Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Genocide - Srebrenica (Never Again)

I discovered this video over at the Srebrenica Genocide Blog.

“A highly talented Bosniak hip-hop artist commemorates more than 8,000 victims of the Srebrenica genocide through a song that is both inspiring and emotionally moving. The song you're about to listen is unquestionably one of the best hip hop creations in a long time. Our rating: 10/10. Simply perfect! We're proud of you Jusuf!” - Srebrenica Genocide Blog

I have to agree.  The production in this song is world class and it is definitely on par with other international hip hop acts of today.  It is an emotional song and the video footage is disturbing and horrifying at times.  There are details about the band and how to purchase the album over at Srebrenica Genocide Blog as well as a free, authorised download.

The Srebrenica massacre occurred in July 1995.  8,000 Bosniak men and boys were removed from their homes, murdered and buried in mass graves.  Subsequent to the murder of their husbands, brothers, fathers and children, 25,000 to 30,000 women were forcibly removed from the area and subjected to a campaign of rape and ethnic cleansing.  The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) unanimously declared the event to be an act of genocide in 2004.


Sunday, 27 December 2009

Recommended Blog:


Abolish - Liberate - Emancipate NOW is the simple message behind the blog  Run by Matthew Jack, a Federal Agent in Washington DC, the blog “intends to provide news, discussions and resources on social justice topics such as, Human Trafficking, Sexual Exploitation, Modern Day Slavery, Holocaust Issues and Genocide”.

The blog is frequently updated and is full of relevant news from both America and the international arena.  One of the biggest messages from this blog is that human trafficking is not just something that happens in third world countries, it is alive and well right inside urban, first world America.

This blog is one of those that I have discovered that has immediately made me want to be a better blogger.  It is a truly inspiring blog that makes me realise that I can make a difference and there are people out there in the world who want to make a difference too.  Not only does Matthew give you the news and the lowdown on human trafficking, he tells you exactly how you can make a difference too:

5 Steps to Fight Human Trafficking with a Movie Night

10 Things Teens Can Do To End Human Trafficking

I’d certainly recommend adding to your RSS feed reader today.


Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Khmer Rouge “First Lady” Charged With Genocide

Ieng Thirith
AFP/Archives/Heng Sinith

Another former high ranking Khmer Rouge official has been charged with genocide following the charges brought against three former Khmer Rouge officials last week

Reuters reported yesterday that Ieng Thirith has been charged in relation to the slaughter of Cambodia’s ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslim minorities during the brutal 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge era.

Ieng Thirith (wife of Ieng Sary who was charged on Thursday with the same offence) was arrested in November 2007 and apart from a brief court appearance in May 2008, she had not been in court since.  She was charged with crimes against humanity and accused of “murder, imprisonment and other inhumane acts” committed during her role as Minister of Social Affairs.  Ieng Thirith was instrumental in organising the massive purges of the Khmer Rouge regime and as she has much blood on her hands, it is ironic that she was also head of the Red Cross Society.


Sunday, 20 December 2009

Khmer Rouge leaders charged with genocide

Public gallery of Cambodia Tribunal
Public gallery during testimony of S-21 survivor Vann Nath on 29 June 2009 [Source: ECCC]

This is massive news.  As I explained in the article What is Genocide?, international tribunals have determined only two cases of genocide to have taken place since the Genocide Convention was created in 1948.  News in this week is that three former Khmer Rouge leaders have been charged with genocide and this is in addition to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity that were brought against them previously (see: Khmer Rouge trial update from 2 November).

Link: Tribunal charges 2 Khmer Rouge with genocide [Associated Press]

On 16 December 2009, news broke that the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) had charged Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary with genocide in connection with their involvement in the deaths of members of Cambodia’s ethnic Cham and Vietnamese communities.   The AP article explains that the predominantly Muslim Chams were amongst the few that actively resisted the Khmer Rouge regime and their rebellions were brutally suppressed.  The Khmer Rouge regime also launched bloody attacks against Vietnamese border villages and in fact, it was Vietnam’s response to these attacks that eventually toppled the regime in 1978.

Link: Genocide charge for Cambodia's K.Rouge ex-head of state [AFP]

Then on Friday 18 December 2009, the ECCC brought the same charges against Khieu Samphan.  The court also accepted charges of homicide, torture and religious persecution against Khieu Samphan.

Interestingly, the AFP article notes that the only reason the mass killing of up to 1.7 million Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime is not classified as genocide is because the perpetrators were also Cambodian.

Final arguments have been heard in Kaing Guek Eav’s trial and a verdict is expected next year.  I daresay they’ll announce the verdict before embarking on the next cases.


Thursday, 10 December 2009

Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day 2009 End Discrimination

Today is Human Rights Day and it was on this day in 1948 that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.  The UDHR has become a universal standard for defending and promoting human rights and I discussed the declaration back in July: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The basic foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is that "all human beings are born with equal and inalienable rights and fundamental freedoms".

Every year on 10 December, Human Rights Day is observed and celebrated around the world and some of today’s events in South Africa, New York and Geneva are listed on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website.

The focus of Human Rights Day 2009 is non-discrimination.  Despite stating some 61 years ago that all humans were born equal, that we all had inalienable rights, millions of people worldwide fight against discrimination each day.

The realisation of all human rights - social, economic and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights – is hampered by discrimination. All too often, when faced with prejudice and discrimination, political leaders, governments and ordinary citizens are silent or complacent”

Source: Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Discrimination is perhaps on of the most tangible areas in which every day people can get involved in the struggle for global human rights.  Take a look at your workplace and how certain workers or classes of people are treated.  It is okay to tell people that racism is not okay, that all workers should be treated equally and that in the workplace, no one is actually better than anyone else.

People often discriminate because they can get away with it or because they think that others around them agree with such behaviour.  Be firm in your principles and slowly but surely you might come to change the world around you.

Complacency is discrimination’s best friend


Monday, 30 November 2009

World Aids Day: Universal Access and Human Rights

December 1 is World Aids Day and the World Aids Campaign has selected "Universal Access and Human Rights" as the theme for the 2009/2010 campaign. The timing of this campaign is vital as it is linked to the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.

In September 2000, the United Nations signed the United Nations Millennium Declaration which included eight international development goals to be achieved by 2015.

The sixth goal was to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases and the measurable target associated with this goal and relevant to the current World Aids Day campaign was target 6B: “Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it”.

Avert have an excellent page detailing where we stood with this target at the end of 2008 and how we have progressed in the years since the declaration was signed.  At the end of 2003, only 5% of those that required treatment for HIV/AIDS were receiving it and this rose in a steady curve to 42% at the end of 2008. 

