Category Archives: Human Rights

Economists urge G20 to tackle hunger

G20 ministers meeting this week in Paris must take urgent action to stop speculation on commodity markets that is fuelling food prices and hunger, 450 economists demanded in a letter published Tuesday.

“Excessive financial speculation is contributing to increasing volatility and record food prices, exacerbating global hunger and poverty,” the economists wrote in the letter to finance ministers.

“With around one billion people enduring chronic hunger worldwide, action is urgently needed to curb excessive speculation and its effects on global food prices,” they added in the letter on behalf of the World Development Movement.

The WDM, based in Britain, is an anti-poverty campaigning organisation.

Economists from leading universities including Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley, Cornell and the London School of Economics were among the hundreds who signed the letter.

They were “adding their voices to an escalating international campaign,” the WDM said in a statement.

“The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation… Pope (Benedict XVI), French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz are among those who have already spoken out in favour of curbing speculation,” it added.

Deborah Doane, director of the World Development Movement, said: “Excessive lobbying from the finance sector seems to be delaying political action, both here in the UK, and elsewhere.

“This is despite the obvious suffering caused by speculation on this most basic human need, and despite the growing number of voices calling for action. “Instead of propping up cynical financial gambling by speculators, the G20 finance ministers must act to ensure that strict rules are put in place to limit the hold of bankers over the world’s food markets,” she added.

via Economists urge G20 to tackle hunger – International | IOL Business |


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Occupy Wall Street: Anonymous Release Images Showing Police Violence Against Boston Protesters

Following the arrest of as many as 50 participants in the Occupy Boston movement, hacker collective Anonymous has released images showing police violently apprehending protesters.

Following the arrest of as many 50 participants in the Boston wing of the ongoing Occupy series of protests, hacker collective Anonymous has released images showing police violently apprehending protesters.

Reports emerged early Tuesday alleging that police had arrested more than 50 participants in the Occupy Boston movement for trespassing. The arrests reportedly began at around 1:30 a.m ET after protesters ignored warnings by the police to return to their official campsite.

The tensions began when participants in the Occupy Boston protest moved from their official Dewey Square campsite to the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Police had reportedly previously sent leaflets to the protesters confirming they couldn’t use the Greenway.

Since news of the arrests broke, the Anonymous collective released a series of photos showing the arrests, alongside a statement criticising the police treatment of the protesters.

“This morning the biggest mass arrest in Massachusetts since a huge 1968 Vietnam protest,” read the Anonymous statement.

“The protesters had moved from Dewey Square to a second site across the street. A local conservancy group recently planted $150,000 worth of shrubs along the greenway and officials said they were concerned about possible damage. MORE IMPORTANT SHRUBS THAN PEOPLE.”

The arrests all occurred during an offshoot protest stemming from the original Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City. Since news of the arrests broke, the hacker collective has issued a statement promising to enact a revenge attack on the New York Stock Exchange. But the exchange said its site wasn’t compromised.

via Occupy Wall Street: Anonymous Release Images Showing Police Violence Against Boston Protesters – International Business Times.

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Is politics from below ‘class warfare’?

The exciting presence and perseverance of protestors on Wall Street (and the spread of the #OccupyWallStreet protests to cities throughout America) is a welcome respite from years of passivity, and not only in relation to the scandalous legal and illegal abuses of comprador capitalists.

In addition, it is a reaction to the prolongations of predatory wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to a rising anti-democratic Islamophobic tide, to a shameless reliance on incarceration for harmless activities, to a presidency that seems less willing to confront hedge fund managers than jobless masses, and to a Congress that incredibly represents billionaires while scorning the people that put them in office.

But will this exhilarating presence be sustained in a manner that brings credible hope of restored and renewed democracy that is dedicated to social well-being at home and responsible law-oriented leadership abroad that is no longer drone-driven?

“Obama’s electoral victory in 2008 was the last hope of the young in America.”

There is little doubt that this move to the streets of America expresses a deep disillusionment with ordinary politics based on elections and governing institutions. Obama’s electoral victory in 2008 was the last hope of the young in America who poured unprecedented enthusiasm into his campaign that promised so much and delivered so little. Perhaps worse than Obama’s failure to deliver, was his refusal to fight for what he claimed to believe, or even to bring into his entourage of advisors a few voices of empathy and mildly progressive outlook.

