Updates from June, 2010 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 8:42 am on June 20, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Halal sandwiches – new battleground for french résistence 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    It seems that anti-Muslim debate in France has moved beyond headscarves — into restaurant menus. Quick, a fast food chain, started offering pork-free burgers in some of its restaurants located in predominantly Muslim immigrant areas. The hostile media, social, and political reaction has been mind-blowing, as halal sandwiches have become a new battleground for the french “résistence.”

    Some of the less mature social reactions include a pork sausage and booze party, a clearly deliberate provocation against the country´s 5,000,000 strong Muslim population. The chosen venue for the party is quite symbolic: the Arc de Triomphe is where 2,000 schoolboys defied a Nazi ban on protest and marched against the occupants 70 years ago. The date is meaningful, too: on 18 June 1940, Charles DeGaulle called on the French to resist Nazi occupation. Remarkably, opposition to halal burgers has united the French politicians on the right and the left — much more so that the Nazi invasion did. But mon dieu, if the French resisted the Nazi occupation as vehemently as they oppose turkey sandwiches, the WWII might have been much shorter. Is it, perhaps, that people need to be in a numerically inferior and non-dominant position — and unarmed — to trigger the famed french “courage”?

    Some of the anti-halal demonstrators have added “porc” to the slogans of the French revolution “liberty, equality and fraternity.” It is not clear if the pork party-goers fully grasp the meaning of the words “liberty,” “equality”, and “fraternity.” But the French philosophers and revolutionaries behind the slogans may be turning in their graves when the likes of Le Pen & Co. usurp them.

    French Muslim activists rightly ask if there would be as much hostility if instead of halal, organic, kosher, or other ethnic menu, like Chinese or Mexican, was offered? Mais no, the answer is obviously no.

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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 9:48 am on June 16, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Cutting some budgets may be a good thing 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    Budget deficit and impending cuts, most commonly in public sector, are on the news every day. There is a lot of uncertainty about who will be affected and to what extent. But usually there is understanding that budget cuts are a bad thing. But I keep thinking about one human rights report I had a chance to edit last year, about the mental health care budget in Romania. That report made me think differently about certain budget cuts.

    The report was written by the Institute for Public Policy (IPP) and among other things it presented some figures about the costs of running institutions versus community-based services for people with disabilities. Contrary to popular beliefs, community-based services are not more expensive than institutions-based services. Actually, community-based services are sometimes several times cheaper (sic!) than institutional ones. And as to the outcomes, one need not be an expert to figure out that life in closed, remote institutions can turn even a healthy person into a wreck.

    Many people in Eastern Europe dread of a possibility to end up in some nursing home when they are old, and certainly would not choose to live there. People in Eastern Europe also often take pity on orphans or abandoned children who end up in institutions, again because people have a pretty good idea of what is happening inside. Life in institutions can be especially devastating for people with disabilities, especially mental or developmental, who do not even have that choice of where to be. The IPP report referred to dozens of unexplained deaths of patients in Romanian institutions.

    But what did strike me most was that  if the data on comparative costs were available to the government (and they surely were in case of Romania), how come the government did not immediately jump at an opportunity to save money by starting to switch to community-based services? Wouldn´t it be a rational thing to do? Even in a healthy economy, there are always areas that badly lack funding. Ways to redistribute funding from wasteful and inefficient projects to cost-efficient and necessary ones, seems to me, should always be on the government radar. Perhaps, there are some other concerns that I do not understand, like public dislike of the idea. But that surely cannot and should not trump rational cost-efficiency (not even mentioning humane) considerations. Or am I still missing something?

    In any event, there are now budget cuts on the agenda in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and other countries badly affected by the current economic crisis. Perhaps, the governments — with a bit of help from NGOs — should seize on it as an opportunity in disguise for deinstitutionalization. Then, if done wisely, the budget cuts can actually turn out to be a good thing leading to the closure of expensive and ineffective institutions for people with disabilities and/or mental health problems and the shift towards community-based services and care.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 7:10 pm on June 10, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Halfway through the Roma Decade: going anywhere? 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    An opinion piece on the debate site Has the Decade of Roma Inclusion made a difference for Roma in the communities? is highly critical of the absence of the tangible progress of the Roma Decade to date.