While the growth to date has been promising, the trend did start to decline by last year and it is probably safe to say that the goals will not be met by the end of 2010.  In fact, by the time the 2008 figures were released, the WHO, UNIADS and INICEF had conceded that most countries would not reach the 2010 target.

What does this mean for the World Aids Day campaign 2009/2010?

I believe that had the UN not set the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, the huge amount of progress made so far may not have been achieved.

There are a couple of important factors that need to be addressed in the race to meet these goals:

Governmental involvement

It is impossible to reach targets of universal access to treatment without governments subscribing to this goal and taking steps to implement it in their countries.  By way of an example, the AIDS denialist administration of South African president Thabo Mbeki and his Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang set the cause of universal treatment of HIV/AIDS back by years.  It is estimated that two million people might have died prematurely due to Mbeki’s failure to take decisive action and his denial that HIV causes AIDS [source].

The cost of treatment

The overwhelming factor affecting the provision of universal treatment is lack of funding and the global economic downturn has resulted in funding of projects being reduced or stopped altogether.

“It is estimated that to achieve universal treatment targets an investment of $7 billion will be required in 2010 for treatment and care alone. This is of the estimated $25 billion needed to achieve all targets including prevention, care for orphans and vulnerable children, and other programme support costs. Considering less than $14 billion was invested in tackling HIV and AIDS in 2008, a funding shortfall, while not inevitable, is likely unless dramatic increases in financial commitments are made” -

I believe it is necessary to balance the current financial situation with the long-term effects on economies as in many countries, it is the working-age population that is being decimated by AIDS deaths leaving only the very young and the very old behind.  A similar effect on the population pyramids occurs in times of war.

The commencement of treatment

There are differing beliefs as to when treatment should actually begin.  Economically developed countries like the UK are likely to begin treatment earlier i.e. when the CD4 count drops below 350 cells per cubic millimetre of blood. Less economically developed countries like South Africa wait until that level falls below 200. While this fell in line with the WHO recommendations of 2006, the WHO is now recommending treatment begins at the threshold of 350 as studies have clearly shown that starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) earlier reduces rates of death and disease.

Commitment to treatment

We have not discovered a cure for HIV/AIDS yet.  Once patients start to take antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), they need to take them for life.  It is imperative then that governments or international donors realise that this is a lifelong commitment and that they guarantee this treatment for all patients on ARVs.  The difficulty with this idea is that this means that treatment numbers will only ever continue to grow and there will never be reduction in treatment numbers until prevention plans really start to have an effect.  Therefore, governments and organisations need to continue to budget ever increasing amounts for treatment.

Mother to child transmission

In 2006, the WHO recommended that ARVs be given to pregnant women in their third trimester to prevent mother to child transmission and they had not yet proven the efficacy of ARVs during breastfeeding.  Since then, ARVs have been shown to be effective during breastfeeding in several trials and the 2009 WHO recommendations are that ART be started in the second trimester and that this treatment continue right to the end of the breastfeeding period.

Side effects of antiretroviral drugs

In the past, ARVs have been known to have terrible side effects and this has been a major factor in the lack of retention of ART patients.  Specifically, Stavudine has long-term, irreversible side-effects and the WHO has now recommended that countries phase out use of this drug and use the equally effective and less toxic Zidovudine (AZT) or Tenofovir (TDF).


New HIV recommendations to improve health, reduce infections and save lives [UNAIDS]

Universal access to AIDS treatment: targets and challenges []

This post was part of a Bloggers Unite action day.  Click to read more Bloggers Unite World Aids Day posts.


Saturday, 28 November 2009

What Is Genocide?

Srebrenica Srebrenica Mass Grave [photo source]

The primary purpose of this post will be to explore the legal definition of the term “genocide”.  In a later post, I shall discuss problems, limitations and criticisms of the current definition of genocide and try to find out why it is so rarely applied to conflicts around the world.

The term “genocide” did not exist prior to 1944.  The term was coined by a Polish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin as he sought to describe the systematic nature of the Nazi policies and their intention to destroy the European Jews.  He formed the word by combining the Greek word geno- meaning race or tribe and the Latin word –cide meaning killing. 

The term was codified legally by the United Nations in 1948 as they approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  The act of genocide was thus criminalised in times of both war and peace.
The convention defines genocide as follows:

“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”

- UN General Assembly Resolution 260

Breaches of the Genocide Convention

Did you know that since the creation of the Genocide Convention in 1948, international tribunals have determined only two cases to constitute genocide?

  • Rwandan Genocide: This refers to the genocide that took place in Rwanda in April 1994.  The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is currently prosecuting cases in connection with crimes committed during the genocide.
  • Bosnian Genocide: This refers to the genocide committed in Srebrenica in 1995 by the Serb forces.  There have been attempts to broaden this definition to include crimes of ethnic cleansing committed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War but this was rejected by the International Court of Justice in February 2007.  The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is currently prosecuting cases in connection with the Srebrenica genocide.
Contentious Cases

This list may in fact be longer but my research has shown that there are two cases currently being discussed which might constitute genocide:

  • Darfur / Sudan: United States Secretary of State Colin Powell  declared the conflict in Darfur to constitute a genocide in September 2004.  However, the United Nations Security Council-sponsored International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur stated that "the Government of the Sudan has not pursued a policy of genocide.” This was met with dismay but it is important to note that the report further went on to state that despite not meeting the definition of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity were nevertheless taking place and were just as serious.  Despite this, the International Criminal Court has filed charges against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and three others. I’ll try to find out more about this in the near future.
  • Croatian Genocide Case: The Croatian government waited until the close of the Bosnian Genocide Case before bringing an application to the International Court of Justice to apply the Genocide Convention against the Serbian government.  The Serbian government announced their intention for a counter-suit and in January 2009, the ICJ gave them a deadline of 22 March 2010 to file their Counter-Memorial.

At a later stage I will discuss the problems, limitations and criticisms of the current definition of genocide and an analysis of the reasoning to not classing certain events as genocide (for example, Cambodia).


Monday, 23 November 2009

Rwanda: Acquittals Cause Outrage

ICTR, Aruba, Tanzania
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Aruba, Tanzania [photo source]

Link: Rwanda genocide survivors may boycott U.N. court [Reuters]

I can't even begin to fathom the pain and frustration that one must feel in witnessing the acquittal of someone you know to be guilty. The charges here are genocide and many of the witnesses saw these crimes being committed with their own eyes.  Indeed, many were the intended victims of the crimes. To see a murderer walk free when you know them to be guilty, when they murdered your family or friends or even tried to murder you... as I say, I can't begin to understand how painful that must be.

