Sunday, July 31, 2011

16 Somali children die of hunger

Sat Jul 30, 2011 10:16AM GMT
Internally displaced Somali children are seen outside their shelter at a camp in Badbado IDP settlement, south of Somali's capital Mogadishu, July 27, 2011.
At least sixteen children have died of hunger and diseases caused by the lack of food in Somalia as the food crisis in the Horn of Africa continues to escalate.

Medical sources confirmed on Saturday that the children died in lower Shabelle regional town of Merka, a Press TV correspondent reported.

Saturday's deaths come as the United Nations has warned that all areas of southern Somalia are slipping into famine, adding that the crisis will continue to worsen for at least three to four months.

Meanwhile, seven humanitarian flights carrying food and medical supplies from Arab nations and the UNICEF aid groups have arrived in the Somali capital city, Mogadishu.

Government officials say they will soon begin distributing food among the starving people in south Mogadishu.

The UN warned on Friday that it had raised its appeal for urgent funds by a quarter to about $1.5 billion "to provide life-saving assistance to more than 12 million people" across the four countries of the Horn.

Thousands of Somalis have fled to the neighboring Kenyan camp of Dadaab, which is currently hosting more than 440,000 refugees.

The Kenyan government has urged the UN to set up camps inside Somalia, saying the huge influx of refugees rushing to Kenya in search of food and shelter is unmanageable.

The UN and aid agencies have described the current situation in the East and Horn of Africa as the worst drought in 60 years and the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”


Somali lawmaker shot dead

Mon Aug 1, 2011 2:0AM GMT
An African Union battlefield commander, Col. Paul Lokech, talks to troops near the front line with al-Shabab fighters Friday, July 29, 2011.
Unidentified gunmen have killed a Somali lawmaker in the capital Mogadishu as the country struggles with civil war and the humanitarian crisis caused by famine and drought.

"Two gunmen shot a legislator near his hotel tonight, they shot him in the head and shoulder and he died instantly," AFP quoted Somali security official Liban Mohamed as saying.

Kalif Jire Warfa was shot dead on Sunday evening after he left a mosque. The shooters managed to escape the scene.

Violence has escalated in Mogadishu as the battle between government forces backed by African Union (AU) troops and al-Shabab fighters continue.

Government forces carried out an attack on Friday, killing more than 37 al-Shabab fighters and capturing some bases in Mogadishu.

The seized positions mistakenly came under heavy shelling by AU troops, leading to the death of at least 30 Somali soldiers.

Somalia has also been hit by one of the most disastrous humanitarian crises in the world. More than 3.4 million Somalis affected by the recent famine and drought are in dire need of assistance.

However, the World Food Program has said it cannot reach 2.2 million Somalis who live in territory controlled by al-Shabab in south-central Somalia.

Meanwhile, the untimely rain that has come too late to relieve the drought-hit areas in Somalia, added to refugees' misery when it damaged many of the makeshift homes in the capital Mogadishu on Sunday.

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Police ignored neighbors’ concerns over Breivik


Published: 28 July, 2011, 19:13
The farm house of Anders Behring Breivik at Aamot in Hedmark, eastern Norway (AFP Photo / Scanpix Norway / Jo E. Brenden)
The farm house of Anders Behring Breivik at Aamot in Hedmark, eastern Norway (AFP Photo / Scanpix Norway / Jo E. Brenden)

Reports are emerging that people living near Breivik’s farm tried to alert the police long before the events in Oslo and Utoya. Meanwhile, his manifesto has revealed that Breivik hoped to escape from jail and carry out another attack.
­Anders Behring Breivik, the main and so far sole suspect of the Oslo bombing and Utoya Island shootings, which claimed the lives of 76 people on July 22, was regarded by most of his neighbors as a regular Norwegian, though maybe a bit too reserved, reports Izvestia daily.
The bomb Breivik detonated in Oslo, killing eight people and injuring dozens of others, is believed to have contained nitrogen-based fertilizer. The Norwegian police believe the suspect used six tons of this substance, which Breivik had been buying under the cover-up of his “farm activities”.
Nevertheless, two local farmers found something suspicious in Breivik’s behavior. One of them, who had closer relations with Breivik due to a contract to get hay from Breivik’s premises, wondered why the latter never invited him into the house and always made sure he’d shut the doors tight. Breivik also showed the man the manifesto. Some time after reading the “absurd” work, the farmer saw Breivik had put opaque glass into the windows of the two houses at the farm. The farmer called the police, who disregarded the claim saying this was Breivik’s private property.
The same reason for not getting involved was provided when another farmer reported Breivik sealing his Fiat truck, adds Izvestia.
Breivik leased the farm in Volta in April this year. The five-acre farm is located on the outskirts of the farming area, away from the other farms.

­“Bonus” attack

­The Norwegian police have found out from Breivik’s manifesto that he was planning one more terror attack, should he manage to break out of jail. The manifesto describes this attack as “a second bonus mission”. The attack had been meant to target a popular area, heavily guarded by police.
The 1,500 page work scrutinized by the Norwegian police for more clues also provided for a smear PR campaign to persuade several key governmental figures to go back on their pro-Islam outlooks.
In his manifesto Breivik did not elaborate exactly who these figures would be as his main mission seemed to be to launch a campaign as such, reports the Norwegian VG Nett newspaper.
Meanwhile, Breivik, who has been sent to the Ila Prison for preliminary detainment, is reported to be demanding improvements to his conditions. He has requested a special menu and a laptop. He also wants to get access to the whistle-blowing site Wikileaks and the text of his manifesto, according to media reports. These requests have been denied.
So far, the police have provided Breivik only with some paper and a pen to prepare his defense for the first hearing. The date of the hearing is yet to be determined, but the hearing is not expected to happen sooner than in 2012, according to the King's General Prosecutor Tor Aksel Busch.
We hope that we can conduct the court trial in the course of next year,” Busch, the country’s highest legal officer, told the Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
The indictment for the 32-year-old, who is in solitary custody after acknowledging responsibility for 76 deaths in the shooting spree and bomb attack, “will not be ready before the end of the year,” added Busch.
The court’s decision of July 25 prolonged his term of preliminary detainment to eight weeks. The suspect will spend four weeks of this term in solitary confinement. At the moment, Breivik is charged with terrorism, which could lead to his being behind bars for 21 years if his guilt is proven.
If his actions are considered to be crimes against humanity, Breivik might spend in up to 30 years in prison.
As well as the Norwegian police, Europol is involved in the investigation. Moreover, the Norwegian police have been in touch with the FBI regarding the attacks, reports Associated Press. The details of their communication have not been disclosed.

