Amnesty International South-West Regional Conference

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Two weeks ago, three committee members and two society members attended Amnesty International’s South-West Regional Conference in Exeter. The conference was attended by other student and public Amnesty groups from all over the South-West and beyond, and several employees and volunteers of the Amnesty headquarters in London.

The day started with a fascinating talk by a human rights defender from Kyrgyzstan, Aida Baijumanova. Most of us in the UK know nothing about human rights issues in this region, yet there are thousands of human rights defenders in the area putting their own lives and freedoms at risk at risk to secure full human rights for their country. The Kyrgyz Republic is located in Central Asia, and was formerly one of the republics in the Soviet Union. It has a population of about 6 million people, made up of several ethnic groups and religions (Islam, Russian Orthodox). On the World Press Freedom Index, it takes 88th place of 188 countries. It is a country with high poverty and unstable politics, including frequent conflicts between political parties and religious and ethnic groups. It experienced revolutions in 2005 and 2010. The 2010 revolution was accompanied by a serious incidence of inter-ethnic conflict in which 470 people were killed and 70,000 displaced.

However, despite all these difficulties, it is known as an “island of democracy” in the region, for it is surrounded by places with an even worse record for human rights, such as China and Kazakhstan. It is by no means a democratic country by our standards, but it has several NGOs working to change this. Aida was from the organisation Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan, which translates as “one world Kyrgyzstan.” It has a range of objectives: protecting human rights and freedom of association, protection and expansion of political space for NGOs, promoting humanization of criminal legislation, and prison reform. It also works specifically to support victims of the June Tragedy: the interethnic conflict of 2010. Aida’s friend and colleague Azimjan Askarov has been imprisoned for life, and tortured, for his work on the June Tragedy, as he is ethnically from the Uzbek minority. Aida described how far the country still has to go, especially with the rise of radical Islam in the region and the growing links between Kyrgyzstan and Russia. When asked how we can help, Aida suggested raising awareness, and educating people about the issues in this region. She also recommended as a specific action sending letters to people such as Azimjan Askarov.

Later in the morning there was a series of optional workshops. Some of us attended the talk on “Human Rights and Roma Communities” by Ulrike Schmidt, the Amnesty Country Coordinator for Eastern Europe & Roma. There are 6 million Roma people living within the EU, and they are one of the most persecuted groups within it. They are one of the few groups towards which racial segregation is accepted. When the Roma people first moved west during the rise of the Ottoman empire, Eastern Europe was already fairly structured. There was great suspicion towards dark-skinned people at that time, as Turkish people had darker skin, and so the Roma were quickly enslaved, and remained so for hundreds of years. This colours the relationship between Roma and non-Roma in Eastern Europe to this day, in the same way that race relations in the southern United States are coloured by the history of slavery. Shunned in many areas, the Roma stayed where they could. There was some integration during the Communist era but the rise of nationalism after the fall of Communism has led to an increase of tension between the two groups. Discrimination, segregation and hate crime (on both sides) are common, especially in countries such as Slovakia and Hungary.

Amnesty has been focusing particularly on the problem of forced evictions for Roma people. Italy and Romania have the worse record for evictions: 10,000 Roma were recently evicted from Rome. There has been a recent case in Romania of Roma people being evicted to the site of a rubbish dump, where they are at high risk of illness and whole families are forced to live in one room, with 5 or 6 of these families sharing a bathroom. The children who are still able to catch the bus to the local primary school are now known as the “children from the rubbish dump.” This particular eviction has been ruled as illegal, but it is currently in legal limbo and no steps have been taken to alter the situation. A few years ago, the founder of the ruling party Fidesz in Hungary said of Roma people “they are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals, and they behave like animals. These animals shouldn’t be allowed to exist. That needs to be solved – immediately and regardless of the method.” There is thus still a very long way to go for human rights to be extended to all Roma groups within Europe.

