is a suburb of Paris, and its mayor, Jean-Francois Cope, helped push the "burqa ban" through France's parliament last year. He also leads President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP party.

Ahmas received a €120 ($161) fine on Thursday and vowed to bring her case up before the European Court of Human Rights. Naitali received an €80 fine in absentia -- after having been denied entry for refusing to take off her niqab.

"(This) violates European laws," Ahmas told reporters after the hearing in Meaux. "For us, the question isn't the amount of the fine but the principle. We can't accept that women are sentenced because they are freely expressing their religious beliefs."

They reportedly carried an almond cake for Mayor Cope as part of a symbolic protest, as the French words for both "almonds" and "fines" sound similar.


Βίαια καθεστώτα κι εμείς

του Κωστή Παπαϊωάννου

Τα Νέα

22 Σεπτεμβρίου 2011

Όποτε μετανάστες διαπράττουν κάποιο αποτρόπαιο έγκλημα, πολλοί σπεύδουν να μιλήσουν για λαούς συνηθισμένους στην άμετρη βία, για ανθρώπους που αψηφούν την αξία της ζωής. Μερικοί πάνε επικίνδυνα πέρα από αυτή την εν γένει εύλογη διαπίστωση. Υποστηρίζουν πως στα «συγκριτικά τεστ των πολιτισμών» μερικοί (ανατολικοί) λαοί αποδεικνύονται ντε φάκτο ανθρωπιστικά λειψοί.

Το θυμήθηκα αναλογιζόμενος τη δική μας στάση απέναντι στο αίμα που συνεχίζει να χύνεται στη Συρία και στην Υεμένη. Με τον τρόπο μας επιβεβαιώνουμε κι εμείς τη σχετικότητα της αξίας της ζωής. Κρίνουμε αλλιώς την εκεί βία σε σχέση με μια πραγματική ή υποθετική έκρηξη βίαιης καταστολής σε μια δυτική χώρα. Οι 3.000 χαμένες ζωές αντικυβερνητικών διαδηλωτών στη Συρία έχουν βάρος αμελητέο. Σε ό,τι αφορά ειδικά την Ελλάδα, έχει ενδιαφέρον η ανοχή στην αναίσχυντη υποστήριξη Κίνας και Ρωσίας προς το καθεστώς Ασαντ. Θα κάναμε το ίδιο αν ήταν οι ΗΠΑ που εμπόδιζαν κάθε αντίδραση του Συμβουλίου Ασφαλείας του ΟΗΕ; Εμείς, οι οποίοι αγανακτούμε δικαιολογημένα και γενναιόδωρα με την ισραηλινή πολιτική που οδηγεί τη Γάζα στην εξαθλίωση, γιατί τώρα αγανακτούμε με φειδώ; Πολιτικοί φορείς με πληθωρική ευαισθησία σε άλλα θέματα δεν έχουν ζητήσει εν προκειμένω ούτε τα στοιχειώδη: παραπομπή της Συρίας στο Διεθνές Ποινικό Δικαστήριο, εμπάργκο όπλων και δέσμευση περιουσιακών στοιχείων του προέδρου Ασαντ και των ανώτερων συνεργατών του.

Επί δεκαετίες Λιβύη σήμαινε «ηγέτης Καντάφι» (δεν τον λέγαμε δικτάτορα, ελέω διεθνισμού πρωτοπασοκικής κοπής). Αίγυπτος σήμαινε Μουμπάρακ και Συρία σήμαινε Ασαντ. Οι μακροχρόνιες δεσποτείες διεκδικούσαν την ακλόνητη μονιμότητα φυσικού φαινομένου. Τώρα που ανατρέπονται, νιώθω πως πολλοί δεν συμμερίζονται τη χαρά της μεγάλης εν εξελίξει αλλαγής. Εύκολα το πιάνει κανείς στην ατμόσφαιρα, δεν είναι καθολική η ανακούφιση για τους δικτάτορες που έφυγαν και ο θυμός για εκείνους που ακόμα φονεύουν κρυπτόμενοι. Αρκετοί, όταν προσεγγίζουν το θέμα, προτάσσουν στις τοποθετήσεις τους τα δυτικά συμφέροντα, τα πετρέλαια και τον ιμπεριαλισμό. Σωστά όλα αυτά, όμως η μονότροπη ανάδειξή τους εντέλει σχετικοποιεί την αξία της αραβικής εξέγερσης. Για να το πούμε σχηματικά, ούτε οι αποικιοκρατικές βλέψεις ούτε η δίψα για πετρέλαιο, ούτε η επί δεκαετίες λυκοφιλία των Δυτικών με τα καθεστώτα της ευρύτερης περιοχής μπορούν να επισκιάσουν την κρίση μας αναφορικά με ισόβιους μονάρχες που φλερτάρουν με την παράνοια. Βεβαίως και πρέπει να δούμε με ειλικρίνεια τις συνολικές ευθύνες της Δύσης για την κατάσταση στον αραβικό κόσμο. Αλλά, παράλληλα, να κοιτάμε τις αραβικές χώρες και κοινωνίες χωρίς εθελοτυφλίες και ωραιοποιήσεις.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