From his initial appointment of Rahm Emmanuel onwards, it should have been clear that the Obama presidency was intent on playing the same old Washington games waged by special interests. More recently, these interests were further deformed by a Republican Party lurching to the right, by a surging Tea Party intent on pushing the government policy and role to the outer extremes of cruel and irresponsible public policy, by a pathetic Democratic Party that is trying to survive mainly by mimicking Republicans, and by a domineering media that has become largely captive to corporate America.

If such a portrayal of ordinary politics is more or less correct it is a wonder that a more radical sense from the left of America’s future took so long to materialise, if indeed it has. At least #OccupyWall Street is displaying the distress of young urban Americans and sending some warning signals to the bastions of the established power that acute displeasure is rising, and may become threatening to what is, as well as engaging with what might be.

Far right radicals

Of course, radicalism is not absent from the American political scene. Ever since the end of the Cold War, the forces of the right have been riding higher in the United States.

Such an impression is strengthened by the loss of composure by the Democratic party that struggles to show that it is almost as capitalist, pro-military, anti-tax, anti-immigrant, and patriotic as its reactionary critics. Its traditional principles of a compassionate state serving the interests of the citizenry have been put in cold storage. Democrats are scared to seem weak, and even more scared to seem to be socialists.

“One serious cost of the collapse of the Soviet Union was to discredit efforts by government to care for the health, education and wellbeing of less advantaged people in the country.”

One serious cost of the collapse of the Soviet Union was to discredit efforts by the government to care for the health, education, and well-being of less advantaged people in the country. Thus the Wall Street protests, if indeed they do have a radical agenda, which is not yet clear, will be to fill this vacuum on the left that has been so disabling during the last twenty years when capitalism had no ideological rival.
One amusing legacy of Cold War anti-Marxism is for the reactionary legions in the country to complain that the protesters are intent on launching ‘class warfare.’ It is one of those post-liberal epithets that gets promiscuously tossed around by ascendant right wing ideologues so as to demonise even those who are reckless enough to propose a modest tax increase on the super-rich in America.

Even Barack Obama who has done his best to please Wall Street 99 per cent of the time, is being charged with waging ‘class warfare’. Liberals are so timid ever since the Berlin Wall fell, and with it fell the possibility of compassionate society, whether capitalist or socialist, the label intimidates. Since then every effort has been made to protect the interests of the exploiting social forces that exult and prosper while marginalised minorities weep and bleed.

As has been pointed out by trenchant critics of what is going on, yes, there is class warfare being practiced, not by its victims, but by the very folks that decry class warfare.

The rich have been extraordinarily successful during the last decade or so in redistributing income upward, from the poor to the rich and ultra rich, including from the increasingly worried middle classes to those plump elites sitting comfortably on top of the economic pyramid.

Combined with pro-corporate and pro-bank deregulation, tax holidays, labour-busting tactics, anti-immigrant-fervor, this assault on the citizenry of the country is an inversion of class warfare as delimited in the Marxist tradition.

The ‘new’ class warfare

The new class warfare is waged on behalf of those with great wealth who have solidified their control over the reins of government with the purpose of disenfranchising the citizenry, breaking the social contract of the New Deal, and relying on law enforcement to keep those who object under suspicion. This is a task facilitated by the repressive legislation made plausible by the 9/11 attacks and the curtailment of individual freedoms associated with the rigours of ‘homeland security’.

“The new class warfare is waged on behalf of those with great wealth who have solidified their control over the reins of government.”

Disavowing American party and institutional politics and situating hope with the arousal of progressive forces in civil society is different from concluding that the Wall Street protests are more than a tantalising flash in the pan at this stage.

Even with this cautionary commentary, it is obvious that these events own a large acknowledged debt to Tahrir Square (as well as to a surprising initial push from the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine, Adbusters) – especially the ethos of a nonviolent leaderless, programme-less spontaneous rising that learns day-by-day what it is about, who it is, and what is possible.

Of course, the immediate stakes for the protesters seem much lower than in Egypt or elsewhere in the Arab world, as there is little present risk of death or physical injury at the hands of the police on American streets. Additionally, however disappointing and abusive the political and economic realities have become, they are not cruelly and corruptly autocratic.

For this reason, the ghouls of Wall Street do not provide quite as potent a unifying target as was the grim personage of Hosni Mubarak, a cruel autocrat in power for more than three decades, and so it may be harder to transform these protests into a sustainable movement.

