Saturday, 30 December 2006

Saddam Hussein’s Execution Is A War Crime

Saddam Hussein was killed before dawn, under cover of darkness, on Dec. 30.

Before his execution, Saddam Hussein was a prisoner of war and as a prisoner of war, he was entitled to fair and humane treatment as well as protection from summary execution.

None of these things happened.

Saddam was captured by U.S. soldiers on Dec. 13, 2003. In itself, this act alone made him a prisoner of war because he was part of Iraqi army’s chain of command and before his capture, he wore a military uniform and bore arms openly.

But instead of treating him with the dignity and respect that should be accorded to prisoners of war, the United States handed him over to an Iraqi government whose legitimacy is questionable knowing that there was a strong possibility that government would execute him.

The Third Geneva Convention is supposed to protect captured military personnel. It is supposed to protect prisoners of war like Saddam Hussein.

The convention makes it illegal to torture prisoners.

Article 3 of the convention prohibits: "Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture."

It also prohibits: "The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."

And just like the motives of the war on Iraq, the independence and impartiality of the court which sentenced Saddam Hussein to death is questionable.

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme described Saddam's trial as "a shabby affair, marred by serious flaws that call into question the capacity of the tribunal, as currently established, to administer justice fairly, in conformity with international standards."

Saddam's experience before the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (SICT) was cruel and it was torture.

In its November 2006 report, "Judging Dujail: The First Trial Before the Iraqi High Tribunal," Human Rights Watch identified serious flaws with the proceedings.

For a year after his arrest, Saddam was denied access to legal counsel. Witnesses and defence lawyers died because the tribunal would not, or could not, protect them -- and, throughout the trial, the tribunal routinely ignored complaints from Saddam Hussein's lawyers about the proceedings.

Saddam's defense team was also only allowed two weeks, instead of 30 days, in which to read and respond to the trial judgment and when they did file an appeal against the sentence, it took the Iraqi Appeals Chamber less than 21 days to quash the appeal.

Richard Dicker, Director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program said: "It defies imagination that the Appeals Chamber could have thoroughly reviewed the 300-page judgment and the defense's written arguments in less than three weeks' time."

He described the appeals process as "even more flawed than the trial."

Manfred Nowak, the United Nations' Special Investigator on Torture, strongly opposed the way Saddam's trial was conducted.

"This would be a good chance for bringing Saddam Hussein to a truly independent court and we now have the International Criminal Court," he said.
Novak opposed the sentence that had been meted out at the end of the trial.

"Even a person like Saddam Hussein should not be sentenced to death," he said.

And yet for George Bush was okay for the Iraqi government to kill Saddam.

Article 3 of the Third Geneva Convention also prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."

And yet the world has seen an unkempt Saddam Hussein emerging from the bunker in which he had been hiding and the world has seen him in his underwear.

The way the Iraqi government orchestrated Saddam Hussein's trial as well and executed him also contravenes Articles 10, 12, 13, 20, 23 and 84 of the Third Geneva Convention and it makes a mockery of international law and of some of the most basic and fundamental human rights like the right to a fair trial and the right to life.

The Bush administration could still have stopped the Iraqi government from executing Saddam Hussein because U.S. troops were guarding him right up to the time of his death.

It is unclear what the Iraqi government is hoping to achieve by executing Saddam Hussein. It is also unclear what the Bush administration is hoping to achieve by allowing this to happen.

One thing that is clear is that the two parties have turned Saddam Hussein into a martyr and that now, more than at any other time, during the conflict in Iraq, Saddam Hussein will more actively inspire militants to fight against occupation forces as well as the present Iraqi government and any similar governments in Iraq.

Another thing that is clear is that in executing, facilitating and allowing Saddam Hussein to be executed, the Bush administration, together with the present Iraqi government have committed a war crime. They have violated the rules of war which, among other things, prohibit the ill-treatment, execution of, or use of capital punishment on prisoners of war.

Friday, 3 November 2006

Refugees, Uncertainty and the Absence of Control

Claire Smith is an occupational therapy lecturer at the University of Teesside in the North East of England. She also works with health care providers and assists them to develop skills in meeting the mental health needs of refugees.

For the past two years, she has also been working as a psychological therapist at the Personal Medical Services General Practice, "Arrival," which provides primary health care to people seeking asylum and refugees who live in the North Tees Primary Care Trust area.

She has spoken at national and international conferences on "lifespan issues" for refugees as well as on the importance of social capital and the need to increase opportunities for refugees.

In an e-mail interview with Ambrose Musiyiwa, which took place between Sept. 19 and Nov. 2, Claire Smith talked about the work she has been doing and about the challenges faced by health care providers in meeting the mental health needs of refugees.


Musiyiwa: You work with health care providers, asylum seekers, as well as refugees. How did it all begin?

Smith: I trained as an occupational therapist, qualifying in 1991 and have worked in a number of adult mental health day services across the County Durham area. In that capacity I have worked in group and individual therapies with a wide range of clients with diverse needs, and over time began to find a special interest in working with people who had experienced traumatic life events, including sexual abuse, domestic violence, and support after [witnessing] murder and manslaughter.

I undertook a Masters in Counseling at the University of Durham, which I completed in 1999, and I joined the occupational therapy teaching team at the University of Teesside. I have been teaching on a range of issues, particularly practice skills around communication and mental health. I have spoken at conferences on issues around trauma and social exclusion.

Which conferences were these and what did you speak on?

I spoke at the fourth World Congress of the World Federation for Mental Health in Oslo on "lifespan issues" for refugees (specifically the sense that the experience of asylum interrupts adulthood and stops people engaging with all the really important tasks of adulthood, like work and family life).

I have also spoken at occupational therapy conferences and for MIND and Diverse Minds, encouraging staff to increase opportunities for refugees and on the importance of social capital.

You have been doing a lot of work with health care providers. How did that start?

About three and a half years ago, I saw an advert for a post for a development worker to develop skills in meeting the mental health needs of refugees. The post was funded by Health Action Zone monies, and coordinated by an organization called Alliance Psychological Services, who have the contracts to provide psychological therapies locally in primary care. I was successful at interview and took the post in addition to part time teaching at the University, delivering workshops for staff from a wide range of backgrounds — school nurses, midwives, therapists, reception staff, etc.

The workshops were designed to provide general information about asylum issues — focusing on myth busting and [on creating] a realistic impression of the challenges faced by refugees in the local area.

What are some of the myths about asylum seekers and refugees? Where do the myths come from and how prevalent are they?

The myths are mostly generated by ignorance and misinformation — and they often hinge around refugee entitlement, genuineness of claims, perceived threat, etc.

Locally there was a lot of grumbling about benefits and services, assuming that refugees got all sorts of extras, when in fact they receive far less than people thought. Much of this is created by negative media stereotypes, but also by the fact that this is an area of low ethnic density and local people were unfamiliar with people from different cultural backgrounds.

I think the prevalence of this myth-based thinking is quite high, and runs through large sections of the population. Even some people who wish to be sympathetic are anxious about some of the issues, and for others, refugees have become scapegoats.

Most people are able to change their minds if they are better informed, but others will hold fast to their beliefs because they serve some other purpose for them.

What was the reception to the workshops you were running like?

I was greatly encouraged by the fact that many people were genuinely keen and willing to help — but aware that they felt deskilled and were concerned that their abilities were unsuitable for meeting the needs of the clients. The key things seemed to be the fear of making a mistake with cultural needs, (as ours is an area of very limited ethnic diversity) and feeling overwhelmed by the wealth of need.

The main aim of the workshops was to allow staff to feel enabled, and to encourage them to use their transferable skills.

You have also been actively involved in the Personal Medical Services (P.M.S.) General Practice. What is the P.M.S. General Practice?

The P.M.S. practices were set up as a pilot project to permit more flexibility at primary care level, and stands for Personal Medical Services (as opposed to General Medical Services).

They were to offer new, tailored and creative approaches in areas of deprivation or complex needs — to be more flexible and to instigate change, and have often been used to provide specific care to particular groups.

There are a number of P.M.S. practices specifically for refugees, heroin users and other groups who may have complex needs.

How did your involvement with P.M.S. start and what do you do there?

The therapy post at our local P.M.S. General Practice, "Arrival," became available and I was approached to take it. The Arrival practice, opened in Stockton-on- Tees in April 2003 and it provides primary health care to people seeking asylum and refugees living in the North Tees Primary Care Trust area. It currently has about 650 patients, around half of whom are from Africa and half from the Middle East.

I have been there for two and a bit years, working one day a week as a psychological therapist (obviously, using both my occupational therapy and my counseling background). I am based within the practice, taking referrals from other team members, and providing individual therapies.

As an occupational and psychological therapist, what would you say are your main concerns?

I am keen to promote the potential for therapy with refugees and people seeking asylum and have spoken at national and international conferences on a number of facets of refugee work.

