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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 8:50 am on June 23, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    Freedom of intolerance 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    As was to be expected, Geert Wilders was acquitted of hate speech against Muslims. The media reported that the case tested limits of freedom of speech in a “traditionally liberal” country. But could it be that the case merely tested the limits of intolerance?

    Indeed, The Netherlands has been traditionally considered a “liberal” country. But perhaps we should specify what we mean by “liberal”, as it may mean different things to different people. For some, the US democrats are “liberals”; for others, staunch free marketeers are “liberals”. Some assume that not killing opposition members is a sign of “liberalism”; yet others might mean something completely different. Let´s face it: for many people outside of The Netherlands, its “liberalism” essentially equals the red lights district plus permissive soft drugs policies (a propos, something that the Wilders´ party has vowed to do away with).

    But if you belong to the first, second, third or other generation of non-European immigrants, especially if you look Muslim (whatever that might mean to different people), and especially if you insist on doing “Muslim things” (whatever that might mean to different people), then you are entitled to have your doubts about the Dutch “liberalism.” The Volendam girl expelled from a school for wearing a headscarf is certainly entitled to have her doubts.

    Many critics point out that freedom of expression, including religious expression, is applied inconsistently across Europe; The Netherlands is no exception. For example, Muslim women are not permitted to wear headscarves in a number of countries, even though nobody has any issues with the nuns´ outfits. Holocaust denial is outlawed in several countries, but speech that offends Muslims´ religious feelings is permitted (remember the Danish cartoons?) And now hate speech against Muslims as a group has also been upheld in the Dutch court.

    In my opinion, there is formidable consistency of Dutch, or for that matter European, attitudes towards Muslims. This consistency is manifested in two clear patterns. Pattern I: religious expression of Muslims is curbed. Pattern II: anti-Muslim expression is protected. To put it bluntly, intolerance against Muslims is not intolerance, it is freedom.

    So, it appears that the Netherlands has just got itself a new right: freedom of intolerance. But this is hardly an achievement to be proud of.

     
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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 5:31 pm on June 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Bulgaria, , , , , , , , , , , , , , UK   

    Institutions cannot improve 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    A piece of news caught my attention recently: conditions in Bulgarian institutions for children with disabilities have improved following a damning report on human rights abuses there. Well, it´s good to know. But I cannot shake off a nagging feeling: is it good news or bad news that the institutions have “improved”, if they still exist?

    The institution, by its nature, creates two classes of beings: one in the position of power, and the other powerless. And we all know that power corrupts, especially such absolute and unchecked power that the staff of the residential institution usually have over vulnerable people in their “care.”

    Last year, the report by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee revealed that hundreds of deaths of children with mental and physical disabilities took place due to appalling lack of care, staff negligence and even physical abuse in the state-run “care homes”. Now, we are told, somebody is actually giving these children food and checks their medications. Deaths in the care homes will now be more thoroughly investigated and surprise official inspections are supposed to prevent abusive practices. So we are told.

    But we have also been told by the Bulgarian government that all residential institutions for people with mental and other disabilities would be closed down by 2014 and replaced by community-based supports. So, why hasn´t the government closed the “care homes” as soon as their horrendous practices came to light? Why (and how) exactly have their conditions improved? Have the authorities put material resources – surely not unlimited – into the institutions to “improve” them? If so, what of the pledge to close down the institutions?

    And just before someone brings up the “our country is poor” argument for not switching to community-based services, it is utterly disingenuous to claim that the level of economic development of a country has anything to do with the treatment in the institution. (Not to mention that community-based services may actually be less costly than institutions.) The most recent undercover media investigation in a UK care home has convincingly demonstrated that even in that prosperous country, with centuries of humanist values, the situation of institutionalized people is not that different from a situation in an impoverished or “transition” country. It is the very nature of the institution that makes abuse not only possible but almost inevitable.

    So, rejoice not that the conditions in the Bulgarian institutions have “improved”, because just about anything would qualify as an “improvement” in a place where children were starved, abused and neglected to death. Rather, keep asking — when will the last institution be closed down, in Bulgaria and elsewhere? Institutions simply cannot “improve”!

     
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