Our Campaigns Officer Helen attended the workshop on the Asylum Justice Project. She said:

“The first part of the workshop gave an overview of what the project was and the issues behind its cause. It was set up with the aim of ending the destitution of asylum seekers and to change the public’s perception of them, along with fighting for justice within the British system of immigration detention. We learnt that the UK is the only EU country in which there is no time limit on immigration detention and almost 40,000 are detained per year. The system is incredibly overused, dangerous and unlawful. There are numerous cases of human rights violations in which cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment is carried out towards the detainees. Mental illness is very common and a number of deaths have occurred in recent years, with the causes attributed to neglect and suicide.

The second half of the workshop was spent brainstorming in small groups on ways to gather public opinion on the issue, specifically which groups of people to target. We thought of approaching schools, church groups and university students – to get opinion from the local community as well as those slightly outside it. Someone had the idea of using performance as a way of getting people to reflect upon the issue and the approach they take towards it, with an example of role playing in an asylum seeker interview.”

This was followed by a talk about Amnesty and the current refugee crisis by Steve Symonds, the refugee and migrant rights programme director from Amnesty International UK. He emphasised that the current refugee crisis is not a European crisis. Countries hosting much larger refugee population include Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Kenya and Jordan. He also noted that Palestinian refugees, as they fall under the jurisdiction of a different branch of the UN, are not usually counted in refugee figures for these regions. There are currently 5 million Palestinian refugees, and many of these are in the above countries, and, in fact, in Syria, one of the countries from which refugees are also leaving. Thus, when a European country says “we’re too full,” their “limit” is on a different scale to that of these countries who are hosting several millions of refugees already and still accepting more. It is important to keep these things in mind considering how prominent the refugee crisis has become in European politics today.

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After a demonstration on the cathedral green during the lunch break there were more optional workshops. Some of the committee members attended the talk “Human Rights in Afghanistan and Pakistan” by Chris Usher, the Country Coordinator for Pakistan. She spoke primarily about Afghanistan, an extremely troubled country, partly because it is bordered by so many other troubled (and powerful) countries: the former Soviet Union to the north, Iran to the West, China and Pakistan to the East. It has had a history of conquest, right back to the invasion by Alexander the Great. This was followed by an Arab Islamic conquest: Afghanistan was largely Hindu until the 6th century. It was invaded by Genghis Khan in the 13th century and by Britain and Russia/the Soviet Union several times across the 19th and 20th centuries. It was most recently invaded by the USA in 2001.

Even though the Taliban is no longer prominent in Afghanistan, it is still probably the worst place in the world to be a woman. Maternal mortality is at 22nd in the world, infant mortality is highest in the world, forced and early marriage are widespread, and approximately 85% of women report domestic violence. 75% of adult women are unable to read and write. The average woman has 5 children in her lifetime. Now that British troops have left Afghanistan, it is much more difficult to access information about the situation there in our media. The war is most certainly not over, despite the withdrawal of troops: many US troops are in fact still there, and there were more civilian casualties last year than ever before. However, it is difficult for Amnesty to aid the situation in Afghanistan. It cannot campaign for individuals in the usual way, for it has been shown to put the individuals at greater risk within their own communities. It will require patience and effort for Amnesty members to bring about any change in the region. However, Chris used the example of the improving human rights record of nearby countries such as India to prove that it can be done.

 
The regional conference was a remarkable day that is invaluable for educating Amnesty members on issues that are less well-known, and on improving the ability of smaller amnesty groups to publicise and effectively create social change. Everyone who attended enjoyed the day and would recommend that as many people as possible go next year!

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FGC – The Case in Britain

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What is FGC?

Female Genital Cutting (FGC), also known as female circumcision, or more popularly, as female genital mutilation (FGM) is a practice that consists of removing part of, or the total removal of, the external female genitalia. The World Health Organization has identified four different forms of FGC:

  • Clitoridectomy, which consists of removing the clitoris (this is also considered the least harmful form of the practice).
  • Excision, which comprises of removing both the clitoris and labia minora.
  • Infibulation, which is the removal of the clitoris, and cutting of the labia minora and majora. This is the most harmful of all four: it can cause shock from pain whilst the girl is being cut, and long-term effects such as severe pain during her menstrual cycle, as well as during childbirth.
  • The fourth form includes pricking or piercing the vagina for non-medical reasons.

