Monday, February 29, 2016

Asian sex abusers to be stripped of UK citizenship and deported


Exclusive: Theresa May to broaden use of anti-terrorism powers in response to uncovering of Asian sex abuse gangs

Asian-born sex abusers will be stripped of their UK citizenship and deported at the end of their sentences under a new Home Office drive, The Independent can reveal.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is planning to significantly increase her department’s use of legal powers that allow serious criminals with dual nationality to have their British citizenship withdrawn, Whitehall sources say.
Until now, the powers have predominately been used to remove the UK passports of terrorists and terrorist sympathisers.
But senior department sources told The Independent that – in response to the series of Asian sex abuse gangs uncovered in towns across the country in recent years  – there is likely to be an “acceleration of passport strike-outs and potential deportations”.
British-Pakistani members of the gang of six men and women from Rotherham who were convicted on Wednesday of offences including rape, forced prostitution, indecent assault and  false imprisonment are expected to face action to strip them of their UK citizenship after they are sentenced today. Legal proceedings seeking their potential deportation to Pakistan are likely to follow.
From the left: Brothers Arshid, Basharat and Bannaras Hussain, who have been found guilty of a range of offences involving the sexual exploitation of teenage girls in Rotherham
The abuse of predominantly white girls by networks of Asian men has led to prosecutions across the North of England and the Midlands. More trials are imminent.
David Greenwood, head of the child abuse department at Switalskis solicitors in Sheffield, who represents almost 60 victims subjected to sexual abuse by the Rotherham gang between 1996 and 2012, said: “This trial is just the first of many and is the tip of a very big iceberg. From the work I have done, it appears that gangs of Asian men have been operating to sexually abuse young white girls in Rotherham, Oxford, Keighley, Bradford and Rochdale.”
Although amendments to British nationality laws in 2014 making it easier to strip dual nationals of citizenship were primarily aimed at terrorists who could undermine the UK’s security, the Home Office is now using the same legal sanctions to target serious crime, including sex abuse.
In a sign of the department’s new approach, the Home Office recently took legal action against the British-Pakistani ringleader and members of a child sex gang in Rochdale who were convicted in 2012. A special immigration tribunal in Manchester has just completed hearing appeals against Ms May’s decision to end their British citizenship and begin deportation proceedings.
Vinesh Mandalia, counsel for the Home Office at the tribunal, told the hearing that the decision by Home Secretary to deprive the men of their British citizenships was based on the need to express “society’s condemnation of those who have gained the benefits and privileges of British citizenship, but go on to become involved in serious organised crime”. The tribunal will deliver its verdict next month.

One Whitehall legal adviser said: “There are no limits. It is not just potential terrorists who face losing their UK citizenship. Those involved in serious or organised crime, and who hold dual nationality, can expect similar justice.”
Use of the enhanced deportation powers in 2014 led to a British-born man and his three sons being stripped of their British citizenship because of alleged terrorism links.

Theresa May is planning to significantly increase her department’s use of legal powers (EPA)
In another case, a man holding joint Afghanistan-British citizenship, was stripped of his UK passport and left stranded in Pakistan after being accused of involvement in Islamist extremism.
Since 2000, an estimated 37 people have had their British citizenship revoked. Their nationalities include: Russian, Somalia, Yemeni, Australian, Pakistani, Afghan, Albanian, Egyptian, Lebanese, Sudanese, Vietnamese, Iranian, Iraqi and Nigerian. The individuals held British passports from birth, or by application.
It is much more difficult to strip UK nationality from foreigners who are not recognised as a citizen of any other country, as this would render them stateless.
Human rights campaigners have criticised the extended powers used by the Home Secretary to withdraw British citizenship and enforce deportations as a form of “medieval exile”.
There has also been criticism that in many of the terrorism-related cases, those who face losing their British citizenship or their legal representatives will not be shown the evidence against them.
The Home Office has not yet responded to a request from The Independent for comment.
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Thursday, February 25, 2016

“Stay With Him Even If He Wants To Kill You”

