Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Srebrenica: Rebuilding Lives With Microfinance

Alastair Stewart OBE is an English journalist and newscaster.  He recently retuned from a trip to Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina which he visited in his capacity as an Ambassador for CARE International UK

During his time in Srebrenica, he visited several micro-entrepreneurs who are improving their lives with small loans organised through the microfinance company,  Watch the video below to see the moving account of how people are rebuilding their lives with microloans and what you can do to help this Christmas.

What is microfinance? is an initiative from Care International UK in association with The Co-operative.  The website operates through the principle of microfinance, which is essentially the delivering of credit and financial services to individuals who are too poor to be serviced by regular banks. microloans from CARE International - Banner Ad

In his 2004 paper Microcredit: Sound Business or Development Instrument, Gert van Maanen noted that “banks are for people with money, not for people without”, that the people who need credit most are those without the sufficient collateral to support it.  Microfinance is not charity.  Charity perpetuates poverty whereas microfinance can enable an individual to build on their skills and deliver them from poverty.

So how does it work?

It all begins when the entrepreneur has an idea.  The microfinance institution knows that they have to act quickly to ease the burden of poverty and ensure the success of the project.  Therefore, if the idea is good, the loan is granted.  The entrepreneur is then assisted in setting up a profile and members of the public can then lend their support to the project by making a contribution in increments of £15 or more.

This money can then go back to the microfinance institution to repay the initial loan and free the institution to back another project.  The entrepreneur is then able to grow their business and eventually repay the loan. 

There is always a risk with microfinance and you may not receive all of your money back from the entrepreneur. Despite the delays and setbacks, most microloans are repaid in full and on time, a sure indication that this system works.

Read about Alastair Stewart's experiences on his blog Bosnia and Microfinance. This short film shown above was shot & edited by Jon Spaull.


Friday, 18 November 2011

Open Society Justice Initiative Fact Sheet on Cambodian Tribunal

The Open Society Justice Initiative has issued an excellent two page fact sheet on the work of the ECCC and the Cambodia Tribunal.  You can download the PDF document from this page: Fact Sheet: Khmer Rouge Leaders on Trial.

There was much that I already knew on the fact sheet but a couple of items that were new to me.  For instance, of interest is the fact that the case will be split into a series of phases in order that each issue might be dealt with in full and that judgement can be reached before moving on to the next phase.  This was decided “due to concerns that the elderly defendants might otherwise die before any judgments are brought, and similar concerns about further delaying justice for surviving victims”.

The first phase of the trial will deal with the period immediately following the Khmer Rouge rise to power in April 1975, when a massive proportion of the population was forcibly removed from Phnom Penh and other cities and forced to work in the countryside and rural areas. 

It is intended that future phases of the case will focus on “crimes committed at co-operatives, worksites, security centres, and execution sites, as well as other crimes, including genocide against minorities”.

There has been quite a lot of controversy surrounding the Cambodia Tribunal lately, especially with respect to cases 003 and 004 regarding officially unnamed defendants.  There have been allegations of mishandling of cases and Judge Blunk resigned in October citing political interference in the case.  Despite these difficulties, I concur with the Open Society Justice Initiative when they state:

“If the trial is carried out independently, transparently, and in accord with international standards, it will make a major contribution to the cause of accountability in Cambodia and to the global movement for international justice”.

I would recommend downloading the document as it is a short, easy and informative read.  A direct link to the PDF: Fact Sheet: Khmer Rouge Leaders on Trial (pdf).


Thursday, 17 November 2011

Cambodia Tribunal Declares Ieng Thirith Unfit to Stand Trial

Ieng Thirith
AFP/Archives/Heng Sinith

The Washington Post is reporting that the UN-backed Cambodia war crimes tribunal, the ECCC, has found Ieng Thirith unfit to stand trial on the grounds of diminished capacity due to Alzheimer’s disease. Ieng Thirith has been reported as showing signs of dementia.

This comes just four days before the start of Case 002 in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia which is focusing on crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge, a communist, Maoist party that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 under the leadership of Pol Pot

The Khmer Rouge set up a radical form of agrarian communism whereby population was set to work on the land and the urban, educated population was removed from cities.  Working conditions were extreme and between 20 and 25% of the population was literally worked to death.  It has proved impossible to gauge accurate figures but estimates say that between 850,000 and 1.5 million men, women and children died from execution, torture, forced work or starvation.

Case 001 of the ECCC was against Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch, who was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 35 years in prison in July 2010.  Duch was the prison chief of the notorious Tuol Sleng Jail (S-21) in Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge regime and was responsible for the deaths of approximately 15,000 people.

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

Case 002, due to start on 21 November 2011, is the case against Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith.  This case is in an entirely different league to the former case as it is against four former high-ranking, government officials. 

Khieu Samphan, aged 79, was the former Head of State; Nuon Chea, aged 84, was former Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea; Ieng Sary, aged 85, was the former Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs; and his wife, Ieng Thirith, aged 78, was the former Minister of Social Affairs.

Despite the numbers of people that perished during the Khmer Rouge regime, legally, the event is not classified as a genocide because the perpetrators were of the same nationality and ethnic group as the victims and there was no systematic attempt to destroy a certain ethnic, racial, religious or national group.

Therefore, case 002 brought charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the four defendants.

Nevertheless, in December 2009, charges of genocide were brought against Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan and later against Ieng Thirith in relation to the brutal slaughter and oppression of Cambodia’s ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslim minorities during the Khmer Rouge era.  Charges of murder, imprisonment and torture have also been brought against the defendants.

The Cambodia Tribunal was always going to be problematic in that they only began 30 years after the brutal events of the Khmer Rouge era.  We are experiencing similar problems with aging defendants with the Ratko Mladić trial less than 20 years after the events.  The difficulty is that these people committed unspeakable acts and the trials are as important for the punitive element as they are in unearthing the atrocities that were committed.  The ECCC is beset by scandal and setbacks at present and I just hope that they can push through and get to the bottom of this senseless and tragic time in Cambodian history.


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Immigration and Human Rights: Alabama

This is a guest post by Anthony Garcia.

The U.S. economy has not been faring well in recent years. Politicians try to gain election momentum on issues of high rates of joblessness, and this can be used as a justification for racism and human rights violations to flourish. Many citizens from both uneducated and highly educated backgrounds blame immigration for the country’s woes, using rhetoric about job stealing and who is or is not a “real” American to explain why we as a nation are spiraling into debt and losing jobs fast. For many of us in America, especially for minority citizens and Mexican Americans, this type of anti- “alien” rhetoric can ruin lives. Not only does it dehumanize, but it disallows for any nuances in personal situation, completely compartmentalizing and “othering” immigrants of color.

Campesinos harvesting summer squash
Campesinos harvesting summer squash uploaded by Robert Dickey on Flickr

There is potential for crisis on the human rights front now occurring in the southern belt states of the U.S., with state laws seeking to close the flow of illegal immigration. The patrol for illegal immigrants in Border States has moved inward, so people of color are not just being profiled at the border anymore, but they may not be safe from harassment inland either. This has already happened in Arizona, where you can get pulled over for suspicion of being an alien. In other words, if you are a person of any shade darker than lily white, you can be pulled over for just that. The recent laws in Alabama have increased anxiety and business loss for those employers that depend on workers who are willing to do difficult tasks for little pay. Although racial profiling has occurred in the US for years, it is now being sanctioned because conservative politicians are determined that “only Americans” should work in America.

The issue is not a small one; of the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. that are undocumented or considered “illegal aliens,” more than two-thirds are directly placed in the country’s work labor pool. This influx affects the U.S. industrial economy at multiple levels, most notably farming and food production, which critically depends on undocumented “alien” labor. Americans just don’t work such jobs, viewing the pay as too low for work that is manually difficult. America relies on immigrants for survival, but things have been getting even more heated because of the economic strain.

In 2011 four states have already passed legislation making it harder for undocumented workers to simply stay within those jurisdictions, and Alabama has become the fifth. Alabama’s law included an additional concerning requirement for schools to check students’ immigration statuses. Thus, children of color cannot go to school without fear or being harassed and terrorized. There is a lack of a national standard at the federal level, so when states make laws like this that could affect human rights in Alabama, Arizona, and California, there is no means to regulate it yet at a national level in order to make sure that rights are not being violated and people will not be abused.

