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« April 2005 | Main | June 2005 »

MSF Workers Arrested in Sudan

Paul Foreman, the Dutch head of the charity Medicins Sans Frontieres in Sudan was arrested and released on bail yesterday for "crimes against the Sudanese state", and the BBC today reports that a second aid worker has been arrested. This is in response to a report on rape in the Darfur region of the country released by MSF in March 2005. "The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur" is based on the treatment of 500 women over 4 and a half months. Sudan's attorney general Mohamed Farid told reporters that authorities had opened a criminal case following MSF's failure to hand over evidence on which the report was based; the charity says the information is confidential.

The aid agency is backed by the UN, whose representative in Sudan, Jan Pronk said "[it is] a non-political document only based on humanitarian concern of MSF which has done an excellent job of helping victims of rape." The Sudan Tribune has published a press release from MSF in reaction to the arrests, together with other news and views on Darfur and the fragile peace process. The Genocide Intervention Fund also lists some useful news and links for more information on the region.

The news from Sudan highlights a wider issue of the increased politicisation of aid agencies and relief workers in situations of war and civil unrest. The kidnapping of aid workers in Iraq and elsewhere has exposed their increasing physical vulnerability, and loss of political immunity.

Last week, it was reported that the Dutch Government is suing MSF over the payment of a ransom for Arjan Erkel, kidnapped and held for nearly 2 years in the Russian province of Dagestan. It is the first time a government has sued an aid agency. In other news, the BBC reports on events in Libya, where the supreme court is ruling in an appeal against the death penalty by 6 foreign medics convicted of infecting over 400 children with HIV. Foreign leaders have called for the medics' release, amidst allegations of false confessions and torture, whilst Libyan officials have indicated that the death penalties may be dropped in return for compensation for the families from Bulgaria or the EU.

May 31, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What brain drain?

African Bullets & Honey offers a very different perspective on the African "brain drain" issue. The writer is a "stressed doctoral candidate" in the UK of Kenyan origin. He/she puts it bluntly: "If You Think Africa is Suffering From a Brain Drain, Your Brain is Drained".

The comments below the post are worse perusing. There are some very poetic responses from other members of the Kenyan diaspora:

"When we are away we afford the diginity of life and hope of progress for our loved ones. Our toil yields in itself a seed that is planted when a brother is educated, a home or rent is paid.

Our exodus is not one of sheer defeat but an energising hope to fight to realise our dreams and give our loved ones those opportunities that have long been stolen..."

Via Global Voices

May 31, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Historic day - ouch!

Today is a turning point in European history and I find myself in disagreement with Neal Ascherson AND Will Hutton AND Timothy Garton Ash AND Danny Cohn-Bendit! The first two signed the Chris Bobinsk letter he wanted the English to post to the people of France - an idea he wrote about rufully in openDemocracy. Now his letter has been published on the oD site and also in the Financial Times. Tim Garton Ash went to France to report and meditate upon the campaign and wrote a strong piece in the Guardian calling for a French Yes. But none were as eloquent or forceful as Danny Cohn-Bendit, whom I have followed more or less since 1968, writing in the International Herald Tribune.

"I am a realist who believes in social justice, human rights, environmental protection and a strong Europe that can deal withthe challenges of globaliation and project its power peacefully." Well said!

But does it follow that if the French vote 'no' Danny as warns, this will all be at risk and, "the French will lose the things they really want: real European solidarity, a true European democracy; in short, the creation of a European Republic"?

European democracy will not follow from the constitutional treaty. On the contrary, a 'yes' will convince the Brussels Eurocrats that if they scare the children they can always get their way. I am against a British 'no' if the French and the Dutch vote 'yes'. That debate is for another time - perhaps. But a French 'no' will be good for Europe and especially for the prospects of European democracy. It will be an honest rejection of a dishonest political elite.

May 29, 2005 in Blair's Bust - UK election | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Watching Iran from afar

Over the past weeks, I've been helping to coordinate openDemocracy's blog on the Iranian elections, Iran Scan 1384. It's piqued my curiosity for the politics of the region immensely, and as the elections on June 17th draw closer I encourage everyone to peek in and feel the heat.

In Iran, presidential candidates can only run if they are approved by the "Guardian Council". At first the Council only approved conservatives and a fundamentalist - and no reformists. This caused outrage among pro-democracy advocates in Iran. Then, Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, ordered the Guardian Council to reconsider two reformist candidates, Dr. Moin and Mr. Mehr-Alizadeh, using a constitutional law/tool called the "Sovereign's Decree".

As it happens, Dr. Moin (the only candidate who keeps an active weblog) has long campaigned against the Sovereign's Decree, and many of his supporters are saying if he accepts the candidacy they will consider him a hypocrite. Hossein Derakshan polled his readers, about what they thought Moin should do and he reported the result in Iran Scan 1384.

The whole election is a tangled affair. There is widespread apathy and lack of faith in the validity of the elections, but also glimmers of hope which are worth celebrating. Hossein says the elections are inspiring an unbelievable amount of political discussion and opinion in newspapers and on the web, and even joked today over lunch that he wished there were elections there every day.

