Wednesday, August 29, 2007

African Countries Stand Up to EU

African Countries Stand Up to EU

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Servce

PARIS, Aug 28, 2007 (IPS) - Concern over getting too little in return for what they are being asked to give up has led some African nations to say "no" to some proposals for new trade relations with Europe next year.

Read the full article here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

L'Affaire Libyenne Shows a New Policy

L'Affaire Libyenne Shows a New Policy

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

PARIS, Aug 27 (IPS) - When the government of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi freed five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor after eight years in prison last month, it marked not only the latest twist in Gaddafi's idiosyncratic rule, but was seen as the opening salvo of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's new diplomatic modus operandi in Africa and beyond.

Following long negotiations by the European Union (EU) to secure the release of the medical workers, who had been sentenced to death following the Libyan government's accusation that they intentionally infected more than 400 Libyan children with the HIV virus, Sarkozy's wife Cecilia swooped into Tripoli to leave with the six prisoners on a plane to Bulgaria.

EU commissioner for foreign affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner who was on the plane was left to appear as if she were hitching a ride.

Read the full story here.

FRANCE: Differences Arise Over Education Law

FRANCE: Differences Arise Over Education Law

By Michael Deibert

Inter Press Service

PARIS, Aug 27 (IPS) - The government of President Nicolas Sarkozy announced after it was swept into power this spring that its policies would bring a "tranquil rupture" with many cherished traditions, particularly in education.

With France's National Assembly giving the nod late last month to an overhaul of higher education, the government seems on its way to making good on this controversial refrain.

Read the full story here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Gassant and the Senate: A pointless showdown with no winners in sight

The current face-off taking place between Port-au-Prince’s chief prosecutor, Claudy Gassant, and Haiti’s parliament has thus far shown signs of almost all of the characteristic weaknesses with which the Haitian state seems content to shoot itself in the foot time and time again: Arrogance, intolerance, accusations of corruption and the plain inability of the parties involved to be able to see past the political considerations of the moment to the broader picture of the health of the state as a whole and the well-being of almost 9 million Haitians. All that is missing now from Haiti’s traditional political tableau is violence. Let’s hope it remains absent.

When Gassant, for reasons thus far clear only to himself, refused to appear with his superior, Minister of Justice René Magloire, before the judiciary committee of Haiti’s senate this week, the senators reacted as has been their wont for recorded memory, like roosters in a yard. Members of the body declared that they would summon Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis to declare a vote of no-confidence and, thus, forcing Haitian president René Préval to form a completely new cabinet at a moment when, for the first time in years, Haiti appears to be making modest progress on both the political and economic front.

Put simply, for the Haitian senate to force the Préval government into this level of crisis because of the actions of one public prosecutor would be suicide for the health of the Haitian state and the poor majority dependant on the executive branch and the senate to work together to do the people’s work, to bring jobs, healthcare, security and peace to this this impoverished and violence-scarred country.

Gassant is by many accounts a difficult though honest man, who since his return to Haiti one year ago has thus far succeeded in butting heads with everyone from his boss Magloire to Police Nationale d'Haïti (PNH) chief Mario Andrésol. Whether he is yet another among a long line of Haitian public figures who begin to suffer from gwo neg (big man) syndrome the moment they get a taste of power I cannot tell from my vantage point here in Paris. But for senators Gabriel Fortuné, Youri Latortue, Rudolph Boulos, Ricard Pierre and Rodolphe Joazile to evoke the possibility of toppling a government over some perceived slight by Gassant is irresponsible and dangerous and seems to show little respect for the millions of people who stood in line last year and voted Préval into office, free to select a cabinet of his choosing.

It does not help the appearance of opportunism that this month Haiti’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, succeeded in ousting Préval’s Minister of Culture, Daniel Elie, because, by many accounts, he was simply not willing to dole out government money in the fashion that the deputies were demanding. Nor does it help the appearance of impartiality that Senator Boulos’ brother, Reginald, is being questioned vigorously by Gassant at the present time.

