Tuesday, 27 July 2010

What Is Feminism?

I've had quite a few visits to this blog lately from people typing “what is feminism” or “how can I become a feminist” into Google.  There aren’t any real answers to those questions except to suggest that it is a choice.  At a certain point in your life you have to decide that racism is not okay.  Homophobia is not okay.  Discrimination and stereotyping based on a person’s race, gender, religion, nationality, sexuality or creed is not okay.  Exploitation of vulnerable people is not okay.  Forcing people into slavery or prostitution is not okay.  When you begin to think about the issues that matter, you come to realise that providing different opportunities and rewards to men and women is not okay.  Two thirds of the 776 million illiterate adults in the world are women.  One in two women living in South Africa will be raped in her lifetime.  Men are paid more than women for the same jobs worldwide.  It is about asking questions and not being satisfied until you know that women are not being exploited, that they have the same rights as men and that they should be given the same opportunities.  The video below is very useful in explaining what feminism is but also in pointing out that feminism will mean different things to different people.

“Feminism is about asking questions and taking a moment and thinking ‘well, why? Why does our society work like this? Why are women treated in this way? Why are women expected to look like this? Why are women expected to act like this? It’s al about questioning the role of women and understanding the role of women”

If you are thinking of becoming a feminist (or any other kind of activist) then I would suggest buying a notebook or starting a blog and jotting down what you believe.  Write down what you think about issues like rape, human trafficking, gender inequality, education, literacy, equal opportunities, abortion or marriage and then seek out people who think the same things as you.  You don’t have to hold the most radical idea to be an activist but part of the process is developing the backbone to tell people when their words or actions are not okay.  That is why it is important to have friends who think like you do, whether you can find them in your neighbourhood or online.


Monday, 26 July 2010

“Kill Every Last One”

Kaing Guek Eav
[Photo: AFP]

Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch has been found guilty of crimes against humanity today and sentenced to 35 years in prison.  The sentence has disappointed many people who had expected him to receive life in prison and was met with dismay and shock.  Duch (pronounced “Doik”) will not serve the full 35 years as he received 5 years off for illegal imprisonment and a further 11 years off for time already spent behind bars.  It is likely then that the 67-year-old will serve 19 years in prison for his heinous crimes.

Although he confessed to his crimes and begged for forgiveness from the court, he still maintained that he was only following orders.  He displayed the most incredible cruelty and brutality towards his victims.

“Despite acknowledging the role he played at Tuol Sleng, codenamed "S-21", he insisted that he had only been following orders from his superiors, and on the trial's final day in November shocked many by asking to be acquitted.

But prosecutors said the former maths teacher ordered the use of brutal torture methods to extract "confessions" from detainees - including pulling out toenails and administering electric shocks - and approved all the executions.

A meticulous record-keeper, Duch built up a huge archive of photos, confessions and other evidence documenting those held at Tuol Sleng.

In one memo he kept, a guard asked him what to do with six boys and three girls accused of being traitors. He replied: "Kill every last one."”

- Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch found guilty [BBC News]

I still maintain that a truth and reconciliation commission would have done far more towards healing, acceptance and resolution than these trials.  In an absence of such a mechanism though, the trials must go ahead.  Thirty years might sound like a long time but it happened within living history and the survivors of the victims of these crimes need to see people like Kaing Guek Eav spend the rest of their lives behind bars. 


Sunday, 25 July 2010

Cambodia: Kaing Guek Eav verdict tomorrow

Cambodia - S21 soldiers
Tuol Sleng jail: The guards would beat the prisoners before they were sent to Cambodia's killing fields.
[Photo: Nic Dunlop, Panos]

A verdict in the trial of Kaing Guek Eav (known as Duch) is expected on Monday and will be broadcast live across Cambodia.  Duch was the former Tuol Sleng Jail (S-21) prison chief and was involved in the deaths of approximately 15,000 people.  At the beginning of the trial, Duch repeatedly apologised and begged for forgiveness for his crimes but shockingly asked for an acquittal at the end of the trial.  He is the only person to have admitted responsibility to the tribunal but then again, none of the other trials have really begun yet so that may change in time.

Cambodia's War Crimes Tribunal was set up after a decade of negotiations between the Cambodian government and the United Nations.  Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been vocal in his opposition of the pursuing further suspects as he fears that it could destabilise the country further.  Most of the Cambodians that I have spoken to on this blog and in person feel that it is too late to dredge up these issues now.  Many Cambodians do not follow the trials because it is either too painful on a personal level for them to do so or they simply feel that it happened too long ago and should be left alone.  See: Cambodia awaits Khmer Rouge prison chief verdict [The Province].