But in other ways the stakes and risks on Wall Street are higher than they might seem. As long as America is beholden to militarists and right-wing billionaires its shadow negatively affects many ongoing struggles throughout the world.

This America turns away from the needed global cooperation to address climate change, world poverty, severe human rights abuses, nuclear disarmament, and such concrete issues as self-determination for the Palestinian people and peace for Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other outposts of misery.

This America opposes carbon taxes, and refuses to support the establishment of a Global Peoples Parliament or a UN Emergency Peace Force that might encourage global democracy and make the protection of vulnerable people a task for the United Nations rather than a geopolitical maneuver.

The world needs an America that rediscovers its own dream of liberty and justice, and awakens from a long and debilitating nightmare that has silenced its ‘better angels’.

In the end, we all must hope and engage. The beginnings of hope are rooted in the correctness of analysis, and so we can be thankful that this initiative places its focus on the shortcomings of a merely procedural democracy, the deforming impact of financial and corporate practices, and does not look to the reform or even the control of the state as the cure for what ails.

The implicit not so subtle point is that the centre of power over the destinies of the American people has shifted its locus from Washington to New York, and beyond! Underneath the rhetoric is the search for substantive democracy that upholds rights, demands justice and freedom, and allows people to participate in the control of their destinies

via Is politics from below ‘class warfare’? – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

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Iranian actress Marzieh Vafamehr to be lashed over Australian film | Herald Sun

AN Iranian actress will be jailed for a year and lashed 90 times for starring in an Australian film production about the Western influence on life in the Islamic republic.

Actress Marzieh Vafamehr was the main character of the 2009 feature film My Tehran for Sale, The Advertiser reported.

The film was jointly funded by the South Australian Film Corporation and the Adelaide Film Festival.

She was arrested in June after black market copies of the film began circulating in Tehran, showing Vafamehr in some scenes without an Islamic hijab which covers the hair and neck.

Vafamehr’s family had requested a Western media blackout of the case since her arrest but on Sunday the Iranian opposition website went public with news of the actress’s harsh punishment.

Adelaide co-producer of the film, Kate Croser, of Cyan Films, said the company had offered assistance to the family but would maintain a public silence on the verdict until it could determine if their wishes on Western commentary on the case had changed.

“There is an appeal which could be lengthy and the family may still believe that public comment will be unhelpful because they are going through all the official channels,” she said.

“We can say the charges were that there was no permit for filming, which is not true, and that in some scenes Marzieh was not wearing a hijab and had a shaved head.”

Supporters of Vafamehr were yesterday meeting to offer support to the family, including organising an Australian lobbying effort through the film’s Iranian-born director Granaz Moussavi, who now lives in Melbourne.

The movie’s plot is based in part on Moussavi’s own life and that of her friend Vafamehr but also on stories the Flinders University film graduate was told when she volunteered as a translator at the Woomera detention centre.

Internet images of officially administered lashings in Iran show victims being placed face down in a prone position and then being whipped with a long stick on the upper legs, back and buttocks.

In 2008, Vafamehr, Moussavi and South Australian producers Croser and Julie Ryan filmed the movie in Tehran and brought the footage back to Adelaide for post production.

Vafamehr plays the character of a young actress in Tehran whose theatre work is banned by the authorities.

She is then forced to lead a secret life in order to express herself artistically while at the same time trying to migrate to Australia.

The 2009 film was highly controversial in Iran only because it showed footage of uninhibited modernised Iranians at Western-style rave parties.

Footage of those scenes would normally be censored by authorities for being subversive.

Family First MLC Dennis Hood said he would contact Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd today urging the Federal Government to offer assistance to the family

via Iranian actress Marzieh Vafamehr to be lashed over Australian film | Herald Sun.

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Afghanistan Routinely Tortures Prisoners: UN

A UN investigation has uncovered “a compelling pattern … of systemic torture and ill-treatment” in Afghan prisons, with prisoners reporting being beaten and shocked with electrical cables, hung by their hands, and having their genitals twisted until they passed out, the New York Times reports. Nearly half of all detainees of the National Directorate of Intelligence reported such abuse, as did a somewhat smaller portion of those held by the national police.

The interrogation methods are “unacceptable by any standard of international human rights law,” the report says. NATO has already stopped handing prisoners over to Afghan authorities based on an earlier draft of the report, and US laws may force America to cut funding for Afghan security forces. The Afghan government does not officially condone torture, and promises to improve. But its intelligence service denies much of the report—though it admits there might be “deficiencies” in its handling of detainees.

via Afghanistan Routinely Tortures Prisoners: UN – ‘Even stones confess here,’ one guard said; Kabul promises reform.