However, I absolutely respect the decision of the ICTR to give an acquittal if they felt that there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction. In order for the court to be perceived as fair, just and competent, they must give acquittals if the legal process cannot prove that the crime was indeed committed. I really hope that the witnesses don't boycott the Tribunal as the trials cannot go ahead without them. Two people have been acquitted recently but so many convictions have been secured with some of the worst perpetrators being sent away for life. 

I think the biggest lesson in all of this is that to the people who were there, it wasn’t that 800,000 were killed.  It is just them and their loved ones and their communities that matter to them.  The convictions of people from other areas of the country mean little to them as they experience a very individual and person grief.


Monday, 16 November 2009

Falun Gong Persecution Recognised As Genocide

Banners On Tiananmen
Banners On Tiananmen Square [Photo Source]

Link: Spanish Judge Calls Top Chinese Officials to Account for Genocide [Epoch Times]

This is an interesting story.  A Spanish judge has accepted charges of genocide and torture against five high ranking officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for their part in the persecution of Falun Gong.  It is the first time that a court has deemed the campaign of persecution against the Falun Gong to be legally fitting the definition of genocide. 

Falun Gong is a relatively new religion founded in China in 1992.  It has been labelled as a cult by the CCP regime that has also clamped down on the religious freedom of Roman Catholics, Protestants and Tibetan Buddhists too (drat, there goes my chances of ever getting a visa to China).  The repression is such that Falun Gong cannot even meditate in the privacy of their own homes for fear of raids and apart from imprisonment, re-education in labour camps and thought reform classes, Falun Gong have been subjected to “dismissal from work, expulsion from universities, deprivation of health care and pensions, divorce, homelessness, and a range of other forms of discrimination” [source].

Jiang Zemin, former leader of the CCP, is among the accused.  Zemin initiated and embarked on a campaign in 1999 to eradicate Falun Gong.

“In order to implement Jiang’s decision to wipe out the group, the country’s state-run media, security apparatus, and network of “re-education through labor camps” were mobilized in full force. Since then, experts estimate that hundred of thousands, possibly millions, of practitioners have been sent to labor camps, prisons, and thought reform classes”Epoch Times

According to the Falun Dafa Information Centre, there are over 3,000 documented deaths (although estimates put that figure in the tens of thousands) and over 63,000 accounts of torture.  Reports speak of the systematic use of torture to force people to renounce their faith. 

The Falun Dafa Information Center has several photo essays depicting the torture and persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.  To be honest, they are too disturbing to link to from here but if you click on the link above, you’ll be able to find the photo essays on the site.  Just click with care as they are extremely graphic and horribly disturbing.

Link: Activists say China still using Falun Gong prisoners as organ sources [The Canadian Press]

Perhaps more disturbing are the allegations that organs are being harvested from Falun Gong prisoners for medical transplants. 

I just don’t understand it.  Is this the country that the South African government is bending over backwards to accommodate?  China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.  How is that possible?  I lived through a torture state, I witnessed my friends “disappearing” in university, only to return as shadows of their former selves months later (and this was after the ANC was unbanned and Mandela was released).  No matter how the Chinese government tries to hide it, despite their diplomatic ties and their propaganda machinations, the truth is that gross human rights violations are taking place and a deliberate attempt to destroy a religious group in part or whole is genocide.


Saturday, 7 November 2009


Rwandan genocide
Rwandan Genocide, originally uploaded by daveblume

I’ve started reading A Time for Machetes: The Rwandan Genocide - The Killers Speak.  I’m just reading the opening pages where the killers speak about how they were rounded up and organised to kill.  I am overwhelmed by a sense of denial.  Not in the political sense but the psychological sense; the sense where a dying person reasons that they feel fine or a mother refuses to believe her child is dead after exiting air from the lungs causes the vocal chords to sound.  I am thinking that these seem like such reasonable, normal, nice people and even though I have studied the Rwandan genocide for years now, I find myself hoping that they are not the killers, that the story is going to work out differently.

But it won’t.  I have already read Into the Quick of Life: The Rwandan Genocide - The Survivors Speak which I reviewed earlier on this blog and which had an incredible impact on me: On Rwanda: my passion and the need to know.  I know what is going to happen and yet it is so horrific that the normal human reaction of denial in the face of death or dying is occurring, my mind’s attempt to protect me from the unimaginable horrors ahead. 

I’ll be sure to review the book once I am done.  I am currently months behind in my book reviews but will try to catch up soon.


Monday, 2 November 2009

Khmer Rouge Trial Update

Killing Fields
[Image Source]

Link:  More Khmer Rouge leaders could face trial [CBC]

As inconceivable as it may seem, there are only five former Khmer Rouge leaders currently under investigation for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In early September Lars Olsen, legal spokesman for the UN-backed tribunal, said that more former Khmer Rouge leaders could be brought to trial as judges had given prosecutors the power to launch further investigations.

This was met with bitter opposition from Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen as he has been clear in his desire to limit the trials to the five original suspects.  Hun Sen has threatened to end UN participation in the trials if prosecutors dig deeper and critics have said that this is because the suspects are now his political allies.

Hun Sen even sunk so low as to claim that pursuing more suspects could spark civil war in the already fragile country.  Estimates now place the death toll from executions, disease, malnutrition and overwork during the Khmer Rouge regime at 1.7 million people or 20% of the total population at the time.  To limit the prosecutions to just five people is insulting as it is and Hun Sen’s attitude reeks of a cover up to me.

Do I believe it is relevant to go over these leader’s 30 years after the fact?  Well, we still go after SS members 65 years after the fact, so yes, I do believe it is relevant.  The pain and legacy of the Khmer Rouge may be less immediate to us in the West but reparations are equally as important.


Kaing Guek Eav

Better known as “Duch”, Kaing Guek Eav has been detained in a Cambodian military prison since 1999. He was in charge of the notorious S-21 prison and was instrumental in the torture and murder of 12,000 Cambodians.  He formally accepted responsibility for his crimes in March 2009 and apologized for his actions.  Duch’s trial is currently underway and reached headlines recently when his defence objected to a request from the prosecution to apply charges of joint criminal enterprise: Defence weighs in on controversial doctrine [Phnom Penh Post].  Final arguments are expected later this month.

Thirith Ieng

As Minister of Social Affairs and Head of Democratic Kampuchea's Red Cross Society, Thirith Ieng was instrumental in organising the massive purges of the Khmer Rouge movement and various policies that caused great suffering.  She was arrested in November 2007 and charged with crimes against humanity.  Her first court appearance was in May 2008 at the pre-trial hearing of her appeal.  She has not been in court since and investigations are still underway.