This practice has a high prevalence in many African countries, but also in India and Malaysia. Due to migration movements it is now also practiced in Europe amongst the diaspora. Reasons for its continuance include rite of passage, aesthetically pleasing, morality and sexuality. Whilst religion is often used to justify the practice, FGC is thought to predate Islam and Christianity. 

Women’s Rights or Child’s Rights? – The Case in Britain 

The UK legislation regarding FGC is in the 2015 Serious Crimes Act, and applies to England and Wales. It treats FGC as a crime and a form of child abuse. The law can be found under the section ‘Protection of Children and Others’, amongst laws on child sexual exploitation and domestic abuse. By showcasing the anti-FGC legislation as a matter of child protection, the government had a stronger mandate to pass such legislation that would allow not only early intervention, but also punitive measures. 

Presenting FGC as a form of breaching the rights of a child is relatively new – normally FGC is seen as a women’s rights issue. However, most people tend to shy away from standing against the practice because whilst it does harm the women, it also is a deeply ingrained tradition; so before the current legislation has been enacted, NGOs and governments may have felt that they were out of their depth, especially when campaigning for stricter laws or raising awareness. In The Cruel Cut, Leila Hussein uses ‘fake petitions’ for keeping FGC legal; many British people on the street sign her petition, agreeing with her that Britain should not get involved in cultural traditions because it is not our place.

The UK’s decision to present FGC as a child’s rights issue takes the cultural barrier away, as child protection is more widely accepted. With regards to human rights, a child is seen as having less agency than a woman has, and so it is widely accepted that a child requires more protection and intervention to safeguard its rights. The government’s message is clear: the practice is harmful to the child, and so tradition is no longer an acceptable reason to continue it. Simply, the practice will not be tolerated in a society that holds high regard for individual rights.

 

The 2015 Act addresses FGC in a more explicit and punitive manner than the 2003 Female Genital Mutilation Act, which has been regarded as a failure by the government and campaigners for not resulting in a conviction. The 2003 Act was brief, merely stating that to practice FGC was illegal in the country. Basically, it seemed to be a legislation on paper, with no real accountability or care for the situation.

The new Act addresses these lacunae. Firstly, the law makes parents or guardians responsible for protecting the child from FGC. Secondly, the state has the right to intervene if the girl has been, or is at risk, of being cut. Lastly, the welfare services are now accountable and must protect the child. Welfare services include health professionals, teachers and Welsh social care workers. They have up to 1 month to report the crime to the police. If they fail to do so, they will be prosecuted. 

Another section also addresses the responsibility of the parent more explicitly. In the case that the girl is away from her parents/ guardians temporarily, the parents/ guardians are still regarded as being responsible for her well-being and safety. Such a measure has most likely been introduced because many girls are cut during the summer holidays when the parents send their child abroad to their extended family, usually the grandparents, who have them cut. This legislation ensures that the parents must communicate clearly with their family to not harm the girl. The government has a leaflet that has been translated into the languages where FGC is most commonly practiced, stating what the potential consequences would be for the parents if the girl is returned to them after the holidays harmed. 

The training of the welfare services has just begun, and so it is too soon to know what the consequences of the legislation will be. It has been criticized for potentially driving the practice further underground, for portraying parents as the criminals as they are most likely to be the offender, and for breaching healthcare confidentiality as now healthcare professionals must report cases of FGC to the police if they come across it. Whatever the consequences may be, for many girls this legislation will be their saviour. There are clear protective measures to safeguard the wellbeing and rights of the girl.

Want to learn more about FGC? Here are some resources for anyone who would like to learn more about the practice:

  • Waris Dirie – ‘Desert Flower’, ‘Desert Dawn’, ‘Desert Children’, and ‘Saving Safa’. Waris Dirie is a formal model, and now a UN anti-FGC activist. She herself was cut around the age of 4/5 in Somalia.
  • Aimee Molloy, ‘However Long The Night’. Follow Molly Melching’s journey to Senegal where she built her NGO ‘Tostan’.
  • The Guardian’s ‘End FGM’ Campaign. This consists of articles updating the reader with the situation regarding combatting FGC globally.
  • ‘The Cruel Cut’ documentary, 2013. Featuring Leila Hussein, this documentary discusses the situation in Britain.