Nor, must it be said, does it help Gassant’s case that he seems unbothered by the fact that those put into Haiti’s dysfunctional justice system tend to rot in jail for years without trial. The arrest of Haitian businessman Fritz Brandt and his son, David Brandt, sent a tremour through Haiti’s tiny elite but, really, they are only the tip of the iceberg in a system that contains thousands of nobodies who literally spend years in one of the most appalling prison systems in the world without ever seeing a verdict rendered in their cases. This aspect of Haiti’s justice system needs to be addressed energetically and immediately if the authorities ever want anyone to have any faith in the country’s courts. Holding people without trial was wrong under the regime of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, it was wrong under the 2004-2006 interim government and it is wrong now, simple as that.

If the Haitian senate wants to censure or otherwise take steps to remove Gassant from his post in accordance with Haitian law, that is their affair, but they would be advised to tread very carefully, as I fear that, with their threats to topple the Alexis government, they are close to joining their predecessors who, when confronted with their greater mission for the good of their country and the politically attractive opportunity at hand, always chose the latter, to the detriment of Haiti’s long-suffering people.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The ghost of the St. Louis sails through the Negev

In 1939, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States of America, denied permission to the MS St. Louis, a German ocean liner, to land in Florida after being refused entrance into Cuba. The St. Louis had as its cargo nearly a thousand Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe, the majority of them German. Later refused entry into Canada, as well, the ship returned to Europe. Though 288 passengers disembarked in England, 619 people found themselves back in continental Europe as the Holocaust commenced and a dark night that would last six long years for European Jewry descended.

Today, in Sudan’s Darfur region, a crisis that initially centered around the Sudanese government's response to two non-Arab rebel groups waging war against the Arab regime in Khartoum has since grown in intensity and scope into a conflict that has claimed an estimated 200,000 lives, mainly civilians, since 2003. Sudanese military and government-aligned Janjaweed militia forces are accused of carrying out war crimes against the civilian population in the region, while the rebel groups themselves have splintered and re-formed with dizzying speed and in an ever-shifting array of alliances. In March of this year alone, Janjaweed forces crossing into neighboring Chad were said to have killed up to 400 people. Many human rights groups have charged that what the government of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashiral is doing in Darfur constitutes a genocide against the region’s non-Arab population.

On Sunday, it was announced that Israel, founded by people like those who had been turned away aboard the MS St. Louis, would henceforth be turning away all refugees from Darfur attempting to cross into the country via its southern border with Egypt. Israel began implementing this policy by expelling 50 Sudanese asylum seekers yesterday. This is in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 which states that a nation “shall not treat as enemy aliens exclusively on the basis of their nationality de jure of an enemy State, refugees who do not, in fact, enjoy the protection of any government.”

Could any Israeli politician stand up and reasonably argue that the refugees huddled on the ground near Nitzana enjoy the protection of the Sudanese state, which has historically been hostile to Israel?

One is glad to to see Israeli human rights organizations such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Hotline for Migrant Workers, as well as student activists, protesting these moves of their government, apparently taken with almost no historical memory of the experiences of persecuted peoples in mind. They might likewise do well to study that advice of the Talmud Yerushalmi, which suggests that "he who saves a single life, saves the entire world."

For more information on the crisis in Darfur, please visit the websites of the Save Darfur coalition in the United States or the website for the Collectif Urgence Darfour here in France.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

In defense of Taslima Nasreen

Even as I was perusing my friend Dilip D’Souza’s well thought-out and persuasive rational argument on Kashmir, however, the faces of intolerance and intimidation in India were busy revealing themselves a thousand miles to the south of the lily-speckled Dal Lake, when members of the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) party, including Indian lawmakers, attacked the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen as she attempted to speak at a book release event in Hyderabad, India.