Campesino Nicholas
Campesino Nicholas uploaded by Robert Dickey on Flickr

Unfortunately, in its zeal to make things “uncomfortable” for targeted groups, Alabama’s state may have infringed on human rights laws, regardless of whether they are undocumented or not. In fundamental areas such as criminal law, education, and emergency health, everyone has a right to certain treatment under federal legislation. The state’s attempt to enforce school immigration checks has brought up the ghosts of its shady past in the Civil Rights movement, and the nation is paying attention. However, the damage in Alabama to countless families has already begun.

In a counter move to the Obama Administration’s protest that the law violated human rights and broke federal law, southern state proponents for tougher immigration pushed for new congressional laws supporting those that exist in Alabama now, trying to part the federal government from interfering with existing state immigration laws. The hope is that by cutting off the Executive branch support, the financial support to sue the affected states will dry up and kill the Department of Justice litigation in its tracks. This political maneuvering despite information that contradicts the belief that Americans want, deserve, and are going to fill the jobs that require food to be picked now, the Alabama legislators have enacted the law, including the school immigration checks.

This has not only disrespected citizens and their outcries, but has had a chilling effect on the communities in Alabama. Parents, worried about immigration officials or law enforcement personnel grabbing their kids on the way to class, have pulled their children out of the institutions. Not only does this hurt the child involved, suddenly losing access to education, it instills fear in multiple generations. Intentionally barring these kids from an education violates federal law, and lays the groundwork for further rights violations.

Alternatives are being discussed, but not fast enough. What is scariest about this law is that despite lack of support from a federal level and a citizen level for many farmers, the law is still enforced. If that is possible, then it is entirely probable that states will continue to enact racist and discriminatory policies that violate federal law and human rights.

About the Guest Author

Anthony recently completed his graduate education in English Literature. A New Mexico native, he currently resides and writes in Seattle, Washington. He writes primarily about education, travel, literature,graduate programs, and American culture.

Friday, 4 November 2011

USHMM Fellow Michael Dobbs to Cover Mladic Trial, Research “Origins of Evil”

ushmmMichael Dobbs is an award-winning foreign correspondent and author who is currently serving as a Goldfarb fellow at the Committee on Conscience at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

This talented journalist will travel to the Hague to observe the trial of Ratko Mladic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  He will also travel to Srebrenica, Sarajevo and Belgrade, interviewing not only the victims of Ratko Mladic and his men, but also his associates and, I presume, supporters.

He is currently blogging about his experiences on his blog at  At the outset, his posts appear to be balanced as he searches for the truth and questions what he is observing.  He wrote of his difficulties in accepting the term genocide when referring to the massacre at Srebrenica in his post Defining Genocide

I wanted to express a knee-jerk reaction to this, we all do when faced with the overwhelming abundance of genocide denial with respect to both Rwanda and Srebrenica.  But on reading his post, it turns out that his question was well considered and he appeared satisfied at his affirmative answer.  These questions are important and need to be asked and answered.  We can’t sweep them under the carpet for fear that we might be pandering to the fantasies of genocide-deniers.

There is no doubt that Michael has a long, challenging journey ahead and in the video below, he discusses the work that he will be doing and the questions he intends to answer:

His questions will include:

  • Why did the massacre at Srebrenica happen?
  • Could it have been prevented by the international community?
  • What lessons have we taken from the series of trials of former Yugoslav military leaders over the last decade?
  • Have these trials contributed to helping to prevent future genocides?

You can follow Michael Dobb on Twitter: @MichaelDobbs and you can also follow the USHMM: @HolocaustMuseum.


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Serbia Reiterates Call to Mutually Withdraw Genocide Suits

Slobodan Homen
Credit: OSCE/Milan Obradovic

Serbian State Secretary at the Ministry of Justice and PR coordinator Slobodan Homen has reiterated the Serbian position that it would be best for both Serbia and Croatia to withdraw their mutual genocide suits.  However, reports that Homen has stated that if Croatia do not withdraw their claim then Serbia have no choice but to defend its interests.

Croatia initially filed the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Croatia v. Serbia) with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in July 1999.  Preliminary objections culminated on November 18, 2008 when the ICJ ruled against Serbia's three objections to the case and decided that the court has jurisdiction over the case.

In January 2010, Serbia filed a counter-memorial against Croatia.  This prompted the court to issue an order on February 4, 2010 stating that they required a reply by Croatia and a rejoinder by Serbia to ensure equality between the parties and to give Croatia the opportunity to reply to Serbia’s counter-claims.  They fixed time limits for these proceedings.  Croatia was to issue their reply by December 20, 2010, which they did, and Serbia was given until November 4, 2011 to submit their rejoinder.

Croatia’s Case Against Serbia

In the application to institute proceedings [1999, PDF], Croatia assert that by seizing control of the Knin region and eastern Slavonia and their shelling and attacking of portions of Dalmatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) drove Croat and non-Serb citizens from the areas with the intent to "ethnically cleanse" these regions, and to unite them with the FRY to form a "greater" Serbian State”.  They see this as constituting a violation of the Genocide Convention.

They further assert that by instilling fear and panic into the Serbian population in the Knin region immediately prior to the commencement of Operation Storm, the FRY committed a further violation of the Genocide Convention when they “directed, instigated and coerced the Serb population …. to evacuate from the area, thus creating a second "ethnic cleansing" of the area”.

They further state their intention to show that the FRY conducted a campaign of terror designed to bring about the destruction of the Croat and non-Serb communities in part or whole, the causation of serious physical and mental harm and the imposition of measures designed to bring about the prevention of births, all violations of the Genocide Convention.

Serbia’s Case Against Croatia

In the counter-memorial filed on January 4, 2010, Serbia claimed that Croatia committed acts against ethnic Serbs living in the Krajina Region (UN Protected Areas North and South) in Croatia during August 1995 with the intention to destroy the local population and rid the area of ethnic Serbs.  Specifically, they claim that acts committed during operation Storm violated the Genocide Convention article II, a) killing members of the group; b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part [see ICJ Press Release February 18,2010].

In addition, reported in January 2010 that the counter-memorial detailed crimes committed against Croatia's ethnic Serb population in Gospić, Sisak, Pakračka Poljana, Karlovac, Osijek, Paulin Dvor, Medački Džep.  They cite crimes against victims not only during the 1991-1995 conflict, but also after the war when ethnic Serb refugees tried to return to their homes.

Finally, Serbia sought to present the lawsuit in the context of historical relations between the two countries, focusing on World War II, the Ustasha involvement in the persecution of Serbs and the mass killings that occurred at Jasenovac.

Serbia continues to maintain that this is not a matter that should be played out in the courts but one that should be dealt with through negotiation and reconciliation. 

It is indeed regrettable that the Truth Commission: Serbia and Montenegro failed in 2003 as such a commission would play an important role in paving the way to understanding, forgiveness, acceptance and reconciliation.  As it stands, tensions remain high and emotions volatile.

However, this is not in any way an excuse to avoid the investigation and prosecution of claims of genocide, if the ICJ sees merit in the claims.  In short, if genocide was committed, then there is simply no avoiding a trial.


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

On Rehabilitation and Punishment

Window of the "Starkville City Jail"

Johannesburg, South Africa
6.45pm. Monday 17 April 2006.  I logged onto a local news site and was thrilled to see a photo of Brett Goldin, my colleague Peter’s son.  Brett was an up-and-coming actor and we’d been closely following his successes over the years, sharing in Peter’s pride and excitement as Brett appeared in plays, on television and landed his first film roles.

6.47pm. Monday 17 April 2006. Oh no.  No, no, no, no, no.  Brett Goldin and his friend Richard Bloom were carjacked around midnight on 15/16 April 2006, stripped naked, shot in the back of the head and left to die beside the highway outside of Cape Town.  Murder.

Link: Five held after murder of Crazy Monkey actor [IOL]
Link: Double Murder Leaves Arts Community in Tears [IOL]

The next six months passed in a blur as we struggled to come to terms with the murder that broke the hearts of Peter and his family.  Nothing felt right or safe in the world anymore.

