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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 1:23 pm on April 1, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    Pro Igual has a new website 

    Dear friends,

    We have just finished restoring the Pro Igual website after it was maliciously hacked a few weeks ago. For technical reasons, it was easier to start from scratch than to try and save the pieces of the compromised site. So, please update your bookmarks and help share the new link among your contacts who you think might be interested in our work:

    http://proigual.org

    We also welcome your feedback on the site´s “new look.”

    Thank you and kind regards,

    Pro Igual team

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 8:57 pm on April 22, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Anti-discrimination “crisis cards”: know your rights and defend them 

    Low awareness about one´s rights and opportunities for redress for rights violations can be a serious obstacle to attaining equality. Unfortunately, groups which are most likely to experience discrimination are also the ones which are least likely to know their rights and of the existing remedies. Thus, despite considerable evidence of discrimination and harassment against minorities, foreigners, and other vulnerable groups – in Spain as elsewhere, – reporting of discrimination is rather low. Known cases most probably present only a tip of the iceberg.

    In response to this problem, CIDH Pro Igual has developed anti-discrimination “crisis cards.” The AD “crisis cards” provide key information for foreigners, ethnic minorities, and other most likely victims of discrimination in Spain on steps to take if they experienced discrimination or harassment from public or private entities. The “crisis cards” are currently available on the Pro Igual website: http://www.cidh.es/ in EnglishSpanish, and  Romanian for downloading, printing, and sharing. In future, translations into other languages spoken by the principal minority and immigrant groups in Spain will be also available. In addition, Pro Igual will look into opportunities to disseminate this practice among other NGOs, as well as official bodies, and develop other thematic cards.

    USER INSTRUCTIONS: Each A4 sheet contains five cards that should be cut along the horizontal lines and folded in half, so they become a size of an average credit card. If desired, the cards can be also laminated and kept along with other cards in one´s wallet.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 10:36 pm on March 18, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Not a very good day for equality in Germany 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    Last week the highest appellate court in Germany ruled that hotels could turn away right-wing extremists on grounds of the latter´ political views.

    The case that received considerable domestic attention concerned a hotel in the state of Brandenburg which, in 2009, refused to provide a room to the former head of the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party (NPD), Udo Voigt. Voigt sued the hotel for discrimination, for banning him on the grounds of his political opinions. The hotel argued that the right-wing extremist´s presence was detrimental to the hotel´s image and reputation. The lower instance courts found in favor of the hotel.

    The Federal Court of Justice ruled that while the hotel could not retroactively cancel the booking, because it failed to demonstrate how Vogt had previously upset other guests with his presence, the hotel was fundamentally “free to decide whom it accepts and whom it does not.” The highest Court admitted that the case raised extremely difficult legal issues, including whether hotels (and by extension restaurants, discos, shops, etc.) are public spaces open to everyone. The case also pitted personal freedom/autonomy against equality. Article 3 of the German Basic Law bans discrimination, inter alia, on the basis of religious or political views. However, the Court stated this principle may not apply between private people and companies.

    This is where the Court, in my opinion, was monumentally wrong. First of all, the principle of discrimination does apply in both public and private sphere. Although the concept may be still new and even somewhat alien in Germany, the EU Race Directive, which Germany had to transpose, extends prohibition of discrimination to both public and private sector. Article 3.1(h) of the Race Directive specifically stipulates non-discriminatory “access to and supply of goods and services which are available to the public, including housing.” Second, the German Basic Law (Article 18) contains a clause whereby persons abusing their constitutional rights could forfeit those rights. The German Court chose instead to conclude that private establishments are free to choose whether and to whom render their services.

    So, before we yield to the temptation to celebrate that neo-Nazi thugs would from now on sleep in the streets instead of hotels, let´s consider implications of the ruling. In reality, what is more likely to happen and in fact happens practically on a daily basis: that private service establishments would turn away white right-wing extremists, or unpopular immigrants/minorities? This was a rather unique case involving the known neo-Nazi, that is, someone a priori rejecting the very principle he tried to invoke. But with this ruling, the Court has handed German private establishments a legal license to discriminate.

    All in all, not a very good day for equal treatment in Germany.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 11:03 am on February 28, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    Germany´s neo-Nazi terrorism: time for reflection 

    By Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    In February 2012, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had apologized to the families of the victims of apparent hate crimes for the failure of the German state to find and prosecute perpetrators. The so-called “döner murders” of mostly ethnic Turkish entrepreneurs had taken place between 2000 and 2007, but had remained unresolved until a recent and accidental discovery of the neo-Nazi link.

