Friday, December 14, 2012

Armed conflict leads to killing, displacement in Kachin State, Burma

A December 11, 2012 news article written by Saw Yan Naing, writing for The Irrawaddy, an independent Burmese news publication, confirms that Kachin State, Burma is still troubled by armed conflict. Fighting between ethnic Kachin forces and the Burmese army in Kachin state, located in northern Burma, has intensified over the past few days, an observation noted by Kachin rebels, claiming to have killed several Burmese government soldiers. La Nan, the leading representative for the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), notes that armed conflict has become an everyday occurrence.

Several Burmese soldiers were killed or injured during armed conflict from December 9th--10th in various areas under Kachin Independence Army (KIA) control, specifically by Brigades 1, 2, and 5, according to another statement La Nan gave to The Irrawaddy. He also stated that the army was making emergency helicopter flights to send more ammunition and weapons to troops and to deal with casualties.

The KIO's deputy chief of foreign affairs, James Lum Dau, stated that 60 Burmese soldiers were killed or injured in total during armed conflict between KIA Brigade 5 and the army in two specific areas within southern Kachin State over the weekend. In areas controlled by KIA Brigades 2 and 5, conflict has worsened , as Burmese army troops have stormed the area, with government battalions skyrocketing from 20 to 140, KIO sources have found.

Part of the armed conflict has also been concentrated in the strategically coveted Pan Wan area under KIA Brigade 1 control, near the Burma-China border. Fighting has worsened since December 1st after the army sent battalions 13, 77, 260, and 301 from its Light Infantry Division 88--to attack the KIA. La Nan comments on KIA rebels suffering numerous casualties in Pan Wan, with 15 rebels injured and four killed since December 1st. He stated that KIA troops took over frontline posts again in the area on Tuesday morning, where the Burmese army's Infantry Battalion 74 and 77 had originally taken over the area on August 20th.

As military clashes in Kachin State worsen, the possibility of political dialogue or ceasefire talks between all sides becomes more unlikely. The KIO stated it tried unsuccessfully to speak with government peace negotiators, initially offering to meet with them on October 30th. The head of the government peace team, Aung Min, has announced in public that she was willing to hold a meeting with the KIO, but so far, arrangements have not been made. Recent military clashes appear to have destroyed any hope for the conflict to end for the time being. James Lum Dau accuses the government of being dishonest, mentioning that every time the government calls for peace, the Burmese army continues to fight. He stated that he and the KIO will only settle for peace when the government is honest.

A 17 year ceasefire agreement breakdown between the government and the KIO in June last year has led to the current 18 month old conflict, displacing many villagers in the area. It has also been discovered that the UN has not been allowed to help victims in camps under KIA control and it believes that about 39,000 are outside government areas. Aid organizations believe the number is much higher, at 60,000. A leading UN representative asked the government last Friday to give the UN access to the camps. Kachin aid organizations have noted that internally displaced persons (IDP) are in dire need of blankets and warm clothing, as winter has already arrived. Approximately 100,000 IDPs are affected by the armed conflict, and are surviving in either KIA or government-controlled camps, according to aid organization information.

Despite promises of democracy in Burma, it is clear that Burma still has many human rights issues that need to be resolved. The plight of Kachin State shows that the Burmese government has failed to respect its citizens' rights. The international community must also step up and punish the Burmese government for ongoing human rights violations in the International Criminal Court. The international community also needs to provide more relief to the IDPs in Kachin State. How much longer do Burmese citizens have to suffer before the world does something about its problems?

To read the original article, please visit: http://www.irrawaddy.org/archives/20960


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Criticism of wrongful imprisonment of Behrouz Ghobadi

On November 19, 2012, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) has reported the wrongful imprisonment of Behrouz Ghobadi. His brother, Bahman Ghobadi, an award-winning filmmaker who has created films such as "Turtles Can Fly" and "A Time for Drunken Horses", informed the ICHRI that Behrouz had been arrested on November 4th. Bahman fears for his brother, as Behrouz suffers from various diseases. Since Behrouz's arrest, his family has not been informed about his condition. Bahman has requested that the Iranian authorities protect his rights, such as having access to a lawyer, contact with his family, as well as respect his health while he is in jail.