Nasreen, as some readers may be aware, is the celebrated author whose works such as Lajja (Shame) have attracted the ire of Muslim fundamentalists in her home country, leading this former physician in Bangladesh’s understaffed public hospitals to have her books banned, her passport seized, her life threatened and, eventually, being forced to seek exile in Europe and the United States before settling in Kolkata (née Calcutta), where she now resides. Her crime? Daring to write of the struggles of women in Bangladeshi society, criticizing the victimization of that country’s Hindu minority and calling for a more moderate, humanistic and less extremist approach to faith in South Asia in general. For this, Ms. Nasreen has been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thoughts from the European Parliament (1994), the Hellman-Hammett Grant from Human Rights Watch (1994) and the UNESCO Prize for the promotion of tolerance and non-violence (2004).

As an author of strong political convictions whose own public readings have occasionally been interrupted by largess-bloated, despot-involved lawyers and the like, it's hard not to reflect on how minor my own inconveniences have been in comparison to having tens of thousands of fanatics pouring into the streets demanding that I be killed, as has happened to Ms. Nasreen in her native country in years past.

"I was wondering how they would kill me. Would it be with a knife or a gun? Or would they simply beat me to death.?” Ms. Nasreen is quoted is saying in the Hindustan Times. “They had encircled us. After I escaped from a back door and took shelter in a room, they even broke down one of the doors. I thought I would be dead,…If I have returned alive to Kolkata it is because of mediapersons who fought those men for half an hour and got injured to save me."

The Indian author and lyricist Javed Akhtar, himself a Muslim, has spoken out bravely in Ms. Nasreen’s defense, stating that "the incident was outrageous and shameful. In a civilized society, you have a right to approve or disapprove of anything… What is the difference between (the attackers) and the Hindu fundamentalist organizations.” As someone who has often spoken out against Hindu chauvinism in India, I couldn't' agree more.

Others, however such as Delhi Minorities Commission Chairperson Kamal Farooqui, have called for Nasreen to be expelled from the country and on live television, a Muslim cleric issued a fatwa that someone should “blacken her face,“ for insulting Islam, a euphemism whose suggestions of violence can only be guessed at.

Over a decade ago, another writer who had been the target of murderous religious fanaticism and who at the time was just beginning to emerge from seclusion - Salman Rushdie - was the speaker at my graduation from Bard College in upstate New York. Speaking of the demands for adherence to this or that hierarchy that had been made of him throughout his life, he addressed the issue of fundamentalism and freedom of expression thusly:

It is men and women who have made the world, and they have made it in spite of their gods, The message of the myths is not the one the gods would have us learn - that we should behave ourselves and know our place - but its exact opposite. It is that we must be guided by our natures. Do not bow your heads. Do not know your place. Defy the gods. You will be astonished how many of them turn out to have feet of clay. Be guided, if possible, by your better natures.

Indeed, and be guided, hopefully, to a more just and tolerant world.

An electoral solution for Kashmir

I was very happy to learn this week that the Indian journalist Dilip D’Souza was awarded first prize by the India National Interest website for his compelling essay Free to Choose India, a well-informed and argued article advocating an electoral solution to the conflict in Kashmir.

In the essay, D’Souza posits that the only solution to the now 20 year-old armed conflict in India’s only Muslin-majority state would be to do the following:

Hold a referendum to let Kashmir’s people decide their future…Announce that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir will vote in the referendum, meaning also what we Indians call Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. Announce too that it will be held among all the people who call that state home, including the three hundred thousand who were driven into camps in Jammu and Delhi. Third, remind the world about the terms of the UN resolution that first urged such a referendum (47 of 1948)…Saying that Pakistani forces must withdraw from Kashmir as a first step towards holding the referendum.

The situation in Kashmir is indeed a complicated and bloody one, as I found when I visited the region in February of this year (a trip on which some of Dilip’s contacts in the region proved to be of invaluable assistance), however I think that an electoral solution, following two decades of conflict that seem to have gone nowhere, indeed remains the only one.

The roots of the conflict go back to the twilight of Britain's colonial rule of India and Pakistan, when Pakistan-based tribesmen invaded Kashmir in 1947 and the region’s Hindu maharajah, Hari Singh, sought Indian assistance while also signing an agreement to become part of India. The Kashmiris were promised a referendum on the status of the region, but it was never held.
The 1948 U.N. Security Council resolution that Dilip refers to specified that in a plebiscite, Kashmir should only have the option to join either India or Pakistan, blocking independence or semi-autonomy, a long-cherished goal of many Kashmiris. After subsequent wars, the border between Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir has remained largely at the present Line of Control.