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School Suspensions Higher for Blacks, Females

America’s public schools suspend black students at a disproportionately higher rate than other students, according to a new report released Wednesday by the National Education Policy Center.

The report, which upholds the findings of previous studies, said the frequent suspensions and expulsions “raise questions about a school’s disciplinary policies, discrimination, the quality of its school leadership and the training of its personnel.”

Titled “Discipline, Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice,” the study highlights disturbing 2006 data collected by the U.S. Department of Education that showed 28 percent of the nation’s black middle school students had been suspended at least once. That’s nearly three times higher than the 10 percent rate for white male middle school students.

Eighteen percent of black female middle school students were suspended in 2006, a rate more than four times higher than their white female schoolmates.

Citing a 2010 examination of the nation’s 18 largest school districts by the education department’s Office for Civil Rights,  the NEPC report states that among the nation’s 18 largest school districts, at least 30 percent of all black males were suspended one or more times in 15 of them. In addition, hundreds of schools among the 18 districts had a suspension rate of 50 percent or higher for black males.

“Research on student behavior, race, and discipline has found no evidence that African American over-representation in school suspension is due to higher rates of misbehavior,” the NEPC report states.

The report found that more black students are suspended at higher rates for vague or subjective infractions – disrespect, excessive noise, threatening behavior, and loitering – than for concrete violations like vandalism, smoking, obscene language.

A graph chart in the report showed a massive gap between black and white students suspended for first-time violations for cell phone use, breaking the dress code, disruptive behavior, and displays of affection.

During the 2008-09 school year in North Carolina, nearly 33 percent of black students who violated in-school cell phone rules for the first time were suspended compared with only 14.5 percent of white students. Nearly 40 percent of black students tagged for first-time dress code violations were suspended while only 16.6 percent of first-time white dress code violators were suspended.

“In short, the researchers concluded that there is no evidence that racial disparities in school discipline can be explained by more serious patterns of rule-breaking among African American students,” according to the report written by Daniel Losen of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project. “It appears that white students are engaging more often in those behavioral transgressions that can be documented and counted without much subjectivity or discretion coming into play. However, for those offenses that require a judgment call by teachers, administrators and others, black students are disproportionately called out.”

Losen suggests two possibilities for the disparity: “perhaps black students focus their misbehavior on those types of activities that call for a subjective judgment of such misbehavior, or perhaps black students are being unfairly singled out when it comes to prosecuting such misbehavior.

via School Suspensions Higher for Blacks.

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Church ordains first openly gay minister

The United States Presbyterian Church ordained the first openly gay minister in the nation Saturday morning at Madison’s Covenant Presbyterian Church, while both protesters and counter-protesters staged demonstrations outside.
Scott Anderson, 56, was ordained as a minister in front of 325 people after he was removed from the U.S. Presbyterian Church because of his sexual orientation in 1990, a time when homosexuals were banned from clergy, The Wisconsin State Journal reported Saturday.
The church’s regional governing council voted in May of this year to permit openly gay men and women to be ordained.
“To the thousands of Presbyterians who have worked and prayed for almost 40 years for this, I give thanks,” Anderson told The State Journal. “And I give thanks for those who disagree with what we’re doing today yet who know that we are one in Jesus Christ.”
Anderson’s friends and supporters gave the newly ordained minister a “thunderous standing ovation and began roaring with cheers,” according to the Associated Press.
Nine members of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., an organization known for strong anti-homosexual activism and promotion, gathered outside the church to protest Anderson’s ordination.
“Scott Anderson has no hope of heaven, and you know it. Yet, you refuse to tell him the truth and enable him in his sin,” the church said in a statement on its website.
Anderson called the church’s protests a “sad, kind of sideshow,” but said, “they’re certainly entitled to their opinion,” according to The Wisconsin State Journal.
In response to the WBC protests, about 100 counter protesters gathered outside the church. The counter protesters waved rainbow flags and ran a food drive in opposition to the WBC’s picket.
“Let’s turn WBC’s negativity into something positive,” organizer Polly Shoemaker said on the counter-protest Facebook event page. “It may not be as fun as poking the crazy, but it’s better for everyone.”
The church hired two Madison police officers to monitor the event, but no problems were reported.

Via Church ordains first openly gay minister

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