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War on terror - or on human rights?

Since the 11 September attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last year, governments around the world have proclaimed ‘war on terror’.  The effects on Afghanistan and (to a lesser extent) Iraq have been widely reported. Less attention is being given to the war’s worldwide ramifications: the erosion of human rights as internal dissent is opportunistically renamed ‘terrorism’. According to Amnesty International: ‘Countries are using the attacks of 11 September as an excuse for internment, repression of opposition groups or restriction of basic human rights.’

Some examples are listed here:

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Since 11 September, Egyptian authorities have clamped down on those suspected of having links with armed Islamic groups. The Government has ordered nearly 300 suspected Islamists to be tried in three separate cases before the Supreme Military Court, despite their civilian status. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has noted that ‘we have much to learn’ from Egypt’s anti-terrorist tactics, despite the fact that such tactics have been used against non-violent critics and include emergency rule, detention without trial and trials before military courts.

Source: Human Rights Watch

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Word corner

A shanty town is an area of makeshift housing, but what is a shanty? A shanty is a roughly built cabin or hut; the first recorded use is in Ohio in 1820. In Canadian French a chantier is a cabin used by a lumberjack or shantyman. Chantier is from the Latin cantherius (beam or rafter). Or shanty may be from the Irish sean tig (old house).

Bidon is French for oil drum or petrol tin; bidonville is a shanty town, usually in Africa, made of bidons. Other words for shanty towns are favela and rancho (South America), barrio (Central America) and busti and kampong (Asia).

Susan Watkin

After three decades of a civil war that has claimed more than 3,500 lives (mostly unarmed civilians) each year, Andres Pastrana was elected President in 1998 on the promise that he would work with both leftist rebels and right-wing military groups to achieve peace. The leftist guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) emerged in 1964 when peasants challenging the interests of large landowners were brutally repressed. In recent years it has financed its struggle through extortion, kidnapping and taxes on drug production. In order to get FARC to the negotiating table, President Pastrana granted them control of a 42,000-square-kilometre demilitarized zone.

In 2000, US President Clinton approved Plan Colombia: a $1.3-billion aid package to the Colombian Government to train and equip the army.

With US backing like this during Pastrana’s term, the country’s military has grown from 79,000 to 140,000 soldiers. Some 60,000 of them are professional, three times more than in 1998. Pastrana pitched the plan as an effort to strengthen the peace process and boost economic development. However, when faced with increased rebel violence in recent months and emboldened by the present intolerance for armed struggle, Pastrana broke off the three-year peace negotiations in January and February this year and ordered the military to retake the 42,000-square-kilometre zone. Over 200 bombing raids have been carried out since then. The civil war is now expected to intensify.

Sources: Dr Lynn Holland (University of Colorado), BBC, Human Rights Watch The Sixth Division, AP, Project Underground, Amazon Watch

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Macedonia came close to civil war last year, when ethnic Albanians staged an uprising demanding greater rights. Although the new Constitution formalized at the end of last year recognizes their rights, the tension in the country remains. On 2 March this year, seven men were killed by police in a suburb of the capital, Skopje. The police called them ‘Muslim terrorists’ and claimed that they found a number of uniforms during the raid that belonged to the now-defunct ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army. Doubts about these claims have led to suggestions that the incident was staged to disrupt the fragile peace between the Government and the ethnic Albanian minority.

Source: Institute for War Peace Reporting

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The US armed presence in the Philippines, ended by a Philippine Senate vote in 1991, has been revived, with 600 troops now stationed in the southern island of Mindanao. These troops are allegedly fighting the Abu Sayyaf: around 80 bandits who are holding three people for ransom. Commentators suspect their real target to be separatists in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Some 300 extra US troops are also in the country, said to be undertaking ‘civic action’ such as road-building.

Sources: CAFCA

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Although the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (‘Eastern Turkestan’) lies outside China’s natural borders and was independent for half of the 1940s, it fell under the rule of Communist China in 1949. Since then, the Eastern Turkestani Muslims have suffered a repression comparable to Tibetans.