In 1987, when it seemed legislative elections might be won by a collection of Islamic and secessionist parties called the Muslim United Front (MUF), Indian-administered Kashmir carried out mass arrests of MUF candidates stealing the election and leading some young Muslim Kashmiris to opt for armed conflict, with Pakistan only too happy to offer training and equipment.

The bloodshed since has been pervasive. In addition to those killed, tens of thousands have been injured and hundreds of thousands, including many Kashmiri Hindus, have been displaced. An estimated 8,000 people have been "disappeared" by Indian security forces. The people of Kashmir remain caught in a geopolitical struggle between two of South Asia’s most heavily-armed nation with neither country seeming to have the best interests of the region’s long-suffering people at heart.

For all of these reasons, the idea that Kashmiris should have the opportunity to definitively decide their own status via the long-delayed referendum is one that should be seen as worthy of support both in India and abroad.

For more background on the conflict, please see my February 2007 article in the Washington Times, Kashmiri separatist seeks end to armed struggle, (reprinted here on the Indian Countercurrents website), my article The Struggle for Kashmir (Continued), published in the Spring 2007 edition of the World Policy Journal, Humra Quraishi’s excellent 2004 book Kashmir: The Untold Story (Penguin Global) or Dilip D’Souza’s own New Glory: Peace as Patriotism (WISCOMP, 2005).

On the passing of Tony Wilson

Anthony “Tony” Wilson, the Manchester music impresario who was instrumental in the creation of that city’s Factory Records label as well as its Hacienda nightclub, passed away this week.

As a young, white, working-class kid growing up in Pennsylvania in the late 1980s and early 1980s, some of the music that Tony Wilson helped bring to the world, such as the seminal Manchester band Joy Division, served as a real inspiration back in my musical days for what a determined group of musicians could do with a singular vision, loud amplifiers and some grasp of how to subtly use them.

In his love for his home city of Manchester, Tony Wilson also demonstrated how, by simply giving an outlet to the pool of talent already there, one could take an economically depressed former mill city and transform it into one of the most vibrant of Europe’s cultural capitals. As the independent music that Wilson championed metamorphosed into something altogether looser and funkier, he was also, with the Hacienda, instrumental in presiding over what was to be the birth of rave culture, and the redubbing of his beloved hometown “Madchester.”

Wilson, who was known for his razor-sharp wit, was famous for saying “some people make money and some make history” (a sentiment certainly comforting to some of us on the downside of fiscal advantage), but that wit was not enough to save him when facing kidney cancer and Britain’s National Health Service refused to pay £3,500-a-month for a drug which doctors had recommended after Wilson’s chemotherapy had failed. Were he in the United States, where over 46 million people (myself included) lack any kind of healthcare at all, one wonders how much sooner he would have passed on.

Perhaps the best comment on the Cambridge-educated Wilson came in today's Guardian from Paul Ryder, who served as the guitarist for the Manchester group Happy Mondays: "I would still be working at the post office if it wasn't for Tony. He was the one that gave working kids like me and Shaun [his brother, the band's lead singer] their chance."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

“Freedom always has a price."

For about two hours this afternoon, I found myself transported to revolutionary-era Iran, Vienna, and back again to Paris under the aegis of Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s stunning new animated French-language feature, Persepolis. The film depicts the evolution of a Bruce Lee-worshipping, Iron Maiden-listening young girl in Tehran concurrently and in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution that ousted the Pahlavī dynasty and replaced it with a theocracy under a sheen of democracy. Based on Satrapi’s comic book of the same name, both film and book take their titles from the name of an ancient Persian city. We follow the trajectory of the main character through the years of the anti-Pahlavī uprising, through the terror of the Iran-Iraq war, an alternately eye-opening and desperately lonely time at school in Europe and back to Iran.