Ieng Sary

Known as "Brother number 3", Ieng Sary was the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Khmer Rouge government.  He carried out some of Pol Pot’s most atrocious campaigns and implemented the massive purges.  Ieng Sary was charged with genocide and sentenced to death in absentia in 1979 but this conviction was not recognised by the international community.  He was pardoned by the king in 1996.  He was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2007 and arrested along with his wife.  Many people have questioned why someone pardoned by the king was re-arrested but he was arrested on different charges.

Khieu Samphan

Khieu Samphan was commander-in-chief of the Khmer Rouge and first became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence when they took over in 1975, moving on to become President.  He put Pol Pot’s theories into practice and cleared the cities of their inhabitants, thus provoking the human tragedy in which up to 1.7 million people perished.  He was arrested in November 2007 and was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Nuon Chea

Designated “Brother number 2”, he headed the Permanent Committee of the Central Committee, which was in charge of labour, social welfare, culture, propaganda and formal education (or Conscience work). In 1976 he was acting Prime Minister and then from 1976 to 1979 was President of Assembly of Democratic Kampuchea.  After Pol Pot, he was the most powerful member of the regime and was the key ideologist.  He was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity and arrested in September 2007.  An order was passed in September 2009 authorising his continued detainment.

Up to date information on the trials can be found at Cambodia Tribunal Monitor.


Friday, 30 October 2009

Right and wrong

I must apologise for being somewhat remiss in my blogging of late.  Sometimes when I am doing research for a post, I come across such poison and vitriol that it makes me sick to my stomach.  Like a rabbit in the headlights or a moth to a flame however, I am drawn to read these accounts and it just saps away my blogging energy.

That happened as I was researching the Srebrenica Massacre.  It shocks me to this day that people can deny that a massacre occurred.  In July 1995, more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were murdered and between 25,000 and 30,000 women and children were removed from the area. 

Burial of 610 identified Bosniak civilians on July 11 in 2005. killed by Serb forces during Srebrenica Genocide [Image Source]

Since the Genocide Convention was created in 1948 at the end of World War II, there have been only two events that have been deemed to have constituted genocide. Those events are Srebrenica and Rwanda. Srebrenica was the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II. People who deny that this massacre happened or who claim that it was somehow justified make me sick.  Genocide and holocaust deniers are simply poison.

Instead of linking you to the article that has me so upset, I will link you to an article about it on the excellent Srebrenica Genocide blog: Carlos Martins Branco Has No Credibility.  I also found the Wikipedia article on the massacre to be especially useful.  It is my erstwhile intention to spend some time at a future date going through the Balkan conflict.

Last weekend, I was quite pleased to get this blog onto and I dutifully clicked on the “South Africa” tag to see what I could find there.  I was sickened by the racist, white supremacist, vile and hateful blogs that I found there.  There are loads of lovely blogs about South Africa but lots of not so lovely. 


I believe that racism is a weakness.  I believe that simple-minded people find it difficult to expend the mental energy required to view people as individuals and so they view the world in generalisations.  When simple-minded people feel threatened or inevitably inadequate, I believe they resort to racist behaviour and overly aggressive behaviour.  They try to harm with words and they call people vile and insulting names to hide their own feelings of inadequacy and failure.  Unfortunately, being a coward does not necessarily imply a lack of action and all two often these people will engage in violent and equally cowardly attacks or simply spread their vitriol to anyone who will listen.

Yes, there is an extremely high crime rate in South Africa.  Yes, white people who previously treated black people like dirt are being targeted in reprisal attacks.  Yes, people who are innocent and have done nothing to warrant such attacks are being killed too.  Well, here is the thing: no matter how you coat it, the attacks don’t comply with the United Nations definition of genocide.  High crime in South Africa affects everyone.  One in two women is raped in her lifetime in South Africa but that figure is absolutely misleading.  Far, far more black women living in townships and shanty towns are raped than white women living in the plush Northern Suburbs of Johannesburg. 

These are crimes committed against the “Haves” by the “Have Nots”; crimes of opportunity and crimes against women by a patriarchal society in which women are nothing.  Drugs, alcohol and rising gangsterism play a huge part in the crime in South Africa today and the most vulnerable, marginalised people remain the biggest victims of crime.  To imagine that this is a racist issue is to deny the vast majority of crimes that are committed by people that are known to the victims, that are of the same race, community or even family. 

Crime in South Africa is out of control and I blame the criminals for that.  I also blame the government for not tackling crime, for not reducing poverty, for not creating enough jobs. 

Yes, a huge part of the reason for us leaving South Africa was the crime.  I knew four people who died of gunshots wounds inflicted to their heads but not one of those situations was the same as the others.  To generalise, to claim racism or hate crimes would be to ignore the facts and uniqueness of each of those cases.  It would have prevented resolution and understanding.  Only in applying one’s mind and in not generalising can you ever grasp what happened and what went wrong: greed and betrayal; a robbery gone wrong; inadequate control of a service weapon and the final one, the one that broke my heart, the rise of methamphetamine use and gangsterism amongst impoverished youths in the Cape. 

Perhaps it is more of the moth syndrome but I’d love to know what you think.  Even if (or especially if) you disagree with me, tell me about it.  Tell me how you feel and why you feel that way.  You can answer anonymously but it would be great if you could let me know who you are and if you’re a blogger too.


Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Cambodia: The Killing Fields 30 years on

It is almost 30 years since John Pilger revealed the horror of post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia in his film “The Silent Death” which I featured back in May [link].  The Mirror has run two stories to commemorate the anniversary of Pilger’s documentary and they remind me again of the mindless and tragic evil that occurred in Cambodia.  I don’t usually read Mirror articles let alone link to them but today I shall make an exception.

Phnom Penh After Khmer Rouge
Phnom Penh After Khmer Rouge [Image source]

Link: Beyond the imagination of mankind []

This is an incredibly poignant article written by John Pilger as he remembers arriving in Phnom Penh.  I feel as if I could quote the entire article but instead, I will quote two small snippets:

“The aircraft flew low, following the Mekong River west from Vietnam. Once over Cambodia, what we saw silenced all of us on board. There appeared to be nobody, no movement, not even an animal, as if the great population of Asia had stopped at the border. Whole villages were empty. Chairs and beds, pots and mats lay in the street, a car on its side, a bent bicycle. Behind fallen power lines lay or sat a single human shadow; it did not move”

“Today, Pol Pot is dead and several of his elderly henchmen are on trial in a UN/Cambodian court for crimes against humanity. Henry Kissinger, whose bombing opened the door to the nightmare of Year Zero, is still at large” – John Pilger,

Tortured and Killed at S-21
Tortured and Killed at S-21 [Image source]

Link: 'They will kill our parents tonight... we must escape' []

This is the story of Somaly Lun a young Cambodian who lived through the US bombing of Phnom Penh as a child and was captured and sent to work in a Khmer Rouge labour camp as a teenager.  Remarkably, she escaped and made it to Thailand and was then brought to the UK by Oxfam’s Marcus Thompson. 