Human Rights Watch

“Jihan”: A Domestic Violence Survivor’s Account in Morocco
Moroccan authorities often fail to prevent domestic violence, protect survivors, and punish abusers. We want the Moroccan Minister of Women to strengthen and adopt laws to improve protection for victims of domestic violence. We are asking for your support to back women’s calls for a strong law! Jihan is a domestic violence survivor who wants the government to help women like her. Here is her story.
Jihan (name changed to protect her privacy),  18, told Human Rights Watch that she married a man more than 10 years her senior when she was 15 or 16, and lived with him in a village in El Jadida province, Morocco. She said she married him to escape her father’s violence against her. They had a son who was 2 years old at the time of the interview.
Jihan said her husband abused her from the outset of the marriage:
Starting from the first night of marriage [my husband] didn’t respect me. He brought his friends… He asked me to do things against religion like getting naked and dancing when his friends came. He would play music. I would refuse and he would beat me.
She said her husband raped her repeatedly. “He forced me [to have sex], even if I refused.” She said he beat her every few days, once banging her head on the kitchen sink and causing a gash that required stitches.
When she went to the local police station for help, she said “They [police] said to me, ‘It’s your husband. We can’t do anything. Go to court.’ Even when I had bruises.”
In April 2015, she said, he beat and choked her until she lost consciousness. “I woke up and found myself on the street in my pajamas,” she said. “I went to the police. They said, ‘We can do nothing for you.’ I told them he won’t let me back in the house. They called him but he said, ‘It’s the wrong number.’” She said the police did nothing else, so she went to her sister’s house. Her husband found her and took her back home.
Jihan said that in August, after many more beatings, she asked her husband for a divorce. He replied, “You want a divorce? You can have it this way.” Then he punched her in the eye and attempted to slash her face with a knife. She raised her arm in defense, and he slashed her arm instead. A Human Rights Watch researcher observed fresh stitches on her arm. Jihan said that she did not file a criminal case because, “I am afraid he will take revenge or kill me.”
Jihan was staying at a shelter run by a nongovernmental organization at the time of the interview, and felt she had nowhere else to turn. She said her son was with his paternal grandmother and she wanted to get him back. She said she also wanted a divorce, but her father refused to hand over her marriage certificate for the divorce application. She said he told her, “In our family, no women get divorced. Stay with him even if he wants to kill you.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed “Jihan,” along with 19 other women and girls in Morocco, in September 2015. Her case exemplifies the types of domestic abuse the women experienced and the weak response by the Moroccan government.
Human Rights Watch found that Moroccan authorities often fail to prevent domestic violence, protect survivors, and punish abusers.
Domestic violence survivors like Jihan deserve much more from their government. Morocco should strengthen and adopt laws to improve protection for victims of domestic violence. Human Rights Watch wrote to the Moroccan government, including Bassima Hakkaoui, minister of women and family, to ask the officials to strengthen the bill on violence against women, the penal code reforms, and the criminal procedure reforms in the following areas:
  • Definition and Scope of Application of Domestic Violence Laws: The bills should clearly define “domestic violence,” and criminalize marital rape. In line with UN standards, the definition should include former spouses and individuals in non-marital intimate relationships.
  • Prevention Measures: The bills should require prevention measures, including awareness-raising, educational curricula, and sensitizing the media about violence against women.
  • Law Enforcement and Public Prosecution Responsibilities: The bills should specify police and prosecutor duties in domestic violence cases. They should require police and public prosecutors to coordinate directly, rather than telling complainants to deliver messages between the two.
  • Justice System Responsibilities: The bills should clarify that a domestic violence complainant’s testimony may, in some circumstances, be sufficient evidence for a conviction, without other witnesses.
  • Orders for Protection: The bills should specifically provide for emergency and longer-term protection orders – that is, restraining orders – for domestic violence survivors at risk of abuse. Moroccan law does not currently provide for such orders.  The bill should clarify conditions, and establish clear procedures, for both types of orders.
  • Other Services and Assistance for Survivors: The bills should provide for support and services to domestic violence survivors, including shelter, health services, psychosocial care, legal advice, and hotlines. The government should create a trust fund or other financial assistance for survivors of domestic violence.

For more information, including our full set of recommendations to the Moroccan government, see Morocco: Tepid Response on Domestic Violence
If you want to help women in Morocco like Jihan, call on Bassima Hakkaoui, Morocco’s Women and Family minister, to strengthen and adopt the bill on violence against women :

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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Woman arrested in NSW terror investigation


AU NSW: Police Arrest Woman Suspected of Terrorism February 23

A teenage Muslim convert who allegedly wanted to be the “Bonnie” of a jihadi “Bonnie and Clyde” has been charged with terror-related offences.
The 18-year-old woman was being held at ​a western Sydney police station where officers plan to charge her with recklessly possessing “a thing connected to a terrorist act” and “recklessly collecting documents connected to a terrorist act”.
The claims are understood to relate to allegedly having in her possession a knife wrapped in an Islamic​​ flag.
The woman is understood to be Alo-Bridget Namoa, the wife of Sameh Bayda, who is facing three charges of collecting documents likely to facilitate terrorist acts.
“We are not dealing with any new specific threat,” Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn told reporters in Sydney.
Police said the woman has previously been charged with 31 counts of failing to answer NSW Crime Commission questions, effectively identifying her since Ms Namoa was earlier this month bailed on those charges.
On those refusing to answer questions charges, prosecutors alleged​ Ms​ Namoa sent a text message referring to herself and her husband as “jihadi Bonnie and Clyde”, and claim extremist propaganda and bomb-building instructions were found on her phone.
In a bail hearing related to those earlier charges, police prosecutor Sergeant David Anderson opposed bail saying Ms Namoa was an Islamic State sympathiser and a risk to the community.
But Ms Namoa’s lawyer Sophie Toomey described the prosecution’s case as “slightly hysterical”, and she was released on bail under strict conditions including that she stay at home with her Catholic mother.
Mr Bayda remains in custody at Goulburn on the documents charges, which allegedly include instructions on how to commit a stabbing attack and make a bomb.
At the lunchtime press conference police said the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team arrested the woman at 10am in Guildford​ in Sydney’s west​, and she is expected to face court later today.
Police said the woman was previously the subject of a firearm prohibition order served on January 13, at which time a number of items were seized.
“The message is that we are working around the clock (on anything) that may be related to terrorist activity,” Ms Burn said.
“We now have two people before the courts … persistence pays off.”
“Today’s another demonstration that we are not going to go away,” she said, adding that police appreciated the value of information from the community.
Ms Burn was questioned as to why Ms Namoa was not charged with terrorism offences when she was weeks ago facing charges of refusing to answer questions at a NSW Crime Commission hearing.
“We seize material, we examine it and collate the evidence. When we are convinced that we have enough evidence to put before the court, that’s what we’ll do,” she said.
Asked by a journalist whether today’s arrest of the woman was retribution for not giving information against her husband, Ms Burn said police took information to deal with any threat to the public.

