New Internationalist

Updates

Issue 318

new internationalist
issue 318 - November 1999

Update

HUMAN RIGHTS

Forgotten province
China’s oppression furthers Uyghur separatist sentiment

Left in the shadows - the Uyghurs of China are used and abused.
CATHERINE PLATT / STILL PICTURES

Although China is well known for its abuses of human rights in Tibet and among its own people, it is also responsible for violent oppression in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), according to a briefing in the US Congress.

The Advocacy Director for Amnesty International USA, T Kumar, says that the XUAR, also known as Eastern Turkestan, is a ‘forgotten province’, due to the Chinese Government’s travel restrictions and tough security measures.

Witnesses from the region, whose names are kept secret for their protection, spoke about their contact with the brutal policies of the Chinese Government. The XUAR is the only place within China where political prisoners are still being executed. More than one panellist related their first-hand knowledge of forced abortions. Those that object to the birth-control policies for traditional and religious reasons are sent to jail.

The panellists also detailed some of the degrading methods used to break the spirit of the Uyghur people, such as gang raping of Uyghur women, setting mad dogs on naked prisoners and the routine use of electric cattle prods to coax confessions.

Uyghur intellectuals spoke about the abuses suffered by anyone who dared to question Chinese authority. Translating an American book on Sino-Russian relations into Uyghur caused one panellist to be threatened by Chinese authorities and forced him to flee. Another panellist spoke about setting up an Uyghur cultural society to help young people stay away from drugs and alcohol, but the organization was smashed and the leaders sent to jail to be interrogated and tortured.

Mass Chinese immigration to Eastern Turkestan is making the Uyghurs a minority there. The Chinese population has grown from 6 per cent in 1949 to 38 per cent in 1997. Official documents state that Chinese population in the region must increase by 30 per cent by the year 2000.

This has a serious effect on Uyghur employment opportunities. In the XUAR, 99 per cent of petroleum workers are Chinese, as are 95 per cent of the employees of the XUAR, local governments and major industries.

Meanwhile the Government steals the region’s riches – 100 million tons of petroleum products per year are extracted from Eastern Turkestan and sent to the People’s Republic of China. Chinese mining interests inside the XUAR control 85 per cent of all their mining capacity.

The creation of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as homelands for local peoples formerly dominated by Russia has been an inspiration to large numbers of the 16 millions Uyghurs. The contrast with their own position could hardly be greater, as the Chinese Government accelerates its programme of wiping out all traces of Uyghur culture, customs, traditions and religion while extracting all the natural resources from their land.

Material drawn from Human Rights Violations in Western China: The Brutal Persecution of Uyghurs Continues, House Human Rights Caucus.

The best espresso in Cape Town - but can it stop the gamma rays?
CHRIS SATTLBERGER / PANOS PICTURES

Nuclear radiation and the cuppa coffee
Coffee can save your body from the effects of radiation, according to scientists studying the health of caffeine-pumped mice in India. Researchers injected 471 mice with varying doses of caffeine and then exposed them to 7.5 grays of gamma radiation, a dose which usually kills. But, 25 days later, 70 per cent of the mice which were given large doses of caffeine an hour before radiation exposure were still alive. All of the 196 mice not given caffeine before radiation exposure died. Researcher Kachadpillill George suggests that caffeine reacts with the hydroxyl radicals produced when cells are irradiated, which prevents the radicals from damaging cells and shutting down vital bodily functions. But can caffeine protect human bodies from radiation? A person weighing 70 kilos might need to drink at least 100 cups of coffee to receive the same dose of caffeine as the mice. But George suggests that smaller amounts of caffeine may protect people from lower doses of radiation than those used in his experiment.

New Scientist No 2192

Taking their chances
Australians are the heaviest gamblers in the world, spending twice as much per head on gambling as people in Europe and North America – $7 billion last year. More than 80 per cent of Australians gamble and at least half of them do so once a week. Spending around $8,000 a year are ‘problem gamblers’, who comprise 2.3 per cent of the population.