    “Most of you were abandoned in your time of need. Some relatives were themselves for years suspected of wrongdoing. That is particularly oppressive. For this, I ask for your forgiveness,” stated Ms. Merkel.

    Establishing the neo-Nazi connection to the murders had prompted soul-searching among the German authorities trying to understand how and why so many hate crimes against immigrants could have been overlooked for so long. The answer to this mystery may be closer than many think, as Ms. Merkel´s apology stands in a stark contrast with her earlier speech on the failure of multiculturalism in Germany. Then, in no uncertain terms, the German Chancellor suggested that the immigrants bore at least partial responsibility for failing to integrate… or to leave:

    “We kidded ourselves a while, we said: ‘They won’t stay, sometime they will be gone,’ but this isn’t reality.”

    That is the crux of the problem, isn´t it? Immigrants would not leave. Immigrants would not put their lives on hold while giving their best years and energy working in host countries. Immigrants would go on to have families and children. Immigrants would not abandon their identity, culture, religion, food, or dress code. And so they are charged with being responsible for inspiring distrust, hate, or envy, or all of the above. The long tradition of xenophobia and blaming (perceived) outsiders for political, economic, or social failures of the country is carefully omitted.

    Of course, immigrants are still needed, just as they were needed after the WWII rebuilding their host country from the ruin in which extreme xenophobia and racism had left the entire continent. Today as ever Germany depends on the immigrant labor to power its economy. This is why Ms. Merkel´s belated apology, albeit welcome, seems somewhat disingenuous and self-serving. But genuine or calculated, this is a high time for reflection, in Germany and elsewhere, as to who their real enemies are.

    There is poignant symbolism in the “döner murders” affair. The law-abiding, entrepreneurial immigrants were slain by German criminals that hardly made any contribution to German society. However, even the reputably efficient German police could not escape the usual stereotyping and by default looked for perpetrators among the immigrant community. That, despite the growing evidence that the threat of violence emanates not only or not as much as from immigrants or minorities, as from poorly educated, disenfranchised, racist and increasingly extremist majority youths falling prey to clandestine yet highly organized right-wing organizations. Suffice it to mention the Breivik´s killing spree in Norway and his ideological influences to underscore the reality of the threat.

    While even mainstream politicians across Europe try to score cheap victories by engaging in demagogic populism and indulging public intolerance with myths about immigrants “stealing jobs,” “scamming welfare,” or “engaging in terrorism,” the much deadlier threat comes to fruition: the neo-Nazi terrorism.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 8:48 pm on August 22, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    Tyrant is gone. Long live the Tyrant. 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    Finally, the Libyan rebels produced a draft “Transitional” Constitution. Although the title suggests that it is provisional, or temporary, human experience teaches us that there is nothing more permanent than temporary, take for example the German Basic Law (although these two documents are further apart than the continents).

    Article 1

    “… Islam is the Religion of the State and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)”

    Not a word about international treaties to which Libya is a party and peremptory norms of international law (such as most fundamental human rights).

    Article 6

    “Libyans are brothers (SIC!) … Libyans shall be equal before the law. They shall enjoy equal civil and political rights, shall have the same opportunities, and be subject to the same public duties and obligations, without discrimination due to religion, belief, race, language, wealth, kinship, or political opinions or social status. The State shall guarantee for woman all opportunities which shall allow her to participate entirely and actively in political, economic and social spheres.”

    Article 7

    “Human rights and his (emphasis added) basic freedoms shall be respected.”

    So, in the new Libya, women will have opportunities to participate “entirely and actively,” but they are not equals of men, regardless of religion, belief, race, language, wealth, kinship, or political opinions or social status? The new regime would have to do some convincing that for Libyan women this is going to be better than a travelling harem of the MIA colonel. Tyrant is gone, Long Live the Tyrant?

    One could say no great surprises there, but a bitter aftertaste of disappointment remains.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 6:14 pm on July 31, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    When hate kills 

    By Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    In the first place, sincere condolences to the victims and families who endured or lost their loved ones in the massacre in Norway. Then comes reflection on this heinous crime of hate.

    There has been considerable coverage of the terror attack itself and of the perpetrator, some coverage bigoted (especially before any facts came to life), some thoughtful and balanced. In a nutshell: an extreme right-wing Christian terrorist took out his hatred of immigrants and especially Muslims on scores of innocent people. The response of the Norwegian government has been noble: so far, it has pledged to respond to terror with more democracy, not with hunting ´em down. But how long and how effectively can democracy withstand attacks on democracy itself?

