Venezuela in Crisis

A woman with her face painted in the colors of Venezuela’s national flag takes part in the blockade of a highway in Caracas on April 24, 2017. (Photo: Fernando Llano/ AP); Background image: A demonstrator against President Nicolas Maduro’s government during a protest on the east side of Caracas on April 19, 2017. (Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty)

Introduction
Venezuela is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis marked by severe food and medicine shortages, soaring crime rates, and an increasingly authoritarian executive. Critics of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, say Venezuela’s economic woes are the fruit of years of economic mismanagement; Maduro’s supporters blame falling oil prices and the country’s “corrupt” business elites.

In January 2016, opposition lawmakers took a majority in the legislature—the National Assembly—for the first time in nearly two decades. However, the Maduro government has taken steps since to consolidate his power, including usurping some of the legislature’s powers. Maduro’s actions have been met with massive protests and international condemnation, including threats of expulsion from the Organization of American States.

I. Chavez’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution’

Chavez, a former military officer who launched an ill-fated coup in 1992, was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 on a populist platform. As a candidate, he railed against the country’s elites for widespread corruption, and pledged to use Venezuela’s vast oil wealth to reduce poverty and inequality. During his presidency, which lasted until his death in 2013, Chavez expropriated millions of acres of land and nationalized hundreds of private businesses and foreign-owned assets, including oil projects run by ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Chavez, whose rhetoric often drew inspiration from Simon Bolivar, the Venezuela-born revolutionary of the nineteenth century, aimed to align Latin American countries against the United States. He led the formation of ALBA, a bloc of socialist and leftist Latin American governments, and established the Petrocaribe alliance, in which Venezuela agreed to export petroleum at discounted rates to eighteen Central American and Caribbean states.

Chavez also greatly expanded the powers of the presidency. Shortly after he took office, voters approved a new constitution that allowed him to run for another term, removed one chamber of Congress, and reduced civilian control over the military. In 2004, two years after he was briefly removed from office in a coup, Chavez effectively took control of the Supreme Court by expanding its size and appointing twelve justices. In 2009, he led a successful referendum ending presidential term limits.

Chavez remained popular among the country’s poor throughout his presidency, expanding social services including food and housing subsidies, health care, and educational programs. The country’s poverty rate fell from roughly 50 percent in 1998, the year before he was elected, to 30 percent in 2012, the year before his death.

Maduro, who narrowly won the presidency in 2013, pledged to continue his former boss’s socialist revolution. “I am ensuring the legacy of my commander, Chavez, the eternal father,” he said after the vote.

In Pictures – Crisis in Venezuela
Click on images to enlarge and read caption.

II. An Oil-Based Economy
Venezuela is highly vulnerable to external shocks due to its heavy dependence on oil revenues. Oil accounts for about 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings and 25 percent of its GDP, according to figures from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The state-run petroleum company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), controls all the country’s oil exploration, production, and exportation. Critics say PDVSA is grossly mismanaged and suffers from cronyism, a bloated payroll, underinvestment in infrastructure, and a lack of budgetary oversight.

As global oil prices fell from $111 per barrel in 2014 to a low of $27 per barrel in 2016, Venezuela’s already shaky economy went into free fall. That year, GDP dropped 12 percent while inflation soared to 800 percent. By early 2017, the country owed $140 billion to foreign creditors while it held only $10 billion in reserves, raising fears of a default.

Many critics fault the Chavez government for squandering years of record oil income. “Chavez did not use the massive oil price boom between 2004 and 2013 to put money aside for a rainy day,” wrote Harvard University economist Ricardo Hausmann in 2016. Instead, he “used the boom to expropriate large swaths of the economy, impose draconian foreign currency and price controls, and to subsidize imports. All this weakened the economy and made the country more dependent on imports, which Venezuelans can no longer afford.”

III. Price Controls and Shortages
Venezuela’s economic crisis is marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, medical supplies, and staples like toilet paper and soap. Experts say the government’s strict price controls, which were meant to keep basic goods affordable for the country’s poor, are partly to blame. Many manufacturers in the country cut production because of the limits on what they could charge for their goods.

Another policy contributing to the country’s economic problems, many experts say, are currency controls, which were first introduced by Chavez in 2003 to curb capital flight. By selling U.S. dollars at different rates, the government effectively created a black market and increased opportunities for corruption. For instance, a business that is authorized to buy dollars at preferential rates in order to purchase priority goods like food or medicine could instead sell those dollars for a significant profit to third parties. In April 2017, the official exchange rate was ten bolivars to the dollar, while the black market rate was more than four thousand bolivars to the dollar.

Imports reportedly fell to $18 billion in 2016, down from $66 billion in 2012, as foreign-made goods became increasingly expensive. Many consumers are faced with the choice of waiting for hours in line for basic goods or paying exorbitant prices to so-called bachaqueros, or black market traffickers.

Experts say widespread expropriations have further diminished productivity. Transparency International, which ranks Venezuela 166 out of 176 on its perceived corruption index, reports that the government controls more than five hundred companies, most of which are operating at a loss. (By comparison, Brazil, which is more than six times as populous as Venezuela, has 130 state-run companies.)

