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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 2:45 pm on March 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Greece, , ,   

    National pride revisited 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH ProIgual

    My long-time colleague Panayote Dimitras of the Greek Helsinki Monitor is being harassed for the alleged slandering of Greece. A right-wing MP in a parliamentary question accused Panayote of insulting and defaming Greece “wherever he goes.” For the record: Greek Helsinki Monitor is a human rights organisation, which by virtue of its mission uncovers human rights violations in Greece and elsewhere. Ostensibly, improving human rights in a country should make it a better place. So, why the fuss?

    The answer to this lies in a misplaced sense of “national pride.” This is not a specifically Greek phenomenon. There are stories from around the world about people being persecuted for “insulting,” or “slandering,” or “libelling,” or “defaming” — in plain terms, for criticising their countries. Criticism there is not received well, whether it is about shop service  or about their political system. Most typically people who have courage to speak up in such environment happen to be human rights activists; they are therefore sworn “enemies” of “patriots.”

    I empathise with Panayote and really hope it ends well. “National pride” and “patriotism” can at times reach epic proportions — and disastrous consequences. Still, it is rather sad that Greek and other “patriots” behave in this way. Suppose, you have a friend and a problem. Would you rather have your friend lie to you that you don´t have a problem, until it gets out of control, or would you rather hear the truth and solve the problem?

    Genuine pride in one´s country does not mean shutting up critics. It means working to make things better in that country, including its record in human rights. That sometimes requires learning things about your country that might not be flattering, but that is hardly the fault of a messenger.

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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 10:07 am on March 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    “Immigrants abuse our social security” (and prisons?) 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    On the occasion of the International Day Against Racism, celebrated on 22nd of March, SOS Racismo and CanalSolidario.org (Spain) have decided to challenge some of the preconceptions and stereotypes that are currently abundant in the political and public discourse about foreigners. (Read the full article in Spanish, by Jordi de Miguel.)

    Preconception 1. “Immigrants don´t have education.” But according to a report “Losing Opportunities” edited by Adela Ros, migrants from Eastern Europe and South America on average are better educated that Spaniards.

    Preconception 2. “Immigrants abuse state healthcare because they don´t have it in their countries.” But according to the Spanish Society of Medical Care (semFYC), immigrants go to see a doctor about half the time the Spaniards do. Immigrants account for 10% of the total population, but only 5% of the total patients.

    Preconception 3. “Immigrants abuse social security benefits.” But according to research gathered by Joan Oliver of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), the net of social security contributions minus social security costs generated by immigrants stood at 5 billion euros in favor of the Spanish state (data from 2008).

    Preconception 4. “Prisons are full of immigrants because they break the law more often.” Experts agree that immigrants are indeed overrepresented in prisons, but not because they violate the law more often. Rather, the justice system acts much harsher towards foreigners. The police stops and detains them more often than Spaniards. Judges order their preventive detention more often because of uncertain residence. And since many immigrants do not have funds to pay fines or other civil liability costs, they are more likely to receive prison term instead.

    The original article (in Spanish) appeared on CanalSolidarioCIDH ProIgual reproduces here an abridged version (in English), in accordance with copyleft terms and conditions.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 2:31 pm on March 22, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ethnic data, , , , , , , , , , , ,   

    Racially-motivated crimes are still uncounted in Spain 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    “We know how many women die every year from gender violence. We know how many young people die every weekend in road accidents. We know how many workers die in job accidents. We know how many prisoners commit suicides in jail. But we do not know how many racist crimes take place every year in Spain.” Esteban Beltran of Amnistia Internacional España, in España se niega contabilizar las agresiones racistas y xenofobas en su territorio.

    CIDH Pro Igual just submitted its contribution towards an annual OSCE-ODIHR Hate Crimes report. In its submission, CIDH ProIgual makes a recommendation addressed to the Spanish authorities to collect and make public the data on hate crimes.

    By refusing to collect data on racially-motivated crimes the Spanish state keeps these types of offences, and the scope of the problem, invisible. It is not just an affront to the victims. It is deficiency in Spain´s legal framework, which failed to have implemented the letter and spirit of its international human rights commitments and obligations, including the EU equality directives specifically prescribing that the data on racially-motivated cases be collected.

    Only when the state has the necessary data, will the true scope of the problem be understood. Only then can the state formulate a meaningful policy to deal with hate crimes. And only then will anti-racism efforts start genuinely to bear fruits.