Disease fears as many remain cut-off



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Some 29 people have now been confirmed dead in Fiji in the wake of Cyclone Winston.
Disease fears as many remain cut-off
Authorities in Fiji are struggling to make contact with remote islands days after the country was slammed by a destructive cyclone, amid fears the many displaced people could next be overwhelmed by widespread disease.
Aid has begun arriving in Fiji where more than 8000 people have taken refuge in evacuation centres following the havoc wreaked by Tropical Cyclone Winston, which struck late on Saturday, bringing lashing rains and winds of up to 330km/h.
For some, it could be months before they can return home and many remain cut-off from the world.
While the official death toll on Tuesday had risen to 29, it's expected that figure will grow as communications are restored and help begins to reach outlying islands.
The death toll includes eight bodies found on the island of Koro, which took a direct hit from the cyclone as it passed over the western side of the country.
"It has pretty much flattened," Fiji government spokesman Ewan Perrin told Radio New Zealand on Tuesday.
"There are very few buildings left."
Aid groups and government authorities are also racing to deal with a critical need for clean water, health supplies and emergency accommodation after power lines, roads, jetties and homes were destroyed and damaged across huge areas of Fiji's main islands of Vanua Levu and Viti Levu.
The lack of shelter and clean water has raised fears of an outbreak of disease.
"It really is a race against time to get immediate relief to those who have lost everything and ensure families can stay safe and healthy," CARE Australia spokeswoman Sarah Boxall said.
A 30-day state of emergency has been declared and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has ordered emergency officials to respond to the crisis as quickly as possible.
"There are Fijians out there who are without water, without a roof over their heads, without food and without essential services," Mr Bainimarama said.
An Australian Defence Force C-17 Globemaster aircraft carrying urgent humanitarian supplies has arrived in Fiji, while four helicopters which will help carry out disaster assessments are also being sent.
A P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft was on standby.
The Australian government has said it could provide more assistance if needed.

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Ethiopian Protesters Subject to 'Lethal Force': HRW


People mourn an alleged Oromo protester shot dead by Ethiopian security forces.
People mourn an alleged Oromo protester shot dead by Ethiopian security forces, in the Oromia region, December 17, 2015. Oromo protesters, who opposed plans to expand the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, are still being subjected to violent force by security forces, Human Rights Watch has said.ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER/AFP/Getty Images
Ethiopian security forces are guilty of “lethal force” in an ongoing crackdown against opponents of the expansion of the capital Addis Ababa, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Protests have been ongoing in Ethiopia’s Oromia region—home to the Oromo, the country’s majority ethnic group—since November 2015 over plans to expand the capital. The government wanted to take over territory in parts of Oromia surrounding Addis, which could have potentially resulted in loss of farming land and forced evictions of farmers from one of the country’s most arable regions. At least 140 protesters had been killed by January 7, according to HRW.
The Addis expansion plans were dropped later in January but the protests and crackdown have continued unabated. HRW claims to have documented “almost daily” instances of killings and arbitrary arrests by security forces since the start of 2016. These include the detention of thousands of protesters without trial and security forces allegedly firing on peaceful protesters, including a wedding party and unarmed Oromo students.
Subscribe now - Free phone/tablet charger worth over $60“We believe that the vast majority of protests have been peaceful and certainly started peacefully, and that they have been met with lethal force in many circumstances,” says Leslie Lefkow, HRW’s deputy Africa director. “The violent suppression has exacerbated the grievances and people don’t trust the government.”
The governing Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has clashed with the country’s Oromo before, which constituted some 25 million out of the total population of 74 million at the last census in 2007. An October 2014 report by Amnesty International claimed that at least 5,000 Oromo had been arrested between 2011 and 2014 based on suspected opposition to the government. Leading members of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress party, including deputy chairman Bekele Gerba, have also been arrested in connection with the latest protests. Gerba remains in detention.
Newsweek contacted Abiy Berhane, the Ethiopian ambassador to the U.K., for a response to the allegations but received no reply. Ethiopian Communications Minister Getachew Reda told the BBC that the allegations were “an absolute lie” and called it a “stroke of magic” that HRW had produced the report without a presence in Ethiopia. The minister added that armed gangs of protesters had carried out attacks on public buildings and were “trying to stir up emotions in the public.”
“This is a very typical Ethiopian government response. Their knee-jerk reaction to allegations of human rights violations is denial,” says Lefkow. “To deny the killings and deaths and brutality is not the right message to send to people who are angry and frustrated about the violence they are experiencing at the hands of their police and military.”
Lefkow says that the protests over Addis’ expansion are an outpouring of a “much broader and deeper range of grievances” among the Oromo community. “There’s a deep vein of frustration among many Oromo for what they feel has been decades of political and cultural marginalization by successive governments. These protests have tapped into that,” says Lefkow.
The Ethiopian government has accused the Oromo Liberation Front—a secessionist movement that has been waging an independence struggle since 1973—and opposition group Ginbot 7 of involvement in the protests. Both are classified as terrorist organizations by the government. Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said in a televised address in December 2015 that “destructive forces” were masterminding the protests and that the government would “take merciless legitimate action against any force bent on destabilizing the area.”
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Saudi Arabia says war games will boost military ties with Muslim allies