I must confess that, in the wilderness years between watching Bugs Bunny as a small child and the advent of The Simpsons in the early 1990s, I missed out on the whole comic book/graphic novel thing, preferring “real” books, playing guitar in a series of bands and generally being a working-class roustabout. But I must agree with Variety’s Lisa Nesselson when she writes of Persepolis that the animated feature is an “autobiographical tour de force (that) is completely accessible and art of a very high order."

Today, on a blazingly hot summer’s day here in Paris, in movie theater off Boulevard Saint-Germain, I was duly impressed. The movie’s fluid visual vocabulary, its witty skewering of European youth subcultures, its expert juggling of comedy and pathos and most of all its depiction of the fate of fragile humans in the face of powerful, brutal and unyielding state machinery makes it a very rewarding and thought-provoking cinematic experience.

“Freedom always has a price,” a character says at one point. Indeed, but as this film shows us, it if often a price worth paying.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Distasteful politicking in Haiti?

Perish the thought! Thought that was indeed what was evidently behind this week’s successful passage of a parliamentary motion in Haiti of no-confidence against Daniel Elie, the Minister of Culture in the government of Haitian president René Préval.

The move - lead by Deputies Jonas Coffy and Poly Faustin of Fanmi Lavalas, Laurore Edouard of UNION, Accluche Louis-Jeune of OPL and Isidor Mercier of the RDNP - apparently came to pass because, though Elie staged what is by many account the most successful Carnaval that the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, has seen for many years, and a similarly well-received fête in the southern city of Jacmel (site of perhaps Haiti’s most colorful pre-Lentian celebrations), the Minister did not apparently spread the wealth of the Carnaval budget around enough for the politicians’ liking.

The move by the deputies, some of whom in the past have been highly critical of any judicial oversight of their activities, financial or otherwise, preferring to behave more like rooster in in a yard than the representatives of 8 million plus people depending on them to reduce the misery in their lives, has been seen by some as a warning to Préval himself not to forget about the largess that Haiti’s president’s historically shower on parliamentarians to curry favor and the spoils of corruption which often form its core. Seeing how Préval responds to this challenge, as he sets about strengthening Haiti’s judiciary and police, and instituting a rule of law over politicians as well as civilians in a country where impunity has historically reigned for the powerful, is one of the most telling and important questions being posed in Haiti today.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out.

Pa bliye Pere Ti Jean

On 3 August 1998, assassins in Haiti struck down Father Jean Pierre-Louis, known as “Pere Ti Jean” to the peasants in Haiti’s Plateau Central, on whose behalf he had advocated for many years. The fifty-year-old priest was a diminutive mulatto from a family of some means—his former sister-in-law, Michele Pierre-Louis, was the executive director of the respected Fondation Connaissance et Liberte (FOKAL)—yet he had chosen to work among Haiti’s poor and had helped found the Sèvis Ekimenik pou Devlopman ak Edikasyon Popilè (Ecumenical Service for Popular Development or SEDEP).

On the 9th anniversary of Pere Ti Jean's slaying, SEDEP, along with the Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen organization, has issued a call for a new investigation into the slaying, which was never solved and for which those responsible were never held accountable. The full text of the declaration can be read in the original Kreyol below.


Ayiti : 3 out 2007, 9 lane depi kriminèl te fè kò sasinay sou pè Ti Jan Pyè Lwi

vendredi 3 août 2007

(Read the original here)

“Nou mande Minis Jistis la, Mèt René Magloire ak komisè gouvènman Pakè Pòtoprens lan, Mèt Claudy Gasan pou yo pran mezi legal nesesè pou mete Aksyon Piblik an mouvman pou chache, arete epi jije prezime kriminèl ki te sasinen san kè sote Pè Ti Jan gwo lajounen bò midi jou ki te

3 Dawou 1998 la, nan lakou biwo l, nan SEDEP. ”

Pozisyon Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen ak SEDEP

Dokiman sa a vin jwenn AlterPresse 2 out 2007

Pòtoprens 31 jiyè 2007

3 Dawou 1998 – 3 Dawou 2007 fè 9 lane depi bandi kriminèl yo te telegide te sasinen Pè Jean Pierre Louis, di Pè Ti Jan, nan lakou SEDEP, yon enstitisyon Pè Ti Jan t ap dirije.