I'll temper the optimism by sharing a link to Reporters Without Borders' Blog Awards. They have a whole category for Iran. Just scroll down to see how many of the short listed bloggers and journalists have been imprisoned. Depressing. These Iranian activists deserve our attention.

May 28, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Africa's Brain Drain

The London Independent today dedicated its first five pages to a special report on the escalating crisis of health services in sub-saharan Africa due to the West's "poaching" of trained medical professionals. To read their coverage, go here. For more info, the BBC also reports on the increasing problem of the "brain drain" as highlighted by UK doctors.

Although it is easy to view the practice as a cynical extension of Britain and the developed world's imperialist attitude (200 years ago it was slaves, now it is the medical workforce), there is another side to the story. Many Africans want to leave for the West, where they can earn more money in order to invest and send remittances to family back home. David Styan has an interesting article on this topic, and the role of Africans in the global economy.

The Independent's report comes in the midst of the hype surrounding Tony Blair's "year of Africa"and the continuing Make Poverty History campaign. With the forthcoming G8 summit in Gleneagles, the British prime minister is in a rush to convince the world's leaders to get on board with the project, and the announcement of the British Medical Association will try to focus talks in Edinburgh on the realities of the thousands of African workers shoring up the G8's health services.

James Johnson, the chairman of the British Medical Association points out that global travel has always been a strength of health workers, whose transferable skills can be shared and developed collaboratively, but this he says, is now a dangerously romantic view. The continued migration of health workers is creating an untenable situation in countries such as Malawi, Zambia, Namibia and Nigeria, and of course it is not only to Britain that workers are coming.

It is an ongoing concern of African health ministers who met at the World Health Assembly earlier this month, and there is further concerned comment here from the editor of the American Journal of Bioethics.

May 27, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

China's "Great Game"

Following the bloody - and still murky - events of 13 May in Andijan, president Islam Karimov's official visit to China comes as no surprise to many observers. China pledged its support for the Uzbek government's handling of the protestors, and yesterday reiterated its own long running crackdown against Muslim Uiqhurs in the western province of Xinjiang. The IHT reports on the implications of a West / East split over events in Uzbekistan, and the consequences of Russia and China's conspicuous support for President Karimov. Conspicuous maybe, but entirely predictable say some. Nathan Hamm comments on the economic ties between China and Uzbekistan, likening the political manouverings to Kipling's 'great game', and links to an interesting article  at  Radio Free Europe. Another blog, Korean News and Analysis also discusses the $600m China-Uzbek oil deal. Both countries of course insist the visit was planned way ahead of the events of 13 May, but with the increasing unrest in the 'stans and China's ongoing repression of muslim Uighurs, perhaps there is more than oil in it for the Chinese government. With the continuing "war on terror" and the seemingly easy task of scaring the US administration into supporting repressive regimes against the threat of "muslim extremists", their alleged human rights abuses can  go unnoticed and the campain to squash the separatist movement in the province of Xinjiang is bolstered.

May 26, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Non not Oui

Like a good conversation writing a blog can be a voyage of discovery to your own views. I was against a French ‘Non’and want a ‘Oui’ in their referendum on the European Constitution - for a convoluted reason that was perhaps shamefully local. Polls that ask people in Britain how they will vote show support dropping like a stone if the ‘yes’ argument is led by Tony Blair.

He simply cannot win a referendum in the UK. Therefore, I wanted there to be a referendum here. Because I felt sure this would force Blair out relatively quickly as Labour cannot afford to lose it.It follows, sorry I warned it was convoluted, there had to be a French ‘Oui’ as a ‘Non’ means there will not need to be a British vote at all, and thus the Prime Minister would be let off the hook.

Now I have changed my mind. You only need to try out this argument to see that it evades the central question, how should the French vote - or, to put it another way, what should Europeans, including the Dutch who vote on 1 June, think of the constitutional treaty being put before us?

When I learnt that President Chirac had decided to call for referendum a shudder went through me. I recalled something Tom Nairn wrote back at the start of the ninties after the French voted by the slimmest majority to endorse the Maastricht Treaty. He commented that it was a final warning. The French were saying, ‘OK’, let us do it if we have to. But they were also saying ‘No’ to a Europe from above. Europe had to change accordingly and democratically, Tom stated, Brussels had been warned.

Obviously, it had not heeded the warning or changed its ways. Hence my shudder of alarm. But I betrayed myself by reacting in the responsible manner of those with vested interests in the status quo. You can see a well-written and well-informed example of the kind of argument I probably would have agreed with in the new piece by Gwyn Prins in openDemocracy. He actually wants a similar, paper-think majority in France - in other words a repeat warning. But everything he writes points vividly to the opposite conclusion. The time for warnings is past. The French should vote ‘Non’, Brussels does not deserve public endorsement.

This simple and convincing argument has been laid out by Frank Vibert in his openDemocracy contribution. Rejection would not create a castastrophic vacum, it would be a healthy opportunity for a much needed re-think. It will only be the end of the world for that part of the world which needs to be ended.