One person who is looking forward to the verdict is Hilary Holland.  Her brother John Dewhirst was the only Briton to be slaughtered in the “Killing Fields” as his boat strayed too close to the coast of Cambodia and he was captured, tortured and forced to admit to being a CIA spy before being executed.  See: Duch trial: sister of Briton who died in Khmer Rouge killing fields says his murderer should never be freed [Telegraph.co.uk].

Whatever verdict is delivered, you can be sure that Duch will appeal it as he recently sacked his international lawyer and decided to keep only his Cambodian lawyer.  He cited “loss of confidence” and this might in fact be linked to his dramatic request for an acquittal at the end of the trial.  If there was discord between his local and international lawyers and if his international lawyers were the ones encouraging him to own up to his actions, then he may well have come to the end of the trial and realised what the impact of those admissions would be.  He would never have been given an outright acquittal but may have come to realise that there is a limit to the leniency that could be shown to him.  See: K.Rouge prison chief sacks his international lawyer [AFP].

Cambodia - Kaing Guek Eav trial - Duch
Chum Mey, 79, one of the few survivors of Khmer Rouge's security prison Tuol Sleng (S-21), looks from the cell where he was tortured in Phnom Penh.
[Photo: Chor Sokunthea, Reuters]

Another person who is looking forward to the verdict is Chum Mey.  In the two years he spent in S-21, he was subjected to incredible torture and the experience continues to haunt him 30 years later.

“For the 79-year-old Mr Mey, a warm, friendly man who survived two years inside Tuol Sleng only for his wife and child to be murdered, it has meant visiting on an almost daily basis the torture camp-turned-museum that now stands as a deeply disturbing reminder of the darkness of which humans are capable” – Independent.co.uk.

I am sure that the verdict tomorrow will be interesting but I am unsure whether it will do anything to bring reconciliation or healing to the situation.

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.

Click here to read all of my previous posts on Cambodia.


Friday, 23 July 2010

Book Review: Enslaved: The New British Slavery

Enslaved The year 2007 may have marked the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery but the reality is that many people around the world are living in conditions of forced labour or slavery.  In her book Enslaved: The New British Slavery, Rahila Gupta gets in contact with five modern day slaves and convinces them to share their stories. These are heartbreaking and shocking tales that expose the hidden and invisible world of modern day slavery. All of these testimonies were obtained in England so this is not simply a "third world problem" that we can sweep under a rug; it is happening in our neighbourhoods.

The book includes the testimonies of five modern day slaves:

  1. Farhia Nur was from Somalia.  She told the story of how she was subjected to the most severe type of female genital mutilation, infibulation, when she was only eight-years-old.  She was just seventeen years of age when war broke out in Somalia and she found herself unable to return home from her place of work where she helped out with household chores.  Once dependent on her employers, they stopped paying her and one of the men in the family began to sexually assault her.  She was eventually trafficked to England and began a long process of seeking asylum while repeatedly being subjected to further exploitation and unpaid labour.
  2. Natasha Bulova originally came from Samara in Soviet Union.  Natasha responded to an offer to work abroad and was trafficked to Brussels via Frankfurt.  On arrival in Brussels she was sexually assaulted and forced into prostitution.  When she tried to leave, she was informed that she was deeply in debt with her pimp for the costs of her transportation, visas and passport.  After a particularly vicious attack by a client, she was sold to a pimp in London who also assaulted her repeatedly and forced her to work as a prostitute. Eventually she is caught in a police raid and begins the process of seeking asylum.
  3. Naomi Conte was just ten-years-old when war broke out in Sierra Leone and she found herself homeless and alone on the streets of Freetown.  After living on the streets for eighteen months, she was taken in by a family and made to look after their children for no pay.  She was trafficked to England and made to work as an unpaid domestic servant and subjected to incredible abuse.  She eventually escaped with a man to Birmingham but he soon began to prostitute her and took all of the money too.  She eventually made it back to London where she discovered she was pregnant and began the long process of applying for asylum.
  4. Liu Bao Ren tells the horrific story of his persecution as a Fujianese person in China and his gruelling and shocking journey as he was trafficked across Asia and Europe by a triad gang.  He arrived in England quite by accident and began a process of working for near slave wages as he attempted to pay back the triad gang.  He tells the story of paying exorbitant rentals for rooms that housed several men, cockle-picking on the coast and falling out of favour of the triads. 
  5. Amber Lobepreet from the Punjab in India was married young and the demands of the groom’s family almost ruined her own family’s financial standings.  It seems that the couple were in love at first but Amber soon found herself abused by the mother and sister.  They all moved to England where Amber was made to do all of the cooking and cleaning in the home and where her husband took on a lover.  Amber was subjected to the most horrendous treatment before being rejected by both her family and that of her husband and finding herself all alone in England.