The story in this article was so typical of the experiences of families who survived the Khmer Rouge regime and reminded me of the book First They Killed My Father which I reviewed earlier this year.  The book has received a lot of criticism as it was written as an autobiography yet contains information the author could not have possibly known or remembered.  As with my review of A Long Way Gone though (a memoir of a boy soldier), I still believe these books to be of great value and authentic enough to give a realistic portrayal of conditions in Cambodia and Sierra Leone respectively.

The Khmer Rouge was a communist, Maoist party that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 under the leadership of Pol Pot. They set up a radical form of agrarian communism where city dwellers were forced to leave cities and work on farms. Their murderous regime resulted in genocide - between 850 000 and 1.5 million people died from execution, torture, forced work or starvation, representing between 20 to 25% of the total population.


Monday, 19 October 2009

Human Trafficking Defined

Image source: Human trafficking, slavery and the sex trade

I found this fantastic table on the US Department of State website and I do hope it is acceptable to reproduce it here for purely educational purposes.  The chart was developed by the Solidarity Center and is meant to be a simplification of the 2000 UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

In order for an a situation to be considered an act of human trafficking, it must have at least one the elements listed below in each of the criteria of process, ways / means and goal.

This is especially significant as the ways and means generally refer to an element of force and imply that the individual is a non-willing participant and the goal speaks to the perpetrators’ nefarious and illegal intentions.  When we speak of human trafficking in the current sense, we are not talking about refugees banding together to boat their way into a safer country.  These are people who are tricked or coerced during the process and are forced into slavery, prostitution or bonded labour on the other side in order to “buy” their freedom or simply save their own life or the lives of their families.

Process + Way/Means + Goal

























Abuse of Power








Violence/Sexual Exploitation


Forced Labor


Involuntary Servitude


Debt Bondage 
(with unfair wages)


Slavery/Similar practices

Source: US Department of State: Human Trafficking Defined


Monday, 12 October 2009

Child Sexual Exploitation: Silence is Acceptance


There is a fantastic photo essay on the UNICEF site entitled Silence is Acceptance. It has a really powerful message to tell about the proliferation of child sexual exploitation worldwide and is accompanied by photographs and personal stories of a number of victims and survivors.

UNICEF does a number of thought provoking photo essays and other titles include: Building a world fit for children, The rights of the child - Part I and The rights of the child - Part II.  Their site is certainly worth a visit; in fact, the “rights of the child” photo essays gave me goosebumps over every single part of my body.  It is a chilling and poignant reminder of how precarious the state of our world’s children that we had to codify and implement such a rights charter.


Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Gordon Brown’s address to the UN General Assembly

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown addressed the UN General Assembly on 23 September 2009.  As a citizen and resident of the UK, I’d hoped to jot down my thoughts on his address earlier but you know, life sometimes gets in the way.  My post on US President Barack Obama’s speech can be found here: Obama addresses the UN General Assembly.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown addresses the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly

[Photo source]

A transcript of his speech can be found at the Labour Matters site.

PM Brown began his speech by taking account of the global economic crisis and immediately asserting his belief that this is a global crisis that can only be solved by nations working together on a global basis and that growth can only be sustained if it is shared. 

It is incredibly curious to me that he would start his speech in such a manner.  I am not a fan of Gordon Brown and I find him to be one of the worst leaders I have ever encountered.  Precisely because he doesn’t lead, he follows, and he is a man desperate for approval from others.  So this opening statement seems to be an attempt to ingratiate himself with the various nations before he begins his address. 

Despite what was a weak start (in my opinion) PM Brown then highlighted the main areas that he wanted to address:

  • climate change
  • terrorism
  • nuclear proliferation
  • global economic recovery
  • poverty and shared prosperity

While he shared nuclear proliferation, climate change and the economic crisis with President Obama, I found it interesting that he included terrorism and poverty as well.

Climate Change

“If the poorest and most vulnerable are going to be able to adapt; if the emerging economies are going to embark on low carbon development paths; if the forest nations are going to slow and stop deforestation - then the richer countries must contribute financially” - Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

This is so interesting.  While Obama was drawing the line and setting boundaries as to how far the US was prepared to go in solving the world’s problems, Brown was diving right in there.  He said that proposed financing from the British government, drawn from public and private sectors, would be around $100bn a year by 2020.


Or, more accurately, “Why I continue to support an expensive and futile war in Afghanistan”.  He starts off this section by saying that “a safer Afghanistan means a safer world” which sounds good on paper but it doesn’t change the fact that terrorism is still alive and well while innocent civilians and well-intentioned soldiers are getting slaughtered out there.

“It shames us all:

* that the people of Somalia and Sudan are still subject to the most terrible violence.

* that Israel and Palestine have still not found a way to live side by side in security and peace.

* and that for the people of Burma, their elected leader is subjected to a show trial and decades of incarceration.

There is more we can do; there is more we must do. And we must carry forward our efforts to take a more strategic, coherent and effective approach to peacekeeping and peace-building”- Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

I hope it’s okay to quote so much of the speech but I actually did like this section of the Prime Minister’s speech.  It was powerful but I fear that he has lumped gross violations of human rights, war time conflict and humanitarian crises under the umbrella term “terrorism”.  It is not helpful at all to do that as it implies the legitimacy of one party over another illegitimate and criminal party.  I’m virtually speechless (as in, I have no more words to blog) as my mind goes into the ramifications of the use of the term ‘terrorism’ versus genocide, ethnic cleansing, political oppression and state sanctioned persecution.  The wording of this section was, as I say, powerful but the issues are sorely muddled in this section of his speech.

Nuclear Proliferation

“Once there were five nuclear-armed powers. Now there are nine, with the real and present danger that more will soon follow. And the risk is not just state aggression, but the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists…

…all nuclear weapons states must play their part in reducing nuclear weapons as part of an agreement by non nuclear states to renounce them. This is exactly what the Non Proliferation Treaty intended. In line with maintaining our nuclear deterrent I have asked our national security committee to report to me on the potential future reduction of our nuclear weapon submarines from 4 to 3” - Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

He started out so well and then he utters that last sentence.  Great, should we reduce terrorist’s access to nuclear weapons by 25% (by the same ratio as 4:3) and then see how the world feels about that?  What you are saying is that Britain will basically sacrifice a token submarine but you expect the entire states of Iran and North Korea to complete disarm. 

Don’t get me wrong, I greatly support nuclear disarmament; I just wish Gordon Brown had not even uttered that last sentence.

