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  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 10:33 pm on December 31, 2011 Permalink | Reply
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    Looking Back at 2011: From Arab Spring to Occupying Indignation and Winter of Russian Discontent 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    It has been one tough year: tsunamis, earthquakes, nuclear calamities, not to mention suffocating economic crises across the world. Yet 2011 has also witnessed remarkable awakening of human social consciousness which seemed dormant if not atrophied after decades of dumb self-centered consumerism and prevailing political apathy.

    Spring started with revolutions in several Arab countries, putting out of business long-term dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, as well as putting to shame “old” European democracies. The stereotypes of radical Islam and autocracy-leaning Muslims hostile to human rights have been shaken, while the self-proclaimed “beacons of liberty” – France, the UK and the USA – were exposed for their cozy dealings with the dictators at the expense of oppressed populations.

    The effect of the Arab Spring has been so powerful that it would spill over into the West. The movement of the indignant started in Spain, catching on in other European countries; various Occupy offshoots – from Wall Street to DC to smaller communities — started in the USA; and demonstrations for social justice swept Israel.

    Anti-corruption protests have also taken place in India and even in parts of China, where the affluent and increasingly vocal middle class has demanded bigger say in the countries´  affairs.

    Last but not least social awakening of the year happened in Russia where allegations of blatant election fraud proved too much even for proverbially patient and politically disengaged public. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators showed daily to protest corruption and demand new elections, ultimately forcing grudging concessions – if not of the elections rerun, then at least of cleaner elections next time around.

    While concrete and positive outcomes of new social movements across the globe remain to be seen, this unprecedented in recent history awakening of public social consciousness gives hope for the new 2012 year: the year when political accountability, financial transparency, social justice and human rights may be a touch closer.

     
  • 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 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.

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 8:43 am on September 19, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    Article “While France Deports Roma Gypsies, Spain Integrates Them” 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    An informative, if somewhat embellished, account of integration initiatives of Roma in Spain was presented in Time magazine in an article by Andres Cala “While France Deports Roma, Spain Integrates Them.”

    Some of the most relevant facts are as follows:

    • Spain spends c. €36 million a year on Roma integration, making good use of EU´s social funds.
    • About half of Spanish Roma are homeowners; only an estimated 5% still live in makeshift camps.
    • Practically all Roma in Spain have access to health care.
    • Practically all Roma children start elementary school (although only about one third actually finish it), and an estimated 85% of Spanish Roma are literate.

    Furthermore, the article notes:

    Spain’s two-pronged integration approach has been instrumental in those results, pairing access to mainstream social services with targeted inclusion programs. For example, Roma can have access to public housing and financial aid on the condition that they send their children to schools and health care facilities. Then there’s the Gypsy Secretariat Foundation Acceder program, which experts say is one of the best integration initiatives in Europe. The program takes young, unemployed Gypsies and teaches them technical skills and helps them earn the equivalent of a high school degree. At the end, they are placed in jobs through a series of agreements with private companies.

    While the Time article may gloss over some of rather serious issues, such as deeply rooted prejudices, discrimination and other racism-related problems Roma experience in Spain on a daily basis, the question posed by the article in the end appear a legitimate one: can the rest of Europe replicate Spain’s success?

     
  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 8:59 am on September 9, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    A ghost of racism in Europe? 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH ProIgual

    Rephrasing a late European philosopher, a ghost wonders about Europe, a ghost of racism. How else can those facts be interpreted:

    • Nicolas Sarkozi deports Roma indiscriminately, and his approval rating with the French public shoots up from 30 something to over 60%.
    • Thilo Sarazin publishes an anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim book, and it is a bestseller in Germany before even hitting the bookshelves. (He must be chuckling to himself for all the free advertisement he got, thanks to frantic media coverage.)
    • Geert Wilders recycles a few unimaginative islamophobic slogans of the late Dutch xenophobes, and he comes third in the national election. And his promise to join in Muslim bashing on “ground zero” only seems to push his popularity higher.
    • “Mother Reich” Barbara Rosenkranz, spouse of an effective neo-nazi, came second in Austrian elections on strikingly ultra-right rhetoric.
    • Berlusconi… well, the point is clear.

    Something is profoundly wrong with the political climate across Europe. And there is no point in sacking, condemning or silencing the people who just say what the majority of others think and evidently support. They are merely messengers of the public opinion which does not want foreigners, Roma, Muslims, Africans, others (insert as appropriate) in their countries.

    In 2000, Jorg Haider´s xenophobic slogans led the rest of Europe to spring up in defence of human rights, Austria even faced EU sanctions. Ten years later, much stronger-worded xenophobia, sometimes coupled with action, of the above politicians does not seem to prompt similar reaction and action. Is it fatigue? Or is it acceptance that xenophobia, far from being a marginal force, is the political mainstream, best expressing what European public support?

    Perhaps, concentrating anger on groups regarded as alien provides, albeit illusionary, escape from much more complex and invincible every day issues, such as economic crises, ever increasing climate problems, and so on, and so forth. It is certainly more placable than suggesting that racism, intolerance and persecution of difference may be part of common European psyche, “European common values.”

    For the sake of Europe, I would very much like to believe that one day this propensity to look for scapegoats will be overcome, and more rational and pragmatic thinking will prevail among the majority. Let´s hope this happens before the “beware of the enemy” attitude would result in yet another great human  catastrophe.

     
    • thilo2 1:34 pm on October 2, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      es sind einfach zu viele geworden die menschen verlieren ihre identität.

    • Adam 12:22 pm on September 30, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Oh stop with the lies. and smear. It is only right and fair that all European Countries are being reluctant to allow people in who don’t want to live by European Values – and it is also fair European’s want to ensure there countries are populated, in the distant future, with people of their descent. You must be a women, or a person desperately trying to become a journalist by writing about politically correct speaking points, in the hope of some day getting on with a major news paper. Maybe you should try to do some actual reporting on the streets before you start with your ‘opinion piece’, because, quite frankly, you seem to have no clue what you are talking about.

    • Rick 5:48 pm on September 20, 2010 Permalink | Reply

      I believe that most Europeans are not opposed to the presence of foreigners living and working in their countries. What they ARE against is a large demographic change that will , over time, destroy the uniqueness of their Caucasian nations, and turn them into multi-racial, multi-cultural Towers of Babel!

  • Centro de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos 2:20 pm on August 30, 2010 Permalink | Reply
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    I have nothing against France, but… 

    Alphia Abdikeeva, CIDH Pro Igual

    Recently the France´s First Lady spoke out against the pending death by stoning of an Iranian woman for adultery and murder:

    Shed your blood and deprive children of their mother, why? Because you have lived, because you have loved, because you’re a woman and because you’re Iranian? Everything within me refuses to accept this.

    There can be no doubt about it — lapidation has no place in a civilized society, and it is laudable that Carla Bruni-Sarkozi has intervened in support of human and women´s rights. But why does her human rights work have to be limited to Iran?

    Why doesn´t she speak out for the women´s rights to wear what they like in France? (Like, a veil, maybe, if they choose?) Why does she remain silent while en masse deportations, smacking of the ones carried out by Nazis a few decades ago, of Roma continue?

    By no means, she should not stop calling for human rights in Iran. But maybe she should ALSO pay a bit more attention to what is happening in her own backyard. Because some may argue that racism and discrimination, like stoning, have no place in a modern civilized society, either.

     
  • 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.

     
  • 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?

     
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