Once gamblers bet on horses and bought lottery tickets, but now, after the recent legalization of gaming machines, Australia has 20 per cent of the world’s gaming machines catering for only 0.3 per cent of the global population. Casinos have also spread across the country. One of the world’s biggest casinos, the Crown, is in Melbourne, Victoria. The State Government of Victoria now derives more than 15 per cent of its revenue from gambling.

Economist Vol 352 No 8133

Making the best of it: a party in Omdurman Women's Prison.
MICHAEL WALTER /
PANOS PICTURES

 

 

Booze, jail and no justice
More women are being put into overcrowded prisons for minor offences in Sudan. For example, the maximum capacity of the old Omdurman Prison for Women is 200 inmates but its population has exceeded 1,200 several times in recent history. The annual turnover is 11,200 inmates in this prison alone. And there could be over 200 children under four years old, without any food, bedding, shelter or medical care who live in the prison with their mothers. Ninety-five per cent of the female prisoners are in jail for brewing liquor, which is a crime in Northern Sudan.

Over 50 per cent of the inmates return to prison as they find liquor-brewing their only way to make a living. Instead of tackling the problem from a legal and social angle, the Government decided to increase the incarceration capacity of the prison. The number of imprisoned women rises daily.

Tag Elkhazin/Newslink Africa Vol 17 No 32

 

Gentle persuasion: indigenous children in Mexico City's Zocalo Square.
MARK EDWARDS / STILL PICTURES

Migrants unwelcome in Mexico City
Indigenous Mexicans suffer from extreme poverty, racism and difficult living conditions in Mexico City. One in every twenty residents of Mexico’s capital city is indigenous. A few still wear traditional clothing and preserve their culture, cultivating crops and maintaining meeting places, especially in the city’s south. But for many, the benefits of urban development are few. About 43 per cent of the indigenous people say they have been mistreated by public officials, and 75 per cent say they did not know where to seek help in the case of such abuse. ‘Although indigenous migrants resist the pressures of urban life and try to improve their situation, they find themselves at the most extreme level of poverty,’ said Federico Martínez of the city’s Secretariat of Education, Health and Social Development. ‘They leave rural poverty to enter into a form of violent, inhumane poverty.’

Latin America Press Vol 31 No 30

Longer life, more obstacles
In the International Year for Older Persons, it is becoming clear that the problems of older people are predominantly those of women. There has been a general increase in life expectancy since 1950, although the levels of this increase vary widely between countries: in Uganda the life expectancy of women has increased two years, while in Japan it has increased by over twenty years. No scientific explanation has been established as to why women live longer although it is suggested that greater male exposure to risk factors such as smoking, alcohol and occupational hazards may be a factor. According to the US Bureau of the Census, at the age of 65 the proportion of disability-free life remaining tends to be less for women. Women’s health and access to healthcare are disproportionately affected by high levels of poverty and economic dependence, violence, limited decision-making power and negative cultural attitudes.

Ageing and Development Issue 3

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POLLUTION
Buried but alive
Agent Orange is still on active duty in Thailand
Pollution and police in Bangkok - but Thais are threatened by more sinister poisons.
PAUL QUAYLE / PANOS PICTURES

Eight kilometres up the dusty road north out of Hua Hin in Thailand there is an airstrip called Bo Fai. During the invasion of Vietnam the Americans took it over. There they mixed together chemicals. Just a few – Merphos, Dimethoate, Dicamba, Tordon, Endothal, Tributil Phosphate, Diquat, Triazophos, Butylated Hydroxy Toluene and of course those old favourites Benzene, 2-4D and 2-4-5T. Then from a variety of military planes they dropped them on the Vietnamese. They called it ‘Agent Orange’.

Between 1962, when Kennedy began his chemical bloodbath against the Vietnamese people, and 1975, when the Americans ran from the country, the US Air Force dropped 50 million litres of Agent Orange on Vietnam, according to the Pentagon.

And it is not over in Hua Hin. To get tourists to come to Hua Hin they need a proper airport, so in 1998 they started digging up Bo Fai. And guess what they found? The Americans had simply buried Agent Orange in barrels at the end of the runway. Of course Agent Orange, being what it is, had corroded its way out into the surrounding soil. Dioxin poisoning was everywhere.