World | Mon Feb 22, 2016 8:52am EST

Troops arrive to participate in joint military exercises in Hafr Al-Batin, near Saudi Arabia's border with Iraq in this handout photo by Saudi Press Agency released on February 16, 2016.
Reuters/Saudi Press Agency/Handout via Reuters
The Middle East's largest ever war games are now underway and will boost military cooperation between the 20 Muslim nations taking part, host country Saudi Arabia said on Monday, as it seeks to check the growing influence of arch rival Iran.The Northern Thunder exercises, which began on Feb. 14 and will run until March 10, involve more than 150,000 troops from the Gulf Arab nations, Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Sudan and Senegal.
"The council of ministers ... expressed the hope that these exercises achieve what was defined as their goals in exchanging expertise and raising the level of military coordination," Saudi Arabia's cabinet said in a statement.
The statement also praised "the levels of preparedness and administrative and supply capabilities" shown by the nations participating in Northern Thunder exercises.
Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia is concerned by the growing regional clout of Shi'ite Iran, which has just emerged from years of international economic sanctions following an international deal over its nuclear program.
Riyadh, which is contributing the bulk of the troops in the war games, is also worried by the reduced regional role of its key ally, the United States and is seeking to build alternative military alliances as a counterweight to Iran.
Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of Muslim countries, backed by the United States, Britain and France, in a war in neighboring Yemen and says it will contribute troops if Washington leads land operations against Islamic State in Syria.
Its war in Yemen, aimed at restoring a government ousted by an Iran-allied militia, is part of a more assertive effort by Riyadh since last year to counter Tehran's influence.
(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Uganda 2016: Museveni's Troubled Victory


Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at a press conference at his home in Rwakitura.
Yoweri Museveni, pictured on February 21 at a press conference at his home in Rwakitura, Uganda, was re-elected as Uganda's president after 30 years in power, but the results may raise more questions than answers. ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP/Getty Images
Sixty percent of the poll sounds like a convincing victory in any election. However, for Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni—who won in 2011 with 68 percent of the vote and who was declared the winner of Thursday’s elections with 60.8 percent—it might look like something of a rebuff from an electorate that is growing tired after 30 years of his rule. Moreover, as we write, the full results are yet to be announced and some estimates suggest that Museveni’s share could fall further still.
Meanwhile, the 35 percent secured so far by the main opposition candidate, Kizza Besigye —which is likely to rise to 36 or 37 percent when all polling stations are counted—clearly represents a strong support base. Besigye was standing for the fourth time in a contest where many Ugandans believed that Museveni would be declared the winner whatever happened and in which the playing field was clearly skewed towards the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).
In the summer of 2015, it seemed that Besigye could be out of electoral politics: He had said he would not stand again after a series of elections that he still denounces as fraudulent, and which international observers have criticized as deeply unequal. At the same time, many were focused on the entry of Amama Mbabazi—the former prime minister and NRM insider who had decided to stand against Museveni on a promise of change—and excited by the possibility that this might split the NRM. However, Mbabazi failed to attract this anticipated support and, once campaigning began, it was clear that it was Besigye—coming back as the presidential candidate for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)—who was attracting support from those who wanted change.
Subscribe now - Free phone/tablet charger worth over $60In early December 2015, opinion polls put Besigye at around 27 percent of the vote; by late January, there were huge crowds turning out at his rallies, chanting “One Uganda, one people!” and waving his two-fingered salute. He was rising in the polls. In a political culture where money tends to flow downwards from candidates to voters, people were rushing to donate money to Besigye’s campaign. While yellow NRM shirts were given away free at rallies, people were willingly paying 20,000 Ugandan shillings ($6) to buy blue FDC shirts. Meanwhile, the crowds at Mbabazi’s poorly organized rallies were thin, and he has taken less than 2 percent of the votes.
Besigye has reasserted his position as the face of the opposition and so far has secured 10 percent more of the vote than he did in 2011. Once again, the opposition has denounced the results, alleging fraud. In addition to some polling stations in opposition areas opening late, which disenfranchised many voters, the electoral commission declared Museveni the winner without counting the results from 1,687 polling stations, many of which are in Besigye strongholds. Allegations of rigging aside, even Besigye’s official 35 percent is impressive given that he was once again playing on very uneven ground.
The campaign saw less of the direct violence against Besigye and prominent activists than there was in previous elections, when leaders were beaten, arrested and dragged through courts on trumped up charges. This time, Besigye was mostly able to campaign, although in the last week he has been repeatedly detained by the police, while his supporters were tear-gassed and one of his final rallies disrupted. This is not to say that the campaigns were free of violence: Party activists and agents across the country were threatened, and sometimes physically attacked or arrested, while Mbabazi’s security chief disappeared in suspicious circumstances. Uganda’s Crime Preventers, a community policing initiative, was widely accused of intimidation, although it may ultimately have been more important as a constant and looming threat.
There was also extensive intimidation of a different kind, as NRM campaigners promised development if communities supported the party’s candidates and threatened that projects would be denied if an area voted for the opposition. Many voters were also warned that an opposition victory would bring war and a military takeover—no idle threat in a country with a long history of military coups and vicious conflicts.
Money was also poured into the NRM campaign: Museveni spent almost 12 times more than Besigye and Mbabazi on his campaign between November and December 2015, according to a civil society report in January. NRM candidates at every level had access to resources that FDC and other opposition parties could only dream of: vehicles, fuel, public address systems, posters, stickers, flags. In a country where much campaigning happens at a very local level—with candidates driving around villages, talking to small groups, and with voters ferried to larger rallies in town—money really matters.
Money also matters in an even more direct way: Cash handouts to voters, while illegal, are common and often very obvious. Given this context, the results raise questions for Museveni’s future—but also for Besigye and other opposition parties and politicians. For Museveni, whose resounding 2011 victory seemed like an endorsement, this reduced poll result will raise questions over how long he can continue.
There are some ominous signs for him. In the west of the country, long the NRM heartland, campaigning NRM parliamentary candidates willingly tolerated the shouting of pro-Besigye slogans at their rallies. In the north, where the NRM invested heavily in trying to win over opposition voters, Museveni failed to consolidate the electoral gains he made in 2011. And in Buganda, the economic and political heart of the country, both the crowds on the street and the poll results suggest that change is becoming a more compelling message than Museveni’s campaign slogan of “Steady Progress”.
The president also faces a dilemma: It seems that he sincerely believes that he is the only person who can prevent Uganda from falling back into the violence of the 1970s and 1980s, but if he is to stand again the constitution will have to be changed, as by 2021 he will be over the maximum age (75 years old) for a presidential candidate. But if he tries to do that, will those around him think this worth the expense and the international opprobrium that are the costs of such efforts?
The election result also raises questions for the opposition. With a growing population of young people who do not remember the early 1980s, the demand for change seems likely to become ever stronger, but nothing much unites the opposition beyond this desire. Besigye’s FDC has shown itself prone to local factionalism; so has the Democratic Party, Uganda’s oldest political party, whose supporters seem to have largely voted for Besigye at a national level, even though the leadership had announced its support for Mbabazi. If Besigye seeks to contest for a fifth time he may also face increasing criticism for having overstayed—although this argument is undermined the more his vote creeps up, and the more he is arrested.
Whether the opposition will have the cohesion to act effectively in parliament is unclear; while Besigye may have won a third of the national vote, the FDC has a weak presence in the National Assembly. Besigye’s sheer courage and a groundswell of discontent with the status quo have earned him a significant popular vote, but there is little space for him to use that mandate. For Uganda, these elections have raised more questions than they have answered for both sides of the political divide.
Nic Cheeseman, associate professor in African politics at the University of Oxford (@fromagehomme), Gabrielle Lynch, associate professor of comparative politics at the University of Warwick (@gabriellelynch6), and Justin Willis, professor of modern African history at the University of Durham, are part of an Economic and Social Research Council-funded research project (ES/L002345/1) on the impact of elections in Uganda, Kenya and Ghana.
Yoweri Museveni

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Day My Legs Stopped Working

Going back: Somalia’'s diaspora return home


News > MEA > Going back: Somalia’'s diaspora return home
Photo by: TRT WORLD
Photo by: TRT WORLD

