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Upstream Journal

magazine on human rights & social justice

  • The critical voice of South Sudan: An interview with Mading Ngor

    The critical voice of South Sudan: An interview with Mading Ngor

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    Can we create a framework to help businesses prioritize human rights?

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    More than 109,000 children work in Cote d'Ivoire's cocoa industry...

The Upstream Journal

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The Million Signatures Campaign: Iranian women face imprisonment for demanding their rights

Bahareh HedayatIn

Bahareh HedayatIn. In May she was sentenced by the Revolutionary Court to nine years in prison, on charges of “propaganda against the regime through interviews with foreign media, insulting the Leader and the President, and disrupting public order by participation in illegal gatherings.” Time was also added from a suspended sentence for activities at Amir Kabir University. in 2006. Photo: Raha Asgarizadeh

Mahboubeh Karami and Bahareh Hedayat are among the inmates of Iran’s notorious Evin prison for fighting for the abolition of laws discriminating against women.

Karami was arrested in March and placed in solitary confinement, even though the charges against her remain to be clarified and she has not been able to meet with her lawyer. She told her family she was to be charged with “participating in illegal protests and membership in the group Human Rights Activists in Iran.” She has been in touch with her family by phone, and her physical condition is reported to be worsening.

Hedayat, a student activist, was arrested in December 2009 during a gathering in front of Evin prison in solidarity with the families of recent political detainees.

Both are involved with the “Million Signatures Campaign,” which aims to show the Islamic Republic of Iran that both men and women want equal rights for Iranian women. Its original goal was to get signatures of support from one million Iranian nationals.

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eye on the World Bank and IMF:Experts assess compliance by Department of Finance with law requiring human rights in international aid

In 2008, the Canadian government passed the Official Development Assistance (ODA) Accountability Act in order to increase the effectiveness of Canadian aid money in developing countries.  The Act stipulates that through its ODA, Canada must contribute to poverty reduction, take into account the perspectives of the poor, and be consistent with international human rights issues.

10% of Canadian ODA is channeled to the World Bank by way of the Department of Finance. While the World Bank claims that it informally supports human rights, there is no operations policy that enforces them; the Bank claims that human rights is a political issue that falls beyond the scope of its mandate.

So, how does Department of Finance plan to uphold the Act with regards to human rights standards? Continue Reading

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Anti-Israel or anti-Semitic? Drawing the line between political criticism and prejudice in Canada

The creation of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) in 2009 sparked debate over the meaning and implications of the “new anti-Semitism.” Critics wonder where the line will be drawn between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. The coalition was formed to confront and combat anti-Semitism in Canada. According to the CPCCA “new anti-Semitism” is exemplified by individuals and governments who call for the destruction of the State of Israel and its inhabitants.

The Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) is among organizations that support the CPCCA. In its submission to the committee they wrote that “anti-Semitism may now no longer speak of a goal to make a country cleansed of Jews but instead it may aim for a world that is cleansed of a Jewish State.”

Independent Jewish Voices (IPV), on the other hand, regards the views endorsed by CPCCA and its supporters as problematic because they conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Israeli sentiment. Continue Reading

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Burma: The ethics of travel to an exotic tourist destination ruled by tyrants

The ancient city of Bagan, with more than 2000 pagodas and temples.. Photo: Jose Javier Martin Espartosa

The ancient city of Bagan, with more than 2000 pagodas and temples.. Photo: Jose Javier Martin Espartosa

For the tourist, Burma is a country of contradictions. The southeast Asian country boasts cultural sites and sandy beaches that rival any tourist paradise in the region. But according to some democracy activists, the very functioning of the tourism industry is bound up with gross human rights abuses committed by the military regime that has ruled the country since 1988.

The untouched scenery and friendly locals have made Burma an attractive tourist destination, and so commercial tourism has been promoted despite calls for a boycott. Asian travel agents have long promoted cheap tours to Burma, and now European and American travel agents are also establishing tourist operations in the country. Continue Reading

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Eye on Ottawa: When Canadians get into trouble abroad

Several Canadians have, for one reason or another, been captured or imprisoned abroad. These include Amanda Lindhout, Brenda Martin, Mohamed Kohail, Huseyin Celil, Abousfian Abdelrazik, Bashir Makhtal, Ratnarajah Thusiyanthan, and Suaad Hagi Mohamud.

The government has intervened in the cases of Martin, Kohail, Celil, Makhtal, but has been reluctant to help in others.

When Abousfian Abdelrazik was imprisoned in Sudan in 2003 and again in 2005, the government refused his repatriation, even after his release, because of alleged ties to terrorism (he is the only Canadian on the UN no-fly list). He was returned to Canada in 2009, after the Federal Court ordered the government to provide him assistance.

Suaad Hagi Mohamud made headlines in 2009 when a Canadian embassy official in Kenya declared her an imposter and she was jailed and charged. She was granted bail, and then returned to Canada after the government was pressured into doing a DNA test that confirmed she is who she says she is. Continue Reading

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Mass murder’s paper trail:The Guatemalan police archive’s documentation of death and disappearance

Fire in Guatemalan police archive

An explosion and fire nearby led officials to explore an abandoned munitions building in Guatemala City, where written, audio, and photographic documents on a wide range of police matters from as early as the 1900s were stored. A Guatemalan team funded by Switzerland, Spain, and Germany is cleaning, organizing and making digital copies of the documents, many of them disintegrating with age and exposure to moisture. The files can be used as evidence in the victims’ legal cases, and their discovery contributes to fighting impunity in a country where human rights abuse and corruption are still common.
Photos courtesy the Guatemalan National Police Archive Project

More than twenty-five years after Edgar Fernando Garcia, labour leader and father of a one-year-old girl, disappeared from outside his relatives’ house in Guatemala City, suspects in his abduction have been identified and detained.

