Blog Posts

Exactly "Trade and Rights Aren't Mutually Exclusive"

In a recent blog post in Huffington Post, Mihra Rittman called upon Britain to call out Kazakhstan's violation of human rights. The call happens within the context of a senior UK Foreign Ministry official's prediction that "Kazakhstan [is] "on the verge of being a significant player on the international stage," and "that President Nursultan Nazarbaev's visit to the United Kingdom on November 3 and 4 "will confirm Britain's desire to be a partner of choice for Kazakhstan as it takes forward further reforms in governance, rule of law and human rights." Her call followed as the title of her article indicates, that there is no need to embrace Kazakhstan for its potential progress industrially if it won't also take steps towards ending its human rights abuses.

The call conviently locates the decision of trade relations in the hands of British officials, as if Kazakhstan had no choice in the matter. I would personally call for Kazakhstan to hold off on trade relations with the global power until it addresses its grave abuses.

If you're wondering what I am talking about, we could start with the reparations that Britain could pay to every single indigenous group that it destroyed, uprooted, displaced, and massacred in its global campaign for power and wealth.

We could start with a discussion about police brutality, militarization and police accountability in the Isle.

We could start with acknowledging the British "legislation that enables the government to conduct phone and internet surveillance on a mass scale."

In fact, I could go on listing things that Kazakhstan could consider before it engages in trade with Britain. There are many things as indicated here that Kazakhstan would either be directly or indirectly contributing to by engaging in trade with Britain.

Mihra's blog post does not acknowledge these realities. Whether intended or not, turning a blind eye to Britain's own contributions to human rights violations is a part of exceptionalism that consitently looks to other countries without critically considering its own contribtutions to human rights violations.

As long as we continue to look to other's wrong doings we will continue in our own wrong doing. As a member of the European Union, I say that if we genuinely are to care about human rights, we need to be more intentional about how we frame discussions on human rights. We need to care about human rights everywhere, not just when others are violating them. We need to care about human rights everywhere, especially where we have the most influence, at home.

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Documentary Review: Winter on Fire (Ukraine)

Jackie Fielder's picture

I did not know much about Ukraine, except that separatists loyal to Russia shot down that one commercial airplane this past year, until I watched Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom. Winter on Fire is a perfect introduction to the conflict in Ukraine and the ongoing human rights crisis therre. A slimy president, who promised the people membership to the European Union, went back on his promise and had secret talks with Russia, Ukraine’s former oppressor. At the center of all of this are the youth in my generation who were born in a Ukraine free from Russia’s leash. They grew up with the promise of European Union membership and all of the accompanying freedoms (and problems) dangling over their heads.

            Whether or not you believe western liberal ideas about freedom and equality are overrated and not actually practiced, this documentary makes it tough for one to argue that Russia’s company is welcomed peacefully by the people. After the president goes back on his promise, the people organize and occupy the center of the administrative city in Ukraine, Maidan. Much like the Gezi protests and the Egyptian rebellion, these peaceful demonstrations of civil disobedience used humor, teach-in’s, barricades, national pride, and courage to resist the repressive Berkut, the iron fist of the president. Iron batons, metal shields, rubber bullets, tear gas, flash grenades, and eventually, live ammunition could not weaken the youth’s grip on what they say is a free future for generations to come.

            Winter on Fire is an inspiring documentary that capitalizes on the resilience of human beings and rejuvenates one’s hope for progress and unity in the face of oppression.

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A Look into Russia's Involvement in Syria

Since much of rhetoric justifying military incursion into local conflicts involves human rights, it us useful to get context on issues to see how the rhetoric of human rights justifies war.

 Follow this link to listen to a podcast discussing Russia's involvement in Syria. http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/10/20/most-of-russias-militar...

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The Dangerous Lives of Colombian Mangrove Clam Collectors

(picture description: two members of the Piangueras community in the tree roots taking a break from arduous work.)

I wanted to share the following interview from Vice news because of the situation it describes. Some questions that went through my mind are "how do we begin to discuss human rights we are blind to?", "how does neglect or lack of resources reinforce and perpetuate the lack of distribution of human rights?", and "how can we move beyond our lack of resources and knowledge to support folks who are marginalized?"

I labelled this blog post as human trafficking, but to be honest its just an approximation. I still feel that it is accurate given the conditions are strikingly similar: very little to no choice with regard to economic advancement. That said, the interview follows:

"The Piangueras are a remote Colombian community who make a living collecting and selling clams found at the bottom of mangroves in the country's Pacific coast. The clams, which are a popular food in Ecuador, form the bulk of their income. Their work is dangerous, unregulated, and the constant wetness and mosquito population means disease is a massive issue. Because of the agility needed to get the clams, much of it is carried out by kids. But with few other income sources in the area and a lack of government presence and assistance, it's the only option many have.

German photographer Jonas Wresch came across this mangrove economy while living and working in Colombia. He spoke to VICE about his experience in the region, and how he tries to document poverty without being predatory.