The five stories were very well told and were aided by competent interpreters.  It is nearly impossible to put the book down as you try to come to terms with the fact that these are true stories that happened to real people and that some of the worst of these people’s experiences occurred within the borders of one of the most powerful nations on the planet. 

In the last third of the book, the author takes an in depth look into why people migrate and the differences between trafficked victims and economic migrants.  She goes into some detail in analysing the financial impact of immigration and seeks to dispel the myth that immigrants cost tax payers huge amounts of money.  In fact, Gupta states, migrants constitute ten per cent of the population in the United Kingdom and produce eight per cent of the wealth.  She reminds the reader that asylum seekers do not get free medical care and are extremely limited in their recourse to public funds.  Gupta calls for wide-ranging reforms in immigration policy as she asserts that it is this policy which fuels situation in which slavery, forced labour and trafficking can occur.  Such arguments might be especially pertinent now with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat alliance in power as both of these parties called for a tightening of immigration controls and more stringent conditions to be imposed on refugees.

This is a very good book that will dispel the myth that modern day slavery does not exist.  I would certainly recommend it for any reader seeking to expand their knowledge of trafficking, slavery and the plight of asylum seekers.

You can click here to buy the book from Amazon.co.uk.

Article first published as Book Review: Enslaved: The New British Slavery by Rahila Gupta on Blogcritics.


Monday, 19 July 2010

On The Use of Illicit Drugs in Legitimate Therapy

Many of you will already know that I have extremely strong views on drugs and drug use.  I know that America is losing the war on drugs and I know there are many social problems that would most likely be alleviated if we decriminalised the drug trade but I still am against drugs of all kinds.  I do not believe in safe or so-called soft drugs and I don’t think there is such a thing as reasonable or safe drug taking.  What I do know is that drugs destroy lives and they have torn apart the lives of many people close to me.  I know addicts as well as the victims of crimes that were committed by people on drugs and alcohol and I think something has to budge. 

Quite simply, I believe that there are people who get rich and powerful by peddling drugs to the most vulnerable people on the planet.  Those people may be vulnerable due to their socioeconomic status or may be predisposed towards addiction due to mental illness, sexual or physical abuse or childhood traumas.  This cycle has to end.

I’m not objective though and my thoughts are scattered and not well formed.  In the interest of fairness and objectivity, I thought I’d share a really interesting discussion I had today with my friend Joe who has given me permission to share what he said. 

The Drug Trade
Reuters: Rafiq Shirzad [Photo source]

Link: Ecstasy Helps Treat PTSD Patients, Trial Finds [CBS News]

Joe posted this link and I stated that from my own experience with a post-trauma experience that drugs could only serve to assist the patient in repressing the experience and that eventually it would all come out into their consciousness.  I believe that rather than running away from the experience and helping the brain to further repress it, the experience should be approached in a safe and controlled environment.  Joe said that this was exactly what the article was about and that ecstasy had been shown to provide such a safe environment in a much shorter period of time.  I still wasn’t convinced but he had this to say:

“As a drug user you may think I am biased in my views. This is not the case. I KNOW there are MANY bad effects of drugs. I have not only experienced some of them but have also seen people like M. go through absolute hell.

However, I do think that there is the potential for certain illegal drugs to have good effects. Look at the case of medical marijuana. Also, MDMA was first developed as an aid to therapists before the rave culture usurped it for its own less noble purposes. LSD was developed (and actually used) for the same purposes.

Did you know that there is a scheduled analogue of speed (it is called dextroamphetamine sulphate) which has all the desired effects of speed (alertness, better concentration, higher levels of energy) and none of the side effects (difficulty sleeping after the come down, aching muscles and a sense of wanting more more more). It is used in low doses (when combined with amphetamine aka speed) to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. In higher doses, the US and EU governments give it to astronauts and certain armed forces units (usually special ops) to use because it actually has MANY benefits and the few negative side effects (both physical and psychological), if experienced at all, are considered safe enough to risk in those circumstances.

MANY illegal drugs started out as innocent medicines and it was only when their recreational value was discovered that the governments of the world were forced to illegalise them. This was due to the consumption outside of a controlled system i.e. the supervision of a GP and without the supervision, the potential for problems was higher.

My argument is this. There are LOADS of drugs that are illegal to have without prescription (methadone for example) or permission (vets are allowed to have ketamine). Why can't drugs like LSD or MDMA, which were classified in the 70's and effectively banned altogether, be reclassified under similar rules to drugs like methadone, amphetamine and ketamine? That way the medical community can take advantage of the benefits (which were proven when they were first made) of these drugs”.

Joe is in fact correct and even I can see that despite my strong views.  The difficulty is that a message goes out to young people that if drugs can be used safely then they are safe.  The problem is that it is the most vulnerable young people who need to believe that the most but when combined with the experience of a broken home, mental illness or sexual abuse, drugs always seem to destroy the person eventually. 