Global Economic Recovery

“The great lesson of the last year is that only bold and global action prevented a recession becoming a depression. We have delivered a co-ordinated fiscal and monetary response that the ILO estimates has saved 7 to 11 million jobs across the world” - Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

Okay, I have to say at this point that I'm getting a little tired.  Unemployment in the UK is at its highest since 1995 and yet Brown is citing global successes in global economic recovery?  It just seems to me that Brown is sometimes unaware of the 2 million unemployed in the UK and the fact that banks are calling in loans left, right and centre.  Britons are in for a lot more misery before they start to see improvements. 


The unyielding, grinding, soul-destroying, so often lethal poverty I saw in Africa convinced me that - unless empowerment through trade justice is matched by empowerment through free education and free health care – then this generation in sub-Saharan Africa will not have the opportunity to rise out of poverty - and will never be fully free” - Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

After a mixed and at times bizarre address Brown closes by stating that several of the Millennium Development Goals could not be achieved in 50 years never mind the remaining 5 years of the undertaking.  This is depressing and morale-destroying in a way that only Gordon Brown can manage but in a way, I do appreciate his honesty.  He does end on a high note though by citing the inception of universal free health care in Burundi, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Nepal, Liberia and Ghana and by calling on other nations to do the same.  Hmmm, perhaps he could implement that in the UK?


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Gaza: Goldstone Finds Evidence of War Crimes

Link: Palestinians call for Israel to be 'punished' for Gaza offensive [CNN]

You may notice that of all things in this blog, I have stayed clear of blogging about Israel and the Gaza Strip. I have very strong personal reasons for staying well clear of this debate but this article seems too important to ignore.

I don't want it to be true and I don't want to take sides in this debate. The problem is that I have absolute respect for Judge Richard Goldstone, the man who headed the UN investigation into the conflict that incurred this past December and January in Gaza. He formally presented his findings to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today.

"The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point," Goldstone said Tuesday. "This is the time of action." - Judge Richard Goldstone, UN Human Rights Council, Geneva [CNN]

I first heard about Richard Goldstone when he headed the Commission of Inquiry Regarding Public Violence and Intimidation in South Africa regarding the political violence that occurred during the last years of Apartheid. Known as the Goldstone Commission, this enquiry was instrumental in fostering reconciliation at the beginning of the new democratic administration.

It found what we had known for years being that the political violence in the last years of Apartheid was fuelled by a 'Third Force'; by people who wanted the country to be destabilised and ungovernable, who wanted to derail the attempts at reform and the movement towards ending Apartheid.

Goldstone was also a judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa from July 1994 to October 2003. The Constitutional Court is the highest court in the country of South Africa. This often fills me with pride as South Africa is said to have the most liberal constitution on Earth and they have as their highest court that which protects their constitution and people's human rights.

During his term at the Constitutional Court, Goldstone served as the chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda from 15 August 1994 to September 1996. It was only later that I would hear from him again, however, and that was when he headed the International Independent Inquiry on Kosovo from August 1999 until December 2001. I bought the full report but was unable to complete reading it as my knowledge was not developed at that time. I hope to give it another try soon.

My question is this: if Judge Richard Goldstone is one of the most respected people on Earth, the one person that has been constant in our investigation of the worst humanitarian crises over the past 20 years, why are we so quick to call his enquiry biased and flawed?

"But Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, questioned the report in strong language Tuesday, calling it one-sided and shameful.

"This report is based on carefully picked incidents, cherry-picked for political effect," Leshno-Yaar said. "The authors of this fact-finding report had little thought about finding facts."

Israel did not cooperate in the U.N. investigation, calling it flawed and biased" - CNN

Like I said, I don’t want it to be true.  I think the creation of the state of Israel after the atrocities of World War II was the first major success of the newly formed United Nations and a necessary consequence after the persecution of the Jews but I for one am going to try get my hands on Judge Goldstone’s report and to read his findings.


Friday, 25 September 2009

Vietnam War – The Impact of Media

I'm reading The Girl in the Picture at the moment which is the story of one of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam War:

I’m only right at the beginning but this is the first time I’ve read about events such as the Tet Offensive and the Hui Massacre.  I’ve become really interested in the role of the media during the Vietnam War and the ways in which the American public were manipulated and played by the media.  It makes me very aware of the current media coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan and the massive difference in the news as represented by the different news agencies. 
“To see is to believe but in whose context?” – Charlton Heston, Vietnam War: The Impact of Media
The following video narrated by Charlton Heston does have a strong anti-communist bias but I found it quite interesting in that it shows us one thing: we as the public can never know the truth because the media will take images and video footage and make it represent whatever it is they want us to believe.  Were the Americans wrong to go into Vietnam?  Were they guilty of war crimes, massacres and atrocities?  Or did the media completely forsake the American troops, condemning them when the troops and the South Vietnamese needed them most?  Well, I guess it depends which news channel you are watching.
Vietnam War - The Impact of Media
Narrated by Charlton Heston (56 mins)

For the record, my own view on the current war against terrorism is that American and British troops are being led like lambs to the slaughter in a war where there are no clearly identified targets or goals and therefore, no chance of ever succeeding.  Politicians should stop using young men ad women as their personal pawns and toy soldiers.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

What Is A Crime Against Humanity?

I've just discovered The Pinky Show. Well, I discovered the video I'm about to show you a little while ago but I didn't fully appreciate what The Pinky Show actually is. The Pinky Show is a low-tech animated show that attempts to educate people about misrepresented, supressed or ignored issues. They are a non-profit educational project and they hope to challenge and expand people's beliefs.

This project is very much aligned with my own attempts – to put these issues into a format that people (including myself) will understand; to simplify issues yet still maintain their magnitude and importance.

I found this video at the One Peaceful World blog which is a blog about human rights, international law and conflict prevention among other issues.

In this video, Pinky calls up international law expert Peter Weiss who is vice-president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Pinky asks him what a crime against humanity is and how it differs from a war crime.  They also discuss the 'superior orders' defense, torture and the role of the International Criminal Court.

This is a fantastic and educational video.


Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Obama addresses the UN General Assembly

The 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly opened on 15 September 2009 and the General Debate opened today. During the General Debate, each member nation has the chance to address the General Assembly. Today's proceedings began with addresses by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-moon and the President of the General Assembly, Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki of Libya. 

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil was next to address the UN General Assembly followed by President Barack Obama of the United States of America.

I consider President Obama’s address to be one of the most important as the USA is an extremely powerful nation and the USA are one of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.  I hope to concentrate on the speeches by the representatives of all five permanent members of the Security Council as well as the speech by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa as this holds specific interest to me personally (being that I am a South African expat).

My brief overview of the UN General Assembly and Security Council can be found here: The United Nations: an overview.

President Barack Obama addresses the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly

A full transcript of this speech can be found at First Door on the Left.