Newborns hooked on painkillers is new American epidemic


Published: 29 July, 2011, 22:05
Newborns hooked on painkillers is new American epidemic
Newborns hooked on painkillers is new American epidemic

It looks like the penchant for prescription drug addiction`doesn’t skip a generation.
A new report issued by the White House Office on Drug Control Policy reveals that not only is prescription narcotic abuse the fastest growing drug problem in America, but more and more children are being born already hooked.
In the state of Florida alone, prescription drug overdose deaths are up more than 250 percent in less than a decade. Even more alarming, however, is the number of children in the Sunshine State being born as juvenile junkies. State health records show that 635 children were born already hooked on prescription drugs in only the first half of 2010.
"They go through withdrawal symptoms," Mary Osuch, head nurse at Broward General Medical Center's neonatal intensive care unit, tells CNN. "They're crampy, miserable. They sweat. They can have rapid breathing. Sometimes, they can even have seizures."
Recent statistics released by IMS note that 80 percent of the world’s prescription painkiller users and abusers come out of America. The Centers for Disease Control adds that prescription painkillers have surpassed hard drugs as the cause of fatal overdoses in recent years.
Marsha Currant of the Susan B. Anthony Recovery Center near Fort Lauderdale, FL says she notices the increase in pregnant woman coming into her facility with addiction to prescription pills. "In the very beginning, it was really 100% crack cocaine,” she says, but notes that now it is more prescription drug cases.
Earlier this year, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi revealed that many expecting mothers in Florida are unaware that drugs like oxycodone and Xanax could cause complications in their pregnancies and impact the lives of their unborn children. Along with Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Bondi met with health care officials back in May to discuss the problem.
“We’ve got to stop this,” Bondi told the Miami Herlad in May of this year. They note that at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital in Tampa, FL, up to 20 percent of the babies admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit were treated for withdrawal.
Statewide, that figure in 2010 was closer to 1,300 newborns.

US plans Middle East religious rights envoy English

The US House of Representatives has voted to establish a US envoy to protect the rights of religious minorities in the Middle East and South Asia. (File photo)
The US House of Representatives has voted to establish a US envoy to protect the rights of religious minorities in the Middle East and South Asia. (File photo)
The US House of Representatives has voted to establish a US envoy to protect the rights of religious minorities in the Middle East and South Asia, amid rising concern over The US House of Representatives has voted to establish a US envoy to protect the rights of religious minorities in the Middle East and South AsiaEgypt, Iraq and Pakistan.

While a marathon debate continued Friday on how to avoid US debt default, the House voted 402 to 20 to require President Barack Obama to set up the envoy post. The Senate must follow suit, but senators from both parties have voiced support.

The envoy will be tasked with pressing minority rights in a broad region covering the Arab world, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. But the bill asks the envoy to prioritize Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Lawmakers voiced concern for the safety of Egypt’s Coptic Christians during the transition following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. At least two dozen people died in religion-related violence in Egypt in March and May.

Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey called the fate of Egypt’s ancient Christian community -- which makes up 10 per cent of the population – “the bellwether of the rights for religious minorities in the Middle East.”

“As the largest and one of the oldest minorities, they are suffering and their escalating agony portends suffering throughout the region,” Mr. Smith, a Republican and devout Catholic, said on the House floor.

Smith said he heard accounts that Coptic women and girls as young as 14 “are being systematically lured from their families or kidnapped off the street corners and forced to change their religion and forced to marry outside of their community.”

Lawmakers also voiced worries over the treatment of Christians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Ahmadiyah Muslim minority in Pakistan, Bahais in Iran and Hindus in Bangladesh.

“In Afghanistan and Pakistan, countries where the United States has invested its treasure and the lives of countless brave American soldiers, persecution of Christians runs rampant,” said Representative Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia who sponsored the bill.

He pointed to the case in Pakistan of Aasia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammad, and the assassination this year of two politicians who defended her.

All 20 lawmakers who voted against the bill were Republicans, mostly hawks against government spending. The legislation authorized $1 million a year for the envoy and staff through 2015.

Ramadan to begin Monday in Saudi Arabia, other Muslim countries English

The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan will begin on Monday in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, it was officially announced in all six countries. (File Photo)
The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan will begin on Monday in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, it was officially announced in all six countries. (File Photo)
The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan will begin on Monday in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, it was officially announced in all six countries.

Saudi state television Al Ekhbariya said Ramadan will begin on Monday in the kingdom, home to Islam’s holiest shrines, Mecca and Medina, because the sighting of the new moon could not be confirmed by the authorities.
The exact dates of the start and the end of Ramadan depend on the sighting of the new moon as many Muslim countries reject using astronomical calculation for the Muslim lunar calendar.

If the new moon had been sighted Saturday, the start of Ramadan would have been Sunday.

Ramadan will also begin on Monday in Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates.

Muslims observe the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar when Archangel Gabriel revealed the Koran -- Islam’s holy book -- to the Prophet Mohammed.

Throughout the month devout Muslims must abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn until sunset when they break the fast with the Iftar meal.

The fast is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the annual pilgrimage to Mecca which able Muslims should do once in a lifetime.

Sweltering temperatures in the Gulf Arab countries and the length of time between dawn and sunset will make Ramadan in August a trying ritual for Muslims this year.