I started with the "feel the fear" stuff, encouraging people to get involved and use their skills, then I have been looking at social capital theory and refugees and now at adulthood and lifespan issues. I want colleagues from a range of disciplines to see potential and be keen to help, and to look at tapping into the resourcefulness of their clients rather than feeling overwhelmed. Some of the biggest challenges my clients face are around how to "live" in the short term, with such a difficult past, an impoverished and isolated present, and a future that is so totally unknown.

The primary challenges [they face] seem to be practical — managing day to day in an unfamiliar environment with little money and very limited support. Beyond that though I think there are huge difficulties associated with living long term with an uncertain future, adjustment and acculturation, managing loss (personal, social, cultural), building a necessary social network, finding occupational opportunities, and engaging with the natural tasks associated with their stage in the lifespan.

The people I see struggle endlessly to put the past behind them. Tormented by intrusive and often horrific memories and enormous loss, they struggle with the impoverished and isolated life in the here-and-now and they are moving towards the total unknown. This is particularly destructive — most of us kid ourselves that we know what the future holds, and have some control over it, but refugees can have no such illusions. For them they can't be sure whether to invest in life in this country or hold back for fear of losing anything they establish here.

Are these challenges peculiar to refugees and asylum seekers or are they also found in the general population where you are working?

Most of the challenges are found, in part, with any population (particularly from my experience of working in mental health) — but the uncertainty and the absence of control is something that is certainly greater for refugees (to my mind).

In previous work I may have been looking at exactly the same kind of issues — and people may have a host of barriers to better mental health — but here I have a huge barrier that is immovable by me, and over which the client has no control — the asylum decision. This is unusual and specific and leaves [the] client, and me, in a passive position (exactly where I don't want us to be, therapeutically).

Under current U.K. legislation, asylum seekers can only seek permission to work if their claim remains outstanding for longer than 12 months without a decision being made on it and providing the reason for the delay cannot be attributable to the asylum seeker. Those whose applications for asylum have failed are not allowed to work. What effect does this have on mental health, and why is it important for asylum seekers to be allowed to work?

I think this is one of the most destructive aspects of current policy. There is evidence from past experience in Sweden that suggests that engaging with the labor market is of great value and has better outcomes than psychological therapies in maintaining good mental health. People face the crushing experience of waiting day to day for [a] decision to be made about their future, without any real sense of productivity, and anything gainful to occupy their time. Most feel that they are wasting their critical early adult years, and feel a sense of disgrace at having to accept money from N.A.S.S. [the National Asylum Support Service] when they are well and able to work for their own money.

This article has also been featured on OhmyNews International and the World Press Review.

Monday, 23 October 2006

[Interview_1]: John Nyamande, Zimbabwean opposition political party activstween Mugabe's Regime And White Rule

John Nyamande is a veteran in Zimbabwe's struggle for independence.

He has been a political activist since the 1960s when he joined ZAPU as a youth member.

Nyamande has worked as a teacher in inner London schools in the U.K.; in rural and urban Zimbabwean schools during and after the war of liberation; and as a deputy head teacher in Zimbabwe of a school that had an enrollment of over 1200 pupils and 42 members of staff.

Currently, Nyamande chairs the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Gray's Branch, in Essex in the United Kingdom.

In an email interview, which took place between Sept. 5 and Oct. 18, John Nyamande spoke about the things that compelled him to become a political activist.

How would you describe the current situation in Zimbabwe?

It is really pathetic and sad that Zimbabwe, which was once a breadbasket of Southern Africa, is now a basket case of Southern Africa. Any reasonable person cannot deny that. I remember very well that after independence in 1980, a Zimbabwe dollar was equivalent to a British pound and was stronger than the South African Rand. Was Rhodesia Front managing the economy better than ZANU (PF)? What was happening? Good management is not about color. Look at developing countries like South Africa. They co-exist.

Why do you think things are as they stand in the country?

Obviously it's management of the economy by ZANU (PF). It's scandal after scandal swept under the carpet. We had the Willowvale scandal, War Victims Compensation Fund, Government Tender Board, the housing scheme, foreign exchange, multiple farm owners and many other scandals.

In my view, [President] Robert Mugabe has encouraged this to happen. He should have nipped this in the bud, shamed and fired a lot from the government for non-performance. Zimbabwe has an abundance of qualified and capable managers who are now in the Diaspora serving other governments. Surely how can someone serve effectively for 25 years as a minister?

I strongly believe that it's Mugabe who doesn't let some of these guys leave the government for reasons best known to himself.

Will things improve?

All Zimbabweans should learn to forgive and come together and discuss the roadmap to normalcy. The issue is political as well as economical. You cannot separate the two. Things have run down. Look at public transport, health, education, and parastatals. Most parastatals are being run by retired army personnel. Why is Zimbabwe militarizing? There is something wrong that needs correcting.

The recent AIT ruling on A.A. allows the British government to resume forced deportations to Zimbabwe. What are your views on this?

Deportations to Zimbabwe at the moment should not be encouraged. There is more than 75 percent unemployment in Zimbabwe at the moment. People need to survive. Two reasons why Zimbabweans are here at present: economical and political.

Those who can work and are law-abiding migrants should be allowed to work. Zimbabweans are hard workers and are known even here for that. They have a significant contribution to make to the economy of this country.

Those who are here on political reasons should definitely not be forced back to Zimbabwe. MDC (U.K.) branches have got databases of their membership and there is no reason why they should be forced back. The (U.K.) representative can always provide proof of this if required by Home office.

What made you to join ZAPU in the 1960s?

I was compelled to join ZAPU in the 1960s because of racial segregation. There were different laws for blacks and whites in education, health, labor, housing etc. Can you believe that my father used to put his bottle of brandy under the bed because only white people were allowed to enjoy this drink? Black people were not allowed to have businesses in the central business district. My uncle who was working in South Africa then, married a Xhosa woman who looked white. When he came home to Rusape with her, he was arrested because the laws did not allow blacks to marry whites. My family in Makoni District had been moved from the rich red soils near Nyazura to the sandy soils further down to make way for white farmers. All this social injustice puzzled me and forced me join Zapu, which was being led by people like Joshua Nkomo, James Chikerema, Josiah Chinamano, Robert Mugabe and others.

What was the environment like then?

The environment was bad. The [system was designed in such a way that] black people were to serve the whites who were the masters. The majority of people were meant to learn the 3Rs. That is, Reading Writing and Arithmetic. Urban schools were run by the government and rural schools were set up by the missionaries who did a commendable job indeed. The urban schools were meant to produce teachers, nurses and clerks. Those who chose law like the late Herbert Chitepo and Dr. Tichafa Parirenyatwa had to struggle and do it outside Zimbabwe. This class of people was to support the masters who had set up their industries in the towns. The rural folk, where the majority of the blacks lived, were supposed to work on the white farms. They were not supposed to have gone above lower primary, which was standard three. The majority of poor people were marginalized. However, most people working in towns were able to buy basic foodstuffs.

Are there any similarities between conditions in the 1960s, when you first became politically active, and now?

Oh, yes, there are. The majority of people in Zimbabwe are still marginalized. There is no respect for basic human rights. There is no freedom of speech, association, and movement etc. [The Public Order and Security Act] POSA, [the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act] AIPPA and other restrictive laws in place now. In the 60s it was all about "Freedom Kwacha" and "the soil."

But today land has been distributed to members of the ruling party only.

In the 60s there were black informers, drawn from the Police Reserve. Chiefs were politicized and used to denounce the political leadership. Jeremiah Sikireta Chirau and Kayisa Ndiweni are examples of some the Chiefs who were used by the Government to denounce and crush the voice of the people. They were also members of the Rhodesia Senate.

Today we have the Green Bombers who are known because of their notoriety. The ZANU P.F. government has plenty of informers in the villages who report to the [Central Intelligence Organisation] CIO.

Lastly, Nationalist leaders like Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo, Maurice Nyagumbo, Enos Nkala, James Chikerema Eddison Sithole and many others were detained at Wha Wha by the Smith Regime. The ZANU government is doing the same and has done the same to people like Muzorewa, Ndabaningi Sithole, Dumiso Dabengwa, Lookout Masuku and many others.

Why these similarities?

People in government have overstayed and have gone past their expiry date. They have forgotten the founding principles and values of the political parties and liberation movements of the country, ZANU and ZAPU. People have died for this beautiful country and they need to be honored.

What are some of the differences?

Although we were oppressed, families could afford a meal. Public transport was by far better. Trains ran between Harare and Mutare and between Harare and Bulawayo beautifully. At one time Rhodesia Railways ran a railcar between Harare and Mutare in less than four hours. It was a fantastic mode of transport. Municipalities had enviable social service amenities in the townships. At the Stodart Hall in Mbare, who doesn't know Mr. Roberts? He was inspirational in setting up the George Hartley Swimming Pools, and the C.S. Davies swimming pool in Highfields. After school clubs were plenty. All that is no more with our own black government. It's sad. Everyone is now selling for survival. To make it even worse, these vendors have been driven out in the name of "cleaning" up the mess.