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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 7:25 am on March 20, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , class, , , , , , , , , , race, ,   

    It is the race, stupid! 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CiDH ProIgual

    Academics, policy-makers and rights advocates often ponder which of the identity markers is decisive for measuring social disadvantage of minority groups: class, faith, sex, citizenship/nationality, disability, or race? The simplest thing to do to in order to find out, it appears, is to cross-compare each factor.

    Let´s start with disability and class. Who is more disadvantaged: a poor person with a disability or a rich person with disability? Clearly, money can buy many things. Although it may not be able to buy health, it can certainly buy healthcare. So, class would appear to easily trump disability.

    Now let´s compare religion with a few factors. Who is more disadvantaged: Christians or Muslims in Europe? Many may immediately answer — and there is sufficient research to support it — that Muslims are more disadvantaged. But then who is disadvantaged more: citizen (usually convert) Muslims, let´s say, in France, or immigrant Muslims in the same country? Or, to twist it a bit, who is more disadvantaged, a Muslim woman who is a citizen, or a Muslim woman who is an immigrant? The answer still seems rather obvious: immigrants are more disadvantaged.

    But are all immigrants disadvantaged in the same way? Do immigrants from, let´s say, Eastern Europe, which would be undoubtedly poorer in their majority than West Europeans, find themselves in the same disadvantage as migrants from Africa or Asia? Are immigrants from South America, let´s say in Spain, in the same place as Africans or Asians? For some reason, it seems like a resounding no.

    Now let´s pay a virtual visit to a country of immigrants, the USA. It is a widely held belief that immigrants can make it in America if they work hard. And perhaps more than any other place the USA boasts a number of prominent personalities who were born elsewhere but did very well for themselves in the new home country. So, let´s compare immigrants from Asia or Eastern Europe with citizens … of African-American descent. Who is more disadvantaged in the USA? For some reason, it feels that nationality does not play as decisive a role anymore.

    Now let´s go down the map, to South America. Technically, most countries there are poorer than countries in Europe or North America. They also have their own inequalities, quite possibly class-based. But which groups are still more disadvantaged, let´s say in Brazil: white (Hispanic) or black/mixed? The answer comes out almost automatically: black people. Some Brazilians even comment, informally, that everybody has a place in society strictly in accordance with his or her race. There are exceptions, obviously, like rich football players or movie stars, but they are what they are: exceptions.

    So, it seems rather obvious even to an unarmed (by scientific methodology) eye that race consistently comes first as a decisive factor of social disadvantage in society.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 9:38 pm on March 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Who oppresses Muslim women in Europe? 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    The EU countries seem almost obsessed with fighting for women´s rights within their Muslim minority communities. While intentions to secure rights for Muslim women may be laudable, the object and methods chosen are not. The burqa/veil debate is quite telling. Most ardent anti-burqists claim that women in Muslim countries are oppressed, that burqa is a sign of oppression, that oppression of women cannot be tolerated in free countries, and therefore burqa in Europe must be banned. But does this all hold up to scrutiny?

    It is a fair statement that in some Muslim countries women are oppressed. But it is an equally fair statement that most people in those countries are oppressed, because they are not free countries. Those countries are unfree not because they are Muslim countries, any more than other countries are unfree because they are Christian (or atheist). And if  people decide to leave their unfree countries and come, for example, to the EU, they probably hope to be more free than they were in their countries, be it Muslim, Christian, animist or atheist.

    Unfortunately for Muslims, though, they seem to get the LFR (“least favoured religion”) status in Europe. There appears to be a preconceived and deeply ingrained notion in many host countries that “European values” are necessarily good, and Muslim values are necessarily bad. (And if it seems like an overstatement, preparatory works and public statements on the European Constitution are quite elucidating.)

    Some states act simply irrationally when pretending to deal with the “integration” of their Muslim communities. Thus, Holland for example, pushed through a legal ban to prevent some 300(!) women – most of whom, by the way, are European converts – from wearing a full veil in public (see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/5414098.stm). One may only wonder whatever has happened to the Dutch common sense. Surely, the public monies expended on preparing, debating, adopting and enforcing that legislation could have been put to much better use, such as providing the Dutch lessons or CV-writing workshops for the immigrant Muslim women to ensure their better integration.

    Currently, France is also debating whether to ban the burqa in public places, including transport. It would be interesting to see to what depths the state machine will go to implement this, essentially absurd, ban in practice.