On a personal level, I suffered from nightmares and insomnia and was overcome by images of somebody turning towards me, pulling out a gun and pointing it at my head.  This had in fact happened to me in January 1998 when I was in a bank robbery.  It was difficult to see it at the time (and these intrusive images and nightmares lasted for two years until early 2008) but the murder of these two people was a trigger and finally forced me to confront the unresolved issues stemming from that bank robbery.

29 May 2006: Nurshad Davids and Jayde Wyngaard turn state witnesses.  They admitted to robbing and carjacking Brett and Richard and agreed to testify against the alleged killers Shavaan Marlie and Clinton Davids.  They were convicted of robbery, kidnapping and possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Link: Secrecy surrounds Goldin, Bloom witnesses [IOL]

9 January 2007: Peter Goldin passed away, most of us believed of a broken heart.

In February 2007 we made the decision to leave South Africa.  We try to tell people it wasn’t because of the crime but of course it was.  It just wasn’t because of these crimes.  It was because I knew two other people who had been murdered, shot in the back of the head execution style and because I had been attacked in my car and in my home.  These murders were just the final straw.

21 May 2007: The murderers of Brett Goldin and Richard Bloom confessed to their crimes, thus avoiding a long, drawn-out trial.  They were sentenced to 28 years each.

Link: Goldin, Bloom: Plea spells out executions [IOL]

At the time Brett Goldin and Richard Bloom were murdered, I not only believed in the death penalty, I wanted to pick up a gun and mete out justice myself.  (The death penalty was abolished in South Africa in 1995, with the last execution carried out in 1989). 

I wrote this in May 2006:

Hello anger (a love poem for Nurshad Davids)

    Were I to come upon you face to face
    In a dark time and isolated place
    And were I to have a gun or even a knife
    Then I would not hesitate to take your life
    I would not hesitate to tear out your eyes
    To take you under, to drown you in your lies

    But could I really use a gun?
    A bullet is over before its begun
    No, anger takes me to a blacker place
    I plot and plan a more appalling fate
    I would want to make you beg and plead
    Make you see the horror of your sickening deed
    I want to rip the heart out of your mother's chest
    Devastate her with grief, make her beat her breast

    And when you think my calm has come
    Mercy is here, forgiveness is done
    You will see in my eye a terrifying resolve
    See me step out of my moral and upright mould
    For I do not purport to be Judge or Jury
    But in a second you'll know my name is Fury

    Somewhere along the way, perhaps it was when the killers confessed their crimes, I began to believe that death penalty is never the answer, that it can only ever amount to an act of revenge. I came to stand by rehabilitation and due process. Of course, that is my privilege. Had it been my brother or son that had been murdered, I have no doubt that I would never have reached that conclusion.

    All of this is swimming around in my head at the moment.  I’m feeling raw and vulnerable, emotions I imagine must pale in comparison to how the family and close friends of Brett Goldin are feeling today.  Nurshad Davids has applied for parole after serving just 5 years and 5 months of his effective 12 year sentence (he received 15 years with 3 years suspended).

    Link: Outrage at Goldin killer’s parole bid [IOL]

    An online petition has been set up to protest against this parole bid: SAY NO! to parole for Brett Goldin/Richard Bloom convicts.  The petition has received over 2,000 signatures so far and Richard’s father Tony is quoted as saying, “[w]e will be submitting an affidavit, objecting, and are also going to appear.”

    I am absolutely torn by all of this.  Firstly, Nurshad Davids was not charged or convicted of murder.  I don’t believe there exists, in South African law, a concept of ‘felony murder’ and even if the concept does exist, Nurshad was not charged or convicted of such a crime. He was convicted of robbery, kidnapping and possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition.  I believe there is a line between violent crime and murder, a line that speaks to the increased possibility of rehabilitation for the former.

    I firmly believe that if Nurshad Davids has been rehabilitated, if he has learned a trade, shown remorse, come clean off drugs and completed a recovery programme, then theoretically, it should be up to the parole board to decide whether or not to release him into society.

    The problem is that it doesn’t quite work like that in South Africa.  Nurshad Davids was shown to have gang ties to alleged Americans gang boss Igshaan "Sanie American" Davids.  It is entirely possible that he either began or continued gang activity in Drakenstein prison.  Indeed, prison time is often seen as an essential step in moving up in gangs in South Africa.

    South African prisons are notorious for a lack of resources, conditions of overcrowding, massive levels of violence and gang activity.  This leads to catastrophically low levels of rehabilitation as inmates are denied the opportunity to work, study or learn a trade.  This is a problem seen around the world but one that contributes to a 94% recidivism rate in South Africa. (See: T S Thinane thesis)

    I want to believe that at some level, we have to have faith in the legal system, otherwise what is the point? If we can’t trust the police, the courts, prisons or parole boards, then we are one step away from vigilantism and chaos. Which, incidentally, is a state many South Africans believe has already been reached.

    Most importantly, perhaps, is the general lack of faith that South Africans have in the justice system.  The perception is that the parole board is more likely to approve parole in order to relieve conditions of overcrowding in prisons than they are to ensure that Nurshad Davids is indeed rehabilitated. 

    As this struggle looks to be played out in the public sphere and more members of the public sign the petition, perhaps it is time for Davids’s lawyers to release details regarding his time in prison and the work he has done to improve his life and atone for his part in these crimes?  Emotionally, this will not convince anyone that he deserves to be paroled, but surely there are conditions that must be met from a legal point of view?

    For once, I hope that the South African justice system makes the right decision.

    Photo credit: Window of the "Starkville City Jail" uploaded by tderego on Flickr.


    Saturday, 8 October 2011

    Seeking Justice for Nepalese Victims of Rape

    Nepalese Woman by David Orgel
    Nepalese Woman uploaded by David Orgel on Flickr

    Nepal was torn apart by a decade of violence and civil war that ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on 21 November 2006.  Gender-based violence was a key feature of this conflict and women were raped and brutalised by both the government forces and the Maoist rebels. 

    In October 2011, it was widely reported that Justice still eludes Nepal's civil war rape victims.  Five years after the peace agreement was reached, hundreds of women who suffered rape and torture at the hands of armed forces are yet to receive justice.  Rape was viewed by the government’s Royal Nepal Army to be a legitimate form of torture and many women were arrested, detained and tortured on charges of aiding or supporting the Maoist insurgents.

    In her book Sexual Violence and Armed Conflict, Jane Leatherman estimates that 40,000 Nepalese children were illegally detained by Maoist insurgents during the conflict and tortured, sexually violated and recruited for military activity.

    Victims face multiple hurdles when seeking justice for these attacks.  Despite widespread reporting of the atrocities by organisations such as Amnesty and in reports that appeared in the mainstream media (see: “Children suffer in Nepal conflict”, BBC, 2005), the majority of Nepalese women remain silent about their ordeals.  Rape victims are stigmatised and rejected, especially if the rapes result in pregnancies.

    Nepalese human right rights activists have received constant threats of violence which has further contributed to the silence of victims in the country.  In January 2009, Nepalese radio journalist and activist Uma Singh was hacked to death by 12 to 20 men in her room.  Her only crime was to raise awareness of the levels of violence against women in Nepal (see: “Nepal radio journalist murdered”, BBC, 2009).

    It is important to note that the sexual violence against women and children that occurred during the armed conflict did not occur in a vacuum but against the backdrop of a patriarchal society where men’s status is elevated and women are forced to remain in subordinate positions. 

    The United Nations Population Fund in Asia (UNFPA) has uploaded a video titled “Silent Tears: Gender based Violence in Nepal”.  In the video, they note that:

    “Gender-based violence is widespread in Nepal.  Male dominance and female subservience is at the root of violence against women.  95% of the women and girls surveyed reported that they had personally experience violence, 77% of them from their own family members (SAATHI).  nearly 58% reported that such violence was a daily occurrence.”

    You can view the video at the end of this post.