In March 2009, senior police officer Héctor Roderico Ramírez Ríos and retired policeman Abraham Lancerio Gómez were arrested as suspects in Garcia’s disappearance. The arrest was based on evidence accidentally discovered five years ago in an old munitions dump in Guatemala City. The abandoned building contained 75 million pages of secret national police documents, many of which provide information on police actions during Guatemala’s violent civil war. It is estimated that 400,000 people disappeared and 200,000 were killed between 1960 and 1996.

Documents among the stacks of decomposing and mouldy paper indicate that Garcia was abducted as part of the state-sponsored violence that mainly targeted community leaders, most of them Mayan, and trade unionists that the government perceived as threatening.

The day Garcia disappeared, he left his house to go to a market in Guatemala City. He and his family planned to celebrate his aunt’s wedding anniversary in that afternoon in February, 1984. He never showed up. Instead, soldiers arrived to take his belongings away. No official explanation followed. No government investigation took place to find out what had happened.
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The “walking dead”: Tanzania’s trade in the body parts of albino people

Albanism

Photos by- Rick Guidotti for Positive Exposure (photoexposure.org)

 

Known locally as the ‘walking dead,’ people with albinism are regarded with suspicion in Tanzania. Occult beliefs in the magical properties of albino body parts – used by witchdoctors for rituals thought to bring wealth and prosperity – have given rise to a series of albino murders.

The rapidly growing trade in albino body parts, which also targets children, is lucrative. Traders can sell albino limbs on the black market for $500 to $2000. It is estimated that this trade resulted in 60-70 murders in Tanzania in 2009.

Although the Tanzanian government has pledged to crack down on the gruesome industry, it admits that action has been slow because most of the attacks happen in rural areas where police forces are understaffed. As well, failure of the court system has meant that dozens of accused people have not been tried for the murders.

Peter Ash is the founder of the Canadian NGO “Under The Same Sun,” which provides advocacy and support for albino people in Tanzania. He says that of 57 reported murders, and 6 attacks in which victims lost limbs, in the last two years, there were convictions in only 2 cases. In neighbouring Burundi there were convictions in 12 of 14 cases. Government officials have blamed the slow progress on lack of funds, but Ash is not convinced.

“We are unaware of other capital murder cases that have been stopped due to lack of funds, we’ve never heard of that happening before,” he said. “We believe that it is due more to a lack of political will.” Continue Reading

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Assassinating the rights defenders

World mapfinal
In the early morning of July 15, 2009, leading human rights activist Natalia Estemirova was abducted from her home in Gronzy, Chechnya. Several witnesses heard her scream “I’m being kidnapped” as she was pushed into a car. Her body was found along a roadside several hours later with multiple gunshot wounds. Continue Reading

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Orphanage corruption in Ghana: For the benefit of children?

ghana
While volunteering in Ghana, 22-year-old Jenna Macdonald from Tiverton, Ontario, was asked to buy 250 chickens and a coop for the children of Good Shepherd Orphanage. She had already paid an $800 “volunteer fee” and seen the orphanage administration refuse to pay fifty
Ghana cedis ($37 Cdn) for a young staff member’s malaria treatment, which resulted in his death.

“When I met with the orphanage owner, Bishop Kwaku Addei, he wanted me to give him $350 cash for the coop. I was apprehensive about that, but it always seemed to be money first and action later in Ghana.”

seated group
re there to help with the kids.”  The Good Shepherd Orphanage founder and director is Kwaku Addei, a bishop in the Great Word of God Church, which he also founded. He denies that the orphanage misuses volunteer funds and maintains that volunteers are generally happy with their experience. “There are good volunteers who come to the orphanage without any problems,” he said. “And there are some who only come here to criticize the work we are doing. Nobody gives me money for the upkeep of the children. Only some individuals and churches donate to support the children.

We pay electricity bills, teachers, and internet bills without any volunteer contributions. Young volunteers should not condemn what we are doing here.” However, Ian Nowosad is another volunteer like Jenna, who is concerned about mishandling of volunteers’ donations. While he was at Good Shepherd Orphanage, he gave the children’s primary caregiver, “Mama,” an extra five dollars every day so that she could buy them nutritious food. Ian worked at the orphanage for over six weeks and he never saw the kids’ meals improve. Continue Reading

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Uzbekistan after Andijan: Repression and the façade of communal solidarity

Uzbekistan

Bordered by Afghanistan to the south and Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan is ranked by Freedom House as among the worst in terms of civil and political liberties in a region already known for its human rights abuses. A product of the post-Soviet break-up in 1991, Uzbekistan has struggled since its independence with religious factionalism, economic inequality and a repressive ruling regime.

“Thousands upon thousands waited in Andijan’s main square, waiting to talk to their president, their leader, and instead the military started shooting.” Bakhtiyor Nishanov, now a staff member of Freedom House, a human rights NGO based in Washington, no longer feels comfortable returning to Uzbekistan, concerned for his own security and that of his family. In fact, he is one of many human rights defenders from Uzbekistan whose work has forced him to leave the country.

In Andijan, the forth-largets city in the country, what began as a demonstration by some 10,000 people gathered to protest poverty and government corruption on May 13, 2005 quickly descended into violence. Armored military trucks, tanks and security-forces responded, shooting men, women and children alike. Continue Reading

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