In the 1970s, you left ZAPU and joined the UANC. What did you find appealing about the UANC?

I joined UANC in 1973, when I was training as a teacher. The war was at its height and the two main political parties had been banned and were operating externally. UANC was formed to mobilize, educate and support the war that was being fought. UANC had its base in the churches especially the United Methodist Church, where Bishop Muzorewa belonged. The party was able to unite Zimbabweans across the political divide. People had one vision, of liberating Zimbabwe. UANC helped so many young boys and girls to cross into Mozambique, Botswana or Zambia for guerilla training. The party supported the guerillas with food and clothing and so many of their members were arrested for collaborating with the "boys." UANC played a big and supportive role during the struggle. What happened during Zimbabwe-Rhodesia was something different.

How was it different from ZAPU?

ZAPU and ZANU did not see eye to eye and used the tribal card although some people deny this. UANC was less tribalistic than the other two. It was a church driven organization. Members feared God.

In 1994, you joined ZANU PF. What led to this?

I had just completed my studies in England, and I said: "Why can't I go back to Zimbabwe and be part of the agents of change in developing the country?" At that time the focus was development and there was no need for opposition.

And why did you leave ZANU P.F. to join the MDC in 1999?

The economy of the country was fast shrinking and the party did not want to listen to constructive criticism at all. I became unpopular within ZANU P.F. for asking the reason why certain things were being done. I finally quit when MDC was born in September 1999.

When you were teaching in the rural and urban schools during the war of liberation in Zimbabwe, did you experience any form of harassment or persecution by any group that was involved in the conflict?

I left Bindura, where I was teaching, in a huff because the security forces were after my life, for supporting the guerillas with food and clothing. Teachers were conduits of information between the rural and urban structures of UANC and the People's Movement led by Dr. Tsvarayi. This was an internal structure of ZANU, which was beginning to distance itself from UANC because there were signs that the war was coming to a conclusion. ZANU P.F. was positioning itself for government.

How were teachers viewed in the communities they worked in?

Before independence, Teachers were viewed as leaders, advisers and earned a lot of respect and dignity from the communities they served. The salaries they received were decent and most could afford to buy a car and send children to boarding school.

Today it's totally the opposite. Teachers have been turned to paupers and are a miserable sight. Most teachers have resorted to engaging in second activities to supplement their meager salaries. They travel to neighboring countries to buy goods for resale. Others sell sweets, bananas, and cool drinks at school during break time.

At present, teachers in Zimbabwe are being routinely subjected to what can only be described as persecution and harassment. Some have endured beatings and others have lost their lives at the hands of agents of the state and/or ZANU P.F. Why is this so?

Teachers advise the communities they serve especially in the rural areas. They are being intimidated to stop them from advising the communities they serve. They are seen as knowledgeable in the daily affairs of the country.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

Wednesday, 9 August 2006

An Interview with Human Rghts Lawyer Steve Symonds

The Refugee Legal Centre (RLC) was formed in 1992 and is an independent not-for-profit organization. It is Britain's largest charity provider of legal representation and advice to asylum seekers.

The RLC provides legal advice and representation for those seeking protection under international and national human rights and asylum law. It delivers training and other support to those giving advice and representation in such cases and seeks to promote the interests of refugees and asylum seekers individually and collectively through law and public policy.

Recently, the RLC has been representing Zimbabwean asylum seekers in their bid to convince the Home Office to spare them from President Robert Mugabe's increasingly repressive and brutal regime.

In an email-interview in July, Steve Symonds, a legal officer with the RLC spoke to Ambrose Musiyiwa about the organization, the role he plays in it and the challenges asylum seekers and refugees face in the United Kingdom.

What is the Refugee Legal Centre? Who does the center work with and what does the work involve?

The RLC is the U.K.'s largest charity provider of legal representation and advice to asylum-seekers. The representation and advice we provide is essentially, at present, restricted to assisting asylum-seekers to understand and pursue, where there is merit, their claim for asylum under the Refugee Convention or Article 3 of the European Convention (as incorporated into U.K. law by the Human Rights Act 1998).

Occasionally, we will assist with some wider human rights and immigration matters relating to an asylum-seeker's application to be granted status in the U.K. and the immediate consequences that may follow on from a grant of status -- for example, seeking to be reunited with family; or obtaining travel documentation.

What is your role in the organization and how did you first get involved with it?

I am a Legal Officer. Essentially, this means I am one of a small team to lawyers, who provide advice and legal support to those who provide legal advice and representation to our large client group.

I also undertake my own casework, which is generally restricted to the more advanced stages of the appeal process in the U.K.'s immigration tribunal [which is] called the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. I joined the organisation in 1999.

In fact, I have been providing free representation before a number of tribunals through a number of charities, sometimes as a paid worker and sometimes as a volunteer -- including those dealing with employment, social security and asylum law -- since 1994, shortly after I completed my legal vocational training as a barrister.

I have through this time developed a strong personal commitment towards the provision of legal advice and representation to individuals before courts and tribunals where basic rights and needs are in issue, and where often the individual is culturally, linguistically, educationally and economically at serious disadvantage in seeking to present and protect those rights and needs.

What would you say are the greatest challenges you, as an individual and as an organization, are facing in the work that you are doing? And, how are you dealing with those challenges?

There are substantial pressures due to a mix of under-resourcing, very short time limits, often changing and sometimes not especially coherent policy changes and a general distrust of asylum-seekers among many decision-makers, policy makers and the public at large.

In the main, the RLC continues to focus on its advice and representation work. However, it has made substantial changes to its working practices in an effort to cut costs (there being a general pressure from the Legal Services Commission, across the legal sector, upon those providing legal services under legal aid).

Seeking to provide informed, expert and effective advice and representation in these circumstances has become increasingly difficult for the RLC, as many legal service providers, of late.

Do you have any contact with asylum seekers who are in detention? What are the conditions under which they are being held?

We represent several detained clients. Conditions in detention vary, though much work on this has been done by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Prisons in recent years. More information is available from the Bail for Immigration Detainees.

The UNHCR has accused British politicians and some sections of the media of scapegoating asylum seekers and refugees. What are your comments on this? What needs to be done to change this?

There is a great deal of confusion in much public debate (whether in the media or in political debate) around asylum-seekers and refugees.

If this issue is to be managed effectively and fairly, there are broadly two changes, which I would look for.

Firstly, politicians (and broadcasters and writers) need to understand and reflect an understanding of these issues in leading this debate -- rather than habitually blurring issues of immigration, refugee protection, human rights law, security etc. That also would require both media and ministers to refrain from knee-jerk reactions to particular judgments, which fail to understand or at times attempt to understand the terms or effect of the judgment.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

Friday, 28 July 2006

[Interview] Matthew Nyashanu, Zimbabwean journalist

Matthew Nyashanu is a Zimbabwean teacher, journalist, political analyst and media commentator currently living in the United Kingdom.

He is a member of the Zimbabwean Association of Journalists in the Diaspora.

He writes for a number of newspapers, particularly zimbeat, and since 2002 he has been a contributor to SW Radio Africa where he presents a political commentary program.

Nyashanu is also the U.K. spokesperson of the Zimbabwean opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

In addition to this, Nyashanu is one of the founding members of, and spokesperson for, the Diaspora Vote Action Group, which took the Zimbabwe government to court in an effort to secure the right to vote for Zimbaweans living outside the country.

In a series of ongoing emails and telephone conversations that started in January 2006, Matthew Nyashanu spoke about the Diaspora Vote Action Group and the hardships journalists are facing in Zimbabwe.

What motivated the Diaspora Vote Action Group to take the Zimbabwe government to court?

We were motivated by the fact that despite getting independence in 1980, many Zimbabweans living in the Diaspora were unable to exercise their basic fundamental right of choosing the leader they preferred. Other countries in the region, countries like Mozambique, for example, have been able to put such arrangements in place.

Who else was involved in these efforts?

The court case was actioned by seven people namely Matthew Nyashanu, Makusha Mugabe, Emily Madamombe, Lincoln Makotore, Jefta Madzingo, Brian Makuzva and Farai Maruzani.

How did you go about it?

We set up a website and we received a lot of support in the form of signatures from Zimbabweans in the Diaspora. We also had a very wide press coverage, which helped us to reach far and wide in terms of building a support base. The only problem we had was that of paying legal costs but we managed to fork the money out of our own pockets.

Although the Zimbabwe government still would not allow Zimbabweans living abroad to vote, I believe that our campaign was successful. Our action exposed, to the world, one of the many ways the Zimbabwean people are being oppressed by President Robert Mugabe's regime.

How did your participation in this affect you and your family?

The participation further strained my relationship with the Zanu PF administration and I am viewed as a traitor especially for suing them from U.K., the former coloniser and number one enemy to Zanu PF. Because of that and because of my broadcasts and writings I am one of those not allowed in the country by the regime.

What would happen to you if you returned?

Anyone trying to fight for justice and anyone trying to inform the international world about the dark side of President Mugabe's rule is likely to face the wrath of the ailing regime.