    Despite these hurdles, a survivor of violence during the armed conflict has come forward but local police are refusing to register her complaint.  The Advocacy Forum Nepal reports that the police invoked a law which states that rapes had to be reported within 35 days of the incident.  International law prohibits such limitations on rape and, in fact, the Nepal Supreme Court issued a directive to the Nepalese government in 2006 to amend the law and remove all conflicts and limitations in serious crimes such as rape.

    There has been no progress on this case since the beginning of October 2011.  Despite the many incidents of sexual violence during the conflict, this is the first case to be lodged with the District Police Office.  Human rights organisations continue to lobby the government in this case and it will no doubt have serious consequences for other women seeking justice across Nepal.

    Silent Tears: Gender based Violence in Nepal


    Saturday, 17 September 2011

    Redesign, Guest Posts and Interviews

    A Passion to Understand - old layout


    I began writing posts for this blog 5 years ago in June 2006.  I moved it over to Blogspot in February 2009 and while I’ve made slight changes here and there, I’ve never really made the time to look at the layout.

    Of course, everything has to change sometimes and when better to effect those changes than in autumn?  I’m feeling energised and excited for the next two seasons and I’ve been working on a redesign to complement my plans to dedicate more time to self-study and to this blog. 

    Redesigning a blog is not always easy and there is often a period of time where links might not work or features might not function.  Please let me know if you spot anything and I’ll try my best to fix it.  The blog will look completely different when I’ve finished, with a new colour scheme, header and layout but hopefully you’ll still be able to spot some of the old me in there somewhere.

    Guest Posts

    I’m always on the lookout for guest writers at A Passion to Understand.  If you would like to draw attention to a social or political issue, or would like to write a post of historical significance then please get in touch. 

    The perfect type of post would be one that introduces people to an issue and you can link back to posts or information on your own website or blog.  I get a lot of traffic from high school students researching certain issues and seeking further information so an idea would be to write with those students in mind.

    Contact Form


    I am also always interested in interviewing people about the work that they do to raise awareness of issues.  In the past, I interviewed Julia Lallla-Maharajh from the Orchid Project about female genital cutting and Kate Malarkey from FXB, a charity that supports communities ravaged by poverty and AIDS.

    If you work for a charity or do work to raise awareness of social, political or historical issues, then I would like to interview you.  I’d like to know about the work you do and how we can encourage young people to get involved.

    Contact Form

    Book reviews

    I do accept books for review on a wide range of topics including genocide, the Holocaust, war, violence and women’s issues.  If you would like me to review a book for you, please get in touch.

    Contact Form


    Tuesday, 6 September 2011

    Project 2,996: Takashi Ogawa

    Takashi Ogawa was a system consultant for Nomura Research Institute Ltd.  He was 37-years-old at the time of the attacks and came from Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture in Japan.  Takashi was in the US on business and was attending a conference on financial engineering on the 106th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center when the terrorist attack took place.

    Kyodo News International, Inc stated that Takashi had only moved to Nomura Research Institute in January 2001 and that he had previously worked at a major Japanese bank.  One of his high school teachers was quoted as saying that Takashi loved English, was able to talk logically and that he had wanted to work in finance and IT since high school.

    Many of us dream of being sent on important business trips and conferences abroad.  One thing is for sure, at the age of 37, Takashi achieved this dream.  The world lost many talented, successful and driven individuals that day.

    Takashi was joined in New York City and at the World Trade Center by another Nomura colleague Sanae Mori: Sanae Mori’s Project 2,996 tribute.

    If any of Takashi’s friends, family or colleagues would like to share their memories of Takashi or provide a photo, I would be happy to update this tribute on your behalf.

    Read more about Project 2,996.

    My previous tributes:
    Rosa Gonzalez
    Suresh Yanamadala


    Monday, 5 September 2011

    Project 2,996 2011

    Project 2,996 is a project whereby bloggers remember the lives of the victims of 9/11 and not their deaths. This is not about the perpetrators and who they were and why they did it. This is about 2,996 amazing, inspiring and good people who lost their lives that day.

    I’m taking part in Project 2,996 again this year.  Last year we had an overwhelming response to the project and for the first time, all 2,996 victims of the 9/11 attacks had tributes written on their behalf.  Unfortunately, the organiser, Dale Roe, went through over 4,500 links this year and found the majority to have expired.

    You can take part in Project 2,996 by choosing a victim who does not yet have a tribute and writing a tribute.

    My previous tributes:
    Rosa Gonzalez
    Suresh Yanamadala


    Saturday, 13 August 2011

    Rwandan Genocide: The Hutu Ten Commandments

    Tutsi Identity Card
    Tutsi Identity Card [Source: Prevent Genocide International]

    The Rwandan genocide began on 6 April 1994 when the plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down from the sky, killing all on board.  Over the course of the next 100 days, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered.  While the assassination of President Habyarimana was certainly a catalyst, it did not cause the genocide.

    Owing to their systematic and intentional nature, genocides, by definition, are rarely caused by underlying factors, as such.  Rather, underlying factors are manipulated and exploited in the planning and preparation that goes into the act of genocide. (See: What is Genocide?).

    In Rwanda, evidence shows that militia had been trained, machetes flown into the country and weapons had been stockpiled for several months before the genocide started.  Much has been made of the role of the media in inciting genocide in Rwanda, with singers, radio presenters and journalists all calling for the extermination of the Tutsi cockroaches. 

    “The Hutu Ten Commandments” was a document that was published in the pro-Hutu, anti-Tutsi newspaper Kangura in December 1990, almost four years before the commencement of the genocide in Rwanda.  The document was published in Kinyarwandan, the official language of Rwanda, and has also been translated as “The Ten Commandments of the Bahutu”. 

    Incitement to commit genocide is a crime punishable under article 3c of the Genocide Convention.  There were numerous convictions of genocide that related to media, propaganda and incitement to commit genocide.  The Hutu Ten Commandments were attributed to the editor of Kangura, Hassan Ngeze,  and in 2003, he was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity by the ICTR.

    The Hutu Ten Commandments

    1. Every Hutu should know that a Tutsi woman, whoever she is, works for the interest of her Tutsi ethnic group. As a result, we shall consider a traitor any Hutu who

    • marries a Tutsi woman
    • befriends a Tutsi woman
    • employs a Tutsi woman as a secretary or a concubine.

    2. Every Hutu should know that our Hutu daughters are more suitable and conscientious in their role as woman, wife and mother of the family. Are they not beautiful, good secretaries and more honest?

    3. Hutu women, be vigilant and try to bring your husbands, brothers and sons back to reason.

    4. Every Hutu should know that every Tutsi is dishonest in business. His only aim is the supremacy of his ethnic group. As a result, any Hutu who does the following is a traitor:

    • makes a partnership with Tutsi in business
    • invests his money or the government's money in a Tutsi enterprise
    • lends or borrows money from a Tutsi
    • gives favours to Tutsi in business (obtaining import licenses, bank loans, construction sites, public markets, etc.).

    5. All strategic positions, political, administrative, economic, military and security should be entrusted only to Hutu.

    6. The education sector (school pupils, students, teachers) must be majority Hutu.

    7. The Rwandan Armed Forces should be exclusively Hutu. The experience of the October 1990 war has taught us a lesson. No member of the military shall marry a Tutsi.

    8. The Hutu should stop having mercy on the Tutsi.

    9. The Hutu, wherever they are, must have unity and solidarity and be concerned with the fate of their Hutu brothers.

    • The Hutu inside and outside Rwanda must constantly look for friends and allies for the Hutu cause, starting with their Hutu brothers.
    • They must constantly counteract Tutsi propaganda.
    • The Hutu must be firm and vigilant against their common Tutsi enemy.
    10. The Social Revolution of 1959, the Referendum of 1961, and the Hutu Ideology, must be taught to every Hutu at every level. Every Hutu must spread this ideology widely. Any Hutu who persecutes his brother Hutu for having read, spread, and taught this ideology is a traitor.

    Source: Wikipedia (reproduced under Creative Commons)


    Thursday, 11 August 2011

    ICTY Judgement: Milan Lukić & Sredoje Lukić

    Yesterday I ran an article relating to the book that Milan Lukić wrote, the transcript of which was smuggled out of the UN Detention Centre illegally.  I discovered the videos below on the ICTY YouTube channel and found them to be riveting. 