From Outlook India: Fatwa Not An Order But Guidance: Darul Uloom English

Darul Uloom Deoband has said fatwas issued by the seminary are meant for guidance and should not be enforced forcibly.

A fatwa is not an order but a guidance of principle and any one can abide by it or ignore it, in-charge of the fatwa department of the seminary Mufti Habibur Rehman told reporters last evening.

They are not to be enforced forcibly, he said.

For more on this please see:

From Arab News: Kingdom extends helping hand to Horn of Africa English

Mothers from southern Somalia are seen with their malnourished children at Banadir hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Saturday. (AP)
Mothers from southern Somalia are seen with their malnourished children at Banadir hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Saturday. (AP)
Saudi Arabia has donated SR225 million in aid to Horn of Africa countries that have been hit by a massive drought affecting millions of people.
Other Gulf states have also come forward with donations to help the African countries, where about 500,000 children are in need of urgent help including food and medicine.

“The countries in the Horn of Africa hit by famine — Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti and Eritrea — have welcomed the Saudi support,” said Mohammed Ali, charge d’affaires at the Ethiopian Embassy in Riyadh, on Saturday.

For more on this story please see:

‘Murdering civilians is terrorism, whether by Israelis or Arabs.’ By Bernard Avishai English

A vehicle burns in the city of Hama in this still image taken from video. (File Photo)
A vehicle burns in the city of Hama in this still image taken from video. (File Photo)
What is there to say, that is not obvious, pathetic, or pretentious, about Syrian tanks firing into crowds of peacefully assembled demonstrators?

We hear about the ferocity of an Alawite regime trying to stave off a resurgent Sunni majority, as if tribal impulses explain what we need to know about the uses of power. We hear about Iranian influence and backing, as if geo-political pressures explain what we need to know about the uses of military force.
At various Western (and Israeli) dinner tables, we hear about the fatalism and cruelty of Arab regimes, as if Islamic religious culture explains what we need to know about the tendency toward repression—as if, American Christians never used napalm on Vietnamese villages, and Israelis didn’t fire on demonstrators on the Golan just a couple of months ago.

For my part, I look at the headline—“121 massacred”—and what jumps out is the number, 121. Of course journalists will use such numbers to try to convey the magnitude of the crime. They would be irresponsible not to. But if democratic imagination begins anywhere, it is in the refusal to leave things there: the refusal to see individual people—the student with a new girlfriend, the mother with an indifferent husband, the grandfather with an unfinished roof—as nothing but a part of a list.

The cold abstraction implied here is where terrorists, tyrants, and sociopaths meet: seeing human beings in terms of categories—nations, tribes, religious communities, sexes—and supposing that to kill another person is to kill one instance of an ominous general case; that to kill a certain other type at random is to lessen the threat against your own type. What we see exposed in Assad’s troops, or suicide bombers in West Jerusalem, or the droppers of phosphorus bombs in Gaza, are the working of totalitarian imaginations. It is nonsense to believe that good ends justify such means. These means will produce despotic ends.

It may seem a distraction from immediate horrors to say this now, but here, in the streets of Hama, we are actually confronted with a stark choice for the ways to build, or rebuild, the region. Yes, different national homes produce justifiable desires to preserve languages and poetries and concepts of the divine. But all of these ultimately yield to personal experience, where justice begins. There are many ways to configure political systems, national boundaries, and federal agreements, but no enduring way that does not keep democracy’s homage to individuality in sight.

“Why did God create man alone?” one Talmudic sage asks. “To teach thee that whosoever destroys a single soul... destroy[s] a complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul... scripture ascribes [merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world.” I would like to think that when Jews decide what of our own is to be preserved, this answer would be first.

(Bernard Avishai is the author, most recently, of The Hebrew Republic. He writes for numerous magazines, including Harper’s, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine. He teaches business at the Hebrew University and blogs at TPM Café and Bernard Avishai Dot Com. He can be reached at:

The disappeared of Kashmir

AL Jazeera Features
Al Jazeera reports on the boys who never came home.
Last Modified: 18 Apr 2011 14:31

Ghulam Muhammad Wani's son disappeared 15 years ago, but his case is just one among thousands in Indian-administered Kashmir  [Azad Essa]
His unibrow twists and arches furiously. The creases on his face tighten. His eyes shift from the door and with his index finger he points towards the ceiling. Then he stares straight at me and begins to speak - his voice like a calamitous clap of thunder, echoing off the cold walls and ringing in my ears.

I have no idea what he is saying, but his tone conveys everything.

"Take it easy ... they are here to listen to your story ... don't be angry," says Parveena Ahangar, the chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), one of two organisations going by the same name in Kashmir, as she tugs gently at the old man's knee.

But he refuses and embarks on a second tirade; spitting as he pronounces a series of adjectives that I recognise as expletives.

A friend who has accompanied me for the purpose of translating whispers: "I can't translate all of this. He is cursing just about everyone there is to possibly swear at."

Ghulam Muhammad Wani needs a moment to clear his mind. I happily give him three.

The 80-year-old is short and stocky but cuts an imposing figure. Dressed in a dirty, brown pheran, he sits on the floor of his living room in Rajbagh, Srinagar. His overstretched woolen socks loop around the contours of his feet, stealing dust from the parched carpet below.

He tells us his story.

A father's anguish

On the evening of May 14, 1996, members of the counter-insurgent Ikhwan group, a pro-government militia made up of former insurgents, now working for the Indian army, knocked on his door and took off with this son, Imtiyaz Ahmed Wani.

Suspected of being an insurgent, a separatist fighting for freedom from the Indian state, Imtiyaz disappeared without trace.

After searching from pillar to post, visiting police stations and army officers, Wani went to the State Human Rights Commission to file a complaint about his missing son. Finding no joy there, he sold a property, took out a loan and paid a seemingly sympathetic counter-insurgent who promised information about his missing son. But the money, like his son, disappeared.

"My son was a gardener at the forest department, earning Rs 2,000 ($45) a month; he did no wrong," Wani finally offers.