Thousands of Somalis have left comfortable, secure lives in the West to return to Somalia. Why are they going back, is homecoming all that they have wished for? We will have stories of two Somali returnees
The Somali diaspora are everywhere. They run government offices, they have restaurants and petrol stations, and they're the lifelines of many NGOs. While the team and I were in the coastal town of Eyl in northern Somalia working on a story, I met 24 year old Sadia Farah.  Born and raised in Canada, she moved to Garowe in Somalia's Puntland region in January to work as an intern at The African Future, or TAF. The programme she works for encourages girls to stay in school.
Sadia Farah lives with three other interns of Somali origin who’ have come from Kenya, the UK, and the US. Although they met in Somalia, Sadia says their work together has "created a bond of a lifetime with likeminded girls who have had very similar upbringings, despite living in different countries.”"
What struck me when I met Sadia was her deep attachment to Somalia even though she was born and raised overseas. I had filmed with 43-year old Faaduma Nuur a few days earlier, and their two stories couldn't have been more different. While both have come back to help Somalia get back on its feet, Somali-born and raised Faaduma visibly bore the scars of her country's tumultuous history. Sadia on the other hand, was brimming with an infectious youthful energy. Speaking to Sadia I got the feeling that Somalia's war belong to a past generation.
I didn't get a chance to see Sadia again because of our heavy filming schedule but I wanted to hear more about her experience so I wrote to her. She was kind enough to write and share her story.  She told me she decided to move to Somalia after visiting the country in the summer of 2012 when she was still a university student. She returned to Canada with every intention of coming back after her studies.
"That 2012 trip opened my eyes to how much potential Somalia has to be the great country it once was," she explains.
And return she did.
She says her mother, who hadn't been back to Somalia since 1990, is very supportive of her move.
"She's encouraged me to document my trip and send her photos during my stay here so that she could live vicariously through me."
Other family members, however, have been puzzled by her choice.
"They ask me why would I travel to Somalia and risk my safety when there are so many opportunities in Canada? I let them know that I want to work in my country.
Sadia says she loved growing up in Toronto.
"What I loved the most was the multiculturalism. I grew up with friends from every walk of life. I love the freedom we have to express ourselves."
But it was also in Canada where she first experienced what it means to be a Somali in the diaspora.
"“I noticed that even though Canada is a developed nation, the issues that minority groups [deal with] are the same issues the majority of Somalis deal with. As a visible minority, I've also experienced my fair share of racism and discrimination."
Her return to Somalia hasn'’t been all smooth.
"It's been an adjustment getting used to my new lifestyle in Somalia. Sometimes I notice the locals staring at me trying to figure out where I came from since I look different dressed in a long hijab, bold sunglasses and white Converses. Occasionally I hear locals passing by whispering 'look at this diaspora' in Somali thinking I don't understand the language."
Still, her homecoming is worth it, despite any culture shock or tension with non-diaspora Somalis, because she finally found a long lost piece of herself.
"I am falling in love with hearing my mother's tongue being spoken everywhere," she says.
"“The rhythmic flow and the musical undertones of everyday conversations. Even the graceful body language when telling stories is simply spellbinding."
Author: Zeina Awad

Somalia: Mayor injured after grenade attack at his office


Somalia: Mayor injured after grenade attack at his office 
The mayor of Somalia’s Southern port town of Barawe was injured after unidentified man lobbed a grenade at his office on Saturday, an official said.

Hussein Barre Jeh, the mayor of Barawe district, sustained a slight injury in the attack, which has not been claimed by any group.
‘’We managed to arrest the person who threw the grenade immediately. The mayor is fine and luckily sustained small injury,’’ said Bashir Ahmed Yusuf,

Police are investigating the man thought to be behind the attack who has yet been identified.
The coastal town of Baraawe, which is some 180 kilometres (110 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu, has been under the control of the Somali government since October 2014 when al-Shabaab militants withdrew. It was a vital lifeline for the insurgents since losing the control of Mogadishu in 2011 and Kismayo in 2012.
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Tavares police: Child abuse suspect blamed 9-year-old

  • WFTV9 abc
    by: Elyna Niles-Carnes Updated:
LAKE COUNTY, Fla. — Educators at a Tavares school sounded the horn to the Florida Department of Children and Families about a 9-year-old who may have been abused when they noticed bruises on the child.
The child told school officials that he had fallen, but they said they didn’t believe that story because of their training and quickly reported it to DCF.
Eyewitness News stopped by the home of the suspected abuse, when an unidentified woman began yelling and cursing at the reporter.
Police said the suspects, who Eyewitness News is not mentioning to protect the child, are both facing child abuse charges, stemming from an incident in January. Police say a woman slapped, kicked and slammed the child down. During questions, the woman blamed the child for the abuse.
Police said a man witnessed it and didn’t do anything about it and told the other six children inside the home to lie about it.
When the child went back to Tavares Elementary, school officials said they noticed bruising the shape of a hand imprint, bruising over the left eye and even noticed the child’s eye was bleeding, so they contacted DCF.
Lake County school officials said all school employees are trained each year to spot signs of child abuse.
“Our teachers are on the front lines. They’re the ones who see the students every day, much more so than those of us who work in a district office,” said Sherri Owens, with the Lake County School District.
School officials said staff members are required by law to report abuse.
The child has been removed from the home.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Afghanistan: Taliban Child Soldier Recruitment Surges

Human Rights Watch

Children Trained in Madrasas to Fight, Plant IEDs
(New York) – Taliban forces in Afghanistan have added scores of children to their ranks since mid-2015 in violation of the international prohibition on the use of child soldiers, Human Rights Watch said today.
New Human Rights Watch research shows that the Taliban have been training and deploying children for various military operations including the production and planting of improvised explosive devices (IED). In Kunduz province, the Taliban have increasingly used madrasas, or Islamic religious schools, to provide military training to children between the ages of 13 and 17, many of whom have been deployed in combat.
Boys are seen reading the Koran through a hole in a wall in a madrasa in Kabul on July 26, 2012.
“The Taliban’s apparent strategy to throw increasing numbers of children into battle is as cynical and cruel as it is unlawful,” said Patricia Gossman, senior Afghanistan researcher. “Afghan children should be at school and at home with their parents, not exploited as cannon fodder for the Taliban insurgency.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed relatives of 13 children recruited as Taliban soldiers over the past year, and verified these claims through interviews with civil society activists, political analysts, and the United Nations. Despite Taliban claims that they only enlist fighters who have achieved “mental and physical maturity,” and do not use “boys with no beards” in military operations, some of the children recruited from madrasas in Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces are 13 or younger. The Taliban have previously denied “the use of children and adolescents in Jihadic Operations,” but its deployment of individuals under the age of 18 violates international law applicable in Afghanistan and in cases involving children under 15 is a war crime.
The Taliban’s apparent strategy to throw increasing numbers of children into battle is as cynical and cruel as it is unlawful. Afghan children should be at school and at home with their parents, not exploited as cannon fodder for the Taliban insurgency.