    Cousins Milan Lukić and Sredoje Lukić were sentenced to life and 30 years' imprisonment respectively, for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in eastern Bosnian town of Višegrad during the 1992-1995 conflict. 

    The body of evidence brought against the cousins was extensive and at one point, the judge even refers to a multitude of complaints and testimony that they didn’t even charge the cousins on.  This shows a pattern of murder, rape, extermination and persecution that took place over a period of about three years leading up to 1995. 

    They did charge and convict them on several specific incidents including the infamous murder of 59 Muslim women, children and elderly men in a house on Pionirska Street in Višegrad and the murder of at least 60 Muslim civilians in a house in the Bikavac settlement of Višegrad.

    Both Milan and Sredoje Lukić showed no remorse during their trial.  They both entered a ‘not guilty’ plea and you can see in the video that Milan shows a specific lack of respect to the proceedings. 


    Wednesday, 10 August 2011

    Serbian Orthodox Church Endorses War Criminals

    This post was written by Daniel Toljaga and was first published as Serbian Orthodox Church Endorses War Criminals on Daniel's blog. This post has been reproduced, in full, with Daniel's express permission and features an important translation of the press release from the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade.
    By Daniel Toljaga

    A convicted war criminal who burned alive scores of Bosniak civilians and systematically tortured and raped Bosniak women and under-age girls enjoys the uncritical endorsement of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

    The Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade reports that the Serbian Orthodox Church has hosted a book launch at the parish house of the Cathedral of St. Sava in Belgrade to promote a prison memoir, “Ispovest haškog sužnja” (“Testimony of a Hague prisoner”). The book’s author is the convicted war criminal Milan Lukić — a ruthless mass murderer and serial rapist. The Belgrade publisher responsible for promoting the launch is the Serbian Radical Party led by ultra–nationalist politician Vojislav Šešelj. Šešelj himself is currently on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague for crimes against humanity. The manuscript of Lukić’s book was smuggled out of the UN Detention Unit illegally.

    This is not the first time Serbian Orthodox Church has aligned itself with war criminals. The recently-captured fugitives, former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić and Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadžić, bragged that the Serbian Orthodox Church helped them evade justice. General Mladić is now on trial as the orchestrator of the Bosnian Genocide; Hadzic is on trial for crimes against humanity committed in Croatia.  The Serbian Orthodox Church sees itself as the moral compass of the Serbian people. Its incomprehensible and repellent actions suggest that the Church is morally adrift.

    In 2009 the International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague found Milan Lukić guilty of burning alive more than 120 Bosniak women, children and elderly men in the eastern Bosnian town of Višegrad. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for his terrible crimes.

    On 14 June 1992, a group of victims, most of them from the same village, were locked into one room of a house on Pionirska Street, Višegrad, which was then set on fire. Milan Lukić was found to have placed an explosive device in the room which set the house ablaze. He then shot at people as they tried to escape the burning house. At least 59 women, young children and elderly people were burned alive, among them a 2-day-old baby.

    Lukić was also found guilty of burning alive at least 60 women, children and elderly men two weeks later, on 27 June 1992, in a house in the Višegrad settlement of Bikavac. He and other members of his paramilitary group, ‘White Eagles’, forced the civilians inside the house, blocked all the exits and threw in several explosive devices and petrol, setting the house on fire.
    “The perpetration by Milan Lukić and [his cousin] Sredoje Lukić of crimes in this case is characterised by a callous and vicious disregard for human life,” presiding Judge Patrick Robinson noted.

    He observed that, “In the all too long, sad and wretched history of man’s inhumanity to man, the Pionirska street and Bikavac fires must rank high. At the close of the twentieth century, a century marked by war and bloodshed on a colossal scale, these horrific events stand out for the viciousness of the incendiary attack, for the obvious premeditation and calculation that defined it, for the sheer callousness and brutality of herding, trapping and locking the victims in the two houses, thereby rendering them helpless in the ensuing inferno, and for the degree of pain and suffering inflicted on the victims as they were burnt alive.”

    Milan Lukić also participated in systematic sexual assaults on Bosniak women and under-age girls in “rape camps” in and around Višegrad. Most notably the Vilina Vlas spa hotel on the outskirts of Višegrad was used as a rape camp while it was, on Lukić ‘s own admission, his military unit’s command post. Approximately 200 women and under-age girls were detained  in Vilina Vlas. The Association of Women Victims of War — led by rape survivor Bakira Hasečić — believes that fewer than ten women prisoners survived their detention.

    Rape and sexual slavery charges were added to the indictment against Lukić less than a month before the trial. The day before proceedings were due to begin, the Trial Chamber ruled that the accused did not have enough time to mount an adequate defence. 
    I have taken the liberty of translating this short but important press release issued by the Humanitarian Law Center from Serbian into English:
    “Humanitarian Law Center urges the institutions and citizens of the Republic of Serbia to condemn publicly the use of the Parish House of the Cathedral of Saint Sava in Belgrade for the launch of a book by the convicted war criminal Milan Lukić during which priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church took part in the eulogisation of a war criminal responsible for some of the most terrible crimes against humanity.
    Humanitarian Law Center demands that the Patriarch reveal the names of the priests who took part in this public event and explain to the public why a religious building whose construction was paid for by the state and many individual citizens has been used to celebrate a convicted war criminal who burned women and children alive.
    On 29 July 2011, in the parish house of the Cathedral of Saint Sava in Belgrade, an event to promote the book ‘Confession of a Hague Prisoner’ by the war criminal Milan Lukić was attended by several priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the company of numerous Lukić supporters. The book is published by the Serbian Radical Party.
    The Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague sentenced Milan Lukić to life imprisonment for shooting five Bosniaks beside the Drina River on 7th June 1992, killing seven workers of Varda factory, burning alive at least 120 Bosniak women, children and the elderly in Višegrad’s Pionirska Street and Bikavac district, the ‘cold and brazen’ murder of Hajra Koric and the brutal torture of Bosniak detainees in Uzamnica detention camp near Višegrad. In all these crimes, Milan Lukić, played a ‘dominant role’ and exhibited a ‘callous and vicious disregard for human life’, personally killing ‘at least 132 people’ according to the judges at the International Criminal Court.”
    An album of photos from this ‘book’ promotion can be found on Milan Lukić’s Facebook page, which is being maintained by the priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

    Tuesday, 9 August 2011

    This Day in History: 9 August 1956

    1948: The National Party Victory

    South Africa, 1948: the United Party (led by incumbent Prime Minister Jan Smuts) and the Herenigde Nasionale Party (Reunited National Party) (led by DF Malan), competed against each other in the national elections.  This was an election where only white South Africans could vote, and realising that many of the electorate felt threatened by black political and economic aspirations, Malan promised a system of grand Apartheid if he was victorious.

    The HNP was victorious and when they came into power in 1948, they implemented Apartheid.  The HNP was eventually renamed the National Party and thus, the same party was in power from 1948 to 1994, when the African National Congress took power in the first democratic elections in South Africa that featured universal franchise.

    Apartheid Whites Only

    1950: The Group Areas Act

    One of the first acts to be enacted following the implementation of Apartheid was the 1950 Group Areas Act.  The Group Areas Act divided up urban areas and assigned different racial groups to different residential and business areas. This meant that the black, white, Indian and coloured populations could not live together or own businesses in the same areas.  The 1913 Native’s Land Act had already ruled that only white people could become landowners in South Africa.

    1952: The Pass Laws

    The 1923 Native Urban Areas Act had made it compulsory for black men in cities to carry passes on them.  Any man found without a pass would be arrested and sent to a rural areas.  In 1952, the Native Laws Amendment Act and the Natives (Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents) Act were enacted to assist in policing the 1950 Group Areas Act.  The Native Laws Amendment Act required that no black South African could remain in an urban areas for longer than 72 without the necessary documentation.  The Natives (Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents) Act required that all black South African men over the age of 16 had to carry a single reference book.  It also noted that women would be required to carry such reference books at some time in the future.