The region shares a narrow border with Afghanistan. Since 11 September, the Chinese authorities have stepped up their repression, justifying the detention of thousands of Eastern Turkestanis with the claim that they are ‘ethnic separatists’ linked with international ‘terrorists’. There have been a number of reports that ‘separatists’ have been sentenced in front of large crowds at ‘public sentencing meetings’ with some executed immediately after the rallies and others receiving long prison terms.

Some Muslim clerics have been detained for teaching the Qur’an. Thousands of others have been subjected to heavy scrutiny and ‘political education’, mosques have been closed and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan was banned in schools, hospitals and government offices.

Amnesty International has called on governments to refrain from returning to China anyone who is allegedly associated with any radical Islamist movement. Such individuals are likely to face torture or the death penalty on their return.

Sources: Amnesty International, Turkish Daily News

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While large-scale fighting in Chechnya nominally ended in 2000, Russian forces continue to detain hundreds of people without charge in the operations against rebel forces in this predominantly Muslim republic. Most have been subsequently released, but dozens remain unaccounted for and are not seen by their families again.

Western concern since 11 September has been muted, though since that date at least one person per week in Chechnya has ‘disappeared’ after being taken into custody by Russian forces. The UN Commission on Human Rights chose to ignore the Russia/Chechnya conflict in April. This has not been lost on the Kremlin. Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a correspondent with Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose reporting on Chechnya won her Index on Censorship’s award for Most Courageous Defence of Freedom of Expression, has witnessed Russian troops engaging in new levels of extortion, looting and rape in the Chechen village of Stariye Atag. She writes: ‘The federal forces took 300 roubles from the poorer-looking houses and 500 from the richer ones. Women were spared rape if they handed over earrings and necklaces. The poorest in Stariye Atagi suffered worst of all, because they had nothing to give the Russians.’

Source: Human Rights Watch, Institute for War Peace Reporting

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In the two months following the 11 September attacks, more than 1,200 non-US nationals were taken into custody in nationwide sweeps for possible suspects. Most were Arab or South Asian men detained for immigration violations. Amnesty International estimates some 300 of those arrested remain in the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and an unknown number of others have been deported or released on bail, sometimes after months in custody. To date, the Government has provided only limited data about those arrested, including neither the names nor the places of detention of those held, and immigration proceedings in many such cases have been closed to public scrutiny.

The Pentagon plans to spend $27 billion on terrorism during the 2003 fiscal year. The total Defense budget is $369 billion, with an extra $10 billion if it is needed for the war on terrorism.

Sources: www.whitehouse.gov; www.space4peace.org, Amnesty International

1 The lesser number is that given by the US military (www.nsgtmo.navy.mil) and the higher number is the estimate reported by the BBC, The Guardian and CNN.

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Gun law
From Chechnya to China, from Colombia to the Philippines, peace processes with those seeking independent territory are being jettisoned as governments instead direct their armies to pick up their guns and start firing at separatists. In so doing, soldiers engage in the type of ‘terrorist’ conduct that they say they are fighting. The Israeli Government’s offensive to root out terrorist infrastructure – directed against the Palestinians since 29 March 2002 – is the most publicized example. The Israeli military claims to have come close to eradicating all main Palestinian militant groups through arrests or attacks.

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Timor oil pressure
Independence comes at a high price

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Seriously... You couldn't make this stuff up

Media-watch group FAIR points out that US public-service broadcaster PBS stringently rejects documentaries from biased or ‘self-interested’ sources. It refused to air The Money Lenders, a 1993 documentary on the World Bank, on the grounds that: ‘Even though the documentary may seem objective to some, there is a perception of bias in favor of poor people who claim to be adversely affected.’

Fortunately there is no such unsporting ‘bias in favour of poor people’ in the latest globalization documentary on PBS. Settle down with some popcorn to watch The Commanding Heights, the thrilling tale of the irresistible rise of the glorious global free market – brought to you by BP, FedEx and collapsed energy giant Enron, who all funded the documentary.