In Zimbabwe just before Christmas, last year, a number of journalists were arrested. More journalists have been arrested again this year. What, in your view, is the Zimbabwe government's motivation for these and other arrests?

The journalists were arrested because the Harare administration is under immense pressure following their unplanned land seizure and the establishment of political thuggery in the country. Zanu PF is looking very insecure especially after demolishing the shelters of poor urban dwellers and moving them to remote and unsanitary places like Hopely Farm.

These arrests are a well-calculated strategy to put on hold the free flow of information -- especially the information disseminated by the independent press. The government is hoping to create a vacuum of information on Zimbabwe and, in this way, make sure that the inhumane way, in which it is treating its citizens, remains a secret. This is also meant to induce fear in all journalists and human rights activists wishing to square up with the regime.

Although these arrests may induce fear in the media fraternity, in another way they will make journalists to grow stronger in their quest to expose the wrong activities of this despotic regime.

What would you advise journalists currently living and working in Zimbabwe?

The way forward for journalists in Zimbabwe is to keep the pressure on by reporting all the abuses coming from this regime. The journalists should also, where possible, file stories with international media organizations to make sure that the regime is exposed for what it is.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Child Trafficking in the UK

She was a teenage orphan living on the streets of Nairobi when a man approached her and promised her work in the United Kingdom. He told her she would be working as a house girl.

True to his word, her "savior" brought her into the U.K. -- but instead of placing her with a family the man took her to a brothel, where she was systematically raped, beaten, and forced to work as a prostitute.

Three months later, when the 16-year-old Kenyan girl became pregnant, she was forced to continue sleeping with a succession of men until she was almost due to give birth. The heavily pregnant teenager was then removed from the brothel, driven out of the town where she had been held, and dumped many miles away on the streets of Sheffield.

"It's been a painstaking process but we now have a clearer picture of when and how the girl arrived in Sheffield and the terrible ordeal she has been through," said Detective Inspector Matt Fenwick of the South Yorkshire Police. "As you may expect, she is still extremely distressed. All interviews have been conducted entirely at her pace, and she is now being looked after by specialist carers.

"The sequence of events that has emerged during those interviews is both shocking and tragic. It involves imprisonment, beatings, and systematic rape over a lengthy period. Anyone who can subject a teenage girl to such abuse needs to be caught as a matter of urgency before they can do the same again. I'd ask anyone who thinks they may have encountered this girl or her captors to come forward -- even if they were one of her clients."

The 16-year-old girl's ordeal is similar to that of more than 4,000 other women who have been trafficked into the U.K. A Home Office study in 2002 suggested that the scale of trafficking of women may range anywhere from a hundred to several thousands annually.

End Child Prostitution, Pornography, and Trafficking (ECPAT), U.K., is a children's rights organization that represents a coalition of nine U.K. organizations working on children's issues. It says the true scale of human trafficking is unclear because no updated statistics are available on the problem in the U.K.

In an effort to determine the scale of the problem and to assess the level of awareness and mechanisms for dealing with it by the social services and other authorities, ECPAT U.K. conducted research in 2001 and 2004 into the trafficking of children into the U.K.

In "Crossing Borders: The Trafficking of Children into the U.K.," a briefing paper published last year, ECPAT U.K. says the 2004 research indicates that girls, in particular, are being brought from Africa and Eastern Europe for purposes of domestic servitude and prostitution:

"There were 35 cases of child trafficking with the 17 boroughs of London, including nine children under 16 years of age; there are many more reported cases that the social services did not disclose. Increasingly, an influx of young Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai children, particularly boys, has been noticed by various agencies. In addition, ECPAT U.K. has received reports indicating the issue is not confined to London."

Current efforts by the government to come to terms with the problem of child trafficking seem to be focused on legislation and law enforcement.

The Nationality, Immigration, and Asylum Act of 2002 covered the offence of trafficking. This was later replaced by the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, which defines a child as someone below the age of 18 and criminalizes trafficking for sexual exploitation. It also makes it an offence to traffic into, within, and out of the U.K., imposing a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Additionally, the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act of 2004 makes it an offence to traffic in all forms of labor exploitation and imposes a maximum penalty of 14 years.

Organizations working with victims of trafficking say these measures are not enough. They point out that victims of trafficking are rarely willing to testify because of threats the victims and their families receive from the traffickers.

ECPAT U.K. gives as an example what happened between 1995 and 2001 when West Sussex Social Services took into its care a number of unaccompanied minors, many of them Nigerian girls, who were claiming asylum as soon as they arrived at the airport.

Many of the children went missing within days or months of being in care. There were indications that they were being further trafficked to other parts of Europe. Those remaining in care were not considered safe: some of them were suspected of having contact with their traffickers and being prostituted or made to deal drugs.

"Police assistance was considered ineffective in cases where social workers reported suspicious or abusive characters around children. Some felt that police viewed the children only as asylum seekers and not as child protection cases," ECPAT U.K. said.

The organization emphasizes that strategies for tackling child trafficking issues need to concentrate on child protection and prevention, not just law enforcement.

"On a wider regional and international level, greater synergy and cooperation is vital. The implementation of existing legislation is necessary, as is including effective protection measures for victims in national plans of action," the organization says.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International U.K., said:

"Currently, victims of trafficking have almost no rights in the U.K. In the eyes of the law, they are simply illegal immigrants and are routinely detained and deported.

"The government should sign the European Convention Against Trafficking -- something it could do tomorrow. Signing would turn the system around, so that trafficked women are recognized as the victims and not the perpetrators of crime."

This article was first published by OhmyNews International. A podcast of the article is available at

Tuesday, 4 July 2006

[Interview] Conrad Nyamutata, Zimbabwean journalist

Over the past five years, the Zimbabwean government has been routinely detaining, torturing and harassing journalists as part of an on-going campaign to stop them from reporting on human rights issues, the economic crisis in Zimbabwe and the escalating opposition to President Robert G. Mugabe's rule.

Repressive legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (2002) has made it a crime to practice journalism without a government license.

At the same time, journalists who include Geoff Nyarota, Nqobile Nyathi, Lloyd Mudiwa, Basildon Peta, Caroline Gombakomba and others have been placed on a list of people whose passports are to be seized should they try to leave or enter the country. The Mugabe regime accuses them of being traitors and of threatening the country’s national interests.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa reports that in June last year, President Mugabe signed the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill, which allows journalists to be jailed for up to 20 years for publishing falsehoods. The law, among other things, prohibits the making, publicly and intentionally, of any false statement about or concerning the President or Acting President if the person knows or realises that there is a risk or possibility of engendering feelings of hostility towards or causing hatred, contempt or ridicule of him, whether in his official or personal capacity.

In addition to all this, the ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs are currently deliberating on draft regulations that will require Zimbabweans to obtain exit visas before they can be allowed to travel outside the country.

Critics say the new passport laws are aimed at immobilizing journalists, human rights activists and opposition political party leaders in order to prevent them from highlighting government repression and human rights violations. The laws have been described as a serious and unacceptable assault on people’s freedom of movement.

The Index on Censorship, (November 2005) reports that at least 90 Zimbabwean journalists, including many of the country’s most prominent reporters, now live in exile, making them one of the largest groups of exiled journalists in the world. Some of the exiled journalists left as a direct result of political persecution, others because the government’s crackdown virtually erased opportunities in the independent press.

Ambrose Musiyiwa interviewed Conrad Nyamutata, one of the journalists, via email.

How long did you work as a journalist in Zimbabwe?

I worked as journalist for about 10 years. First, for The Herald and then for The Daily News. I was a correspondent for a few other external organisations as well.

While at The Daily News, I was arrested and charged with criminal defamation; threatened by Joseph Chinotimba, the war veterans’ leader; and, our offices and printing presses were bombed.

Fortunately for me, Chinotimba accosted and attacked the wrong person at the Harare Magistrates' Court, thinking it was me.

I have no idea what became of the criminal defamation charge as I was released and told I would be called by way of summons. All this was a result of a perfectly legitimate and accurate series of stories, about [opposition political party] Movement for Democratic Change members suing President Mugabe before a court in the United States.

There were just too many happenings at The Daily News because we crossed swords with the mighty.

How did all this come about?

The Daily News was the first media institution to mount a sustained campaign against Zanu PF leadership. We took the regime head-on and without fear, on a daily basis. Our sales and readership shot up because what we were doing was unprecedented.

And of course we paid the price.

The arrests, I talked about, the beatings and the bombing. And ultimately being shut down. But as staff we remained united. Adversity created firm bonds amongst us; it was like huddling in a corner during a fierce thunderstorm and springing back into action after the storm.

What made you decide to leave the country?

I left Zimbabwe because I didn’t feel safe working in such an environment anymore.

I had just carried out an investigation, which heavily implicated the C.I.O. and the police in the bombing of the M.D.C. offices in Harare a few years back.