    Why burqa/veil gets such attention is puzzling. The fact of the matter is that only a few Muslim women wear burqas. As Nazia Hussein of the Open Society Institute put it in her blog Not another Headscarf, there is

    the vast majority of people who have a Muslim background but who do not wear their religion on their sleeve or indeed their head. The debate raging in Europe on the burqa completely misses the point that it’s only a tiny minority of women who wear this apparel, and it’s not the uniform of Muslim women.

    The intentions of European countries to support the rights of Muslim women, if indeed genuine, would have been much more credible if individual Muslims, women and men, received equal treatment in all areas, including employment, education, and justice system, and not just burqa emancipation. Such equal treatment could reinforce a positive message of tolerance and freedom. Instead, it seems to be  a permanently open season to ridicule, harass, and discriminate against Muslims under banners of free speech, terrorism crackdown, and immigration control.

    Further, to make declarations of its commitment to human and women´s rights credible, the EU could try and help improve the human rights situation in Muslim – and non-Muslim – countries by applying its soft power, economic incentives, and aid. Unfortunately, the EU is very far from consistent when it comes to human rights commitments in its foreign, or even home affairs, policy. The EU members are clearly more concerned about keeping their citizens fed, warm and comfortable, than triggering potential conflicts with economic partners, many of whom happen to be unfree countries.

    Instead, the EU countries, behaving in this case much like a school bully, choose to pick on the ostensibly weak and defenseless –  Muslim women. Burqa ban very clearly targets women, because men do not wear burqas. But burqa ban is not the only way Muslim women are targeted for discrimination and exclusion. Ethnic profiling, media bias, and societal prejudices are all feeding on the lack of genuinely equal and participatory debate on the situation of Muslims in general, and Muslim women in particular. This only perpetuates the communal divide and mutual mistrust. And as happens with other marginalised minority groups, Muslim women are bound to be affected in more ways than men. So, while Muslim women may have been oppressed in their unfree countries, they most certainly have not escaped oppression in free Europe.

    And what lessons can Muslims, and especially Muslim women, take home from all this? As far as the Muslims are concerned, the EU´s most consistently upheld common values appear to be Islamophobia and double standards. So, who is then the real oppressor of Muslim women in Europe?

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 12:29 pm on March 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Hunger strike of CIE inmates in Barcelona: will the Government reverse its anti-immigrant policies? 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    When a few days ago political prisoner Orlando Zapata died in a Cuban jail following 85 days of hunger strike, the Spanish authorities, as well as politicians across the EU, were full of indignation. See, for example, an article in the Spanish daily “El Pais”: El gobierno español “deplora profundamente” la muerte de Zapata. The EU Parliament has also decided to take this opportunity to condemn the Cuban regime.

    Last month, inmates of a Centro de Internamiento de Estranjeros (CIE) in Barcelona, one of the Spanish holding centres for undocumented migrants, started a hunger strike to protest inhuman conditions of their detention. Detentions of foreigners have been repeatedly characterised by human rights advocates as arbitrary, abusive, and outright racist. (CIDH ProIgual posted a blog on the issue of deplorable conditions in CIEs in Spain earlier.)

    However, no voices have been heard from the Spanish Government, condemning (their own) anti-immigrant policies and blatant violations of human rights of people whose sole crime is lacking correct papers. Nor has there been any declaration from the EU. Undoubtedly, it is much easier to call for the defense of human rights in Cuba, than to guarantee them in their own backyard.

    What would it take the Spanish Government to turn a seeing eye and a hearing ear to the plight of the foreign detainees? Unfortunately for the CIE inmates, they do not have 85 days for hunger strikes, since the  authorities want them out of the country in as short a time as logistically possible, normally within 20-40 days. Does someone have to die of abuse, or take his or her own life because of the unbearable conditions in detention, for the authorities to reconsider their inhumane anti-immigration policies?

    To follow on this issue, please visit the website of the CIDH ProIgual.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 9:05 am on March 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , CIE, , , , , , , , ,   

    Time to close prisons for migrants 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky said, “The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Spanish Detention Centres for Foreigners, “Centros de Internamiento de Estranjeros” (CIEs), are prisons for people whose principal crime is being born in a wrong country. Conditions in many of those places are so precarious that even the police, an institution usually on the side of the authorities in such matters, has called for their closure.