For further information on what is happening in Britain right now, visit:

  • FORWARD (http://forwarduk.org.uk) This is the UK organization fighting FGC, child and forced marriage and obstetric fistula. 

 

Nat Rybová

Candlelit Vigil in Support of Refugees

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At 7pm on Friday 16th October, Exeter University’s Amnesty International Society, alongside the Oxfam, Unicef, British Red Cross and STAR (Student Action for Refugees) societies, will march from the Forum on campus into Exeter city centre in a gesture of support for and solidarity with the world’s refugees.

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The vigil will raise awareness in the area and in the university about the plight of refugees. There are nearly 20 million refugees worldwide (UN Refugee Agency). These people have suffered unimaginably in their home countries, as victims of war, violence and persecution. Yet these are only the start of their troubles, as they become dispossessed peoples, homeless and in danger. The candlelit vigil will help to raise awareness of this issue and show refugees that they are not alone. We also hope to raise money for refugees at the event, so please do come along if you want to show your support.

If you would like to learn more about the situation for refugees at this time, the following article is very interesting: http://www.unhcr.org/55e9459f6.html

We hope to see many of you there!

Understanding Genocide: Justin Jos

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Understanding Genocide

Naming The Crime:

Genocide is the combination of the ancient Greek words “genos” which means race or clan and the Latin suffix “cide” which means killing. Raphael Lemkin came up with this word after the then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said in his speech, “that this was a crime without a name.” (1) According to Lemkin, Genocide signifies the coordinated plan of various different actions aimed at destroying the very essential functions of life of national groups with the purpose of annihilating the group itself. (2) He also added that Genocide basically has two phases:-

  1. destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group and
  2. Imposition of national pattern of the oppressor. (3)

Lemkin’s definition of Genocide was adopted in 1948 by United Nations in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crime of Genocide which was enforced in 1951.

Genocide According To The Current Governing Statute

The Rome Statute of International Criminal Court was implemented affirming that the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished and that their effective prosecution must be ensured by taking measures at the national level and by enhancing international cooperation. (4) The current universally accepted definition of Genocide is mentioned in Article 6 of the Rome Statute and is as follows:-

“…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” (5)

The above said definition has some major loopholes because of which the legal consequences of perpetrating genocide remain undelivered against the accused/perpetrator of such a grievous crime. This essay evaluates the shortcomings of the above definition and proposes a more encompassing definition of genocide.

Understanding The Legal Loopholes In The Definition

Firstly, the definition of genocide excludes political and social groups from the list of protected groups. In its first resolution on genocide, the General Assembly had initially opted for a broader definition based on the notion of “denial of the right of existence of entire human groups”. (6) This has restricted the jurisdiction of ad-hoc Tribunals and International Criminal Court. As a result of it, other vicious crimes such as killing of thousands of homosexuals by Nazis because of their sexual orientation remain beyond the scope of this definition.

Secondly, the definition also does not recognize ethnic cleansing and sexual violence as Genocide. The Security Council had already highlighted that investigating ethnic cleansing ought to be an important part of the Tribunal’s work in its resolution establishing the Tribunal. (7) It was held by the Trial Chamber in Prosecutor v. Nikolic (8) that “the policy of ethnic cleansing took the form of discriminatory acts of extreme seriousness which show its genocidal character.” However, in the landmark case of Prosecutor v. Akayesu (9) it was also held that rape and sexual violence “constitute genocide in the same way as any other act as long as they were committed with the specific intent” that characterizes the crime of genocide. Systematic sexual violence against women of a particular group resulting in serious physical, psychological and mental damage can amount to genocide as they fulfill all the criteria of genocide.

Thirdly, as regarding the question of intent, the prevailing interpretation assumes that genocide is a crime of specific or special intent, involving a perpetrator who specifically targets victims on the basis of their group identity with a deliberate desire to inflict destruction upon the group itself. (10) However, it is proposed that in defined situations, culpability for genocide should extend to those who may personally lack a specific genocidal purpose, but who commit genocidal acts while understanding the destructive consequences of their actions for the survival of the relevant victim group. (11)

Proposed Definition

The author proposes the following definition for Genocide. This definition would run in concurrence with the definition as laid down in the Rome Statute and it widens the ambit of the crime of Genocide:-

“Any systematic or planned act committed by one person or more with the intent to kill, torture, destroy or cause any such violence, in whole or in part, resulting in the loss or impairment of the physical, emotional, psychological or mental state of attacked members who form part of a national, ethnical, racial, religious, political, social, cultural or any other group.”