But if we return briefly to what we were in fact debating which was the long-term efficacy of using MDMA with trauma patients I have one major reservation.  Sure, you can approach great trauma when your chemical and mental state is altered but what about when you sober up?  Anyone who has ever done something as legal as drowning their sorrows knows of the absolute clarity you get when you are drunk and how it all falls apart again when you’re sober. 

I know of one girl who spoke of the most incredible trauma every time she was on drugs.  Time after time, every last shocking detail was relived and shared.  Years after cleaning up that issue is still there and continues to be a massive entity in her life but she is no closer to sorting it out.  I watch her now and I know she is running scared and I imagine that if she ever did make it into therapy that they’d have to start all over again and break down those ego defences one by one.

What do you think?


Saturday, 17 July 2010

15th Anniversary of Srebrenica Genocide

Sunday, July 11 marked the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.  In marked contrast to the reconciliation and nation building that we saw last year in Rwanda, the anniversary in Srebrenica was marked by funerals and yet more denials.

Link: Bosnians mark Srebrenica genocide with 775 victims [World Bulletin]

© World Bulletin / Srebrenica genocideWhile the atrocity occurred 15 years ago, the process of finding and identifying the victims is ongoing.  The link above is an extremely well written article about the massacre.

“Hundreds of thousands Bosnians gathered in Sarajevo, commemorating the victims of Srebrenica massacre, the Europe’s worst genocide after WWII as trucks loaded with the remains of 775 newly identified victims of the Srebrenica massacre left the morgue there to head for the ill-fated eastern town.

The Bosnians gathered near Sarajevo carrying the victims, whose remains were found in numerous mass graves scattered around eastern Bosnia, will be reburied at a memorial cemetery near Srebrenica on Sunday, on the 15th anniversary of the massacre” - World Bulletin

© World Bulletin / Srebrenica genocide© World Bulletin / Srebrenica genocide

To date, 6,186 of the victims have been identified but close to 8,100 remains have been found.  It is estimated that the grand majority of those men and boys were killed on one evening: 11 July 1995.  Bodies are often not intact as the Serbs dug up the bodies and moved them in an effort to conceal the massacre. 

© World Bulletin / Srebrenica genocide  

Link: 15th Anniversary of Srebrenica Genocide [US Dept of State]

World leaders from around the globe recognised the anniversary and offered their condolences.  In the link above, Hillary Rodham Clinton recognised the need to rebuild the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“A prosperous, free, and unified Bosnia and Herzegovina is the most worthy monument to those who lost their lives at Srebrenica and the best guarantee against such a tragedy ever repeating itself” - Hillary Rodham Clinton

Link: Commemoration of Srebrenica Massacre [UN]

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke at a ceremony commemorating the massacre in new York on Monday. 

“We recognize the burden of families and loved ones who carry the memories and pain with each step.  And, we vow, together, never again to allow such an atrocity to happen at any time, in any place.  This we owe to the souls of Srebrenica.  This we owe to our common humanity.

This is a day to remember the horror of Srebrenica.  But it is also a time to reassert the power of tolerance and understanding.  All Bosnians, and indeed, all of the people of that part of the Balkans, must re-engage with one other on the basis of mutual respect and trust.

Fifteen years have passed.  The region has made progress.  I am particularly heartened by recent efforts to further smooth the path towards reconciliation.  But there is still a long way to go” - Ban Ki-moon.

Amidst calls for understanding and reconciliation, nation building and peace making, there were still Bosnian Serbs denying what had happened and a ceremony to honour their genocidal leader.

Link: Bosnian Serb party lauds genocide suspect Karadzic [AP]

A ceremony was held last Saturday to mark the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Serb Democratic Party.  The leader Mladen Bosić honoured its founder Radovan Karadžić who is on trial at the ICTY for war crimes and genocide.  To honour this man at this time is beyond insensitive and an obvious attempt at inciting hatred and hurt.  One of the crimes that he stands accused of is the Srebrenica genocide itself.

Link: Bosnian Serb leader denies Srebrenica genocide [AP]

The Prime Minister of Republika Srpska spoke on Monday and denied that the events at Srebrenica constituted a genocide.  Milorad Dodik spoke at an event remembering the estimated 3,500 Serbians killed in the war, many of them soldiers.  Dodik expressed bitterness that the deaths of these soldiers are not remembered in the same way as the victims of the genocide.  I think it is insulting and disgusting to contrast the deaths of those killed in combat against that of 8,000 men and boys who were rounded up and executed.  The crime did not end there either as the campaign of ethnic cleansing increased to include the repeated rape of the remaining women and girls.

© A Passion to Understand

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