Shockwaves are reverberating around the Republic of Uzbekistan following the recent arrest of human-rights activist Ruslan Sharipov, one of the last independent critics of the repressive government of this former Soviet Central Asian state. While Sharipov has been charged with homosexuality – which is illegal in Uzbekistan – few doubt that the real reason for the arrest was that he had dared to call for reform of the human-rights policies of the regime of President Islam Karimov.
And reform is urgently needed. The human-rights record of Karimov – the former hard-line communist boss who has ruled the republic since independence in 1991 – is appalling. According to the UN, torture of political opponents and religious dissenters is ‘systematic’, with arbitrary arrests, intimidation, extortion and extra-judicial killings by police commonplace. In January 2003 Human Rights Watch reported 7,000 prisoners of conscience in Uzbek jails. These include secular and Islamist political opponents of the regime, human-rights activists, journalists and environmental campaigners: indeed, anyone who has dared to voice criticism of the President (who, ironically, drafted the constitution declaring that ‘censorship is impermissible’). Furthermore, courts have detained large numbers of otherwise apolitical pious Muslims because Karimov fears they might pose a threat at some point in the future.
The human-rights bodies were right. In a major propaganda coup, President Karimov used his opening address to laud the development of Uzbekistan, claiming that the meeting in Tashkent was evidence that censorship has been abolished and reforms successfully implemented. But even while the conference was proceeding, Uzbek officials were harassing and detaining human-rights activists.
The preparedness of the Minority World to turn a blind eye while this was happening was explained in the conference speeches. Karimov stressed Uzbekistan’s support for the US ‘war on terror’ and the invasion of Iraq. Since September 2001 Uzbekistan has emerged as Washington’s most loyal ally in the region, allowing US forces to establish a base in the country to mount operations in Afghanistan. As a reward, ‘aid’ has been increased and repression overlooked. In his conference speech, US Treasury Under Secretary John Taylor ignored Uzbekistan’s baleful human-rights record, saying instead that the US was ‘Uzbekistan’s friend’, and reserving its only criticism for the EBRD itself.
With such US backing, President Karimov can celebrate a conference that has consolidated his hold on power while political prisoners like Ruslan Sharipov must face their fate in Uzbek jails – forgotten victims in the ‘war on terror’.
Machismo makes everyone sick
The study – presented at the 16th World Congress on Sexology – says that cultural norms indicate that generally men must ‘never say no’ to temptations on the street. This exposes many adolescents to damage from tobacco, alcohol and drugs. It also justifies the use of violence – even against women – as a masculine form of channelling emotions or frustrations. In addition, machistas scorn any attention to personal care, such as visits to a doctor, as a sign of weakness. As a consequence, PAHO estimates that the health burden for men is 26-per-cent higher than for women in Latin America and the Caribbean, with the difference mainly associated with the social construction of masculinity.
The editorial from the internet edition of Dawn comments: ‘The situation in many other parts of the country is no better either. The fact that their tormentors are seldom, if ever, brought to justice, makes it only more alarming… Regressive social practices, rooted in tribal and feudal customs and traditions, coupled with an obscurantist interpretation of religious edicts, are the main hurdles in the way of according women their due rights, status and protection. Pakistan cannot become a moderate, progressive and prosperous Muslim country without strengthening civil society and abiding by its norms.’
Twenty-seven-year-old Almir Lahi, a young Roma refugee, is angry. His eyes are burning with desperation. ‘We want Europe to see our problems but for four years Europe has closed its eyes.’
Almir, his wife and two infant daughters are staying in a ‘tent’ made of wood and clear plastic: cold during the night and hot during the day. They are part of a group of 700 Roma refugees from Kosovo in Macedonia, living in an improvised camp on the Greek border. For nearly two months they have been waiting here, demanding a new life in a country in the European Union (EU).
The Kosovan Albanians accuse the Roma of being Serb collaborators. Albanian extremists forced many to flee after the end of NATO’s bombing campaign in 1999. Four years later it is still not safe for them to return. An estimated 70,000 live as refugees in Serbia & Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia alone.
In early 2003, the UNHCR closed the camp where these refugees had lived for three years – near Skopje, Macedonia’s capital. So they headed for Greece in search of asylum. They organized themselves well, rented buses and brought just the most necessary things. In the middle of a May night they left for Medzitlija, a border crossing 200 kilometres from Skopje. They were stopped. Greece was not interested in taking them. After a few days of tension with the Macedonian special forces (who beat 40 of them) they have slowly built a mini shantytown on the border – from wood and plastic they have gathered.