Obama began by acknowledging that many have come to view America with distrust and scepticism but then went on to list many of the achievements that he has made during his first nine months as president, most notably being the prohibition of torture by the USA.  It is interesting that he mentions in this paragraph his order to close Guantanamo Bay which is interesting because the future of the unit remains uncertain just four months away from the deadline as they struggle to make decisions on how to deal with the remaining detainees.  I personally felt that this was going to be a broken promise but does Obama’s mention of it mean a renewed commitment or was he just hoping to gain mileage from the promise alone of closing it?

“We’ve also re-engaged the United Nations. We have paid our bills. We have joined the Human Rights Council.  We have signed the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have fully embraced the Millennium Development Goals” – US President Barack Obama, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

I’m left incredibly uneasy by this later statement by Obama.  I feel that I want to say something like, “what do you mean that the US wasn’t already part of the Human Rights Council, that they hadn’t already fully committed themselves to the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations?”

There is so much that the United Nations is not achieving, so much that they feel powerless to do and yet they give permanent members of the Security Council the freedom to pick and choose which policies and programmes they will abide by?  No, I am sorry.  To me that is akin to not abiding by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Geneva Convention. 

“This is what we have already done. But this is just a beginning. Some of our actions have yielded progress. Some have laid the groundwork for progress in the future. But make no mistake: This cannot solely be America’s endeavour. Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone. We have sought — in word and deed — a new era of engagement with the world. And now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges” – US President Barack Obama, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

I think this is a very interesting statement. On the one hand, there is a sense that nations look to the USA to solve all of their problems and provide monetary support.  There seems to be a sentiment (especially in some British media) that the international and domestic financial crisis will not abate until the recession ends in the US, that improvements cannot be made until the US finds a solution.  Obama is saying that nations need to start taking responsibility for their own political situations but he is also saying that nations need to communicate and cooperate in finding global solutions.

On the other hand, there is a extent to which the US has been involved directly in the evolution of certain situations, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is one thing to declare war on a government but what of the people that have been affected by those wars?  I’m not saying I have the answer to that but I certainly have many questions.   There is also the question of aid and financial support.  Aid is never a gift, is it?  US aid always provides revenue that is streamed back into the US as American companies and personnel are utilised.

My personal feelings are completely incongruent and dichotomous.  I feel that each country should be sovereign and should look after their own problems internally before getting involved in the affairs of others and in the same breath, I wonder what will become of the third world countries that were ravaged by slavery and colonisation if assistance is not provided.  Mostly though, I feel that if a country signs an agreement or makes a promise such as the US and United Kingdom respectively did with Zimbabwe, then they should uphold those agreements or promises.

“The choice is ours. We can be remembered as a generation that chose to drag the arguments of the 20th century into the 21st; that put off hard choices, refused to look ahead, failed to keep pace because we defined ourselves by what we were against instead of what we were for. Or we can be a generation that chooses to see the shoreline beyond the rough waters ahead; that comes together to serve the common interests of human beings, and finally gives meaning to the promise embedded in the name given to this institution: the United Nations” – US President Barack Obama, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

It seems that Obama is calling for the United Nations to achieve what they originally set out to achieve, to ignore the politics and the spineless diplomacy that continues to allow genocide, war crimes and perpetual humanitarian crises.  If so, I wholeheartedly agree with him.  I wonder if this will be the generation to finally get the United Nations back on track?

Obama reiterated the notion that all nations have rights as well as responsibilities and then he introduced four pillars that he feels are fundamental for the future:

  • non-proliferation and disarmament;
  • the promotion of peace and security;
  • the preservation of our planet; and
  • a global economy that advances opportunity for all people

Obama’s words on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation were powerful yet chilling as he promised to take action on Iran and North Korea if they continue to ignore international standards with respect to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced. We must insist that the future does not belong to fear" – US President Barack Obama, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

Obama went on to discuss the promotion of peace and security and spent quite some time on the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians to great applause from the General Assembly. 

“The United States does Israel no favours when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. And — and nations within this body do the Palestinians no favours when they choose vitriolic attacks against Israel over constructive willingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and its right to exist in peace and security– US President Barack Obama, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

Obama then discussed climate change. It has been reported that China and India totally owned the US yesterday in the UN climate change debate as they promised ‘aggressive’ cuts in CO2 emissions compared with Obama’s simple acknowledgement of an historical failure to act and an undertaking to take action in the future.

Obama then discussed the global economy moving from the current financial crisis to a commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and a commitment to approach the 2010 summit with a concrete plan to make the goals a reality.

President Barack Obama is an excellent orator and I love to read his speeches as they fill me with hope and determination for the future. The problem is that words and excellent public speaking are not going to achieve real change but I do hope to be pleasantly surprised in the future and to witness Obama having made a real difference.


Thursday, 10 September 2009

Project 2,996: Rosa Gonzalez

Today, I remember Rosa Gonzalez, a victim of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th 2001. I’m writing this today as part of Project 2,996 and you can visit the site to read more tributes to the victims of 9/11.  An amazing 1,081 people (so far) will be remembered formally this year through Project 2,996 but the purpose of the project is to let the world know that we will never forget.  We will never forget the victims or the loss experienced by their families, friends, communities and indeed, the world.
Rosa Gonzalez was a single mother aged 32 and her 12-year-old daughter Jennifer meant the world to her.  She was very much loved by all who knew her and as her brother-in-law Jeffrey said in a tribute to her on the Legacy site, “Rosa was also a beautiful and caring person that certainly did not deserve to die in this way… Rosa was a single mother that really making an effort to better herself and give her daughter the best upbringing possible. Her job with the Port Authority was another step towards success”.