Patricia Gossman

senior Afghanistan researcher
Kunduz residents and analysts say that the increase in recruitment and deployment of child fighters coincided with the Taliban’s major offensive in northern Afghanistan that began in April 2015. Human Rights Watch interviews with activists and analysts indicate that the Taliban-run madrasas have been functioning in Kunduz, as well as other northern provinces, since at least 2012. As the Taliban made substantial inroads in 2013-2014, gaining ground in Kunduz’s Chahardara and Dasht-e Archi districts, they gained more influence over education in the province. Taliban commanders increasingly used madrasas not only for indoctrination, but also for military training of children. Previously, Taliban commanders sent boys selected for military training to North Waziristan in Pakistan, where despite Pakistan’s military operations, the Taliban operates freely in large swathes of territory. While such training still occurs, the Taliban has solidified its control over at least three districts in Kunduz and residents and analysts told Human Rights Watch that the group is carrying out more of the military training locally.
The Taliban recruit and train children in age-specific stages. Boys begin indoctrination as young as six years old, and continue to study religious subjects under Taliban teachers for up to seven years. According to relatives of boys recruited by the Taliban, by the time they are 13, Taliban-educated children have learned military skills including use of firearms, and the production and deployment of IEDs. Taliban teachers then introduce those trained child soldiers to specific Taliban groups in that district.
“The Taliban’s increasing use of children as soldiers only adds to the horrors of Afghanistan’s long conflict both for the children and their families,” Gossman said. “The Taliban should immediately stop recruiting children and release all children in their ranks, even those who claim to have joined willingly.”
Please see below for additional information including accounts from relatives and friends of Taliban child soldiers.