At first no-one knew what to do. The Thai Government system is hugely corrupt, massively influenced by the ever-menacing hand of the military and often open to bribery due to their pitiful resources.

The IMF and the World Bank have openly encouraged Thailand to have ‘zero investment’ in environmental protection and therefore encourage foreign capital. There is no way to prosecute anybody in Thailand for dioxin poisoning because there are no effective laws against it.

So back at Bo Fai the Government carried on as normal. They decided to dump it. Unfortunately for them, they dumped it on land owned by a relative of a local official, Khunnawut Orsuwan. Then they covered it over with asphalt. The Government is blaming the construction company and says it has ‘asked the local police to discuss the matter with the Hua Hin airport authority’.

Eventually the Government was forced to get the soil analyzed. By whom? The trusty US Environmental Protection Agency of course. But even the US Government had to admit to some kind of contamination. When the report was released the Thai Government astoundingly heralded it as a clean bill of health. ‘It (the dioxin) poses no threat,’ chirped Sirithan Pairoj-Boriboon, the deputy secretary to the Ministry Of Science, whilst the Ministry’s Chief Inspector Supavit Piamphongsant said it was ‘within acceptable levels’. These acceptable levels are 50 times above the standard set for dioxin contamination in the soil in the US, at 2.02 parts per billion. Liability is denied by the US Government and so far it has refused to comment. No doubt it hopes the controversy will just seep away.

Adam Porter

Slain in the search for peace
Lawyer, academic and civil-society activist Dr Neelan Thiruchelvam has been killed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are fighting for an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka. As a senior member of the Tamil United Liberation Front and Member of Parliament, Dr Thiruchelvam promoted the creation of a new constitution for Sri Lanka that would provide redress for minority grievances while also accommodating the aspirations and protecting the rights of all ethnic groups in the country. He was believed to have played a major role in the development of the People’s Alliance Government’s proposals for devolution of power to eight regional councils. Dr Thiruchelvam’s murder by a suicide bomber has been attributed to the LTTE, who have terrorized Tamils seeking non-violent solutions to the conflict.

ARTICLE 19/ http://www.article19.org/

Flare of terror: NATO bombs light up the sky over Belgrade.
ANDREW TESTA / PANOS PICTURES

US & NATO face charge of war crimes
A Commission of Inquiry for an International War Crimes Tribunal has been initiated by former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark. The Commission will hold hearings to collect eyewitness accounts, direct and expert testimony, video footage, photographs, documents and other evidence as part of an investigation into war crimes committed during the US/NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

The Commission of Inquiry will include international jurists, human-rights activists, trade unionists, medical personnel, environmental experts, rank-and-file soldiers from NATO countries, and people who were in Yugoslavia during the bombing. Clark is in the process of outlining a multi-point indictment of the US Government’s conduct in the war against Yugoslavia. The International Action Center is now in the process of organizing similar hearings throughout the United States, in other NATO countries, Russia and elsewhere. At the conclusion of these hearings, an International War Crimes Tribunal will be convened that will consider all of the evidence.

For further information contact:
Commission of Inquiry, c/o International Action Center,
39 West 14 St, #206 New York, NY 10011.
Tel: +1 212 633 6646. Fax: +1 212 633 2889.
E-mail: iacenter@iacenter.org  
website: www.iacenter.org 

Amazon killed for city growth
Brazil is now the biggest consumer of tropical hardwood as well as being the world’s biggest producer, according to a report by Friends of the Earth and the Institute for People and the Environment in the Amazon based in Belém. The study concludes that southern Brazil has ‘the most intense consumption of tropical timber in the world’ and urges policy changes to reduce the domestic timber market as well as limiting timber production. Brazil consumes 23 per cent of the world’s tropical hardwood, followed by Japan at 19 per cent.

New Scientist Vol 162 No 2192

Quote

‘Turkeys have smaller brains than wild birds – these are creatures that
can drown themselves by staring up at the rain for too long’

Rosie Mestel

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