"It has been 15 years," he trails off.

During his desperate search for Imtiyaz, a policeman from the Special Task Force (a counter-insurgency wing of the Jammu and Kashmir police force) came to his house and offered him 1,200 rupees ($30) as piecemeal compensation. Over time, Wani was also approached by politicians offering him "aid" in exchange for his silence.

"I told them to leave ... it would have been like accepting blood money.

"They robbed me of my son, who will now bury me when I go?" Wani asks the silent room.
Imtiyaz's disappearance is just one of many in Indian-administered Kashmir since the beginning of the insurgency there in 1989. Unofficial estimates suggest that over the past two decades, between 8,000 and 10,000 young men have disappeared.
Click here to read one family's tale of losing a son
Buried Evidence, a report published by the International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir (IPTK) in 2009, reported the number to be "8,000 plus".

It is a figure disputed by the Indian government and SM Sahai, the chief of police in Kashmir, says it is grossly exaggerated.

"This number is not correct, and most of the missing persons are fighters who crossed [the] border into Pakistan, and are still there," he says.

Human rights activists say the government has repeatedly released contradictory figures, indicating a lack of seriousness in addressing the issue.

"One day, they say it is 3,931 people missing, the next day it is 3,749 ... they are not serious about it," says Parvez Imroz, a human rights activist and co-founder of the original Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP).

Zahir-ud-Din, a local journalist whose investigation into disappearances in Kashmir culminated in a book, Did they vanish in thin air, concurs that the state has marginalised the issue. One can even pick up on it from the language employed - 'missing' as opposed to 'disappearance', ud-Din says.

A familiar story
An illustration by Kashmiri cartoonist Malik Sajad
Following the partition of India and Pakistan, and the latter's attempt to capture the valley, Kashmir was split into an Indian-administered Kashmir, a Pakistan-administered Kashmir and, later, a Chinese territory, which is mostly uninhabited. Ever since, India and Pakistan have used the territory to exercise bitter foreign policy towards each other, culminating in three wars.

While self-determination has always been a project in Indian-administered Kashmir, it took a rigged election in 1988 to prompt a call to arms against the Indian government's rule of the region; young men ventured into Pakistan-administered Kashmir for training in guerrilla warfare.

India responded with a military campaign to suppress the insurgency, resulting in an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 deaths, and Kashmir became one of the most militarised places on earth, with more than half-a-million Indian troops deployed to the region. To help put this into perspective it is worth noting that at the height of the occupation of Iraq in 2008, foreign troops there numbered 250,000.

Kashmiri novelist Mirza Waheed says that young men did go to Pakistan, and that many did not return, but insists the story has always been bigger than that.

"There have been numerous cases of custodial deaths, torture, illegal detention, extra-judicial killings, also known as 'fake-encounters', and they cannot be brushed away," he says.

Widespread and systematic

The APDP, co-founded by Imroz and Ahangar before they each formed their respective associations, has long argued that disappearances in the valley have been purposefully systematic.

Ahangar has not seen her son Javed since he was picked up by security forces 17 years ago. Since the early days of the APDP, she has acted as a pillar of strength for parents seeking comfort and advice in dealing with their lingering loss.

Ud-Din says that numbers have always been difficult to verify, but that disappearances are widespread. "When people started disappearing [in the 1990s] we thought that they might have died accidentally due to torture. But thousands of people cannot disappear accidentally. It happens with a design."

Imroz concurs that while the rate of disappearances may have slowed over the past decade, "it was a phenomenon" that is yet to be solved, with perpetrators that are yet to face justice. "Both combatants and non-combatants were picked up from home, from the roads, from just about anywhere and taken to detention centres. Their fate was often not known," he says.

"Enforced disappearances is one of the many repressive measures (like killings, illegal detentions etc.) aimed at breaking the resolve of people," says Athar Parvaiz, a journalist based in Srinagar.

Disappearances fit into a larger theme of human rights violations in Kashmir.

In late March 2011, Amnesty International (AI) released a report claiming that the "state of Jammu and Kashmir was holding hundreds of people without charge or trial in order to keep them out of circulation". AI alleges that a contentious Public Safety Act (PSA) allows security forces to detain individuals when the state has insufficient evidence for a trial.
Through this law, AI says that between 8,000 and 20,000 people have been detained over the past two decades, with 322 people held between January and September 2010.
Click here to read more about the laws that enable the armed forces in Indian-administered Kashmir to side-step human rights conventions
Through this law, AI says that between 8,000 and 20,000 people have been detained over the past two decades, with 322 people held between January and September 2010.

Govind Acharya, an AI India specialist, stresses that while detentions through the PSA can last for up to two years, and therefore pale in comparison to enforced disappearances, the numbers are ominously similar.

"The number of disappearances and the number of PSA detentions cited are coincidental, but the number of both are in the thousands. Some of the PSA detainees became victims of enforced disappearances and some did not," Acharya explains, adding that forced disappearances are forbidden under international law and that the "PSA is a form of legalised forced disappearance".

But disappearances and detentions are not the only ways in which human rights are undermined in Kashmir.

In late 2010, a US cable released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks reported that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had briefed US diplomats on widespread torture in Indian jails in Kashmir and their frustration with the Indian government's failure to address their concerns.

In 2009, the Allard Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School reported that "the pattern of legal breakdowns in Kashmir violates basic tenets of international human rights law" and that "research indicates that India fails to meet its international obligations in Kashmir".

Worse still, is the report's damning assessment of the "Indian government's disregard [for] its own standards governing detention". "[It] refuses to honour court orders quashing detention, and exploits procedural impediments to avoid presenting detainees in court," the report states.

The WikiLeaks cable adds that "detainees were rarely militants, but persons connected to or believed to have information about the insurgency".

Psychological torture

Imroz says that the real tragedy of disappearance can be found in the families whose lives it disrupts forever.