    Breivik, Wilders, LePen, Griffin, and Co. enjoy talking about “Western” values which are presumably “threatened” by immigration (read: Muslims). But their demagogy is ridiculously plain to see when they call to stop that mythical “threat” with as undemocratic means as could be. Banning mosques and minarets means not only restricting freedom of religion but doing so in a discriminatory fashion; outlawing headscarves and dictating personal dress codes amounts to violating not just religious expression but privacy and personal integrity; deporting foreigners is often breaching not only freedom of movement but elementary, non-derrogable due process. And now merciless mass killing.

    Even though not every right-wing leader has explicitly called for violence, the fact of the matter is that terrorism as a weapon against immigration in general and against Muslims in particular has been in place for some time now, undeniably inspired by the toxic populist rhetoric. Just last Autumn a “lone gunmen” terrorized the immigrant community in a Swedish town of Malmo. Muslim mosques had been burned in the Netherlands just a few years before that. Daily verbal if not physical harassment against ordinary Muslims in Europe is as common as it is impunible. But these things do not get reported and speculated about as much as alleged attacks by “Islamic terrorists”, who are about as representatives of Muslims as breiviks are of Norwegians.

    Hate kills, we have just witnessed that, yet again. Moreover, there are concerns that the massacre in Norway can be a template for others. And while the intention of responding to terror with more democracy is respectable, it is useful to remember that even democracy has its limits, if it is to survive. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany — a country that knows these things first hand — stipulates: “Whoever abuses the (basic rights) in order to combat the free democratic basic order shall forfeit these basic rights.” Norway, and the rest of Europe where right-wing terrorism has taken hold, must resist to protect their democratic values. That means restricting rights of breiviks and especially people in the position of power who influence breiviks with their hate speech (Dutch courts that last month let Wilders off the hook should take note). Hate does not just speak, it kills.

     
  • 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 2:58 pm on December 31, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Biggest assaults on fundamental rights in Europe in 2010 

    It seems like a tradition in the end of each year to have countdowns of the top/most memorable events or objects of the finishing year. Here is our Top 5: the list of most memorable breaches of fundamental rights that occurred in 2010 in Europe. The selection is based mostly on the media coverage and social reactions, and is open to discussion.

    5. Ban on burqas in France.

    Even though invisible rights violations, such as discrimination in various areas of life, may be a much greater problem, media provided rather extensive coverage of the legislative ban on full veil (burqa) in France.

    4. Ban on burqas in Belgium.

    They are higher on the list simply because they were a few days ahead of France and the media coverage was more or less equivalent with that of the French ban.

    3. Spanish secret police circular on roundup and detention of undocumented migrants.

    The event got a considerable resonance in Spain although was hardly mentioned in the non-Spanish media.

    2. Swiss referendum on expulsions of foreigners committing a crime.

    Again, this received major media resonance and is likely to face legal challenges before international human rights tribunals.

    1. Roma expulsions from France.

    This was definitely the biggest — in our view — affront to human rights in Western Europe happening in 2010. It was also a historic chance for European institutions (particularly the Commission) to take a decisive stand for human rights. An opportunity, unfortunately, waisted.

    What will 2011 bring for human rights in Europe? Let´s hope more freedom and fewer human rights violations. Happy New Year!

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 8:21 am on October 8, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Home of human rights? 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    No, really, I don´t have anything against France. In fact, I am a fan of French culture, especially its amazing literature. But things that have been happening there are deeply disturbing.

    One of the latest revelations in France´s Roma deportations saga is the existence of an illegal database on Roma. Which makes all the more hypocritical the indignation of the French authorities at the remark of EU Commissioner Reding that deportations were reminiscent of the Nazi-era policies. (She subsequently apologized, but may be in light of this info she should withdraw her apology?)

    Also, recently media reported that President Sarkozy and Carla Bruni used state security services to find out who was gossiping about their marriage. I had to rub my eyes and re-read it to believe it. I would expect to read something like this about China, North Korea, or a host of other former Communist countries. But how is this possible in a “home of human rights,” to borrow an expression coined by none other than President Sarkozy himself’?

    I will not even dwell here on banning burqa and rampant Islamophobia in France which have been covered widely in the international media. Instead, I would like to reprint a statement by the French representative of the Coordinating Body for Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience at the recent OSCE Human Dimension Implementation conference (available from hrwf.net). It also adds to a feeling that even if France ever was a “home of human rights,” somehow it is now moving in the direction of a police state.