EU border police 'turning blind eye' to abuse of migrants in Greece

September 21, 2011

Europe's fledgling border police force has been knowingly aiding and abetting the serial abuse of migrants during its first major deployment on EU frontiers, Human Rights Watch said.

In a 62-page report on conditions in Greek asylum and detention centres, widely known to be disastrously dysfunctional, the organisation on Wednesday accused Frontex, the EU's external borders agency, of turning a blind eye to the torture, beating, and systematic degradation of illegal migrants detained after crossing the border from Turkey.

"Frontex has become a partner in exposing migrants to treatment that it knows is absolutely prohibited under human rights law," said Bill Frelick, Human Rights Watch's refugee programme director.

The report highlighted appalling conditions in five detention centres in north-east Greece close to the border with Turkey, with males and females herded together in overcrowded cells, allegations of rape, unaccompanied minors also dumped in packed "cages" with adult males.

Beds were scarce, toilet and washing facilities almost nonexistent, medical help rare, and beatings common for protesters.


Read the Report

Friday, September 16, 2011

Making Tyrants Do Time

by Kathryn Sikkink

New York Times

September 15, 2011

Time is running out for former government officials accused of murder, genocide and crimes against humanity. In the past few months, the final Serbian war-crimes fugitives were extradited to The Hague, the trial of the former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, began in Cairo, and the International Criminal Court opened hearings on the post-election violence that plagued Kenya in 2007-8.

These events have provoked a chorus of trial skeptics, who contend that the threat of prosecution undermines democracy, exacerbates conflict and could lead to greater human rights violations.

Critics argue that the threat of prosecution leads dictators like Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya and Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan to entrench themselves in power rather than negotiate a transition to democracy. In El Salvador, where domestic courts have refused to extradite officers accused of murdering Jesuit priests 22 years ago, critics claim that such a prosecution would undermine stability and sovereignty.

But we do not know whether extraditions would destabilize El Salvador, or whether Sudan and Libya would have been better off than they are today if the I.C.C. had not indicted Mr. Bashir or Colonel Qaddafi.

Indeed, those arguments rest on proving or disproving a counterfactual. While the I.C.C. indictment may have prompted Colonel Qaddafi’s desire to hide once he left power, we do not know whether it shortened his last days in power or prolonged them.

Historical and statistical evidence gives us reason to question criticisms of human rights trials. My research shows that transitional countries — those moving from authoritarian governments to democracy or from civil war to peace — where human rights prosecutions have taken place subsequently become less repressive than transitional countries without prosecutions, holding other factors constant.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Το σωστό και το εύκολο

του Αριστείδη Χατζή

Τα Νέα

13 Σεπτεμβρίου 2011

Η απόφαση για την ανέγερση τζαμιού στην Αθήνα αποτελεί ένα καλό παράδειγμα της ελληνικής θεσμικής ανεπάρκειας: συγκεντρωτική λογική και περιφρόνηση βασικών ανθρώπινων δικαιωμάτων σε συνδυασμό με αδιαφορία για την αποτελεσματική εφαρμογή των αποφάσεων.