"Most of those who disappeared were noncombatants ... and consider how many people are directly affected by the ordeal of a loved one disappearing.
"If a family member dies, you mourn and are forced to move on, but when someone 'disappears' the entire family, community is disrupted emotionally and psychologically; they all join the search. When does it end?" he asks.

It is natural that intermittent curfews, perpetual gun battles, midnight raids and disappeared family members should place a strain on this society of barbed wire and sandbags, but ud-Din says it amounts to something more like torture.
Click here to read one mother's story about losing her son
"It is torturous. Perpetual trauma has gone to their head. Most of them have become psychiatric patients. The half widows [as the wives of the disappeared are known] are the worst hit. They cannot go for second marriage, they cannot inherit from their husband's estate, and nobody accepts them as widows. Most of them have been turned out by the in-laws," he says.

"It is a huge disruption to the society," Imroz adds. "Consider children who have lost their father and breadwinner and are taken out of school, and become child labour ... or are refused entry into an orphanage because there is no certification of death, or the complications in sharing property because there is no certainty of anything," he continues.

'Discipline and death'

It is little wonder then that the IPTK report postulates that the governance of Indian-administered Kashmir has taken on the techniques of 'discipline and death' as modes of social control, with the objective of "assimilat[ing] Kashmir into its territory".

This use of discipline and death as a regulatory mechanism has left Kashmiri society traumatised, existing in virtual limbo.

But Waheed says that it would be erroneous to label Kashmiris as victims lacking agency, even though they have been victims of a brutal military suppression, or to ignore the fact that any society would devise coping mechanisms in the face of such trauma.

"There is no dichotomy between being traumatised and resilient. A brutalised people have no choice but to be resilient, in all kinds of ways. A mother whose nine-year-old son was bludgeoned to death last summer - what can she do other than grieve or protest? Both require resilience.
"Kashmir has an extremely high incidence of psychological trauma. Depression is quite common. But what do you expect in a place where people have been incessantly brutalised for more than 20 years? I have seen and heard uncommon acts of bravery and dignity in the face of suffering and tragedy," Waheed says.
Click here to read about the resolve of the Kashmiri people
While not disputing this resilience, Parvez says that there is a lack of institutional and societal support for those suffering from this type of trauma. "The MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières] have trauma counselling, and they have worked with the APDP, but there is still a lack of institutional recognition of the issue."

Parvaiz agrees, adding that putting aside the romanticism of a resilient society, "the two-decade [long] conflict and mis-governence over the years have wrought havoc on Kashmir … [affecting] the social fabric of the society [while] insecurity [about the] future reflects in their social behaviour as well".

Impunity reigns supreme
It would appear that part of the problem is that the Indian government refuses to acknowledge enforced disappearance as the scourge that it is in Indian-administered Kashmir.

For the past 10 years, both versions of the APDP have assembled every month - on different days - in a Srinagar park to bemoan the lack of justice and the lack of government action in addressing the issue. Imroz says that not only is the Indian government refusing to offer an explanation for the disappearances, but that they are not willing to address the mass complainants either.

The IPTK report, which Imroz co-authored, documents an investigation of 2,700 graves in 55 villages and three districts in Indian-administered Kashmir between 2005 and 2009. The numbers are staggering: 2,373 graves were found unmarked, 151 graves contained more than one body; while 23 graves held between three and 17 bodies.
The study noted that mass graves have always been a tell-tale sign of crimes against humanity or genocide. But Sahai, the police chief, says the mass graves belong to fallen foreign fighters and reveal little about disappearances.
Authorities often claim that unmarked graves are those of fighters from Pakistan, the study notes, adding that such rhetoric conflates "cross border militancy with present nonviolent struggles by local Kashmiris for political and territorial self-determination".

Acharya says the crux of the issue can be explained in one word - "impunity".
"Victims of human rights violations from all sides of the conflict can expect very little from the Indian state or Jammu and Kashmir."

Through the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), Indian forces engaged in various violations are often protected from prosecution.

Sahai insists people should report disappearances. "If people have such complaints, we want them to compile a list of those missing and then we can conduct a thorough investigation. The fact that Amnesty International operates in the valley is testament to the fact that we are open to investigations," he says.
Click here to read an interview with the chief of police
The Indian government has allowed the UN special rapporteur on minorities and the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders to visit Indian-administered Kashmir, but has refused to allow the UN working group on arbitrary detention or the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions access. Crucially, the UN working group on enforced and involuntary disappearances has also been denied entry, despite its requests to conduct investigations in the territory.

When quizzed on this, Sahai pleads the fifth, saying: "It is difficult for me to comment on this because this issue is of a high diplomatic status."

Acharya says that "given the regular visits of others' rapporteurs, it does seem to be a glaring omission" and adds that while AI did manage to meet GK Pillai, the Indian home secretary, to discuss their latest report, gaining an audience with the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Omar Abdulla, was proving to be quite a task.
Imroz says that the process for reporting a family member's disappearance is layered in bureaucracy, but that a screening committee, which is meant to investigate disappearances, does exist.

"If a family is able to prove to the screening committee that a family member has disappeared for more than seven years, the matter is taken to the local council and district magistrate and eventually they are able to receive ex gratia relief money of around $2,000.

"But if the family member suddenly returns, they will have to repay the money."

Imroz says around 500 families have received this amount.

"There are families who need the relief money, but normally victim's families want justice, and this procedure, which does not even work properly, does not bring the perpetrators to book.

"In principle, we do not promote the extra gratia relief, because we want justice, and this is not justice, but to say that lists of names need to be brought in and something will happen is inaccurate.

"Police often file these disappearances as 'missing' and often the law is not followed, whereby an active search is meant to take place. The files just get lost."
In a similar vein, Imroz says that although the IPTK report was released in 2009, they are still waiting for Abdulla to respond.

Al Jazeera also found little success when approaching the chief minister's office for comment.