The trouble is that, with such a partisan or, to be more precise, complicit police, you could not feel safe or protected at all as a citizen. My informants told me it was time to go. You ignore such intelligence at your own peril.

Are you still working as a journalist?

Today, I work remotely from the media. I work for the British Red Cross' refugee support services in Leicester [in the United Kingdom].

But I must mention that I am exceedingly proud to have worked for The Daily News, which, historically, will always be a landmark in the democratisation project. That project is continuing, and I salute all who are taking it further. Zimbabwe will be free again.

Do you see yourself ever working as a journalist again?

Maybe in the long term.

I see myself back in the communications and media field, but serving the voluntary sector.

You were working on a documentary recently. How did that come about?

A few months ago, I was invited by Safe Media, a new film production company in Leicester, to produce a three-minute documentary. It was to be part of a set of four documentaries produced by refugees and asylum seekers about their own experiences in this country or related themes.

The theme of my documentary embodied a few strands: the general perception of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants by the media, local people and employers. I was challenging the how immigrants or foreign professionals now settled in the U.K. are perceived. I was poking at, not the proverbial glass ceiling, but the "glass wall" that bars such skilled persons from jobs they can perform. It challenges prejudice.

The documentary was naturally premised on my own experiences as a foreign journalist now settled in this country. It is about many other journalists, very good journalists for that matter, from abroad now living here, who have failed to secure employment in the field simply because they are foreign. It is about all skilled migrants denied top jobs in top companies because of prejudice.

I absolutely abhor the sentiment that dirty jobs should be reserved for foreigners or migrants, no matter how skilled or educated they are.

What were the other documentaries about?

One was about the controversial issue of tagging of asylum seekers, and the other was about problems encountered by a refugee/husband in reuniting with his wife. The other was about a musician Ebi, an Iranian asylum seeker. Sigli Ahmed, a Ghanaian, did the one on tagging. Boris, a Serbian did the one about Ebi and Idil (family reunion).

How are refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants perceived by the media, local people and employers in this country?

There is a deliberate misrepresentation of the refugee and asylum seeker by certain section of the local media.

For instance, there were outrageous claims in the past about asylum seekers killing the Queen's birds, the swans, and also false reports that they were eating donkeys. All were found to be untrue.

But even more serious is the wilful blurring of lines between who is an asylum seeker, a refugee, an illegal immigrant or a terrorist. The media seeks to band them together to create confusion and generate animosity against anyone who is foreign.

Why do you think this is happening and what effect is it having?

It's all about the ideological construction of the immigrant by the media. That inevitably results in racism, xenophobia and social exclusion.

Because the immigrant, whatever his status, would have been constructed as unworthy, that exclusion extends to employment; immigrants are then seen as people deserving of the lowly paid jobs. Jobs which local people do not want to do. And yet many foreigners are better educated than some local people.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

Sunday, 18 June 2006

Britain and I.O.M. Criticized for Putting Refugees at Risk

The British government and the International Organization for Migration (I.O.M.) have been criticized for returning people to war zones, dictatorships and areas of famine.

Under the Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Program (V.A.R.R.P.) run by the I.O.M. and funded by the British government's Home Office and the European Refugee Fund, asylum seekers are being offered financial incentives to get them to return to their countries of origin.

Between January and April this year, a total of 1,956 asylum seekers took up the £3,000 that is being offered and returned to countries which include Afghanistan, Congo, Iraq, Lebanon, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Immigration minister, Liam Byrne said, "A significant amount of work continues to promote voluntary returns, and there is a high level of interest to take up the scheme."

The Home Office publicized the scheme by writing to all the 54,000 asylum seekers whose applications for refuge are still being processed and who are currently receiving benefits and accommodation from the National Asylum Support Service.

The scheme was also advertised in government-funded centers that have contact with refugees and asylum seekers as well as in all immigration detention, reporting and removal centers.

Former immigration minister, Tony McNulty said the £3,000 that is being offered asylum seekers to make them leave Britain voluntarily was "good value for money" when compared with the £11,000 cost per person of a forced deportation.

No Borders Glasgow, a support group for refugees and immigrants, reported that Kath Sainsbury of the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (N.C.A.D.C.) described the voluntary assisted return and re-integration program as a cynical bribe.

"Instead of using the stick of enforced destitution and poverty to discourage asylum seekers, the Home Office have started using carrots — a scheme offering cash to asylum seekers to give up their claims, but no guarantees on either their safety or whether they'll get the money if they do return," Sainsbury said.

She added that giving people incentives does not make them safe.

"We know that in some countries, failed asylum seekers are put in prison on return and can only secure their release if they pay a bribe. We could now be exposing them to the possibility of further extortion if there is a perception that they have money," Sainsbury said.

At a conference organized by the I.O.M. that was held in London in May, I.O.M. chief of mission, Jan Wilder revealed that he was aware of a Zimbabwean returnee who was questioned "for a while" by that country's dreaded secret police, the Central Intelligence Organization.

"It was a woman from Bulawayo in March 2004. We brought this incident to the attention of the government. The government was satisfactorily responsive," Wilder said.

Wilder, however, would not discuss security issues despite repeated questions about the safety of returnees.

Established in 1951, the I.O.M. describes itself as "a pro-active, responsive and results oriented intergovernmental organization dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration worldwide by serving the policy and program needs of governments and migrants."

No BordersGlasgow observed that in recent years, the I.O.M. has moved from managing the movement of economic migrants to assisting states to control forced migrants.

"Unlike the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the I.O.M. has no humanitarian remit and its move into controlling the movement of people seeking asylum has raised alarm among human rights, refugee and aid agencies," the N.C.A.D.C. said.

In May 2003, Amnesty International criticized the role of the I.O.M. as an "alternative agency for states" where states prefer to avoid their human rights obligations.

"Given that I.O.M. does not have a protection mandate for its work with refugees and displaced people, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch recommend that I.O.M. should refrain from taking a role in situations which fall squarely under the protection mandate of other international organizations, such as the UNHCR," Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement.

Ed Schenkenberg van Mierop, coordinator of the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (I.C.V.A.), pointed out that in 1996, the I.O.M. was asked to truck a group of 6,000 Zairian Tutsis from North Kivu, where extremist Hutus were creating a Hutu-land and carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing among Tutsis. The I.O.M. brought the Tutsis across the boarder to Rwanda thereby aiding the extremist Hutus achieve their aims.

Two years earlier, in Rwanda, between April and July 1994, extremist Hutus slaughtered an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus who opposed the ethnic cleansing.

Van Mierop said, "much more must be done in order to increase I.O.M.'s accountability especially when it sees itself as providing 'assisted and orderly migration services.'"

This article was first published in the World Press Review.

Sunday, 11 June 2006

Social Exclusion and Poverty: Britain Sending Mixed Signals

At first glance, the agenda of Britain's social exclusion minister, Hilary Armstrong, sounds impressive. It gives the impression that the British government has a genuine interest in enabling the poor to lift themselves out of poverty.

Armstrong has a cabinet-level responsibility for early identification of at-risk children and families, improving the outcomes of children in care, tackling teenage pregnancies, partnership work with other agencies and taskforces in dealing with problem families and for finding routes into employment for those with mental health problems. All of this is in an effort to reduce poverty as well as the social exclusion these groups experience.

Sue Stirling, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) North, welcomed the creation of the social exclusion cabinet post and Armstrong's appointment as minister responsible for leading cross-departmental work on tackling social exclusion. She said that the IPPR anticipated the most challenging issues Armstrong will face would be to improve the life chances of looked after children and those with mental health problems, and to expand action for people who live in the very poorest areas and who are furthest removed from decent jobs.

"Increasing accountability and developing the right incentives across all departments will be the key, instead of looking for new interventions or eye catching initiatives," she said.

She emphasised that there was need to find policy solutions that work at a local and regional level.

"On the ground, it is not just a matter of delivering ministerial priorities but reconfiguring services to meet local need. We should be brave enough to support radical local solutions to entrenched problems. Otherwise the casualties will keep coming," Sue Stirling said.

In the United Kingdom, groups that are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion include children and young people, families in no-work households, children and young people who no longer attend school, those who may be additionally disadvantaged by racism and other forms of discrimination, as well as asylum seekers, refugees and illegal/irregular immigrants.

The Open University publication, "Care and Communities" (2003), observes that current efforts to reverse the effects of social exclusion on communities are currently being driven by government through its Social Exclusion Unit and other related national, community-based campaigns like Sure Start and Barnados as well as by communities themselves through grassroots initiatives like the St Matthew Project and the Longberton Lads.

In its 2004 report, "Breaking the Cycle: Taking stock of progress and priorities for the future," the Social Exclusion Unit says since 1997 major initiatives have been implemented to: tackle key economic causes of social exclusion such as unemployment and poverty, particularly child and pensioner poverty; promote equal opportunities for all; support communities, particularly in deprived areas; reintegrate some of those who have experienced more extreme forms of social exclusion, like rough sleeping; and to improve access to advice and services.