Bahman, now living outside of Iran, maintains that his brother is innocent, and is only involved in helping him with some of his films. During the interview with the ICHRI, Bahman has also stated that he and his family are unable to obtain information about Behrouz's condition, and that his family is worried about Behrouz. The ICHRI has also learned through a telephone interview with lawyer Ahmad Saeed Sheikhi that he will represent Behrouz Ghobadi. Sheikhi believes that Behrouz had been arrested by the Intelligence Ministry, although he did not have any more information about his situation at the time, as the Ghobadi family had only asked him that day to represent Behrouz.

This is not the first time the ICHRI has dealt with a case like that of Behrouz. During the past three years, it has researched numerous cases of relatives of Iranian journalists and political activists being persecuted or arrested, even if those involved in journalism or politics live abroad. In all of the cases that the ICHRI has dealt with, the relatives have not been found guilty of any crimes, and their intimidation, interrogations, arrests, and summonses have been used to pressure journalists and activists to give up on their work abroad.

The ICHRI fears that Behrouz's arrest may be yet another case of a similar nature. Bahman is highly critical of the Iranian government's policies on censorship, and in 2009 he directed a globally praised film, "Nobody Cares About Persian Cats." The film explores the hardships faced by young underground Iranian musicians struggling to escape state censorship. It criticized the lack of freedom of expression in Iran, and since the film's release Bahman has lived abroad, where he has continued working on films criticizing the government of Iran.

Bahman elaborates on the fears for Behrouz's health. He stated that Behrouz was involved in a car accident on a hazardous road in Kurdistan a few years ago, and that his legs now have several platinum pins in them, leading to gout and immobility. Behrouz has also developed a heart problem and asthma because of his immobility. Bahman questions how the Iranian government claims to value the rule of law, yet has not provided information on the whereabouts of Behrouz to his family. Bahman also wants to know what crime Behrouz has been charged with, and if Behrouz has actually committed a crime, to prove it in court. Bahman continues to question why his family has been left uninformed about Behrouz's condition.

Bahman emphasized that Behrouz was a businessman, and was not politically active in Iran. Bahman explained that Behrouz had immigrated to Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, to open a shop so that he could provide enough money for his wedding. Two weeks ago, his son was born. Behrouz and two of his friends were travelling from Sanandaj province in Iran on November 4th, where they went to visit relatives in Tehran. It was 3:30 a.m. at the time, and then they planned to travel to Georgia at 12:00 p.m. on the same day. Bahman and his family never heard anything from Behrouz after that.

Bahman stated that at first, he didn't want to get involved in the situation, because his family had insisted that they wait. However, more than two weeks have passed by, and they have not been informed of Behrouz's whereabouts. Bahman and his family want to know why Behrouz and his friends have been arrested and what their charges are. He reiterates their concerns about Behrouz's health, particularly the platinum pins in both of his legs. Bahman stated that another health complication would require a new operation and could exacerbate his heart problem. They are also worried about the health of Behrouz's friends.
 
The Ghobadi family deserves to know about the condition of Behrouz, especially given the fact that he is in extremely poor health. Arresting Behrouz and many other Iranians like him without giving a reason and informing  his family is incredibly cruel and inhumane, showing that the Iranian government's attempts to instill "morality" in its citizens are false. It's time for world leaders to step up and finally hold the Iranian government accountable for its actions. Zahra Kazemi, Neda Agha-Soltan, and countless others have already perished under the oppressive Iranian regime...how many more lives will be destroyed before the international community finally stands up to the government of Iran?

To read the original article, please visit: http://www.iranhumanrights.org/2012/11/behrouz_ghobadi/

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Criticism of price gouging in New York after Hurricane Sandy

A Los Angeles Times article written on November 6, 2012 by Tiffany Hsu has found that price gouging in New York is taking place after Hurricane Sandy. According to the article, hundreds of New Yorkers have sent complaints about paying extremely high prices for batteries, food, gasoline, and various other needs to New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. He is now investigating the matter. Schneiderman has also found that the prices of taxi rides, food, and generators have also skyrocketed. Complaints of $10 bottled water, inflated prices for hotel rooms, and long lines at gas stations have also become commonplace after Hurricane Sandy. To read the full article by Tiffany Hsu, please visit: http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-new-york-attorney-general-price-gouging-20121106,0,627459.story