Kashmir has always been a sensitive issue, but if anything, the human rights violations in the valley are only emblematic of the Indian state's selective observance of international treaties on human rights.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has regularly castigated India for violations in the north-eastern state of Manipur, where the AFSPA has cultivated a culture of impunity for the security forces. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, Indian counter-insurgency tactics in Punjab included the use of enforced disappearances, extra-judicial executions and mass cremations.

This is perhaps the reason why India has signed - but not ratified - the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance that came into being at the end of 2010. The convention effectively outlaws enforced disappearance, making states accountable and effectively turning systematic disappearance into a crime against humanity.

AI is categorical in their acknowledgement that every country has a right to defend itself, but insists that enforced disappearance can never be tenable.

"India does have a robust procedure for dealing with terrorism, as seen from the trial of Ajmal Kasab, the sole survivor of the Mumbai attacks in 2008," Acharya argues. "[However] the Jammu and Kashmir government is bypassing the judicial system and imposing arbitrary punishment based on very broad categories by government agents, rather than the judiciary."

Sahai disputes this, saying: "This idea that we [Jammu and Kashmir] have a whole new set of rules and that there is no accountability is wrong; we follow the law like other states and places in India. Kashmir is a disturbed area and often human rights groups are used as tools of propaganda by separatists. If our human rights organ[isations] are compiling figures and our judiciary exists to protect the people, what is the need for AI to investigate?"

But Imroz argues that state institutions have very little power in the face of the AFSPA. With the judiciary unable to act and the State Human Rights Commission unable to punish, the armed forces have effective legal impunity.

To talk about legal devices protecting the people of Indian-administered Kashmir is null and void because of the special status enjoyed by the armed forces there.

Imroz says the tragedy becomes further complicated when one notes how Indian civil society, though vibrant, "has abandoned Kashmir from mainstream discourse together with the Indian media".
The harrowing tales of thousands of disappeared people, the broken homes and the daily travails of life in Indian-administered Kashmir are missing from the popular imagination of most Indians. Instead, the narrative begins and ends as Kashmir, the elusive paradise overrun by Pakistani jihadists with Kalashnikovs; not ordinary people torn by a decades-long conflict, a disproportionate military campaign and gross human rights abuses.

The Kashmiri people are virtually anonymous in the telling of their own stories.

This is partly why ud-Din believes that families nursing broken homes due to the disappearance of fathers or sons need closure.

"While interviewing the former minister of state for home in 1999, I urged him to declare all the disappeared persons dead, [as] according to me [this] is the only way out. This alone would end the unending search and the sufferings of the aggrieved relatives. However, the minister refused for obvious reasons," he says.

New generation: New questions

"The new generation is asking questions ... the new generation is less afraid to speak up," Imroz says. "[They] realise that they have to get past the rhetoric; rise above it. Kashmiri civil society is slowly rising, and [is] part of the problem and the solution, and it's up to them to deem what is unacceptable."

This is a view shared by Acharya, who says the affected families must keep pushing government officials to heed their calls for justice. "Organisations like Amnesty International can only shed light on a few cases and hope that the other cases will get resolved as well. But, it's hard not to be pessimistic about the prospects of justice.

"Of course, as a human rights activist, I'd recommend that the Jammu and Kashmir government take steps to repeal laws like the PSA and the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) that give immunity from prosecution of human rights violations, to initiate steps towards prosecuting human rights violators and to ensure that the state does not violate economic, social and cultural rights of those affected by repeated curfews and checkpoints that make seeking an adequate livelihood so difficult."

But these calls are unlikely to be heard by the Indian authorities - at least not in the near future.

And while justice might go some way toward healing wounds and advancing closure, it is unlikely to bring Ghulam Wani's son home or to ease this father's anguish. For now, his only recourse is to refuse to pay for electricity, water and other services – withholding a few coins from the state in protest against a silent war.
Al Jazeera

Kashmir's 'half-widows in precarious state'

AL Jazeera Central & South Asia
More than 1,500 women whose husbands have disappeared are in danger in Indian-administered Kashmir, report says.
Last Modified: 29 Jul 2011 11:17

The Indian government's refusal to officially recognise enforced disappearances has left families in perpetual limbo, promulgating stress and psychological trauma for parents, spouses and children, the report says [EPA]

More than 1,500 women whose husbands have disappeared but have not yet been declared deceased are in a precarious and dangerous position in Indian-administered Kashmir, according to a new report.

The 48-page report titled "Half Widow, Half Wife" released on Thursday by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), argues that although "direct violence is disproportionately inflicted on males" in Kashmir, women and children whose husbands or fathers "disappear" are caught in a legal conundrum that does little to compensate or protect them.

The report says that the fact that the men have disappeared and have not been declared dead, has left thousands of women, known as "half-widows", and their children in a precarious state, with little legal protection, rendering many desperate and homeless and paving the way for abuse and exploitation.
The story of the half-widows of Kashmir "captures the unseen and pernicious face of insecurity in Kashmir", the report says.

'Missing' versus 'disappeared'

An estimated 8,000 people have disappeared in Kashmir since the insurgency against Indian rule began in 1989, although the Indian government says the number of those "missing" is most likely closer to 3,000 to 4,000.
Indian authorities claim that the disappeared men crossed over into Pakistan-administered Kashmir to complete arms training, became militants and never returned.

Local civil society and international human rights organisations dispute this claim and say that these men were abducted by Indian security forces and were either detained indefinitely or disposed of.

The Indian government's refusal to officially recognise enforced disappearances in Kashmir has left families in perpetual limbo, promulgating stress and psychological trauma for parents, spouses and children, the report says.

But for the "half-widows" it is particularly difficult.

The report says that based on their insecure position of being "single", yet still legally married, the "half-widows" are unable to access the family estate or ration cards. Even the ex-gratia relief and compassionate appointment created by the Indian government can only be accessed with a death certificate and that too only if it is proven that the deceased had no link with militancy.
Ex-gratia relief can only be accessed by "half-widows" after a period of seven years has passed and only when the case is passed through a local screening committee.

The report says that the committee is usually made up of police officers and those from government bureaucracy, thereby undermining the process.