    Amended Law on Foreigners 2/2009 envisions detention for up to 60 days for individuals found to be in the country illegally. That, for people who for the most part have no criminal history, their only offence being not having documents. The CIE inmates usually have no access to legal counsel. Often, they do not have  means even to make or receive a phone call (due to “high costs” for the system), and are effectively kept incommunicado. Some do not know if they see their families, or will be deported straight away. Needless to say they are not advised of their right to ask for asylum, to which according to NGO estimates more than 1 in 4 may be entitled, see: http://www.cear.es/informes/Informe-CEAR-situacion-CIE.pdf .

    Human rights NGOs, visiting the detention centres in Madrid, Malaga and Valencia, reported that CIE inmates were routinely subjected to racial harassment and even physical abuse. Guards allegedly tried to intimidate them and make an example of their situation to deter other illegal migrants, see: http://www.antifeixistes.org/3469_tortures-immigrants-valEncia-comissio-dajuda-refugiat-cear-destapa-abusos-contra-estrangers-reclosos-centres-dinternament.htm. Pushing, hitting, and insulting is allegedly very common. However, inmates are overwhelmingly unaware of their rights and procedures to complain about maltreatment. In some centres the guards allegedly do not wear any badges and cannot be identified by name in complaints.

    Inmates of the CIE in Valencia related to CEAR – Comision Española de Ayuda al refugiado – instances of physical and psychological abuse on the part of the guards.  Thus, one guard allegedly entered, intoxicated, in the middle of the night into a cell and challenged the inmates to wrestle him, taunting and racially abusing them. When nobody moved, he started battering everybody with a police bat during approximately 10 minutes, inflicting injuries on several inmates. CIE inmates maintain that they could not get medical attention to treat or ascertain their injuries. See: http://www.levante-emv.com/comunitat-valenciana/2009/12/10/comision-refugiado-destapa-casos-torturas-centro-extranjeros-valencia/659447.html

    Even those with serious  health problems reported not getting any medical assistance or relief. CEAR estimates that 97% of detainees do not receive medical examination within the first 24 hours of arrival, as stipulated in the law. That can pose life threatening risks for persons with chronic conditions, see: http://www.cear.es/informes/Informe-CEAR-situacion-CIE.pdf .

    After these events came to light, CEAR reports, inmates who talked to NGOs and whose testimonies were particularly damning, were quickly expelled from the country, and NGOs did not get another opportunity to interview them or initiate proceedings on their behalf.

    Physical conditions in many detention centres are deplorable. Thus, CIE in Malaga is deemed to be in a state of complete “ruin,” lacking elementary hygiene or safety, infested with fleas, and posing health risks for those who are detained there, as well as for those working there.

    Inmates in CIE in Valencia stated that because there are no toilets in the cells and no intercom through which they could request to be taken to the centre´s bathroom, they were forced to use empty water bottles. In some cases, inmates had no change of clothes and had to wear what they had on at the moment of arrest for the duration of their detention (it usually takes between 20 and 40 days to process deportation).

    Despite months of advocacy by NGOs and even recommendations by state inspectors, these detention centres are still being used. Not only that, their use is about to become even more intensive, unless the Independent Police Syndicate manages to get the Circular 1/2010 of the Spanish Ministry of Interior annulled though the courts. That Circular essentially orders the police to round-up and detain “preventively” anyone who cannot on spot show the proof of his or her lawful presence in Spain (see an earlier post by CIDH ProIgual: https://centrodeinvestigacionesenderechoshumanos.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/can-a-democratic-state%c2%b4s-institution-be-responsible-for-encouraging-hate-crimes/).

    Sadly, judging by conditions in various CIEs , the degree of Spanish civilisation appears to be declining rapidly.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 7:43 am on March 7, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Intelligence is a subjective matter 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    It is interesting to read definitions of intellectual disability. They are vague and conditional.Perhaps, rightly so. Deciding who is intelligent and who is not, who is capable and who is not, is after all a very subjective matter.

    I have met some minority children with Down´s syndrome and other specificities that professionals would define as intellectual disabilities. Being from families where two (or more) languages were routinely spoken at home, these children grew up bilingual. A bilingual person with an intellectual disability defies any definition. How many so-called “normal” people in the US, UK, Spain, or other country with a widely spoken language ever master a second language? So, who is disabled then?