Pè Ti Jan Pyèlwi, se te youn nan dènye pè konsekan Legliz Katolik, ki depi nan lane 1960 yo, anfas rejim diktati Divalye a, te toujou pran pozisyon pou defann enterè peyi a ak enterè mas pèp ayisyen an. Ti Jan te toujou leve kanpe kont tout sistèm dominasyon, krazezo ak eksplwatasyon feyodal ak kapitalis ki t ap toupizi mas pèp la. Se pou sa, nan zòn kote li te pase pifò tan l kòm pè, nan komin Savanèt, grandon pat vle wè l. Yo te toujou ap monte konplo kont li, paske li te toujou ap pran defans ti peyizan, malere ak malerèz.

Kriminèl asasen te rive tchwe Pè Ti Jan, kèk semèn sèlman apre li te patisipe nan yon reyinyon nan Palè Nasyonal, sou envitasyon premye gouvènman prezidan Preval la. Nan moman an, Pè Ti Jan te manm Komisyon Nasyonal Refòm Agrè, evèk Legliz Katolik nan peyi Dayiti te mete kanpe pou te reflechi sou Dosye REFOM Agrè prezidan Preval t ap klewonnen nan moman an. Se nan kad sa a, Pè Ti Jan t al patisipe nan rankont Palè Nasyonal la, kote divès lòt pè te envite.

Reyinyon sa a te bay Pè Ti Jan okazyon pou te denonse piblikman, jan li te abitye fè l nan prèch li, blòf, demagoji, vòl ak koripsyon ki t ap devlope nan moman an anndan Leta a, nan mitan gouvènman Preval la e menm anndan Legliz la.

9 lane apre krim nan, tout gouvènman ki pase alatèt Leta a pa leve yon ti dwèt pou Aparèy Jistis la mete Aksyon Piblik an mouvman kont prezime kriminèl yo. Nonplis tou, okenn komisè gouvènman, omepri lalwa, pa janm pran okenn mezi legal pou fè limyè sou krim nan, malgre laklamè piblik pa janm sispann egzije jistis pou Pè Ti Jan epi denonse kriminèl yo ak tout konplis yo.

Nan okazyon nevyèm anivèsè sasinay Pè Ti Jan, nou menm oganizasyon ak enstitisyon ki pran pozisyon sa a, mande Prezidan René Préval ak Premye Minis Jacques Edouard Alexis, yo menm ki te deja sou pouvwa a nan moman krim nan te komèt nan lane 1998, yo menm ki tal rann paran Pè Ti Jan vizit lakay yo epi ki te patisipe nan ekspozisyon ki te fèt nan ponp finèb, nou mande yo fwa sa a pran reskonsablite yo. Nou mande Minis Jistis la, Mèt René Magloire ak komisè gouvènman Pakè Pòtoprens lan, Mèt Claudy Gasan pou yo pran mezi legal nesesè pou mete Aksyon Piblik an mouvman pou chache, arete epi jije prezime kriminèl ki te sasinen san kè sote Pè Ti Jan gwo lajounen bò midi jou ki te 3 Dawou 1998 la, nan lakou biwo l, nan SEDEP.

Pandan n ap renouvle solidarite ak senpati nou ak fanmi Pè Ti Jan, n ap envite tout fanmi an, zanmi, kanmarad, senpatizan ak fidèl Pè Ti Jan yo nan seremoni komemorasyon, TET KOLE TI PEYIZAN AYISYEN ak dòt òganizasyon popilè ap òganize jou k ap 3 Dawou a nan vil Savanèt, pou fè sonje memwa Pè Ti Jan ki rete yon modèl fidelite ak angajman nan lit pèp la.

Rosnel Jean-Baptiste Tet Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen

Jhon Blot SEDEP