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Trade Terriers
Everyone has their favourite George W Bush story. Seriously recalls the time Bush caused panic-selling of the Japanese currency by discussing ‘devaluation’ of the yen (he meant ‘deflation’). Doh!

And who could fail to be taken with Bush’s vivid global trade metaphors when he conflated ‘tariffs’ and ‘barriers’ into ‘terriers’. Presumably Bush opposes other nations keeping these protectionist small dogs, but is in favour of employing fierce trade terriers to guard the steel industry at home.

Dubya is no genetic throwback, but the inheritor of a proud tradition of misspoken Presidents. His father, Bush Senior, assessed the environmental effects of the Alaskan oil pipeline in mindboggling fashion, observing: ‘The caribou love it. They rub against it and they have babies.’

Reagan, about to go on the air for a radio broadcast and unaware that the microphone was already on, announced: ‘My fellow Americans, I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.’ Frightening prospect though it is, Seriously begins to wonder whether Dubya could even be the product of the happy mingling of George Bush Senior and Ronald Reagan’s gaffe-prone genetic material.

For Bush Senior once memorably admitted: ‘For seven and a half years I’ve worked alongside President Reagan. We’ve had triumphs. Made some mistakes. We’ve had some sex... uh... setbacks.’

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After 500 years of colonialism 2002 marks an outstanding victory for self-determination in East Timor. But in the world’s newest nation, the struggle for economic independence is just beginning.

Since the cataclysmic end to Indonesian occupation in 1999, East Timor’s economy has been reliant on donations from countries, most of which supported its annexation. That should change in 2005 when enough oil and gas revenues from the Timor Sea come online to sustain Government expenditure. In the meantime, international donors are being asked by the East Timor Government to save the country from going into debt by bridging its expected ‘gap’ (a third of its budget) with $91 million in grants.

Despite the modesty of the request, foreign donors (including the US, Australia, and Japan) want the World Bank – not the East Timor Government – to administer the grants. East Timor’s Finance Minister, Fernanda Borges, resigned in April. The main fear held by commentators inside the country now is that the grants will be made contingent upon East Timor giving up oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea: an implicit part of World Bank negotiations.

While the Timor Sea reserves are in a seabed claimed by both Australia and East Timor, a treaty negotiated between Australia and the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor entitles East Timor to 90 per cent and Australia to 10 per cent of the oil and gas revenues in a ‘Joint Petroleum Development Area’ within the disputed territory. This sounds favourable for East Timor. Yet the area covered by the treaty holds less than half the petroleum reserves in the disputed area. Most of the reserves, and most of the revenue from them, flow to Australia. Australia is acting to ensure that these revenue flows continue. It may be East Timor’s fourth-largest donor, but it wants to give millions with one hand and take an estimated $30 billion in future oil and gas revenue with the other.

At a conference in the capital, Dili in late March, PetroTimor (a US oil company vying for a stake in the area) produced expert legal advice saying that the treaty compromised East Timor’s position under current international law on maritime boundaries, that would have given East Timor almost all of the reserves in the Timor Sea. PetroTimor offered to fund East Timor’s case against Australia in the International Court of Justice, in return for a cut of the revenues. The International Court of Justice can determine a case only when both countries in dispute accept its jurisdiction. The Monday following PetroTimor’s revelations, the Australian Government announced that it had withdrawn from the court’s jurisdiction on maritime boundaries claiming that disputes were better settled through ‘negotiation’. Meanwhile, UN advisers presently in East Timor are supporting the continuation of the treaty, and Australia’s economic position under it.

East Timor’s Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, has described the move as an ‘unfriendly act’. But East Timor needs money: even if it comes from short-term grants and inequitable treaties. The donor grants will help this emerging nation avoid the debt trap and be independent from the World Bank in the long term. But economic freedom comes at a high price. East Timor may have to compromise some of its sovereignty and most of its natural wealth to get it.

Quinton Temby

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New Internationalist issue 346 magazine cover This article is from the June 2002 issue of New Internationalist.
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