Καταρχήν θα πρέπει να σας θυμίσω ότι η Αθήνα έχει το θλιβερό προνόμιο να είναι η μοναδική πρωτεύουσα στην Ευρώπη χωρίς τζαμί. Η απόφαση για την οικοδόμηση του τζαμιού πέρασε ως τροπολογία στο νομοσχέδιο για τα αυθαίρετα και ευτυχώς ψηφίστηκε σχεδόν ομόφωνα. Δεν μπορώ όμως να καταλάβω γιατί χρειάζεται νόμος για να κτιστεί ένα τζαμί και όχι απλή απόφαση των αρμόδιων διοικητικών υπηρεσιών που θα ελέγχει αν έχουν τηρηθεί κάποιες βασικές προϋποθέσεις.

Επιπλέον το περιεχόμενο της ρύθμισης που ψηφίστηκε από τη Βουλή είναι απαράδεκτο για δύο κυρίως λόγους:

(α) Το τζαμί κρατικοποιήθηκε πριν καν κτιστεί.

(β) Ως κρατικό τζαμί είναι αυτομάτως προβληματικό ενώ ο τρόπος λειτουργίας του παραβιάζει ήδη τα δικαιώματα των μουσουλμάνων συμπολιτών μας.

Το τζαμί θα ανεγερθεί από το ελληνικό κράτος στον Βοτανικό, σε οικόπεδο του Πολεμικού Ναυτικού και θα κοστίσει περίπου 12 εκατομμύρια ευρώ. Για την ακρίβεια θα χρησιμοποιηθούν υπάρχοντα οικοδομήματα στον χώρο για να διαμορφωθεί το νέο τζαμί, το οποίο θα έχει εμβαδό μόνο 850 τ.μ. και θα χωράει το πολύ 350 άτομα.

Γιατί να αναλάβει το ελληνικό κράτος να κτίσει το τζαμί; Γιατί θα κοστίσει τόσο πολύ όταν δεν θα κτιστεί νέο κτίριο; Γιατί να κτιστεί σε δημόσιο οικόπεδο; Γιατί να είναι τόσο μικρό όταν οι μουσουλμάνοι είναι εκατοντάδες χιλιάδες; Τι θα γίνει με το εξίσου σοβαρό πρόβλημα του μουσουλμανικού νεκροταφείου; Γιατί να μην κτιστούν από τους ίδιους τους μουσουλμάνους τζαμιά και νεκροταφεία σε ιδιωτικά οικόπεδα και με τις προδιαγραφές που αυτοί επιθυμούν; Γιατί αντί να επιδιωχθεί ο απόλυτος διαχωρισμός της Εκκλησίας από το Κράτος τώρα θα κρατικοποιήσουμε και τη μουσουλμανική θρησκεία;

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Athens is the only European capital without a mosque

Islamophobia Watch
September 3, 2011

Muslims performed Eid al Fitr prayers outside in Greece, in the gathering "permitted by authorities" in the only European capital without an official mosque.

The Greek government has repeatedly set aside plans for the construction of a mosque and Muslim cemetery in the city of five million people.

Greece has a growing Muslim community and Athens' Muslim community is without an official mosque and prayers are usually held at cultural centers or community halls or private apartments around the city.

The Muslim community in Greece is estimated at about 1 million, in a country where the only mosques are in the northeastern region of Xanthi near the Turkish border, home to a large Muslim Turk minority.

No mosque has operated in the Greek capital since the country left from the Ottoman rule in 1832 and Muslims in Greece have to pray at stadiums in Athens as a proper mosque still remains a dream after more than two decades of campaigning.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Gay Marriage Debate: Why the state should stay out

by John Stossel


September 1, 2011

Six states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. Most so-called liberals are happy about that. Most conservatives are not. As a libertarian, I think all consenting adults who want to commit to a life partner ought to be treated the same way.

To air this issue on my Fox Business show, I invited Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage and David Harsanyi, libertarian columnist at The Blaze.

Brown says gay marriage threatens marriage between a man and a woman. I asked him to explain.

"Marriage is a public good," he said. "When you redefine marriage, you redefine it for everyone. In states that have redefined marriage, we've seen serious consequences, ranging from what is taught in schools—kids in first grade in Massachusetts are taught that it's the same thing to grow up and marry a boy or a girl—to what happens to religious organizations or organizations that just believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman. ... You see Catholic Charities' adoption agency essentially being forced out of being able to adopt kids because the state said it is discriminating."

Whoa. Those are three separate points. I don't see a problem with the first: If they redefine marriage to include gays, that doesn't diminish my marriage. And if kids are taught that gay marriage is OK, so what?