    The Injustice of the Dompas

    The reference book (enduringly referred to as the dompas in Afrikaans) would stipulate where and for how long a person could remain and it included photographs, fingerprints and employer details.  It was a horrifically limiting document because black South Africans were subject to persecution if they were found to be outside of their stipulated area.  That meant that a man could not visit his brother who was working in the next neighbourhood, for instance.  If he lost his job, his right to remain in an urban area could be rescinded by any government employee and he could be made to return to rural areas immediately. 

    Blacks in urban areas were often forced to leave their families behind in rural areas.  The consequence of this is that they could be subject to arrest, punishment and persecution if they were discovered to be travelling to or from those rural areas too.  Basically, each time a black person wanted to move within the country, they had to seek permission and that permission was recorded in their pass book.

    Life in the Homelands

    In the decades leading up to the 1950s, the majority of black South Africans in urban areas had been men.  They were often migrant workers, employed on mines and in factories and women were often left behind to look after the family.  The problem with the rural areas (and Homelands) allocated to black people is that they were specifically chosen on the basis of their dry, arid and unsustainable nature.  The very worst pockets of land in South Africa were allocated to rural black populations. 

    A combination of factors lead to more and more women moving to urban areas in the early days of Apartheid.  Some scenarios include the death of income earners in precarious conditions in mines and factories; neglect from partners who took up with mistresses in town; and severe poverty caused by the high cost of living in urban areas, the inability to send enough money home, and the inability to sustain families in the arid conditions of the Homelands and rural areas.  Women were also permitted to join their spouses in urban areas if he had been born in that area or had laboured continuously in an area for over ten years.

    (Incidentally, many of these factors continue today and many children are brought up in rural areas by grandparents and the extended family as poverty and economic needs continues to drive families apart).

    1955: Plan to Issue Pass Books to Women

    In response to the growing number of black women in urban areas, the government announced in September 1955 that all black women would be issued reference books with effect from January 1956.

    9 August 1956
    ©Baileys Archives [Source]

    The protest on 9 August 1956 was not the first protest against the Pass Laws and it was one action among one of the most colourful and successful liberation struggles in history.

    What was outstanding about this protest is that it surprised many parties, the government and liberation movement included and it showed that women were active, organised and militant.

    On 9 August 1956, 20,000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria in protest of the pass laws and the roll out of reference books for women.  The march was organised by the Federation of South African Women in conjunction with the ANC Women’s League and was attended by such great women as Helen Joseph and Albertina Sisulu.

    Women came from all over the country to attend the protest, from as far afield as Durban and Cape Town, and black, white, coloured and Indian women attended the march.

    The crowd left bundles of petitions filled with 100,000 signatures at Prime Minister JG Strijdom’s doors as he was not at the Union Buildings that day. 

    In a masterpiece of peaceful protest, the women stood for a full half an hours’ silence, many with children on their backs, as they protested the assault on their freedom and integrity that the pass laws represented.

    9 August 1994

    Apartheid ended in 1994 when the African National Congress came to power.  Since 9 August 1994, the day has been commemorated as National Women’s Day in South Africa.  It is a public holiday and that is why South Africans celebrate women’s day on a different day to the rest of the international community.


    Monday, 18 July 2011

    10th Anniversary Screening of ‘Hardcore’


    Tonight I went to see the documentary film Hardcore at Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre, London.  Hardcore is a controversial documentary, as is the screening of the film in a feminist forum (the screening was arranged jointly by UK Feminista and Object). You can follow the arguments both against and supporting the screening.

    My own reasons for wanting to see this film were simple. I had always intrinsically been against pornography. In extremely simplistic terms, that impression was reinforced when one of the boys I knew growing up, a nice chap with an unhealthy appetite for porn, went on to become a rapist and murderer.

    My own views on porn were somewhat softened over time, not least of which was due to a seriously incompetent, negligent therapist recommending that I, a victim of childhood sexual abuse, watch porn with my husband.  In time I came to realise just how mistaken and deluded that therapist was but I thought it time to permanently disabuse myself of the notion that the adult film industry is anything but harmful, dangerous and exploitative.

    Hardcore was not initially meant to be a feminist film. It was not filmed with the intention of exposing the abuse and exploitation in the pornographic industry. The filmmakers wanted to know what made women go into porn and they wanted to know what happens in the industry.

    What we see is Felicity, a 25-year-old single mother from Essex, England who goes to LA to meet agent Richard and see if she can make it in the adult film industry.   It seems to be all fun and games at first, if we are to believe Felicity's nervous assertions that he is enjoying herself. Slowly, Felicity gets pressurised into doing things she is not comfortable with and, to put it bluntly, this culminates in her being raped, on screen, in front of the rolling cameras of the documentary makers.

    After that experience, Felicity’s will is crushed and she works to distance herself emotionally from the reality of her circumstances and 'consents' to more and more degrading scenes involving acts which she had previously refused to do. I use the term ‘consent’ extremely loosely as, by this time, I do not feel that Felicity could properly consent to anything that was happening to her.

    If it sounds like Felicity was a push-over, she most certainly was not. She fights with her agent (pimp) Richard and tells him to keep his hands off her; she screams at Max Hardcore, the sadist monster who raped her; and she tells Max's cameraman, quite plainly, that what they are doing amounts to exploitation and abuse. 

    On more than one occasion, she says that she feels safe because the documentary makers are there and that it is giving her the courage to say no to certain acts.  We have to wonder what level of exploitation and violation she would have encountered had those cameras not been rolling.

    What we witness is not unique and it happens to thousands of women every year in the porn industry.  At some level though, the producers of the documentary have to accept responsibility for what happened to this woman, to Felicity.  There has to be some level at which Felicity became aware of the documentary makers and became further restricted and controlled by their presence.  Whether she felt that she played a role in exposing the exploitation to viewers or whether she judged certain events to be acceptable based on the crew’s failure to step in and protect her, there is no doubt that they are responsible for what happened to her.

    Am I glad that I saw this film?  Not really. I feel sick, angry and upset.  The problem is without the existence of films like this and people working to bring attention to them, we might accept the propaganda that it is all just professional, consenting adults and that no one gets hurt.  In a sense, we needed Felicity to tell us this story, to show us the horror first hand, in a way that carefully designed feminist anti-porn slideshows would not have conveyed.

    As panellist Dr Rebecca Whisnant from the University of Dayton stated, Hardcore is rare in that we get to identify and sympathise with Felicity whereas usually the objectification and subjugation of women in porn is so complete that this is not usually possible.

    Rebecca noted that Max Hardcore is a sociopath.  He pegs her, realises her sense of self, her strength and essentially calls on her to “pull yourself together, be a winner, come back here and let me rape you some more”.  Not only that, all of the key players in this documentary (documentary crew included) repeatedly appeal to her feminist socialisation.  “Be a good girl, don't be a bitch, don’t let us down”.

    Rebecca stated that she reject term ‘sex work’ not because it isn't work but because great evil comes from defining sex as work, as just another job. Felicity was not allowed to dislike certain parts (anal) because it is part of the job. She is ultimately forced to be raped and violated because it is part of the job. Her reputation, her professional standing depends in her doing what they ask.

    Finally, Rebecca noted that we must focus on the massive consumer base of men who want to see women being hurt, abused, violated and raped.  Not all men want to see that but they do want to see compliant women, women who do what they are told and who thank the men for it no matter what they do to them.  But to get that, to film even non-violent, non-abusive porn films, women like Felicity will be hurt and abused.  We need to break the back of this industry.

    Producer Richard Sattin described how the idea for the film began with article he saw in an LA paper about a therapy group for retiring porn stars.  He was interested in how they were re-assimilated into normal life. There he met Felicity’s agent Richard and thus, Felicity. 

    He stated that Felicity saw the finished film before it was aired and said it was fine.  It has been noted repeatedly that Felicity gave her “blessing” for the film to be aired and screened but Richard admitted that the filmmakers lost contact with her five years ago and I have to wonder, once again, just how real her consent really is.  Do we even have a right to see this film?

    I appreciated that Richard had made an attempt during the filming, and in the years since, to understand Felicity’s actions.  He placed a premium in her own understanding of her circumstances and the fact that she seemed to emphasise her father’s abandonment of her as a child.  We might not want to focus on that but he said her experiences are relevant and that she draws the connection.  A member of the audience noted, however, that she was tired, shattered and not given any time to rest and that by that time she would have been clutching at anything, especially painful memories, to try explain what was happening to her.