It maintains that these policies have resulted in significant progress particularly in tackling poverty and it lists the following as some of the achievements that have come out of the policies: a reduction in child poverty; large-scale expansion of nursery education and childcare services; there are now 1.85 million more people in work than in 1997 and there have been faster than average increases in employment among disadvantaged groups; educational attainment has risen in all key stages; the number of homeless people sleeping rough has fallen by 70 percent; there has been a reduction in crime and the fear of crime, including among older people; and there are early signs that the gap between the most deprived local authority areas and the rest of the country is narrowing on some indicators such as rates of unemployment, educational attainment, and teenage conceptions.

However, in an article that appeared in The Guardian in 2002, researcher Peter Kenway says research by the New Policy Institute think tank and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that in the UK employment alone does not guarantee an escape from poverty and that while the breadth of poverty was declining, there was no reduction in the depth of poverty.

Kenway analysed 1996/7 and 2001/2 household incomes and said: "The government's anti-poverty strategy rests on the idea that employment should be the way out of poverty for all those who can work.

"These figures show that, for millions, work is not yet providing an escape from poverty."

In 2005, researchers Guy Palmer, Jane Carr and Peter Kenway found that despite the importance of employment in bringing poverty down, employment, even with the help of tax credits, does not guarantee an income above the poverty line and they pointed out that 50 percent of children in poverty are living in households where someone is doing paid work, most of them in two adult rather than one adult families.

They argue that other policies will be needed that will ensure higher wages and higher out of work benefits. They also suggest that the government could also exercise more control over the level of council tax and rents in the social housing sector.

Another major shortcoming of the government's current efforts to combat social exclusion can be found in its treatment of asylum seekers. In passing laws that prohibit asylum seekers from working, accessing legal representation, education and primary health care, the British government is in effect legislating for the social exclusion of asylum seekers and the perpetuation of prejudice and discrimination against them.

The Social Exclusion Unit in its 2004 report, for example, identifies asylum seekers and refugees as falling in one of three broad and overlapping groups of people for whom policies consistently seem less effective.

"Poverty and Asylum in the UK," a joint study by Oxfam and the Refugee Council (2002) showed how the asylum system is institutionalising poverty among asylum seekers. The report revealed that 85 percent of the asylum seekers in the UK experience hunger, 95 percent cannot afford to buy clothes or shoes and 80 percent are not able to maintain good health.

Asylum seekers receive benefits below the poverty line. A single adult receives 37.77 pounds per week in addition to accommodation and utilities -- this is around 30 percent below the basic level of income support for a UK citizen, which is generally considered as the minimum level of income necessary to maintain an acceptable standard of living (Oxfam, 2005). Those with additional needs (such as pregnant women, families with young children, people with disabilities, victims of torture and the elderly) are also not entitled to additional special needs provision or "passported" benefits on the same level as UK citizens.

In addition to this, Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act of 2004 removes or significantly restricts the welfare entitlements of families who have reached the end of the asylum process and who have "failed to take reasonable steps" to leave the UK.

In "The End of The Road: The impact on families of Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004," Nancy Kelley and Lise Meldgaard (2005) reveal that a recent investigation by Barnado's and the Refugee Children's Consortium found that the removal of basic support from families who have reached the end of the asylum process and have had their applications turned down is leaving refugee families destitute.

"Refugee children often come to this country traumatised by what they have seen. Unfortunately arrival in the UK rarely marks the beginning of a safe and comfortable life; indeed they are likely to experience continued stress, hunger, poor health and extreme poverty. Whatever the intention of Section 9, it is being implemented in a way that runs the risk of causing life long damage to children and families who are already some of the most vulnerable people in society," Kelley and Melgaard said.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu and other church leaders, in a letter published in The Times (December 3 2005) argue that it is inhumane and unacceptable that asylum seekers are being made destitute by government policies.

They maintain: "All those within our borders -- including people seeking asylum -- should have the opportunity to help themselves and society through paid employment. Where this is not possible, people seeking asylum, whatever their status, should be given the necessary rights to food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services."

The British government's public announcements on its commitment to tackle poverty and social exclusion are impressive but they are being contradicted by legislation such as the Asylum and Immigration Act of 2004 which has the effect of targeting asylum seekers and condemning them to a life of social exclusion, destitution and poverty.

This article was first published on OhmyNews international.

Saturday, 3 June 2006

Trade Unions and Religious Leaders Call for Illegal Immigrants Amnesty

Trade unionists and religious leaders are calling on the government to consider an amnesty for illegal immigrants living and working in the United Kingdom.

It is estimated that there are between 310,000 and 570,000 illegal immigrants currently living and working in the U.K. If the British government does not allow them to settle and if the immigrants do not leave the country of their own accord, it could take over a decade for the government to trace and deport them.

"Assuming we can find them, and assuming that people aren't going away of their own accord, it would take some time," former immigration minister, Tony McNulty told the BBC (May 18, 2006). He went on to calculate that it would take at least 10 years, at a rate of 25,000 per year.

A leading trade union official called for debate around granting amnesty to the half a million immigrants living and working in the U.K.

Jack Dromey, deputy secretary general of the Transport and General Workers Union said the Government should acknowledge the contribution the immigrants are making and adopt a sensible approach towards them.

He told the BBC (May 20, 2006): "The economy needs migrant labour. They are the backbone of the service economy, cleaning, catering, looking after the old, the sick and the dying, and of food and agriculture.

"Yes, it is true that there are probably half a million here without documents. The question is what do we do about that?"

He said the government should stop criminalising illegal immigrants.

"They live in fear of the knock at the door and they are exploited by too many employers.

"What we need, therefore, is a sensible approach which does not criminalise those good men and women."

Dromey said it was neither practical nor sensible to seek to deport all the illegal immigrants.

"You can't deport half a million workers -- who would clean, who would cook, who would pick in our fields?

"The time has come for a debate around an amnesty for those workers," he said.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor also called for the government to consider an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

The Cardinal said that although the Catholic Church does not encourage or approve of illegal immigration, it could not ignore the plight of people without legal status.

"While our nation benefits economically from the presence of undocumented workers, too often we turn a blind eye when they are exploited by employers," he said.

"Is it not time to consider, as other countries have done, ways of regularising their situation? those who are working in the country and do not have a criminal record - to the benefit of our economy and to enable them to play a fuller part in society?"

A leading think-tank said the move would raise over £1bn in tax revenues annually which could them be spent on public services.

In its study, "Irregular migration in the U.K," the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said £1.04 billion in potential fiscal revenue could be raised if the Britain regularised illegal immigrants and allowed them to settle, work and pay their taxes.

The IPRR said trying to remove the almost half a million people living in the country illegally is could cost as much as £4.7 billion annually and was "simply not feasible, nor is it desirable."

"Nobody likes illegal immigration and the subject is a deeply difficult one for politicians. But the bare truth is that we're not going to deport hundreds of thousands of people? our economy would shrink and we would notice it straight away in uncleaned offices, dirty streets and unstaffed pubs," said IPPR director Nick Pearce.

"So we have a choice: make people live in the shadows, exploited and fearful for the future, or bring them into the mainstream, to pay taxes and live an honest life."

In 2002, a House of Lords report called for an amnesty for the "growing underclass of people" who cannot be removed, whether failed asylum seekers or "illegal" migrants.

The report entitled "A Common Policy On Illegal Immigration," emphasised that some form of regularisation is unavoidable if a growing underclass of people in an irregular situation, who are vulnerable to exploitation, is not to be created.

It said more could and should be done across the EU to increase the opportunities for legal immigration in order to meet identified labour shortages.

It urged government to manage migration in a way that controls illegal immigration effectively while bearing in mind that they are dealing with people, most of whom are motivated simply by a desire for a better life for themselves and their families.

It also emphasised that in devising measures to control illegal immigration the Britian must ensure that it scrupulously observes its human rights obligations.

The report said it was disappointing that the government, while enthusiastically endorsing measures designed to improve the enforcement of immigration controls, had consistently chosen not to opt into positive immigration measures, such as those relating to admission for employment and self-employment; family reunion; and protection for the victims of trafficking.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

Monday, 29 May 2006

Under Siege: Zimbabwe's Human Rights Defenders; Jenni Williams

Earlier this month, security agents in Zimbabwe told Jenni Williams that if she continues to organize demonstrations she is going to pay for it with her life.

Williams received the threat upon being released from jail. She and 165 other WOZA activists had been arrested for demonstrating against a hike in public school fees.

"Jenni Williams complained that the officer in charge of the law and order section, Detective Assistant Inspector Ndlovu, threatened her with death should she ever engage in similar conduct in future," said Kossam Ncube, a lawyer from Job Sibanda and Associates who represents Williams and WOZA (ZimOnline, May 16, 2006).

They were all released five days later because prosecutors would not take them to court.

Williams and the women who make up Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), have organized and taken part in more protest marches than any other group in Zimbabwe.

They have also had more experience of the callousness, heavy-handedness, and brutality with which security agents in Zimbabwe deal with perceived opponents of President Robert Mugabe's regime.