"Most legal remedies remain elusive due to the severe financial and emotional costs over multiple year timelines," the report notes, adding that "administrative remedies fall short of providing due relief to half-widows".

But it is not just the state that places "roadblocks" in the way of the "half-widows".

"Half-widows" are undefined legally and within the patriarchal socio-cultural context of South Asia, the women find themselves at the mercy of Kashmiri society, where a deafening silence surrounds gender violence and abuse.
In rural Kashmir, with fewer economic opportunities, "half-widows" are at a greater risk of suffering manipulation by government officials and even community leaders.
Adding to the confusion is the continued dispute over what is the minimum time needed to dissolve a marriage and allow a "half-widow" to move on with her life and possibly remarry according to Islamic law.

One school suggests four to seven years, but others suggest that a "half-widow" is expected to wait up to 90 years before remarrying.

'Sheer volume of hardship'

Responding to the report, Govind Acharya from Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera that the most important aspect of the report is noting the "sheer volume of hardship that the 'half-widows' face above and beyond having to deal with the disappearance of their spouse".
A special series on the dispute in Kashmir will feature on Al Jazeera's website from August 2, 2011
"The report is incredibly useful in linking the past with the present and future. In other words, it's not just about the mourning of a lost loved one, but it's about the deprivation that resulted from that loss till today because of government inaction.

"And, it's about the future of Kashmir. If Kashmir cannot reconcile with the past then what kind of future will it face?"

Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, could not be reached for immediate comment.
Khurram Parvez, the programme co-ordinator from the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), says that the most surprising finding of the report was the inaction of the state to the crisis.

"They [state authorities] have not moved, even years after the tragedies, which have ruined the past, present and future of so many families.

"The daily struggles of existence and seeking justice unabated, by these women have created examples of unflinching courage," Parvez said.

The report comes a day after India and Pakistan held peace talks in New Delhi for the first time since resuming bilateral talks this year.

Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna, India's foreign minister, and his Pakistani counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar, held talks on Wednesday and spoke of entering a new era in relations, agreeing to work together to end the insurgency, to ease commerce and open travel across the Line of Control, dividing Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Kashmir: Back on the agenda?

On Thursday, Pakistani newspapers appeared to welcome the revived talks: "Pakistan, India revive search for enduring dialogue process," read Dawn newspaper.

The Express Tribune daily led with: "Pakistan-India relationship: New era dawns in ties." The Daily Times headline declared: "Pakistan, India promise 'new era' of cooperation, Relations back on track", and The Nation led with "India willing to talk Kashmir".
Indian newspapers were a little more reserved, with The Hindu editorial suggesting that the "talks broke no ground" and the "Kashmir-related confidence building measures announced by the two sides is meagre".
A Tehelka magazine article asking "Was it a successful diplomatic visit at all?" comments that "Pakistan foreign minister avoided tricky issues and refrained from mentioning Kashmir at the brief media interaction… it was left to Krishna to mention Pakistan's core concern".

Acharya said that the timing of the report could not have been any better.

"It sheds light on the past human rights violations and links them to the present. I have said that already, but I just wanted to reiterate that without the APDP and other groups campaigning [for] justice for the victims of the disappearances, then they will be forgotten by everyone (except the family members of course)."

But Acharya fears that the outcome of India-Pakistan talks will have little impact on human rights in Kashmir. He says that while Pakistani citizens have expressed concern for Kashmiri human rights, it is difficult to believe that the Pakistani government shares that sentiment.

"The Pakistani government obviously does not care, otherwise its actions would not have involved sending militants across the border to commit widespread human rights violations against Kashmiris.

"In fact, I would say that Pakistani involvement in Kashmiri matters has been nothing but a detriment to human rights and human rights advocacy on Kashmir."

Parvez agrees that the prevailing talks are unlikely to end human right violations in the valley. He says that the rights of the people in Jammu and Kashmir have been held hostage by the Indian government and the talks are still about relations between India and Pakistan and not about Kashmir.
"While India and Pakistan appear keen to take confidence building measures, initiating steps to build mechanisms to protect human rights of people should have been the priority, but unfortunately everything else has been prioritised over human rights."
Parvez says that one of the key recommendations of the report is that the Indian government repeal the draconian laws that give the armed forces impunity in Indian-administered Kashmir, including the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA).

Furthermore, he says that a set of immediate recommendations calls on the government to create "a streamlined system of compensation without delays, harassment and coercion" and calls on religious scholars to reach a consensus on the minimum amount of time needed to pass before being declared a widow.
Crucially, the report calls for a special bench at the Jammu and Kashmir high court to hear cases related to the "half-widows" and for India to ratify a UN resolution on the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances.

Meeting separatists

On Tuesday evening, the Pakistani foreign minister raised eyebrows when she met with Kashmiri separatists, who oppose India's rule in Kashmir, although Indian authorities reportedly knew the meeting was scheduled to take place and Krishna, reiterated that the two countries were determined to discuss Kashmir "with a view to finding a peaceful solution".

The disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, a major source of tension that has fuelled two of three wars fought by the two neighbours since 1947, will continue to be discussed "with a view to finding a peaceful solution", Krishna said.

Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir.