To the people involved in this price gouging, you should be ashamed of yourselves! So many people have already lost everything in this terrible natural disaster, and instead of improving the situation in New York, like you should be doing, you are only exacerbating the situation! I hope everyone who is involved in price gouging in New York is held to account for their actions, and is given a harsh punishment! Several people's lives have already been destroyed because of Hurricane Sandy, and the last thing these victims need to deal with company greed! To the people in New York being taken advantage of by these companies, I am so sorry to hear that you are facing company greed on top of already having your lives destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. My thoughts are with you, and I hope your situation improves.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Condolences to hydro worker killed in Sarnia, Ontario

A Wednesday, October 31, 2012 news release by the Sarnia Observer reports that on Wednesday morning, a Bluewater Power worker was killed while trying to fix the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. He was electrocuted to death while trying to fix a power line that had been knocked to the ground, a conclusion reached by the Ontario Labour Ministry. The incident happened near the Lake Huron shoreline, on Passingham Lane at Lewis Lane at 10:14 a.m., according to Sarnia police. The electrocuted worker was rushed to Sarnia hopsital, but was later pronounced deceased. His name will not be released. To read the full story by the Sarnia Observer, please visit http://www.theobserver.ca/2012/10/31/power-worker-killed-making-storm-repairs-in-sarnia

I would like to offer my condolences to the friends, family, and co-workers of this man who has died such a terrible death. He and others like him worked in extremely harsh conditions to try and restore electricity to those left without power because of Hurricane Sandy. It is incredibly sad that he had to lose his life while trying to help others. I wish his loved ones all the best in trying to cope with this tragic loss. R.I.P.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Children's Rights under Assault in Syria

Dumped in a cramped cell where corpses continued to be beaten and were left to decompose into maggots—this is the reality that 15 year old Moussa has been forced to live through. He was arrested by the police and imprisoned for 22 days; during that time, he witnessed children dying. He also recalls being imprisoned with hundreds of other children, some of them as young as nine or ten years old. Moussa was beaten up every day, and was tortured with electric shock as well. He was eventually thrown out of prison, and carried out on a blanket, unable to move. Moussa was stopped by a passerby who looked at his ID and then took him to his village. He managed to reunite with his family, who helped him go to the hospital. He still has scars on his back, chest, and feet, and continues to suffer back pain as well. Moussa is now at Za’atari refugee camp, located in Jordan.
 
Moussa’s appalling story shows just how senseless the political violence in Syria has become, and how there is no longer any regard for human life, even for children. Stories like that of Moussa are unfortunately all too common, which begs the question of why the people who are committing these crimes against ordinary Syrians, particularly against children, have not been held to account for their actions. Save the Children, a U.K. charity that helps children in Third World countries, has documented strong evidence of children being victimized by politically motivated violence in a 50 page report released on Tuesday, September 25, 2012, titled: “Untold Atrocities: The Stories of Syria’s Children.” It contains several interviews with Syrian refugees who describe witnessing various types of torture against children, and many cases of the interviewees experiencing systematic abuse themselves. All of the interviews in the report took place at Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan. The report can be found at the following link:
 
Nabil, a father, also notes how the political crisis in Syria has left children deliberately exposed to violence. He recalls that in Saydeh, a Syrian village, children have been used as human shields. He remembers seeing children being strapped to tanks by their torsos, feet, and hands on two tanks that broke into the village. Nobody was able to stop the tanks or fight back because the children bound to the tanks would have gotten killed. Nabil also describes how his own children have been traumatized by the civil war—his 10 year old son Ala’a has started sleepwalking and crying all the time without giving a reason why. Nabil’s other child has started stuttering.
 
Nabil’s disturbing testimony illustrates that the political violence in Syria has stooped to new lows with the chilling and cowardly acts of abusing children for political interests. The use of children as human shields is a particularly horrendous crime, showing that nobody has been spared when it comes to the civil war in Syria. Nabil’s experiences in witnessing his own children become psychologically damaged because of the political crisis are alarming as well, and show that the violence in Syria is not only harming children physically, but emotionally as well. Given the current situation in Syria, the future outcomes of the emotional healing process for Nabil’s children look uncertain—if they heal at all.
 