WOZA members have endured severe beatings at the hands of the police. They have had police dogs set on them. They have been detained for hours, and sometimes days, in over-crowded and lice-ridden cells where the communal toilets do not flush. While in detention, the women have been threatened, assaulted, and deprived of food and access to lawyers by the police.

Williams said WOZA was founded to give Zimbabwean women a voice and platform with which to exercise their rights.

"Things are very tough economically, socially, politically and we felt that women were bearing the brunt of that crisis and should have the loudest voice in shouting out … and holding the political leaders accountable for what they've unleashed," Williams said.

Williams maintains that to her and other WOZA activists, the arrests are a symbol, a potent reminder that exercising one's fundamental rights can carry serious risk.

WOZA activist Patricia Tshabalala

©2003 Jenni Williams
She describes WOZA activists as "volunteers for arrest and possible beatings."

In February 2003, Williams and WOZA organized a Valentine's Day march to protest against political violence and draw attention to the worsening economic situation. Women marched through the streets of Bulawayo and Harare handing out red roses.

In both cities, police descended on the women, broke up the marches, and arrested and detained protestors under the provisions of the repressive Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

POSA gives police sweeping powers, which they have used to harass, intimidate, and detain real and perceived opponents of the Mugabe regime.

Since 2002, security agents have used POSA to target human rights activists and to restrict rights to freedom of association and expression.

The police used POSA again in November 2003. They arrested Williams in Bulawayo for taking part in a demonstration organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

"My WOZA colleagues insisted that they would accompany me to be arrested and invited the huge crowd of upwards 1,000 to come along too, which they did!" Williams writes in an open letter available on

When they got to the station, the police released Williams because the crowd that had been following them had become agitated.

A few minutes later, three vehicles and more than a hundred riot police confronted the protestors and ordered them to disperse.

"The officer with the megaphone told his troops to advance and dogs were brought out. They advanced and people began to walk away calmly but the officer ordered us to be beaten. Riot police prodded us in the back saying we should disperse, the officer egged them on, and they started to prod us telling us to run. We answered back saying we would not run as the dogs would bite us. Run we were told and beaten until some of us ran and of course the dogs bit several people."

Several WOZA activists and campaigners sustained serious injuries from the beatings they received at the hands of the police. Others were hospitalized after being mauled by police dogs.

More than 4,000 members of WOZA have been arrested under POSA and related laws since 2003. None has been successfully prosecuted.

Despite the frequent arrests and the equally frequent beatings meted out by the police, Williams and WOZA continue to organize peaceful demonstrations, regularly taking to the streets in Harare, Bulawayo, and other parts of the country.

Williams was nominated for this year's Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

In their citation, the organizers of the award said Williams was chosen because she "continues to organize and lead peaceful protests against the erosion of human rights, in spite of having been arrested and beaten by the police."

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Church of England Attacks Government Policy On Asylum Seekers

An interfaith commission set up by the Church of England has attacked the country's draconian system of 'asylum.'

The commissioners criticised the way the threat of destitution was being used as a way of deterring refugees from seeking asylum and condemned the enforced poverty suffered by unsuccessful asylum seekers.

The Church of England's Commission on Urban Life and Faith noted that asylum policy in Britain was being driven by "popular xenophobia" and was being sustained by a large section of the press "on a political terrain influenced by fanaticism."

As a result asylum seekers were being needlessly forced into a life of fear, extreme poverty and destitution and are being made more vulnerable to attacks and exploitation even from the very people, institutions and structures that are supposed to be protecting them.

According to media reports, in May 2006, a senior Home Office immigration officer was suspended after allegations that he offered to help an 18-year-old Zimbabwean rape victim obtain asylum in the U.K. if she had sex with him. Earlier this year three other Home Office immigration officers from Lunar House admitted having sex with visa applicants in exchange for helping facilitate their applications. One of the men was dismissed, the second resigned and the third was disciplined internally.

"We live in one of the most economically unequal countries in Europe and not only has the 'trickle down' promise of market forces failed to deliver but a draconian asylum system consigns a small section of the population to unacceptable destitution," the Commission on Urban Life and Faith said.

The commissioners, who included Muslim and Jewish representatives and members of all the main Christian churches, spent two years gathering evidence from all over the United Kingdom. They found that "endemic antipathy and racism" among many young people left them vulnerable to exploitation by religious and political extremists.

In "Faithful Cities: A call for celebration, vision and justice," a report published on May 22, the Commission urged the British government to lead rather than follow public opinion on immigration, refugees and asylum policy.

"Specifically, asylum seekers should be allowed to sustain themselves and contribute to society through paid work," the commissioners said.

At present, people fleeing persecution are not allowed to work during the first year of their application for political asylum. They can apply for permission to work after those 12 months but even then permission to work is not always granted.

Those who, in the mean time, have had their applications for refuge turned down are strictly prohibited from working.

The Asylum and Immigration Act of 2004 removes any welfare benefits and housing help from families of asylum seekers whose claims have been rejected and who have "failed to take reasonable steps" to leave Britain. The Act sanctions the removal of housing support from failed asylum seekers unless they agree to leave Britain. If parents refuse to sign forms to say they will leave the country, they are made homeless and their children taken into care.

"It is unacceptable to use destitution as a tool of coercion when dealing with 'refused' asylum seekers," the Commission on Urban Life and Faith said.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, endorse the Commission's report.

Bishop Bernard Longley, an Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Westminster and member of the Catholic Bishops' Conference Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, also expressed his support for "Faithful Cities."

"The report examines how urban regeneration projects have failed to improve the lives of many people who live in British cities. For example, although the re-building of cities has brought new opportunities and prosperity, it has also resulted in fear, racial tension and the tendency to treat neighbours as strangers," Bishop Longley said.

Commenting on the report, musician and civil rights activist, Sheila Mosley told of how one asylum seeker she is in contact with was discovered working without permission.

"The police confiscated the four hundred pounds (£400) wages that was in his bank account that he had earned and paid tax on," she said.

"There are prisoners in Strangeways whose only crime was to work their way out of destitution rather than have to rob people because of destitution," she added.

Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the Refugee Council welcomed the commission's report, describing it as "acutely observed and timely" and "a wake-up call to politicians to give a lead to public opinion."

"If they [the politicians] fail to do so, the losers, as 'Faithful Cities' points out, are those asylum seekers living in extreme hardship or forced into destitution in order to 'encourage' them to leave the UK," Sherlock said.

"What's needed is moral leadership, helping to inform everyone about our obligations to those who have fled persecution and sought sanctuary in the UK."

She emphasised that the commission had rightly described using destitution as a tool of coercion when dealing with refused asylum as 'unacceptable.'

"These are vulnerable people and to 'encourage' them to leave the U.K. by the prospect of starvation is inhumane and unnecessary," Maeve Sherlock said.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

Forcing Refugee Children Into Care

Refugee charities are urging the British government to ditch its plans of snatching the children of asylum seekers from their families and forcing them into care.

When an asylum seeker's claim has failed, Section 9 of the country's Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act of 2004 allows the British Home Office to withdraw support if they are not taking "reasonable steps" to return to their country of origin. Local authorities will generally continue to support the children of a failed asylum seeker, but can only support adult members the family if failing to do so will lead to a breach of their human rights.

Section 9 creates a risk that asylum seekers and their families will be left destitute and their children taken into care.

Since December 2004, Section 9 has been implemented in three pilot areas: Central/East London, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. So far, 116 families, including 219 children and 36 adult dependents have been affected, from countries which include Pakistan, Somalia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A report into the 12-month pilot by the Refugee Council and Refugee Action, titled "Inhumane and Ineffective — Section 9 in Practice," highlights the misery caused by Section 9 and its complete failure to achieve its aims.

Maeve Sherlock, chief executive of the Refugee Council, says:

"When it launched Section 9, the government said the aim was to encourage families to return home, and not to make them destitute. This report shows that it has achieved the complete opposite result. Families have been made homeless, had their support removed and are living in fear of having their children taken into care, and yet almost none have taken steps to leave the U.K. Section 9 is inhumane and ineffective and should be dropped immediately."

The report, which was released in January 2006, is based on work carried out by the Refugee Council and Refugee Action in Leeds, London and Manchester.

The report reveals that out of the 116 families affected by the pilot implementation of Section 9, only one family has left the U.K.; at the most three families have signed up for voluntary return; at least 32 families, or more than a quarter of those affected, have gone underground; and 80 percent of the parents on the pilot had mental health problems that have been made worse by Section 9.

"This is a harsh and ill thought out policy based on the flawed logic that making families destitute and threatening to take their children into care will coerce them into going home," Maeve Sherlock says.

The families affected are reluctant to return to their countries of origin because the countries are unsafe. Many of the families are at risk of arrest, torture, detention and death at the hands of agents of the state should they return to their countries of origin.