    What happened to Felicity is not unique and we have to look at the massive sub-set of consumers, primarily men, who seek materials that depicts the exploitation, rape, abuse and degradation of women.  Not all men watch or enjoy this material but those that do are most likely unreachable through campaigning or education.  The only answer provided by the panel seems to be the removal of this industry through legislation and reform but censorship is certainly the topic for another post.


    Monday, 11 July 2011

    Mimi Chakarova: Sex Slavery from the Inside

    Mimi Chakarova is the Bulgarian director who is working tirelessly to investigate sex trafficking and to education and inform people about this practice.  Many people are not aware that sex trafficking is rife in developing nations, that women are repeatedly tricked into working abroad as waitresses and then kept captive as sex slaves.

    If you can, catch a screening of Mimi Chakarova’s documentary The Price of Sex (it is showing at the Frontline Club tonight) or visit the website,

    The video below gives the first ten minutes of Mimi Chakarova’s presentation “Sex Slavery from the Inside” and you can watch the remainder of the video by clicking on the link in the screen “watch full program”.

    It is an eye opening and shocking presentation that features case studies, explains how sex trafficking works and how widespread the problem is.


    Sunday, 10 July 2011

    Frontline Club presents The Price of Sex (screening)

    The Frontline Club in London are presenting a screening of Mimi Chakarova’s incredible documentary The Price of Sex.  The screening is taking place tomorrow, 11 July 2011, at 7pm and the film is 73 minutes long.  The screening costs £10 and is followed by a Q&A session with the director.

    I’m really hoping to go but will have to make a final decision tomorrow afternoon.


    Friday, 8 July 2011

    Documentaries on Channel 4

    For Neda
    Channel 4 is renowned for producing and screening some of the most cutting-edge, hard-hitting documentaries in British broadcasting today.  In recent weeks, Channel 4 has delivered powerful and moving documentaries from Iran and Cambodia such as For Neda and Voices From the Killing Fields and the season will continue with more quality programming this month.
    After the Apocalyse tells the story of the people of Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, who were used as guinea pigs in the Soviet Union's testing of nuclear weapons and will air on 19 July 2011.  The upcoming The Only Gay on the Estate will air on 22 July 2011 and features first-time director Michael Ogden as he makes a personal journey back to his roots in Manchester, exploring his past as a closeted gay teenager.
    Voices From the Killing Fields
    Channel 4 Documentaries make people think, opening our minds to the issues and events that matter.   They certainly get people talking and my Twitter stream was alive with comments on the night that For Neda was broadcast.

    Saturday, 25 June 2011

    Rwanda – Strengthening Society Through Genocide Education

    On Thursday 16 June, the Aegis Trust hosted an event in London entitled “Rwanda – Strengthening Society Through Genocide Education”.  The purpose of the event was to celebrate 25 years of the Gisimba Memorial Centre Kigali, Rwanda and to share the incredible story of what happened at the orphanage during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.  

    Aegis Trust founder James Smith facilitated the proceedings and was joined by Freddy Mutanguha (Director, Kigali Memorial Centre), Jean-Francois Gisimba (former Rwandan journalist and family member, Gisimba Memorial Association), and Carl Wilkens (American aid worker and witness to the genocide).

    Carl Wilkens, Jean-Francois Gisimba, Freddy Mutanguha and James Smith

    The evening began with Freddy Mutanguha sharing his story about the history of Rwanda and how the labels of Tutsi, Hutu and Twa were formalised and enforced by the Belgian colonialists.  He explained how the Tutsi were elevated by the colonialists above the Hutu and that the Tutsi monarchy was allowed to continue.  The king died in 1959 and the Hutus rose up against against the Tutsi monarchy.  Massacres of Tutsis began around that time and a Hutu government took over from the Belgian colonialists with independence in 1962.  In what was an incredibly powerful statement, Freddy Mutanguha stated simply that genocide was a failure of humanity.

    Jean-Francois Gisimba and Carl Wilkens then told us about the incredible story of the Gisimba Orphanage and how they hid between 600 and 1,000 people during the Rwandan genocide.  The people at the orphanage were in clear and immediate danger of being murdered by Interahamwe militia when Carl used his influence and status as a foreign national to get the prime minister to save their lives.  The staff, children and hidden adults were escorted to San Michele church on 2 July 1994 by government forces and their lives were spared.

    This was an incredibly emotional and touching talk and you can learn more about this incredible story at Defying Genocide.  Carl and Jean-Francois had not seen each other in the 17 years since the genocide and only met up in London recently.  What struck me the most is that Carl Wilkens still struggles today with the decision he made to leave the orphanage to try and get them help.  He stills struggles with the fact that he promised them he would return, knowing that they could well have all perished.

    What I really wanted to capture from the evening was what the three guests had to share about the future and the topic for the evening, Strengthening Society Through Genocide Prevention.  I made the decision to transcribe what was said because I found each of the men to be really inspirational and wanted to try and capture that.

    Carl Wilkens, Jean-Francois Gisimba, Freddy Mutanguha and James Smith

    Freddy Mutanguha (Director, Kigali Memorial Centre)

    On the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

    We have 250,000 victims of genocide lying in mass graves.  It’s our place, it’s a home for many people; provided by Aegis Trust who contributed to run Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre helping the government and survivors to have a place of memory.  But there is more than memory of genocide, there is more than to talk about the past.  What about the future? The future of our country, the future of our children, the future of my two daughters (Now, I hope I will get one today).  What about the future? 

    As I said, the genocide happened but many people, normal population, have been involved.  Neighbours / neighbours, people against their children, people who were against their family.  You cannot imagine how someone can kill his children because he think that the mother of his children is a Tutsi, or the mother can take decision to kill her children because her husband is a Tutsi. 

    You cannot imagine this, there is a problem of trust between the children of perpetrators and the children of the survivors.  What we do as Aegis: we feel that we cannot stop by talking about the past.  We need to unite these children, they have to look forwards, to be the hope of the country.  They need to be responsible for the future and social cohesion is very, very important. 

    That is how we thought about having an education programme.  How can we build from our past to build our future?  We started two years ago an educational programme at the centre.  First of all we had six students, three times a week coming to the centre.  It is a small number of children but they are very innocent, children.  The want to learn, they want  to listen to the stories but what they get from home is a disaster.  First of all we had the problem with what kind of message we can give to children, the same message which can be appreciated by children of the perpetrators and children of the survivors.  It is very difficult and very challenging to have these children, this message but we managed it. 

    We feel that during genocide, people didn't think critically of what they are doing.  The mayor says you have to kill your neighbour and your neighbour’s a snake, is a cockroach and you believe him.  We, as humankind, we have a problem of not thinking critically.  Two months ago we were talking about the education programme at the centre, and I asked my wife, “Why do you like to use Omo [washing powder]", why do you like it?”  She didn’t know, she says, “nice soap”.  We use it but we don’t think about it.  We don’t think critically about why we like Omo and everybody likes it. 

    So, why someone come to me and say I have to kill this one.  The children need to be taught to think critically.  This is part of our lesson we give to children.  They need to learn to be responsible, they need to think exactly what they are going to do but they need to make the right choice.  That is the future we’d like at this time.

    Carl Wilkins (American aid worker and witness to the genocide)

    In answer to the question: “What are we to learn from all of this if we are to prevent these sorts of atrocities from happening"?”

    Any kind of crisis or things like this, it challenges us to re-evaluate who we are, what we’re about, what drives us, why are we even here? And I think that with the genocide that for us, Teresa and I, very much it has challenged us and it has changed our lives.  I travel now, speaking at schools and the two things I’m passionate about if you talk about education and you talk about re-examining our values and why we’re even on this planet, two tools that I hope to share with you tonight is the power of stories and the power of service. 

    The day that they were moved [to San Michele church], they didn’t let them to bring anything with them.  I got to the church and they didn’t have blankets, they didn’t have cooking pots, anything.  And it was cold at night, we didn’t know how long the genocide was going to go on, we would have to feed the kids.  I asked the colonel for permission (thanked him profusely for moving the kids), “can I go collect the kids stuff, will you write me a letter authorising it?”  He did, I went back, it was empty, a lot of gunfire on the left.  I went around to the right, as I came round behind the orphanage: face to face with the militia leader and about twelve of his guys.  The same guys that were there to murder everybody a couple of days earlier. 