Jeffrey and his wife took Jennifer in after 9/11.  Shortly after the attacks, Rosa Gonzalez phoned her sister Migdalia from the 66th floor of 2 World Trade Center, told her she loved her and asked her sister to take care of her daughter.  The New York Times tribute to Rosa quotes her sister Maria as saying, “Of course, Migdalia will take care of Jennifer.  We will all take care of Jennifer. The situation is, we have to be strong for Jennifer.”
Rosa Gonzalez was one of seven sisters and she lived in New Jersey.  It is clear that everyone who met her was taken by her infectious smile and friendly nature.  As P. Martinez says on the Legacy site, “"I met Rosa a couple of years ago when she was working at the Housing Authority. She was always so happy and up-beat, kind and caring… My heart goes out to her daughter, I hope she'll always know what a great mother she had. I'm sorry Rosa that your life was cut so short”.
It is clear that Rosa stood out in the community and people remembered her once they had met her.  This is evidenced by the number of people that expressed guilt at escaping from the Twin Towers themselves and their sadness of hearing of Rosa’s passing.  I found the comments by her neighbour Cindy to be especially poignant as her grief was clear in her remarks: “It has taken me this long to be able to view this site. Rosa, Maggie and I lived in the same building and I still remember the day I was able to get home and found out Rosa wasn't. Sitting in the apartment with her family, posting pictures, leaving candles and flowers and waiting for any word at all. Although we were not close friends I will always remember the beautiful petite woman that Rosa was. I would give anything to be able to call her again to ask her to turn the music down!! Maggie I will always be here for you if you need me for anything”.
Rosa Gonzalez had been with her friend and colleague Genelle Guzman McMillan as they descended the stairs together and tried to escape from the World Trade Center.  They had been holding hands but were separated as the building came crashing down.  Genelle was the last person pulled out of the wreckage of the World Trade Center alive.
Rosa was one woman out of so many that died that day but she was a kind, caring and friendly woman who left behind heartbroken family, friends and co-workers and most importantly, her 12-year-old daughter Jennifer.  I hope that I have succeeded in paying tribute to Rosa Gonzalez and that her daughter knows that people all around the world are thinking of her and her family on this anniversary of the attacks.  Jennifer also left a tribute at the Legacy site: “hi my names jen rosa was my mother she was a very good person i love u and miss u so much we will never forgat u ever”.
I’ll be posting this one day early so as to assist the people at Project 2,996 in logging the names of this year’s participants.  They have over a thousand entries to log after all!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Power of Literacy

Bloggers Unite is an initiative by the founders of BlogCatalog to generate interest in important issues by getting bloggers to write about a particular subject on one day of the month. I see this as an effort to learn something new and to think about an issue long enough to write something meaningful and worthwhile about it and therefore, it is a valuable addition to my project to learn more about issues in an effort to understand them.

This is especially relevant in this edition of Bloggers Unite as I believe we tend to take literacy and its benefits for granted and struggle to comprehend the effects that a lack of literacy can have. On to International Literacy Day then.

UNESCO and International Literacy Day

In 1965, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) proclaimed September 8 to be International Literacy Day and it was first observed in 1966.

The aim of International Literacy Day is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies.

Although the programme has been running for 43 years, literacy is still a huge problem worldwide. This prompted the United Nations to declare the United Nations Literacy Decade which is lead by UNESCO and runs from 2003 to 2012. The overall target for the decade is to increase literacy rates by 50% by 2015 and this falls in line with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals regarding the reduction of poverty.

On International Literacy Day each year, UNESCO takes the opportunity to remind the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally. On the UNESCO website, the following chilling observation is made:

“Despite many and varied efforts, literacy remains an elusive target: some 776 million adults lack minimum literacy skills which means that one in five adults is still not literate; 75 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out” - UNESCO

Each year there is a different theme to International Literacy Day and this year the theme is The Power of Literacy.

The Power of Literacy

Literacy is power. Literacy gives individuals the power to make basic choices in their lives and to lead their lives as they want to. That possibly sounds simplistic but a little choice goes a long way.

Image Source

Women and Literacy

Of the 776 million adults that lacks literacy skills, UNESCO notes that two thirds of those are women. That means that around the world, 517 million women are unable to gain skilled employment (if they are permitted to work at all) and they remain powerless to break the cycle of dependence and subservience as they lack the basic skills to empower themselves and make better choices for themselves. Note, I’m not implying that illiterate women make bad choices, I’m simply saying that there are less choices available to them.

This is not just a third world problem either. It applies across societies from Saudi Arabia where women are told what to wear and are prohibited from working or gaining an education to so-called first world countries where a lack of literacy can keep women dependent on a welfare state or working in the most menial of jobs.

The Asia-Pacific Region and Literacy

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) website states that the Asia-Pacific region is home to three-quarters of the world’s illiterate population. They say that illiteracy is both a cause and consequence of poverty, deprivation and under-development. Literacy is not just about reading and writing; literacy gives individuals the tools with which to understand their environment and equips them with problem-solving skills. Literacy leads to improved cognitive functioning and enables people to interact more effectively within their communities.

Think about all the things that we take for granted: voting, banking, reading road signs, following written instructions or using a computer. These are basic necessities that can be made available to individuals through basic literacy but they are part of the world that is closed off to the illiterate.

“[The education of women] acts as a catalyst in virtually every dimension of development and poverty alleviation, with outcomes such as reduced fertility, reduced infant mortality, improved child survival, better family health, increased educational attainment, higher productivity, and general improvement in the nation's economic situation.” - UNESCAP

Literacy and Socio-Economic Indicators

In 1980 the Nicaraguan government embarked on the Sandinista Literacy Campaign as prior to the campaign, between 75% and 90% of the rural population was illiterate. The Literacy Campaign was a resounding success and was awarded the prestigious UNESCO Literacy Award.

The campaign presented a unique opportunity to study the effect of literacy on various socio-economic indicators. “The Impact of Women's Literacy on Child Health and its Interaction with Access to Health Services” by Sandiford, Cassel, Montenegro and Sanchez was published in the Population Studies in March 2005. This excellent study of 4434 women studied the effects of literacy on nutrition and child survival. There were three test groups: women educated through formal primary education, women who became literate through adult education and illiterate and semi-literate women.

Child and infant mortality and malnutrition were found to be significantly lower amongst the adult-educated population than amongst those that remained illiterate.

The significance of this study is that literacy is powerful and improves the lives of those people who gain it. While the study did favour those that had received education earlier in life, the impact of adult-education on formerly illiterate women was significant.

Literacy and Breaking the Chains of the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

As mentioned earlier, illiteracy is both a cause and a consequence of poverty, deprivation and under-development. Right across the globe, this leads to a phenomenon known as the self-fulfilling prophecy as the children of illiterate parents come to believe that they will not be able to escape the fate that has fallen upon their parents.

Literacy is power and can assist in breaking the chains of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Literacy empowers individuals and gives them access to a greater range of choices. Those educated as adults are better able to support their children and ensure their survival. Basic literacy paves the way for further education and the learning of new skills for both adults and children. Literacy builds communities and ensure that individuals are more productive and that they in turn can continue to support both their families and the community at large.

Perhaps the biggest power of literacy is that it builds a person’s self-confidence and spirit. This power alone can break the cycle and enable people to achieve greater things than their parents were able to achieve. The light that you see in a learner’s eyes, be they an adult or a child, is a light that continues to burn as they master the environment around them.

Visit the UNESCO International Literacy Prize Winners 2009 and see how you can get involved in improving literacy worldwide. Better yet, look up an adult education programme in your neighbourhood and get involved. With just a little time and patience, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to teach an adult to read! With practice and application, it is a skill they will never forget.

© A Passion to Understand

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