In October 2005, three judges in the British Asylum and Immigration Tribunal ruled, in a test case, that a Zimbabwean asylum seeker, who cannot be named for legal reasons, would be at risk if he were sent back to Harare. One of the results of this ruling is that the British Home Office cannot return Zimbabweans to that country because to do so would be in violation of the tribunal's ruling.

The Guardian (Jan. 29) reports that the implementation of Section 9 has also provoked a backlash by social workers who are now reluctant to cooperate with the Home Office.

Sandy Buchan, chief executive of Refugee Action describes the policy as "cruel and unworkable." She says it is causing enormous suffering to vulnerable families and has completely failed to deliver on its objectives.

"To threaten parents with the loss of their children if they don't sign a form that says they want to go home is unjust and inhumane. The proper place for all children, regardless of their immigration status, is with their parents.

"Destitution and family separation should not be used as deliberate tools of coercion by any civilized society. This policy is essentially troubling as it has come at a time when there is increasing doubt over whether or not some asylum seekers receive a full and fair hearing of their claim," Buchan says.

A Children's Society spokesperson expressed concern that some children are now being denied access to health care, housing and education.

"We know of 35 families who have gone underground, losing all contact with authorities and so denied access to basic health care, housing and education as a result of these government pilots.

"Regardless of the outcome of an asylum claim, it is never justified to punish children for the actions of adults," the spokesperson said.

In November 2005, an investigation by the leading children's charity, Barnardo's and the Refugee Children's Consortium revealed the serious damage being done to vulnerable children by the British government's asylum and immigration policy.

Barnardo's urged the British government to uphold the principle that refugee children are children first and foremost, and U.K. asylum policy should protect their welfare as a first principle.

Alison Webster, principal policy officer for Barnardo's also said children should not be used as a tool for enforcing immigration decisions.

"For them, their parents are often the only stable part of their lives," she said.

In "Breaking the Cycle: Taking Stock of Progress and Priorities for the Future" (September 2004), the British government's Social Exclusion Unit points out that refugees, asylum seekers, and children living in poverty or in local authority care are at risk of social exclusion.

The report also says experience of the care system is found in cohort study analysis to increase greatly the likelihood of negative outcomes, most notably the chances of contact with the police.

"Young people who have experienced institutional care are significantly more at risk of social exclusion than other young people; they are likely to leave school without qualifications, end up in prison, and to become homeless," the report says.

Writer and human rights activist Siobhan Logan condemned the British government's "cavalier" attitude towards separating children from their families.

"It is extraordinary how cavalier the British government can be about separating children from their families. They have done it in the past with working class families who were British. They are doing it now with children of asylum seekers whose applications have been refused but who still cannot go back to their countries of origin because the countries are unsafe," she said.

Logan accused the government of criminalizing asylum seekers and refugees.

"Asylum seekers are already in a very vulnerable position and then face destitution and exclusion at the hands of government policy here. They have become a political football for our media and political parties who promote the idea that asylum seekers are sponging off us.

"Asylum seekers are the modern scapegoats — what Jews were in an earlier period or Irish or Asian immigrants after them. This shambolic government deflects attention from its own shortcomings by trying to criminalize the poor," she said.

This article was first published in the World Press Review.

Sunday, 21 May 2006

Under Siege: Zimbabwe's Human Rights Defenders; High Court Judge Benjamin Paradza

Former High Court Judge Benjamin Paradza fears for his wife and three children who are still under the surveillance of security agents in Zimbabwe.

He has reason to be afraid.

Since coming to power in 1980, President Robert G. Mugabe's government has always dealt severely with opposition political parties and their supporters, real or perceived.

In April 1983, for example, the regime's Fifth Brigade military unit targeted defenseless civilians, who Mugabe referred to as supporters of dissidents, and subjected thousands of them to severe beatings and destroyed their homes. The Fifth Brigade went on to murder more than 2,000 civilians.

The military unit would routinely round up dozens, or even hundreds, of civilians and march them to a central place, such as a school or a communal borehole. There, the civilians were forced to sing songs praising the ruling political party, Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), while at the same time were beat with sticks. The gatherings invariably ended with the public execution of officials from the opposition political party, Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU).

The regime's heavy handedness and hostility towards political opponents or ordinary Zimbabweans who disagreed with how ZANU was running the country did not end with the signing of the Unity Accord between ZANU and ZAPU in 1987. The accord led to ZAPU merging with ZANU and the formation of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and was part of efforts to stop the mass killings of civilians by Mugabe's Fifth Brigade in the Ndebele provinces of Matabeleland and the Midlands during the early to late 80's.

The regime has used its parliamentary majority to amend the constitution more than 20 times to tighten Mugabe's hold on power and quash all forms of dissent -- the most notable amendment being the abolition of the prime minister's position, which led to the creation of an executive presidency in 1987. Repressive legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (2002) has made it a crime to practice journalism without a government license.

Paradza did what all judges in Zimbabwe are supposed to do: He looked at the cases before him and interpreted what the law said.

In the 1990s, he allowed Econet, an independent telephone services provider, to set up a mobile telephone network contrary to the regime's intention to retain control of who can have access to or provide telephone services. In 2000, Paradza declared the land reform program illegal and, in the same year, he ruled that the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation's monopoly on the airwaves was illegal.

The following year, he declared as unconstitutional a ban Mugabe imposed on challenging in court the results of the much-contested 2000 parliamentary elections.

In July 2002, Paradza acquitted a journalist in a media test case and, in the same month, he sentenced Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa to three months in jail for contempt of court because the minister had failed to appear in court to respond to charges relating to his criticism of the High Court.

The following year, Paradza ordered the release of Elias Mudzuri, mayor of Harare, and a member of opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and 21 other MDC members who had been arrested for holding a town meeting under a provision of the draconian Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which dictates that police permission must be obtained for any gathering of more than two people if the police declares the meeting to be "a threat to public order."

Mudzuri signaled that the nation's capital had become an MDC stronghold when he became the first executive mayor of Harare. He also became the first target in a campaign by the Mugabe regime to destroy the MDC.

By being impartial and refusing to be influenced by outside forces, Paradza was setting himself up for a major confrontation with Mugabe's regime.

And it wasn't long before the regime made its move.

A month after Paradza ordered Mudzuri's release, police raided the judge's chambers, arrested him for allegedly obstructing the course of justice and for allegedly trying to influence three fellow judges to release the passport of a business partner awaiting trial on a murder charge.

Paradza became the first serving judge in Zimbabwe's history to be arrested for alleged misconduct.

Under Zimbabwean law, a sitting High Court judge cannot be arrested before an inquiry into the alleged criminal misconduct has been set up and has established the truthfulness of such allegations. In a subsequent application to the Supreme Court on his arrest, the Supreme Court ruled that the arrest had indeed been improper and that a commission of inquiry had to be established before any action could be taken by law enforcement agents.

Human rights organizations say Paradza's arrest was politically motivated and signals ongoing efforts on the part of the Mugabe regime to harass, intimidate and force out judges who have handed down judgments which are contrary to the regime's policies and who are perceived to be supporting the political opposition.

In 2000, the regime forced the resignation of Supreme Court Chief Justice Antony Gubbay following rulings that had gone against the government. A number of senior judges, like Judge Fergus Blackie, have also been forced to leave the bench following political pressure, physical and verbal attacks, arrests and other means of intimidation and harassment. Others have fled the country after receiving death threats for ruling against the interests of Mugabe's regime.

Paradza will remember his days in prison for a long time.

On his experiences in jail, he said: "There were lice and mosquitoes, and the communal toilet did not flush. The smell was unbearable. I felt humiliated and degraded."

Dato Param Cumaraswamy, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, expressed grave concern over the criminal charges and their implications on judicial independence and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.

"What is common and very conspicuous about the alleged charges against Justice Paradza and retired Judge Blackie is that the principle witnesses to prove the alleged charges are fellow judges. This is pitting judges against judges and setting the members of the judiciary on a collision course between what will be seen as the independents and the complaints," Cumaraswamy said.

When Paradza was released on bail, he fled the country, first to South Africa and then to Britain before being granted refuge in New Zealand. He could not settle in South Africa because South Africa refuses to acknowledge that Mugabe's regime is violating human rights laws. South Africa also has an extradition treaty with Zimbabwe and has been routinely sending Zimbabweans, including asylum seekers, back into the hands of Mugabe's secret police, the Central Intelligence Organization.

Britain would not allow Paradza to submit an application for political asylum because asylum laws meant he had to seek refuge in South Africa. Nor would the country allow him to accept a 40,000 pound-a-year university fellowship in London.

Arnold Tsunga, director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said the Mugabe regime arrested and imprisoned Paradza to demonstrate to other members on the bench that if they did not comply with the political leadership, they would not receive protection from the state.

"To decide whether he received a fair trial, look at the way the case started. He was arrested in chambers by a constable in a manner that is highly irregular, and he was humiliated in the process of being arrested.

"By running away, I think he is saying he did not get a fair trial. He felt his colleagues won't have enough clout to withstand political pressure, and I guess it explains why he's on the run," Tsunga said.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.