    To be fair, many Roma and non-Roma civil society organizations work hard on various issues of concern to Roma, and often achieve remarkable results. But as some rightly point out, these organizations worked before the Decade, definitely would have worked without the Decade, and most likely would continue working long after the Decade. Others, however, and specifically some of the big international names that were so enthusiastic prior to the Decade launch, do not seem quite as active as many would have expected. Of course, speeches are still being periodically made, and Roma-related and Decade-related conferences and events are being attended faithfully, but that spark seems to be gone. What is left is more like a lip-service than a heart-felt effort.

    EU is one such example. It seems, after the then Commission´s composition had changed, the Roma Decade lost both its protagonists and its drive. The EU Roma Strategy is still missing, despite persistent calls from a wide range of Roma organizations to adopt one. There are other big players, too, that have not been heard much from since the Decade.

    And it would be entirely inappropriate to try and bring economic crisis as an excuse for diminished activism. First, because it would just stress that Roma issues are so unimportant to them that anything else, by default, acquires higher priority. Second, because, if anything, at times of economic crises — and international organizations can bet their annual budgets on it — Roma are guaranteed to be affected more and more severely than anyone, and therefore there are more, not less, reasons to ensure the Decade´s proper implementation.

    It is no wonder that without continued international support and pressure only limited progress has been reported with the implementation of the Decade´s objectives in the participating countries, half-way through the Decade, as evidenced by the Decade Watch monitoring. And it is no wonder that Roma are becoming somewhat disappointed with the Decade´s achievements.

    Decade partners need to step up their involvement, if the Decade to lead somewhere. Surely, grass-roots NGOs must do their bit — nothing without the Roma. But as mentioned before, they have been doing their job anyway and did not need the Decade for that. But if other partners committed themselves to the Decade, they too should stick to the agreement and do their bit in good faith. Otherwise, why did they even bother getting involved?

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 3:43 pm on June 6, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    The World Health Organization that cried “flu pandemic” 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    A recent article in British Medical Journal (BMJ), WHO and the pandemic flu ´conspiracies´, by Deborah Cohen and Philip Carter, reveals that scientists advising the WHO on planning for the flu epidemics were also on payrolls of leading pharmaceutical companies. These companies would benefit, but the WHO never disclosed conflicts of interests. What is more, the WHO vehemently denied and discredited as “conspiracy theories” any attempts at inquiry.

    There are (at least) three issues of concern here. The first is a conflict of interest, which per se is very troubling. It is not pretty to see in a village veterinarian´s clinic, and it gets only uglier when it affects a major international organization funded, ultimately, from our pockets, through the member states´ contributions. Any country where such practices are uncovered would normally be chided by the Transparency International or the like. Yet here we observe a global Banana Republic in action, and no remedies in sight: apparently, despite those revelations, the WHO still has not changed its disclosure rules as of this date.

    The second issue is a potential health hazard for those who were influenced by the WHO into taking shots. The WHO urged vaccination, even though no adequate clinical trials were conducted prior to vaccination, and thus no evidence was available for making an informed choice whether risks posed by the flu outweighed risks posed by the vaccine. This incident brings memories of several major health problems ultimately caused by the greed of pharmaceuticals that in their urge to shovel money skipped an essential trial stage, or were rather creative with the patients´ informed consent. Thalidomide babies can attest to that. And that fuels the feeling of frustration, mixed with fury, because again the most vulnerable groups of population: pregnant women, young children and elderly, were exploited and put at risk. These groups in various countries were practically forced, or threatened into taking flu shots last season.  We can only hope that those flu shots would not scar the lives of “Tamiflu babies” whose moms got vaccinated at own risk, with the WHO blessing.

    Last but not least, there is a shadow of the future. What if tomorrow a real, deadly pandemic occurs? Will people still trust the claims of an organization that had been scattering its prestige on questionable steps before? Or will the WHO advice be ignored as the claims of a proverbial boy who cried wolf one time too many?

     
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