Constitutions ought to be a moment to generate democratic legitimacy not the reverse. A highly manipulated, paper-thin ‘Yes’ of the kind Prins hopes for is the last thing that Europe needs. And Vibert has put his effort where his mouth is and helped draft what he thinks is a much better, clearer, simpler constitution to the one on offer.
He comes at it from the opposite angle to many in France who see the 250 pages of the constitution as a pantechnicon for the neo-liberal free-market. For Vibert, it is a vehicle for the social market. But that is beside the point. A constitution must set out the principles of association in a way that is clear and democratic. Instead the main principle of the one on offer to us is that the EU should be left to those who think they know best, untouched by the great unwashed. Lets hope the French give it the thumbs down.

In my earlier entry I wrote about my conversation with John Berger and how the spirit behind the Non’ movement in France was to reject and defy the whole damn charade of conventional media politics. A call for the real in the face of the spectacle. Now I am saying more than this. A French ‘Non’ followed by a Dutch ‘Nee’ could be the start of a welcome European argument without which there cannot be a European public. This is why British anti-Europeans fear a French refusal. They want the UK to reject the whole European process - the last thing they want is for it to become alive. A British ‘No’ in the face of a continent-wide ‘Yes’ would be narrow and destructive. A French ‘Non’ can open the way to the kind of arguments a constitution and the continent ought to have. Even if it does let Blair off the hook, it will only be for the time being, and it is a price well worth paying.

May 26, 2005 in Blair's Bust - UK election | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

On the Crisis of Being French

Much has been written of the political and emotional state of a nation ahead of Sunday's referendum on the EU constitution.  Called by President Chirac, the French referendum is being touted as the deciding vote on the future of the EU, and looks like backfiring on the government. With the "non" vote gaining the ascendence through an unholy alliance of far left, far right and dissident gaullists, Krzysztof Bobinski writes on the injustice of such French self-importance for the rest of Europe, and the cowardice of the British in relying upon it. Johannes Willms argues that the debate in France reveals a nation torn, and exposes deep-seated fears over national identity, whilst Frank Vibert  urges the French to do us all a favour and ditch a constitutional "turkey".  The BBC's correspondent in Paris John Simpson says the result is too close to call,  but that its clearly touched a nerve in the ongoing debate on national life. The BBC also offers a breakdown of arguments for and against here.  There is a lot of talk about identity, but the French crisis must be about more than a threat to baguettes non? Europe news offers a selection of reports from all over the world, whilst European Democracy  has some interesting discussions of the implications union-wide.

May 25, 2005 in News related | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Lessons from Charter 88

Comments from:
Stuart Weir of the Democratic Audit
Peter Facey of New Politics Network and Charter 88

Saturday’s Independent published on its front page a huge list of the four thousand people who had sent in their names to support its Campaign for Democracy. The bottom right hand corner was turned up, in homage, intended or not, to Charter 88. I remember how Keith Ablitt, the exceptional typographer and designer who created the original Charter and the many adverts that followed, carefully explaining his concept of the upturned corner and its impact on potential signatures.

Few forms of flattery are more sincere than imitation. But the imitation I look for most of all is support in depth. The problem with all ‘campaigns’ which focus on a single issue like voting reform is that the strength of their simplicity becomes a weakness. The government thinks it can just sit it out. Once initial support has peaked, where does it go? Once it starts to falter, it appears to lose momentum and soon becomes yesterday’s news.

What are the conditions for a campaign to become a success? One option is money: lots and lots of it, hiring PR merchants and advertising agents, shaping opinion as columnists are dined and unusual outlets, especially in broadcasting, targetted. The Indepdent does not have this kind of money and anyway it has branded the campaign as its own. The alternative to money is ideas. There has to be an internal richness if there is external scarcity. The campaign must not become boring.

Another, brilliant campaign also taking place now, which has gained a high profile in Britain is Make Poverty History. This has a rich hinterland of potential argument to keep it going, from trade to sustainable development.

The constitutional agenda as a whole also has this potential. So indeed does “democracy”. It is about identify and nationality, about globalisation and locality, law, myth, culture and, in the United Kingdom, a new ‘settlement’ as well as the delivery of a fair voting system. Will the Indie grasp this and embrace the larger arguments, or will it make the mistake of thinking that because the outrageous election outcome was the original “story” it must stick to this and this alone?

May 23, 2005 in Blair's Bust - UK election | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Darth Vader and the Neocons

I hope I'm not giving away too much of the plot, but there's one scene in the new Star Wars film where Darth Vadar says, "If you're not with me; you are my enemy" and Jedi Master Obe Wan Kenobi responds that only Siths (bad guys) "deal in absolutes" and proceeds to (try to) kill him with his light saber. The dialogue in the movie is so construed, I couldn't help wonder whether it was subsversive nod to Bush's mantra on good and evil.

Apparently others are making similar connections. Laura Rozen from War & Piece invites her readers to chuckle at an opinion piece by Ami Eden at The Forward that asks whether Darth Vader was the Galaxy's original Neoconservative.

May 22, 2005 in News related | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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