Kashmir: the forgotten conflict – a special series on the dispute in Kashmir launches on on Tuesday, August 2, 2011.
Al Jazeera

Nigeria panel seeks talks with Boko Haram

AL Jazeera Africa
President Goodluck Jonathan tasks committee to carry out negotiations with Islamist group and report back by mid-August.
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2011 16:36

Boko Haram has carried out a string of bombings against outdoor drinking venues in northeastern Nigeria [Reuters]

Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian president, has set up a committee to negotiate with a radical Islamist group that has claimed responsibility for a string of almost daily shootings and bomb attacks in northeastern Nigeria, the government has announced.
The committee was set up on Saturday after a meeting between Jonathan and local leaders in Borno state, which concluded that the military's strategy against Boko Haram, the group in question, has done more harm than good.
The committee will hold talks with Boko Haram and report back to the federal government on, or before, August 16, a statement from the office of the federal government's secretary said.
Jonathan, who began his first full term in office in late May this year, has previously supported dialogue with the group, but Boko Haram has said that it will only come to table if all of its demands are met.
Among those demands is the resignation of the Borno state government.
Jonathan has named the seven members of the panel, which includes the ministers of defence, labour and the federal capital territory of Abuja, the statement said.
It said that the panel would act "as a liaison between the federal government ... and Boko Haram and to initiate negotiations with the sect".
The panel will work with the national security adviser to ensure that the country's security forces were acting with "professionalism", the statement said.
Security forces criticised
Boko Haram has carried out attacks in around Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, with strikes mainly targeting police posts, churches and outdoor drinking areas such as beer gardens.
Rights groups say that more than 250 people have been killed by the group, whose name means "western education is sinful", since July 2010.
The seven-man committee will be inaugurated on Tuesday, and is to be led by Usman Gaji Galtimari, a Borno civil servant who previously headed a committee that produced a report on a Boko Haram uprising in 2009.
Hundreds of people were killed during that period.
The committee will review security problems in the area and make recommendations for bringing a timely end to the crisis, a government statement said.
'Brutalisation of suspects'
Amnesty International says that the brutalisation of suspects by security forces in Borno, as well as unlawful arrests, killings and disappearances have become standard operating procedure in Maiduguri in the last few months.
The Nigerian security forces have earlier admitted that the police have been "overzealous" in the past.
Thousands fled the city earlier this month after clashes between Boko Haram fighters and the security forces intensified.
On Saturday, petrol station workers went on strike following the relocation of a fuel depot, prompting a further exodus.
Borno is located in the remote northeast of Nigeria, bordering Cameroon, Niger and Chad. It is one of the poorest regions in the country.
Boko Haram has not limited its attacks to Maiduguri in the past few months, striking as far afield as Abuja, the Nigerian capital.

Groups: At least 71 dead in Syria as security forces, protesters clash

By the CNN Wire Staff
July 31, 2011 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Smoke over Hama, Syria, Sunday: human rights activists say residents have taken to the streets after tanks entered the city.
Smoke over Hama, Syria, Sunday: human rights activists say residents have taken to the streets after tanks entered the city.
  • NEW: A spokesman for the United Nations chief urges Syria to halt its "violent offensive"
  • NEW: U.S. President Barack Obama calls the situation in Hama "horrifying"
  • Some organizations say more than 100 were killed in Hama alone
  • State media reports that "armed groups" are terrorizing citizens
(CNN) -- Syrian tanks stormed the flashpoint city of Hama Sunday in one of several clashes that rights groups said left dozens dead and more than 100 injured nationwide.
The Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported that at least 71 people were killed across the country, with at least 50 killed in Hama. Other human rights organizations offered different assessments of the situation, with some reporting that more than 100 people died in the city of Hama alone.
CNN was unable to independently confirm the death tolls.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said security forces were responding to "armed groups" in Hama who blocked streets with barricades and terrorized citizens by firing from the rooftops of buildings, while human rights groups described the arrival of tanks as a raid on the city.
Three members of security forces were killed in clashes in Hama and three members of the military were killed in Deir Ezzour, SANA said.
The government-run agency said "armed terrorist groups" had taken to the streets in Deir Ezzour, attacking police headquarters and stealing weapons.
The Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported at least 11 people were killed there.

In Hama, throngs of residents took to the streets in an attempt to block the tanks, a local activist said. More than 100 were injured in the city, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria.
Tanks rolling near the border met fierce resistance from residents, said Omar al Habbal, a member of the committees, an affiliation of groups that reports on protests in the nation.
"Hama will be very harsh to them," said al Habbal, who lives in the city. "The whole city has decided to resist with stones, not weapons. The army will either join the demonstrators or leave our city."
Gunfire rang through the air for hours, and thick black smoke covered areas where residents reported shelling and civilian casualties, al Habbal said.
"Mosques have been broadcasting repeated chants of 'Allah Akbar' all morning, and everybody is in the street chanting, 'The people and the army are one hand,'" al Habbal said.
Local residents reported negotiating with the troops, with protesters standing up on the tanks and cheering "Syria is united!"
CNN could not independently verify the accuracy of the reports.
The raid marks the latest violence as anti-government protesters in the nation have called for a new regime since mid-March. Activists blame the deaths of civilians in demonstrations on security forces, but the government has consistently attributed the violence to "armed groups."
President Bashar al-Assad has drawn criticism at home and abroad for his tough crackdown on the protesters calling for his ouster.
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday the United Nations chief was "deeply concerned" about reports of hundreds of protesters killed and injured.
"He strongly condemns the use of force against the civilian population and calls on the government of Syria to halt this violent offensive at once," the spokesman said in a statement, referring to Ban.
U.S. President Barack Obama said he was "appalled" and pledged that U.S. officials will increase pressure on the Syrian regime, "isolate the Assad government and stand with the Syrian people."
"The reports out of Hama are horrifying and demonstrate the true character of the Syrian regime," Obama said in a statement.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague also condemned the reported attacks.
"The attack appears to be part of a coordinated effort across a number of towns in Syria to deter the Syrian people from protesting in advance of Ramadan. The attacks are all the more shocking on the eve of the Muslim holy month," he said in a statement. "President Bashar is mistaken if he believes that oppression and military force will end the crisis in his country. He should stop this assault on his own people now."
Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch said government forces have targeted the city.
"Hama is the latest city to fall victim to President Bashar al-Assad's security forces despite his promises that his government would tolerate peaceful protests," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Security forces have responded to protests with the brutality that's become familiar over the past several months."
The humanitarian watchdog said earlier this month that the forces raided homes, opened fire and set up checkpoints in and around the restive city, the site of a deadly military clampdown nearly 30 years ago.
CNN's Arwa Damon, Rima Maktabi and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.