VICE: Hi, Jonas. What took you to the Pacific coast?
Jonas Wresch: It was part of a bigger report on the life of a municipality called El Charco in Nariño. That's an area that has been heavily stricken by conflict, 85 percent of the population has been displaced for some period of time. I went there to document the effects of the conflict and different parts of life, like where people get their food from and that is how I came across the Piangueras.

How did you get access to the community?
It was pretty funny because these are ladies that have worked their whole life in the mangroves and I just asked if I could go with them. Their response was, "No! You can't go with us, you won't survive an hour!" They really painted a picture of a place full of malaria, where you have to rub your skin with gasoline so you don't get bitten by mosquitoes. In the end they were satisfied that I went there and survived. They were really friendly and open people.

What does a working day look like for the Piangueras?
It is a pretty interesting world. You go in this canoe and everyone is eating and having cigarettes. The clams sit right next to the roots of the trees so they dig 10 to 20 centimeters into the mud and check if there is one. The clams are not just lying around, so you really need to search.

What are some of the health risks they face, apart from malaria?
They have skin issues as they believe they need to rub petrol on their skin to keep the mosquitoes away. Also, they suffer snakes and other animal bites.

There are lots of kids in your photos. Why is that?
There are many kids involved, especially because they have small hands and small bodies so they can move efficiently. A lot of them don't go to school or just go in the afternoon. The work is really tough and they are all very competitive, so they really have to focus on the job for hours. That is the only option they have, the older ones did say that they were tired of the job.

Are there other options of income in the area?
Not many. They either go to the military, that is a chance to get out, or there is also wood production, fishing, and banana plantations—but that's pretty much it.

You mentioned some of the older kids saying they were tired. Was that the general mood in the community?
They are aware it is tough, but it's a job with a lot of history and they are really proud. You talk to older women in the town and you can tell if they were piangueras, as they smoke in a certain way. It has a trajectory and it gives the community a sense of unity.

This area is also known for the lack of government presence and assistance, isn't it?
They feel totally abandoned. I have been in other areas of Colombia like the south of Bogotá, where life is very rough as well, but it is still more accessible. More NGOs go there, so people get a feeling they are being attended. This place is so far away and it is expensive to travel to by water because of the price of petrol. Not many people go there.

How do you photograph inequality with dignity, and not slip into "poverty porn"?
I'm always trying to find a balance between the victims and the actual resistance that people have. People aren't just suffering, nameless, they always organize themselves and they are very strong. I didn't want to portray this place as the worst on Earth, but that there is hope and that people have power. I felt really well in these Afro-Colombian communities because they are really welcoming and friendly and I tried to include that in my work."

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When will Dad come back?

The last time my little niece Raneem saw her dad was when the Israeli shells were falling on the heads and houses of more than 10,000 Palestinians in Shujaiya, east of Gaza City, last summer. My brother Mohammed took the time to help guide many families to shortcuts in a desperate attempt to escape the flying shrapnel and debris.

Mohammed kept close to his wife, his baby son Hamza and his daughter Raneem. “I will be back. Soon,” he assured his weeping kids and worried wife. “I will be back. I promise.”

Bringing his family and many others to a relatively safer place, he thought he should go back to help others evacuate.

My brother Mohammed never came back.

He never came back. Not because he did not keep his word, but rather because the Israeli occupation has developed a policy of destroying people and their relationships. Israel made sure my brother Mohammed and a couple of thousand Palestinians would never get to see their family members ever again.

Ever since, Raneem has been asking about her dad. “When will Dad come back? Why does Baba not come back?” she keeps asking.

Only watery eyes and pained hearts answer her quizzical looks. However we try to distract her, nothing replaces a father, let alone a loving father who made his small family his own world.

We thought that taking Raneem to see the pile of rubble that was once our house might help her understand something until my nephew, Mohammed, went to see the house with his father, my older brother.

Little Mohammed kept nagging for more than a month. He wanted nothing but to go to Shujaiya and see our house. When he was there, when he saw all the destruction and ruin, little Mohammed dangled his head and said, “I wish I had not come.”

Taking Raneem and the little ones to see the pile of rubble our house was turned into is now out of the question. We are only counting on a speedy reconstruction process that will mitigate the pain and return the kids to their house.

A month after the Israeli onslaught, Raneem must have realized that her dad would not be coming back again. She approached my mother and said, “Teta, I dislike my dad. He does not come back.”

My mother has not recovered from Raneem’s remark. It was like her son was killed twice. But I can only imagine the psychological damage that has already caused Raneem, who has developed a tendency toward absent-mindedness, to talk to herself.

Two months ago her mom found her giggling and mumbling. When asked what she was doing, Raneem said, “My dad gave me candy.” Her tiny fist remained clenched for a long time.