Taliban Recruitment and Training of Children
The Taliban have recruited and used children as fighters since the 1990s, but Kunduz residents whose sons have been among those recruited, together with analysts who have monitored the recruitment drive, believe that recruitment increased in 2015 due to expanded Taliban operations against Afghan government forces. The establishment of training centers in madrasas in the Taliban’s expanded zone of control in Kunduz also led to increases in child soldier recruitment. Kunduz residents told Human Rights Watch that the Taliban had recruited and deployed more than 100 children from Chahardara district alone in 2015.
Because the Taliban begin the indoctrination of children from an early age, they are easily persuaded to fight. Relatives of child soldiers in Kunduz told Human Rights Watch that the Taliban target children because it is easy to convince them of the righteousness of jihad, and because they are at an age where they do not feel responsible for providing for a family and so are easily persuaded to take on dangerous tasks. In general, children are not recruited by force. However parents who have tried to retrieve their children are usually unable to do so because the Taliban claim that the boys are of age, or are committed to jihad regardless of their age.
The Taliban madrasas attract many poor families because the Taliban cover their expenses and provide food and clothing for the children. In some cases they offer cash to families for sending their boys to the madrasas. An expert on Kunduz told Human Rights Watch that traditionally, even before the Taliban established madrasas in these areas, rural and village families sent at least one son to the local madrasa because of the prestige associated with the status of becoming a mullah (someone educated in the basics of Islamic law). In the cases of child soldiers Human Rights Watch investigated, some boys attended the madrasas in the early morning hours and then attended government schools later in the day. Other boys who had been recruited attended the madrasas full time. For example, “Razeq,” (a pseudonym) 16, a resident of Chahardara district in Kunduz province, is a student in Class 6 at a government-run school, which he attends between 8 a.m. and noon every day. Between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. he attends a madrasa controlled by Malawi Abdul Haq, a Taliban commander in the district. As of late 2015, the madrasa had about 80 students, most of them children between the ages of 13 and 17. All of them are vulnerable to recruitment.
According to some reports, children as young as 10 years old fought with Taliban forces in the battles that led to the Taliban’s temporary takeover of Kunduz. Leila Zerrougui, the UN special representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, told Al-Jazeera that “children between the ages of 10 and 15 were used by the Taliban and dozens of them were deployed” during the fighting in Kunduz in September and October 2015.
International Law
International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, prohibits the recruitment or use of children under 15 by parties to a conflict. “Conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into armed forces or groups or using them to participate actively in hostilities” is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), to which Afghanistan belongs. Those who commit, order, assist, or have command responsibility for war crimes are subject to prosecution by the ICC or national courts.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (“the Optional Protocol”), which Afghanistan ratified in 2003, states that non-state armed groups may not, under any circumstances, recruit persons under 18 or use them in hostilities. The Optional Protocol also places obligations on governments to “take all feasible measures to prevent such recruitment and use, including the adoption of legal measures necessary to prohibit and criminalize such practices.” Military forces also have an obligation to provide children with special respect and attention. The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that governments “take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by armed conflict.”
Relatives and Friends of Taliban Child Soldiers Speak Out
The following accounts are based on Human Rights Watch interviews with the relatives of 13 boys recruited into the Taliban in 2015, and interviews with community elders who have worked with the families to try to get the boys released. The names of the boys and other identifying details have been changed for their families’ security. In all cases, the parents tried unsuccessfully to secure the return of their sons. In some cases the children were killed during the fighting in Kunduz in 2015. In each of these cases the Taliban commanders responsible for recruiting the boys were based in Kunduz. Because it was not possible to contact the Taliban for their views on these allegations, we have not referred to these commanders by name.​
-Qasem, 15, was a resident of Chahardara district, Kunduz province, where he attended a local madrasa. In June or July 2015, a Taliban military unit recruited him as a soldier. A community elder who has been assisting the families of boys who have been recruited told Human Rights Watch:
On three occasions in July, August, and September 2015, Qasem’s parents contacted Taliban Commander A who was in charge of the unit, begging to have their son returned to them, but they were refused. They told Commander A: “We will send him to you after three years when he is of age. He should study until that time and be with his parents,” but the commander refused to release their son.
-Ahmad was the son of a merchant in Chahardara district. In May 2015, when he was 14 years old, Taliban forces under a senior Taliban commander, Commander B, recruited Ahmad as a soldier. According to members of the family, about a week after her son was recruited, Ahmad’s mother appealed to Commander B to release her son, but he refused.
In June 2015 Afghan government forces launched a clearing operation in Chahardara district, and both Qasem and Ahmad were deployed. According to a source close to the family who lived in the village where the operation took place:
When the government forces counter-attacked, both Qasem and Ahmad, along with a civilian woman named Zahra who was living nearby, were killed. The boys’ families recovered their bodies.
-Mohammad, 15, was a resident of Chahardara district, Kunduz province. He was in Class 7 at the local government school, but also attended a local madrasa. In June 2015 an armed group under Taliban Commander A recruited him as a child soldier. Mohammad’s parents have said that when they went to Commander A and asked for the return of their son, he refused to release him.
-Farhad, 17, is from a village in Chahardara district of Kunduz province. A family source said:
Farhad joined the Taliban over his father’s objections. He is currently a fighter in Commander B’s group. His parents together with local elders went to the Taliban several times and asked another commander in this group, Commander C, to free Qari [an honorific bestowed on someone who has learned to read the Quran ] Farhad. Commander C then asked Farhad if he wanted to go back to his family, but as Qari Farhad wanted to stay, Commander C told his parents and other local elders that “your sons are better Muslims than yourselves. They don’t leave jihad.”
-Atar, 17, is from Chahardara district. He was a student at a local madrasa, which he had attended from the time he was 6 years old. In May or June 2015, forces under Taliban Commander B recruited him as a soldier. His parents have unsuccessfully tried to secure his release.
-Mati, 15, was also the resident of a village in Chahardara district. In June 2015, after his father died, the Taliban recruited him into an armed group under the command of Commander D. A relative said:
They cheated him. Mati’s uncle went to bring him back, but the Taliban would not let him go with his uncle. Then fighting [with Afghan government forces] erupted [in July 2015], and in the fighting Mati was killed in an airstrike. Friends who lived in Khotagert, the area he died, found the body and told his uncle, who came and buried him.
-Mansur, 15, was a resident of a village in Chahardara district, Kunduz province. In May 2015 he was recruited into an armed group. A relative said:
Commander A sent him to Waziristan in Pakistan for training in making explosives. His responsibility in the armed group is to plant IEDs in government agencies and government cars. The family has been unable to secure his release.
-Najib, 16, is from a village, in Chahardara district. A relative said that the Taliban recruited him against the family’s wishes:
His father is not alive and his grandfather sent him to Turkey to avoid Taliban recruitment, but he came back and the Taliban recruited him into the group of commander B.
-Hesam, 16, is also from Chahardara district. Forces under Taliban commander A recruited him when he was 14 or 15. On May 5, 2015, he was injured in Kunduz while fighting for the Taliban, and treated in a clinic in Kunduz. When his father tried to bring him home after his treatment, he ran away and joined commander A’s group again.
-Malek, 14, a student at a local madrasa, was recruited by his teacher, Commander E, one of the Taliban’s principal recruiters in Chahardara district. A relative said:
Before recruiting Malek, the Taliban took his cousin Esmat by force over his father’s objections. However, Esmat’s father succeeded in getting Esmat released and sent him to Iran to save him. Currently Qari Malek is tasked with carrying RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] in Commander B’s unit.
-Burhan, 14, is also from Chahardara district. A relative told Human Rights Watch:
Qari Burhan was recruited in March or April 2015 into Commander B’s armed group, where he is armed with a Kalashnikov [assault rifle]. After he was recruited, he was sent to Waziristan [in Pakistan] to be trained in using explosive materials. He came back to the front after three months training in July 2015 and is active in Commander B’s armed group. Two of Burhan’s uncles are with the Taliban.
-Emad, 16, is a resident of a village near Kunduz city center. He was a student in a local government-run school until he was recruited into commander E’s armed group, over his family’s objections. According to a family member, “Emad’s widowed mother requested that the Taliban release him from their group, but they refused.”
-Navid, 16, is a resident of Kunduz center. According to his family, he has been made part of commander B’s bodyguard. He sits at the back of a Taliban commander’s motorcycle and rides with him, carrying a Kalashnikov.