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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Edward Snowden, Malala Yousafzai nominees for Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

Europe’s top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedomof Thought, could be awarded to Edward Snowden or Malala Yousafzai –two very different political activists.  Snowden has been charged with espionage and theft of government property by United States federal prosecutors.  He is known for leaking several top-secret United States and British government mass surveillance programs to the press. Snowden currently lives in an undisclosed location in Russia under temporary asylum.

Snowden’s nomination for the prize appears to be a slap at the United States by European lawmakers upset with the Obama administration’s foreign policies.  The nomination also comes after the British Parliament refused to participate in a military strike against Syria.

Malala Yousafzai isn’t a whistle-blower. She is a 14-year-oldPakistani girl who was shot in an assassination attempt by the Taliban while returning home on a school bus. She was shot in the head and neck. It was thought she would die, but her condition improved. 

The Taliban has since threatened to kill Yousafzai and her father.  The Taliban does not want women educated. They have banned girls from going to school.  Yousafzai is the face of the girls and women who live under Taliban rule. 

Yousafzai was nominated for the Sarkhov prize for her contributions to education and women’s rights activism.  She was also nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by South African activist Desmond Tutu.

Who do you think will receive the human rights award? Will it be whistle-blower Edward Snowden or education activist Malala Yousafzai?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Yemen human rights minister calls for child marriage ban

Nujood Ali, divorced at 10.

Last week an eight-year-old girl reportedly died following her marriage to man in his 40’s. It was reported that Rawan died last week after suffering from internal bleeding following sexual intercourse. Yemen’s rights minister said she was going to press for the minimum age of marriage to be raised to 18. 

Yemen does not have a minimum age requirement for marriage currently. A previous bill was introduced in 2009 that would have set the age minimum at 17. The bill was shelved after being blocked by ultraconservative lawmakers from the Islamist Al-Islah party. 

Huriya Mashhoor, Yemen’s rights minister, said she wanted to revive the bill and amend the age from 17 to 18. She said, “I wrote to the president of the chamber of deputies to re-file on the parliamentary agenda the bill limiting the age of marriage. We are asking to fix the legal age for marriage at 18, as Yemen is a signatory to the international conventions on children’s rights.”

Mashhoor made these statements after the government formed a committee to investigate reports about the eight-year-old girls death.  The governor of the Hajja province is claiming that Rawan is still alive. 

Ali a-Qaissi, the governor, told the official news agency SABA, “the young girl Rawan Abdo Hattan is still alive and normally lives with her family who, in turn, deny the whole thing.” He also added, “the young girl is currently in a social protection centre after undergoing physical and psychological tests in a public hospital.”
Mashhoor believed, prior to the government’s investigation and the governor’s announcement, that there could have been an attempt to silence the matter and cover up actual events.

Data from the United Nations in 2006 shows that 14 percent of girls in Yemen are married before the age of 15 and 52 percent are married before 18.  

Child marriage in Yemen quickly caught the attention of the world in 2008 when Nujood Ali, a 10-year-old, demanded a divorce from her 30-year-old abusive husband. Shortly after Nujood Ali bravely stood up for herself, Arwa Abdu Muhammad, came forward to complain that her husband had been beating and sexually abusing her for eight months. Arwa was 9-years-old at the time. 

(Photo: Book cover, public domain, wikimedia commons.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rape, Massacres, Child Soldiers used in Syrian Civil War

Child holds bullet casings (creative commons: hdptcar)
Today, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria reporting that the conflict in the country has taken a dangerous turn. Human rights violations are taking place on both sides. The Syrian government has been responsible for violations including torture, murder, rape and the recruitment and use of child soldiers against the civilian population. The anti-government Syrian rebels were also named in the report for committing human atrocities.

The rebels, according to the report, “have committed war crimes, including murder, execution without due process, torture, hostage-taking and attacking protected objects.”

The Syrian rebels have been accused of recruiting and using child soldiers, too.

 Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the Commission, told the press, “Tens of thousands of lives have been lost. Over six million Syrians have fled their homes, each with a story of devastation and loss. Entire communities now live in tents or containers outside Syria's borders, with millions more displaced inside Syria. A society has been ripped apart. Failure to bring about a political settlement has allowed the conflict not only to deepen in its intransigence but also to widen – expanding to new actors and to new, previously unimaginable crimes. For the Commission, charged with investigating violations of international law committed by all parties to the conflict, any response must be founded upon the protection of civilians. The nature of the war raging in Syria is such that the number of violations by all sides goes hand in hand with the intensity of the conflict itself."

Chemical weapon findings were not in the report which reflected findings from May 15 to July 15 of this year. France and the United States are convinced that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on its civilian population. The report found that the Syrian government was responsible for 8 massacres during the time frame of the report and that the rebel group was responsible for one.

 The Commission believes that external military force could make matters worse for the people living in the country. They are hopeful that a political settlement can be met before it is too late. How far do human rights violations have to go before something is done to stop the madness? It has already escalated to murder, rape, torture, child soldiers and chemical weapons. Isn’t time to say enough’s enough?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Saudi Arabia passes domestic violence law

Saudi Arabia isn't known for advancing women's rights. The country is quite notable for its anti-women views on many subjects. Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive, work or travel without permission from their male guardian. Things are changing though. Recently, the country passed a law designed to combat domestic violence.

Human rights groups have welcomed the decision, but caution on how it will be accepted and implemented. Saudi Arabia's legal system is based on sharia law and contains several archaic laws that are distinctly anti-women. An example is a woman who alleges rape. In order to prove she was raped under sharia law her rapist needs to confess or the act needs to be witnessed by four trustworthy males. If the women alleging rape is married, the rape is considered to be an act of adultery. The penalty for a woman who commits adultery can be stoning.

The domestic violence law seeks to end violence at home and in the workplace. It will be implemented within 90 days and is meant to protect all citizens but mostly women and children. The new law makes physical and sexual violence punishable with a minimum jail sentence of one month and a maximum sentence of one year and can include a fine of up to $13,300. Repeat offenders can be given double the sentence if a judge in the case chooses to make it so.

A Saudi writer and blogger, Eman Al Nafjan (@Saudiwoman), told CNN: “Having this in a country where we still have male guardianship system, where we still have child marriage –it's a contradiction-- these things are still legal and yet you're talking about protection from harassment. It doesn't seem like a system where a lot of action will be taken. This seems to be more about talking than actually implementing.”

@Saudiwoman has a point. The statistics on domestic violence in Saudi Arabia are not known. Many cases go unreported because of the counter-accusations that take place. The victims who do report often become targets of criminal prosecution and are further victimized.

Photo Credit: Domestic Violence Campaign Screenshot, King Kahlid Foundation