    They were surprised to see me, I was terrified to see them. 

    And then I remembered that letter.  I pulled the letter out of my pocket and I handed it to him, he read it and he said, “of course!  Your orphans need their things” and that was a shock.  And he turns around and he says to his guys (who actually, they’re looting the orphanage, they had the orphans’ stuff in their hands already), he says to them, “help the guy load his truck”. 

    I go walking in the first dormitory with this new volunteer crew behind of me, “guys, would you put blankets on the floor, put stuff in the blankets, tie the corners”.  They help me, my truck is way too small, they help me find a bigger truck, the big truck has low sides.  I said, “listen”, to one of them, “would you take this table with me, we’ll stand the tables on end on each side, build the sides of the truck high so we can put stuff in”.  And as they’re lifting the table (they’re on one end, I’m on another end) they start to give their own ideas of how we could get more on the truck. 

    They start showing initiative and it was finally when I was writing down these stories (that you can see on the table behind you there*) that it came to me: when we engage our mind and our muscles in acts of service, it changes the way we think.  It changes the way we think about ourselves, it changes the way we think about others.  This shift in our thinking from me-thinking to we-thinking, I think is hugely impacted by stories and service. 

    Stories stick with us.  Stories connect us, stories are bridge builders.  And stories change the way we think, potentially and that changes the way we feel and that changes the way we act, which is where the service comes in.  So as you take off this evening, there is very many concrete things with Aegis and the work that they’re doing that you can partner with them but even more than Aegis is just our way of thinking, our way of living – are we into a me-focused living or a we-focused living. 

    Everybody wants to be a we-person but don’t know how.  But it’s not complicated.  It is about learning the stories of the people who are different to us and after we learn the stories, we’re getting involved in acts of service.  And so for me, that’s education, it is stories and service.

    * Carl Wilkens has written the book I’m Not Leaving and runs the organisation World Outside My Shoes.

    Jean-Francois Gisimba (Gisimba Memorial Association)

    On how they got from the orphanage to San Michele Church

    That day, before Carl Wilkens left the orphanage, a group of seven or eight soldiers, gendarmerie, were sent to the orphanage and some of them spent the night there at the orphanage. Then, the following morning, they left.  What I saw is that, because I want to go into details but we don’t have much time, but what happened is that there was a first attempt to evacuate us from the orphanage - the United Nations soldiers came to the orphanage two or three times. 

    But there is a soldier who came to the orphanage (I’m sorry to say that the person asked me not to mention his name; he is living in Europe and I went to thank him for what he did).  He came to the orphanage, he was a high ranked officer in the army.  He came to the orphanage with his three bodyguards and many militia in the army followed him.  Among them, one of the big killers in Nyamirambo and Kigali, Kiginye, I think you’ve heard about his name, he killed thousands of people and he killed also many people at the orphanage.

    When he [the unnamed hero] came to the orphanage, he found me there and I just told him, “please, please don’t go inside the orphanage”, because then they will follow him inside the orphanage and know who is exactly inside.  And I was surprised to see that he just stopped.  And then these militia took a piece of map, I don’t know where they found it, and started telling him “this is the map we found with the cockroach, we found here at the orphanage, and this is the map of where the Hutu lives”.  Many lies.

    With my 24 years, I could not see this was just… I said that we are willing to die but not in this way.  There is nothing like that.  Then the guy just [makes gesture of stamping on his toes, to give him a signal], he looked me in my eyes and he kicked me on my feet and I could see that this guy is not a killer.  I got the message and he told me “shut up!”.  I understood that he just wanted to show them that he is hard with me but at the same time I had got the message that this is not a killer. 

    Then, he told them, “I did not ask you anything, I am asking this guy, you just get out”.  So they took some five steps and then he asks me, “young man, I’m with you.  Just be quiet, tell me exactly, but not loud.  Tell me exactly is happening here”.  I said, “we have hundreds of people here.  They’re in the roof, in the toilets, under the beds of kids but we are dying here.  This is what is happening”.  He said “okay” and then he started saying, “You! Cockroach!”, just like he is telling them  he is going to kill us.

    The he told them, “you just leave these people under me.  We’ll find a solution for them.  But don’t come here and he who comes here before me, because I’m responsible now, he’ll have problems with me”.  So he was giving different messages and then he left.

    So he tried another day and he did not succeed but then the day he took us, we just saw him coming at the orphanage with his twelve bodyguards.  Everyone with two or three guns.  Himself, he was having two guns, a Kalashnikov and one pistol.  He was no longer the soldier I saw coming, he was looking like a lion.  He was another person that day.

    So he just came, he ordered another person, “we are taking everyone from here”.  So I thought, the guys going to kill us.  So he said, “I’m taking everyone, out!”.  So he gave me the guy who was the big killer to take him to the wards where the women were, hundreds of them, like 300 or 400, to tell him to take them out.  So what I did, I told that guy, “look, you’ve been given a chance to show that you are not bad, you are not going to kill people.  Just take them out and don’t touch anyone, then you’ll be making your name”. 

    Then I came out to the soldiers, to the high ranked officer, I took him by the hand.  We went to the other side of the orphanage where there was a room that was before used as a dispensary.  There was five persons there who were somehow in danger more than others.  We were all in danger but these were more in danger.  One of them is a judge in the high court in Rwanda, Pio and his family.  He had been, in fact even before the genocide even started, he was in danger. 

    At that time, many people were coming from the roof, it was chaos at the orphanage, from everyone running.  In fact, they had left buses 200 – 300 metres from the orphanage because bombs were landing just in front of the orphanage and the frontline was just in 300 metres.  Bombs, bullets were just like….

    So I took the hand of the solider and we made the walk of about 100 metres to the room where these people were, six or seven of them.  And I told him “man, we are going maybe to die but these people are in your hands.  It will be a case between you and you God”.  Because we were two of us.  At the door, to give myself a kind of strength, I shouted “you open, you stupid!”  They opened the door and the person who opened the door fell down immediately.  That was the person who became a judge.  And this soldier said, “hey, Pio, you are still alive”, and he took him and he said, “man, you are not going to die, I am here today”. 

    And so, when the militia saw this man, his wife, his sister-in-law, the wife of another high ranked person of the RPF, they just put their guns down and said “it is not possible, we did not do anything! How come these people are alive!”  So, the soldier told his bodyguards, “you just arm your guns.  He who tries to block us, you just shoot”.   He just give the order. 

    And that’s why I always say, if all the soldiers could act like him, the genocide could not have happened. 

    So, we were surrounded by his bodyguards, he took us.  No bomb came in those ten minutes.  He packed all of us, more than 600, in five buses and he took two soldiers for every bus and he went in his car with two or three body guards.  So we went in front, finding the roadblocks, when the militia started saying, “eh!”, it was very strange to see hundreds of Tutsis, in June! Anyway, even the Hutus we were all looking like Tutsi because of three months without eating.

    Whenever we arrived at a roadblock he would just tell them, “you open, or we fire!” so they would just open and that’s how we went up to the San Michele and then they told us to go underground and sleep there.  And he came to me because my brother was not there during that week, he never came back.  I don’t know how what happened between but him and Carl Wilkens came to the San Michele and we found him there.  So the soldier came to me to tell me, “now I have done what I could.  I have also to save my life” and he disappeared.

    I went to thank him in Europe in 2005.

    It was an incredible evening and I could have easily sat listening to them speak for several more hours.  Freddy Mutanguha spoke about the need for critical thinking and responsibility, Carl Wilkens relayed his beliefs about stories and service, and Jean-Francois Gisimba’s told us about the difference one person can make and how if more people had acted like him, that could have prevented a genocide.

    Despite everything that they went through in setting up the orphanage and in surviving the genocide, the Gisimba Memorial Centre Kigali, Rwanda is still struggling to put food on children’s plates. 

    Please consider supporting the orphanage:

    © A Passion to Understand

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