    The other day I had an urgent post delivery. It was brought by a man whom professionals would also define as having an intellectual disability. However, he has a paid job (a postal carrier), he drove a vehicle (which means he had passed a test to get a driving licence, which is more than I managed, with my academic degrees). In short, he is a full member of society, which chose to include him, support him, and which benefits from his social inclusion (in the form of taxes, work product, and non-expenditure on institutional and other costs), as much as he does.

    What a contrast to countries in Eastern Europe where abandoned children are institutionalised and often are neglected to the point that they do not master elementary skills, which puts their development on the level with those who were born with inherent developmental disabilities. Then the states pay for this neglect with life-long disability pensions. And it hurts to think that just a portion of the money some states spend on keeping people with disabilities locked up, where they are invisible, unwanted and abused, could be enough to support them to become rightful, contributing members of society.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 11:23 am on March 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , hate crime, , , , , ,   

    Something rotten in the state of Netherlands 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH ProIgual

    Geert Wilders, a controversial Dutch politician, is riding high in the polls. “The fact that he has been charged with fomenting hatred and discrimination has, if anything, only served to increase his popularity, at home and abroad”, report the media: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8549155.stm .

    Well, if being branded racist helps win the elections, what does it say about the society? Ironically, the Netherlands used to be synonymous with tolerance and open-mindedness. But it feels so long ago that not many even remember it. In the past decade the headlines about that country were mostly about controversial politicians (Pim Fortuyn, Rita Verdonk, Geert Wilders), Islamophobia, restricting immigration, banning muslim dress, and the like.

    Tolerant reputation, as any good reputation, is much easier to lose than to earn. Too bad the Dutch politicians don´t seem to bother.

    Some may ask, why should anyone bother about their country´s racist reputation? Perhaps, the counterparts from Australia can answer that. Following a wave of hate crimes against foreign (mostly Indian) students there, the number of willing to study in Australia Indian students dropped considerably, costing the economy almost $70m (£44m) in one year, see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8444870.stm .

    So, if moral considerations are not enough, the money should do the talking to convince those in the Netherlands who believe the country would be better off if they chase all the undesirable groups away. Just do the math, please!

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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 3:43 pm on March 5, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Can a democratic state´s institution be responsible for encouraging hate crimes? 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    A hate crime is an offence where the perpetrator selects a victim because of the victim´s real or perceived belonging to a specific group (race, faith, gender, age, disability, opinions, etc.). Discrimination refers to an act of exclusion on the basis of the victim´s real or perceived belonging to a specific group. In plain language: some people do not like some other people for who they are and actively show it. Different states have different legal mechanisms to deal with them.  But it is important to remember that both phenomena — hate crimes and discrimination — are illegal.

    Using these tentative definitions, it can be concluded that an individual or an organisation, especially in the position of power, that orders to infringe, en mass, fundamental rights of a group of people on the basis of their skin color, commits if not a hate crime then at minimum an act of discrimination.

    In January 2010, the Spanish Ministry of Interior issued a secret Circular 1/2010 that essentially ordered the police to round up and detain “preventively” anyone who on spot could not prove their legal presence in Spain. So, basically, anybody who ran out of home to buy a soda without an ID could end up in a cell? Not quite anybody. The Circular clearly was not directed at the Spanish people. Nor was it directed at foreigners who were perceived to be in the country legally, i.e. Northern Europeans. Or any Europeans for that matter. It was most certainly directed at persons perceived as “non-Spanish,” that is, the Circular of the Ministry of Interior in essence ordered the police to racially profile people and deprive individuals of liberty, as well as due process guarantees, without as much as a reasonable suspicion. (Surely, a suspicion that every black person is in Spain illegally cannot be reasonable?!)

    Lawyers could not even begin to count how many things were wrong with this document (secret law?). Evidently, not just human rights champions, but the very recipients of the order – the police — were appalled. The Spanish police syndicate went to court asking it to annul the Circular 1/2010, See: http://www.sup.es/es/contenido.asp?id=C0BDFB0CA8B74E028DD53B9E8D868300.

    Perhaps, it is too far-fetched to suggest that the Spanish Ministry of Interior is guilty of inciting hate crimes, without the court decision at least. But this secret order to round up, incarcerate and deport non-Europeans certainly brings about some disturbing historic memories. And if the courts do not find this act illegal, then it may be high time to revise some of the laws and definitions.

    To follow on this issue, please visit the website of the CIDH Pro Igual.

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