Conclusion

Genocide is a crime which affects the lives of thousands who are marginalized by a dominant group merely for being from a different social milieu. This crime cannot be allowed to go unpunished on account of ambiguity in the definition of Genocide and it will be a serious failure on the part of the international justice delivery mechanism if the perpetrators of such a heinous crime go scot free after commission of such acts. Therefore, the need of the hour is to amend the definition of genocide and give exemplary punishment to those who are found, beyond reasonable doubt, to be involved in this crime.

Justin Jos

Works Cited

(1) James T. Fussell, A Crime without a Name, http://www.preventgenocide.org/genocide/crimewithoutaname.htm.

(2) David Nersessian, Rethinking Cultural Genocide under International Law Human Rights Dialogue: “Cultural Rights”, Carnegie council for ethics in international affair, (Spring 2005) available at https://www.carnegiecouncil.org/publications/archive/dialogue/2_12/section_1/5139.html/:pf_printable.

(3) Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed,  Colonial Dynamics of Genocide Imperialism, Identity and Mass Violence, Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security, April 2011 available at http://cesran.org/dergi.php?id=34.

(4) Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 2002. Text of the Rome Statute circulated as document A/CONF.183/9 of 17 July 1998 and corrected by procès-verbaux of 10 November 1998, 12 July 1999, 30 November 1999, 8 May 2000, 17 January 2001 and 16 January 2002. The Statute entered into force on 1 July 2002.

(5) Ibid at Article 6.

(6) GA Res. 96 (I).

(7) SC Res. 827 (1993).

(8) Rule 61, Case IT-94-2-R61.

(9) Case No. ICTR-96-95-1-T at para 731.

(10) Alexander K. A. Greenawalt, Rethinking Genocidal Intent: The Case for a Knowledge-Based Interpretation (1999), Columbia L. Rev., V. 99, pp. 2259, 1999.

(11) Ibid.

The Refugee Crisis- Our First Campaign of the Year

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As thousands of Exeter students arrived at their new homes on Saturday, 600 community members and students gathered outside Exeter’s iconic cathedral to express their solidarity with the world’s refugees and to make it clear to the government that we need to do more to support them.

 

The event involved some fantastic speakers, including a trustee from the charity Refugee Support Devon, who spoke (to resounding applause) about how much refugees may contribute, socially and economically, to our local economy. A fellow Exeter student, Baraa Ehssan Kouja, spoke about his own experiences working with refugees. He summed up the paradox of trying to live as a refugee in a Western country as “if they work they are accused of stealing jobs, if they don’t work, they are lazy, if they stay where they came from, they will die.” Sadly, this is increasingly true.

 

The plight of refugees has become, with good cause, well publicized in recent weeks, particularly after the harrowing image was taken of Aylan Kurdi, a drowned Syrian boy. But in reality there has been a refugee crisis for much longer than our recent interest in it would suggest. The conflict in Syria has been going on for four years now, four years in which many, many other people have suffered. Nor is the refugee crisis confined to Syria: the world over, people are facing the same plight.Picture
The University of Exeter’s Amnesty International Society will start the 2015-16 year with a campaign to support the world’s refugees. Join our society (if you haven’t already) to help make a difference at this crucial time. You can sign up to the society online or at the Activities Fair on Saturday, and you can come to get to know the committee tomorrow, from 6-8 in Queen’s LT1 for a film screening, and on Friday from 7.30 in John Gandy’s for our social. We look forward to welcoming all of our new students (and returners), and making sure this year is one in which we really are able to make a difference. Towards the end of Baraa’s speech, he told the story of when he was questioned about his working with refugees and in charity work. In response to “Can I ask you why you’re doing this?” he responded, “Because I’m human.”