Leaving wasn’t an option

But why did so many stay behind? Why did the people of Shujaiya refuse to leave despite Israel’s propaganda warning? This issue is not as simple as Zionist parrots and trolls suggest.

A Palestinian man’s house is his castle. Literally. Leaving was not an option when in 2008-2009 most of the people Israel murdered were in the city center where Israel suggested they go.

Leaving was not an option because Israel wanted more than 150,000 people to leave their houses and go to the streets and schools, where Israel also targeted them.

Leaving was not an option because we still remember the 1948 ethnic cleansing massacres against the Palestinians. Because leaving for Israel means that Palestinians never come back.

People stayed because it’s their land and their houses, and because we refuse to be dictated to by an occupier and a mass murderer.

People stayed because simply finding peace and protection in one’s own house is a very human act. And for that Israel sought to punish the whole Gaza Strip.

It was clear for us that Israel was tracing mobile signals and destroying houses where mobile signals emitted even if the signal came from a phone whose owner forgot it at home in the rush to escape Israeli shells.

Grudge

When I read the comments that Israel was planning to carpet bomb Shujaiya like it did to some areas in South Lebanon in 2006, I thought people were kidding. But it turned out Israel had this childish, though hateful, grudge against Shujaiya since the 1950s.

Shujaiya was the last area to fall under Israeli occupation in 1967. Shujaiya has always produced fighters and civil servants and defenders of human rights. Shujaiya was a thorn in Israel’s side in the first and second intifadas.

We know Salem Shamaly because his execution was caught on camera. There are many Salems in Shujaiya.

I know of at least five others, four of whom are my relatives, who were shot at close range. They were not allowed to leave their houses. Neither the Red Cross nor ambulances were allowed to evacuate them.

My distant cousin Samy Alareer tried to leave the house to seek help for his two brothers, Hassan and Abdulkarim, and his son Fathi, who were injured by the indiscriminate yet systematic shelling. On his way to fetch help, Samy was shot dead. The other three were found dead in their house with empty bullet cases all over the place.

Israeli officials were quick to brag about the death and destruction they brought upon Shujaiya. Hundreds were slain and injured, many of whom will be permanently disabled. Avichay Adraee, the Israeli army’s Arabic-language spokesperson, bragged on Twitter that the Israeli army dropped 120 one-ton bombs on Shujaiya in the first two weeks of Israel’s 51-day attack.

Add to that the hundreds of shells and mortars with their huge error radius.

I do not have the words to do justice to the unyieldingly valiant, lion-hearted fighters of Palestine. They remained steadfast in the face of the most heinous occupation the world has known.

However, there is one thing the whole world should know: in face-to-face combat, far fewer Palestinian fighters were killed than Israeli soldiers. The heavily armed elite Israeli troops, supported with tanks, planes and high-tech equipment, were squealing when faced with Shujaiya’s modestly trained and minimally armed resistance fighters who defended their homes and families with skill and determination.

Israel’s response was to arbitrarily, yet methodically, destroy houses and shell densely crowded areas. Palestinian fighters rose to the challenge of battle imposed upon them. And they fought honorably and well.

They fearlessly stood for their people.

Betrayed by the world?

The cost of putting up a defense in Gaza is that all Palestinians in Gaza are being punished. Israel has tightened the siege on Gaza.

Egypt has tightened its siege on Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority has tightened its siege on Gaza.

The stupidity those parties are displaying is unprecedented. Collective punishment against Palestinians has never worked. And the rules of logic say, it is foolish to do the very same things and expect different results.

But Israel, in its arrogance, the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas, in his cravenness, and Arab regimes, in their complicity, seem to have agreed that a good Gaza is a starved Gaza.

With the delay of reconstruction and the clear complicity of Abbas and his cronies and the UN and its army of mercenaries living off the Palestinian plight, Raneem and Hamza and tens of thousands will never get to go back to the house where they lived their happiest days with the most loving person they will ever know.

Raneem will have to live with the horrible memories of seeing her house become a pile of rubble.

The likes of my niece Raneem and little nephew Mohammed are purposefully being punished by Israel and the international community — first by destroying their houses and lives, and then by providing Israel with the impunity and excuses it wants, and finally by delaying the process of justice. They want these little kids to live in ruins and destruction.

Ironically, Palestinian children are expected to grow up and like Israel or see a future where peace can be achieved when the murderers of their parents and destroyers of their houses go unpunished and unaccountable.

Unless Israeli war criminals are brought to justice and the occupation ends, my fear is that these children will grow up feeling that they were betrayed by the world. We owe it to them to change that vision.

Picture description: A destroyed home in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, 2 July 2015.

This essay by Refaat Alareer was shared from Electronic Intifada, a newssite for the Palestinian resistance. It was also included as an afterword in Gaza Unsilenced, an anthology co-edited by Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad and published by Just World Books.

Refaat Alareer is also the editor of Gaza Writes Back: Short Stories from Young Writers in Gaza, Palestine.

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