Mohamad, aged 24, makes similar observations about children being tortured in Syria. He notes that in his own town, almost 200 children had been killed in a massacre—and it received no media coverage, generating no outrage. Mohamad had also been put in jail for three months and 20 days. While he was in prison, he had been tortured with electric shock. He had also witnessed children who were in the same jail as him being tortured with electric shock by the guards. Children had electricity applied on their genitals, backs, legs, and hands. The torture did not end there.
 
Mohamad remembers even more disturbing accounts of children being abused in prison, describing how the guards would also beat the children until they bled. Many children had died from the beatings. The guards would also tie the children’s hands together so tightly that the children would make pleas for their hands to be loosened. The guards would bind the children’s hands even tighter, causing the veins in their wrists to start bleeding. Many children had also died from this torture. The few children who were released were still injured from the abuse they faced in jail. The guards would also take children as young as 12 and leave them in isolation rooms, where it was dark and they were abandoned by themselves. Mohamad states that children have also been forced to become soldiers, as there are no longer enough men who can fight. Some children are forced to guard the borders with guns, while others are used as human shields for the armed men.
 
Mohamad’s observations raise several unsettling questions. First, the mainstream media’s failure to cover a massacre where almost 200 children were killed shows that it is complicit in continuing the oppression of Syrians, particularly Syrian children, by turning a blind eye to their suffering. The lack of media exposure of such a serious crime has prevented awareness from being raised about the political situation in Syria among the general public, hiding key information that would help provide a better understanding of what is happening in Syria. The fact that the lack of media coverage has led to no outrage is also sickening, creating a disturbing situation where people cannot speak out against the human rights abuses taking place in Syria because they are not being exposed to it through the mainstream media in the first place.
 
Second, Mohamad’s experiences in jail and his testimony of how he saw children abused while imprisoned also show that the violence committed against Syrian children is widespread and calculated. It reveals, once again, that Syrian children are not immune from politically motivated violence, and that nobody is safe from abuse. The acts of using children as human shields and soldiers also illustrate that children’s rights in Syria have been treated with blatant disregard. The use of child soldiers has not only destroyed a sense of well-being for the children who are involved—it will continue to perpetuate the cycle of political violence in Syria, creating further instability. These child soldiers will internalize the tactics of repression, creating an entire generation of children who will become desensitized into accepting violence as a way of life. As Syrian children continue to be manipulated for political interests, it is clear that the effects from being mistreated will last a long time, and a positive future remains an unlikely outcome.
 
Wael, 16 years old, echoes Nabil’s thoughts about the psychological toll that the political crisis in Syria has taken on himself and others. He recalled being arrested and being put in a small cell with hundreds of other prisoners, where there was no toilet, only a hole in the floor. He remembers a six year old boy named Ala’a who was arrested because his parents were considered a political threat. Ala’a’s father was threatened with his child’s death unless he surrendered. Ala’a was starved for three days and would faint constantly. He was beaten on a regular basis as well. Wael recounts watching him die after only three days. He also remembers children from his own village becoming mute because of observing constant violence. He notes that the civil war has caused him to lose faith in humanity, and his once optimistic personality has now dissolved. Wael is now suicidal because of the Syrian conflict.
 
Wael’s heartbreaking observations and experiences show how much psychological damage is being committed against Syrian children from such senseless and cruel political violence. The fact that his hopes for the future have been shattered by the Syrian civil war is quite telling of just how sadistic the violence in Syria is. The fact that Wael is now suicidal because of his experiences also shows that people are not only having their sense of safety threatened on a regular basis—their will to live is also being destroyed, as a direct result of the relentless violence. This psychological damage will create severe complications for the future of Wael and others affected like him, and the road to recovery will be long and difficult—if it takes place at all. Wael’s account of seeing children go mute as a direct result of being exposed to constant violence also confirm the negative psychological impact that the Syrian political crisis is having on civilians, particularly on children.
 
Save the Children is working diligently to help Syria’s children. To learn more about the situation in Syria on YouTube, please watch “Stop the Crimes Against Syria’s Children,” which can be found at the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsjL3PLHQi8. To donate to Save the Children, please visit http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/syriagive. To help Save the Children force the UN to take action on the Syrian political crisis, please sign their petition at http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/syriaact. To raise awareness on Twitter, you can use the hashtag #savesyriaschildren. The world has remained silent on Syria’s political issues for far too long. Let’s help Syrians rebuild their futures, and force politicians to step up and finally do something about Syria.