Their prospects of deliverance seem remote. As one angry woman says: ‘The European and American armies brought the Albanian refugees back home in three months, but we have been refugees for more than four years and nobody cares.’
Ugandan businesses smashed in honour of Bush
On a Sunday night, one week before Bush’s whirlwind four-hour visit, local council employees arrived to start demolishing stalls and food plots on vacant land lining the roads along the route the Bush motorcade would travel – from Entebbe airport to the luxurious Botanical Resort Hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria a few kilometres away. Deemed an eyesore and a security risk to the President, they had to go.
The council workers gave only one hour’s warning of the demolitions, and they arrived in the night with armed security guards. By comparison, when President Clinton visited in 1998, stallholders were given a week’s notice and were able to rebuild their stalls.
Some of the stallholders had operated their businesses here for more than 20 years – like Christopher and Mugambo, both blacksmiths whose businesses (which mostly involved the making of small charcoal cookers from scrap metal) were completely destroyed. Bako, a woman with five young children to support, showed the cleared land where her 10-year craft business once operated. Unza, who operated a chicken-meat stall, told how every one of his 200 birds had died from the stress of the demolition.
There will be no compensation and they have been told they cannot rebuild on their old sites.
Climate litigation warms up
Friends of the Earth
Global justice groups are gathering in the Mexican resort city of Cancún, preparing forums and mobilizations to protest the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference that starts on 10 September.
Up to 100,000 people from around the world are expected to arrive in Cancún to ‘push the WTO meeting into failure’, according to Héctor de la Cueva, spokesperson for the Mexican Network of Action Against Free Trade (REMALC). The network has been working for the past year to co-ordinate actions and set up a Peoples’ Forum for Alternatives as a counterweight to the conference.
The WTO Ministerial Conference, the fifth such meeting, will take place in a luxurious convention centre of 19,000 square metres. Delegates from the WTO’s 146 member states will attend.
Governments want the Cancún conference to produce advances in key areas of multilateral trade liberalization. But judging from the preparatory meetings, there is little consensus amongst the various parties. The talks are bogged down in issues of trade in agricultural products and poor countries’ access to low-cost essential medicines, among others.For the past two months in Cancún – a major tourist destination on the Mexican Caribbean coast with its luxury hotels, shopping centres and beaches – hundreds of soldiers and police have been keeping watch over the official preparations for the September conference.
‘The objective of our groups in Cancún is to derail the Ministerial Conference and to lift our voices against unjust globalization and the power of the WTO,’ said Alberto Gómez, leader of the National Union of Autonomous Peasant Organizations of Mexico. Some 400 agrarian organizations from around the world with links to the international farmers’ group Vía Campesina will have a major presence in Cancún. Their tentative plan is to block land access to Cancún by setting up camps and erecting roadblocks on the major routes.
The international movement against neoliberal economic globalization has gathered force in the past few years, with groups of all different stripes showing up at major world forums on trade, development and finance.
The movement’s most spectacular achievement took place in 1999 in Seattle, when massive street mobilizations contributed to the failure of the WTO Ministerial Conference.
At the World Social Forum 2003 in February, one of the resolutions urged a convergence on the WTO meeting in Cancún, to make it the ‘next Seattle’.
Diego Cevallos, IPS
On the WTO's table
Now corporations have been heavily lobbying for the inclusion of new issues ripe for trade liberalization, including agreements on investment, competition policy, government procurement and trade facilitation. Developing countries are opposed to this. Barry Coates, Director of the World Development Movement, says an investment agreement ‘would give companies more rights, while ruling off limits to developing countries many regulations which are crucial tools of development of the last line of defence against corporate wrong-doing. There is no real evidence that such an agreement would lead to even one more dollar in investment going to developing countries.’
Corporations are attracted to the WTO to get business-friendly trade rules because it has teeth. It has power to act on behalf of corporations when the rules don’t suit them, by punishing governments who interfere with free trade.
Links: WTO site: www.wto.org
An international day of action has been called for 9 September. Protests against the WTO will take place around the world. For more information visit: http://espora.org/cancun03/index.pl?En
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