    Created over ten years ago to fight against discrimination of religious or belief minorities in France, the Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience which I am representing wants to express its strongest disapproval concerning the statement made on 26 November 2009 by the French Secretary of State for Justice, Jean-Marie Bockel, about minorities of religion or belief derogatorily labelled as “sectarian”.

    According to him the growing quest of personal fulfilment and the emergence of unusual religious syncretism are significant of the sectarian phenomenon which “can be analyzed as pathology of belief on a background of individuation and deregulation of belief.”

    This public statement made in 2009 at the first national conference of the Inter-Ministerial Mission of Fight and Vigilance against Sectarian Deviances (MIVILUDES) is still posted on the official site of the Ministry of Justice to this day. For the French authorities, it is necessary to repress minorities of belief they consider as deviant and to attempt to regulate beliefs.

    The Secretary of State added that “sectarian deviances” are “comparable to mutating viruses which spread in often insidious ways the poison of manipulation of human behaviours and spirits”. We understand that viruses as such should be eliminated.

    In spite of the French government’s assertions to the OSCE and the United Nations that MIVILUDES does not take in consideration the content of beliefs, the fact is that the main criterion retained by MIVILUDES in its 2008 Report to characterize mental manipulation is that “one or more people start to believe in certain ideas which differ from the ideas generally accepted by society”.

    But States have no business in assessing the legitimacy of beliefs. France committed by ratifying the Helsinki Accords and the European Convention on Human Rights to protect the right to freedom of belief and to remain neutral towards all creeds.

    Although France has been pointed out by the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom in 2005 for keeping a black list of “sects”, MIVILUDES has now compiled a repository of records on around 600 minority movements established from denunciations, accusations and tattling. Targeted faiths have no access to these records although they have been made available to Justice officials and public authorities.

    Our association regularly receives testimonies on the 1995 black list of sects which is still in use to justify discriminatory measures against the targeted groups. This practice is now aggravated with the repository of records of MIVILUDES resulting for minority movements in denials to open bank accounts or to use conference halls, and discrimination of their members in their professional and family life.

    Under the impulse of Mr Fenech, judges, prosecutors, police officers and social workers receive sessions of “education” on the minority groups he put on files. A special anti-sect task force has been created to intervene during police operations targeting minority movements to make sure that prosecutions are initiated.

    Independence of Justice is not guaranteed in France as long as minorities of religion or conviction are concerned.

    Additionally, Mr Fenech has launched a new way of intervention: he organizes unannounced visits by MIVILUDES in the communities, using his official title to force his way into their premises and impose the presence of the media to stigmatize them through an avalanche of slanderous accusations in the media.

    A letter of protest sent by members of the Ecumenical Monastery Le Moulin des Vallées in Brittany summarizes the problem: “Mr Prefect, we solicit your help to understand how Mr. Fenech can legally introduce himself in a monastery, under the cover of a Ministerial investigation, in order to actually help journalists make an unauthorized report?”

    We solicit the help of OSCE representatives to intervene with the French authorities and put an end to this policy of intolerance and harassment of minorities of religion or conviction.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 10:35 pm on September 23, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Flexible European values 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH ProIgual

    The actions of France expelling Roma received wide international resonance. Even Cuba´s Fidel Castro, not exactly the pioneer of human rights, issued harsh criticism of the French authorities, comparing current expulsions of Roma to deportations that took place under the pro-fascist Vichy government. However, France apparently does not enjoy to be on a receiving side of accusations of human rights violations.

    “The use of ‘holocaust’ by Mr. Castro demonstrates his ignorance of history and disdain towards its victims,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero. “Such words are unacceptable.” (Oh-la-a! The words kettle, pot and black spring to mind. Isn´t Mr. Valero who is somewhat ignorant of history and of Holocaust victims?)

    President Sarkozy aptly summed up the nature of the French objections to criticism: “That´s not how you deal with a great state.”

    Is it also, in a nutshell, the reason why the EU has been quite selective as to which countries it chides for their human rights record, while politely overlooking far worse violations elsewhere? Because Slovenia and Macedonia (for example) are not considered as great as China or Russia? Is it also the reason for a number of EU countries to allow secret CIA renditions? Because a great state can do no wrong?

    Evidently, the EU member states´s values and standards have been rather flexible throughout recent history. But there is a chance to finally demonstrate what the Union is really made of: by sanctioning the “great state” of France for violating fundamental rights of EU citizens.

     
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