IV. A Humanitarian Crisis

Observers have characterized the situation in Venezuela as a humanitarian crisis. In 2016, the head of the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation estimated that 85 percent of basic medicines were unavailable or difficult to obtain. Hospitals reportedly lack supplies like antibiotics, gauze, and soap. Infant mortality rates reportedly reached 18.1 per 1,000 live births in early 2016, up from 11.6 in 2011, while maternal mortality reached 130 per 100,000, more than twice the 2008 rate. Diseases like diphtheria and malaria, which had been previously eliminated from the country, have reemerged.

Poverty has also spiked. In 2016, a local university study found that more than 87 percent of the population said it did not have enough money to buy necessary food. Another study by a local nutrition organization found that 30 percent of school-aged children were malnourished. According to a 2016 report from Human Rights Watch, the Maduro administration “has vehemently denied the extent of the need for help and has blocked an effort by the opposition-led National Assembly to seek international assistance.”

Poverty and lack of opportunity are exacerbating Venezuela’s high rates of violence. Long one of the world’s most violent countries, in 2016 Venezuela experienced its highest-ever number of homicides: 28,479, or roughly 91.8 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, an independent monitoring group. (The U.S. rate, by comparison, is 5 per 100,000.) Maduro’s administration has deployed the military to combat street crime, but rights groups and foreign media have reported widespread abuses, including extrajudicial killings.

The humanitarian crisis has spilled across Venezuela’s borders, with thousands of desperate people crossing into neighboring Brazil and Colombia; others have left by boat to the nearby island of Curaçao. By some estimates, as many as 150,000 Venezuelans left the country in 2016 alone.

V. Political Turmoil

Amid the crisis, the Maduro administration has become increasingly autocratic. Opposition lawmakers, under the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, won a majority in the National Assembly in 2015 for the first time in sixteen years, but Maduro has taken several steps to undermine them. In September 2016, Venezuela’s electoral authority, which is considered loyal to Maduro, ordered the opposition to suspend a campaign to recall the president, sparking protests and international condemnation. The following month, the Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of powers to oversee the economy and annulled a law that would have freed eighty political prisoners, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. The president and the opposition subsequently entered into Vatican-brokered reconciliation talks, but those were declared “frozen” in November after Maduro administration officials stopped attending meetings. Maduro said he plans to stay in office until his term ends in 2019.

In March 2017, the judicial branch briefly dissolved the National Assembly. The court revised its order days later following an international outcry, but kept the legislature in contempt, effectively preventing lawmakers from passing laws. A week later the government barred opposition politician Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential election, from running for office for fifteen years, citing Capriles’s failure to secure proper approval for budgets and contracts.

Government security forces have attacked journalists, and several foreign reporters have been detained and, in some cases, expelled, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In 2017, Freedom House rated Venezuela as “not free,” making it one of two countries in the Western Hemisphere, along with Cuba, with the democracy watchdog’s lowest ranking.

VI. The Region Reacts
Mercosur, an economic and political bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, suspended Venezuela in 2016. In March 2017, the secretary-general of the Organization of the American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, recommended suspending Venezuela from the bloc unless the Maduro administration moved quickly to hold elections. The last time OAS suspended a member country was 2009, when it did so to Honduras following a military coup.

U.S. policy under Donald J. Trump appears to follow that of former President Barack Obama, writes CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Matthew Taylor. In February 2017, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Vice President Tareck El Aissami for his alleged involvement in international drug trafficking. Later that month Trump met with Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez, and called for his release. In April 2017, as protests continued in Caracas, the U.S. State Department issued a statement voicing concern over government actions against Capriles and demonstrators.

On May 19, The Trump administration sanctioned eight members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, including the court’s president, Maikel Moreno, the U.S. Treasury Department announced. U.S. officials said the sanctions were a direct response to an incident in March in which the Supreme Court annulled the nation’s democratically elected National Assembly, which is controlled by Venezuela’s opposition party. At the time, the Supreme Court, which remains loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, justified the takeover by claiming that the National Assembly was in contempt of its rulings. The court ultimately sought to authorize Maduro’s oil joint ventures by bypassing congressional approval. Despite tensions between Washington and Caracas, the United States remains Venezuela’s largest trading partner.

Meanwhile, the Maduro administration retains the support of allies in Bolivia, Ecuador, and several Caribbean nations. China has lent Venezuela more than $60 billion since 2001, and is the South American country’s largest creditor. Meanwhile, Venezuela has sought significant ties with Russia. Before oil prices fell in 2014, Venezuela was set to become the largest importer of Russian military equipment by 2025. In February 2017, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s support for the Maduro government, saying bilateral relations “are on the rise.”

Reprint (w/ relevant updates added by blogger): Venezuela in Crisis -By by Danielle Renwick and Brianna Lee | Council on Foreign Relations

Recommended…
✻​ Venezuela Is Falling Apart – By Moisés Naím & Francisco Toro | The Atlantic
✻​ Internal Splits, Immolations, and Burning Houses: Venezuela Gets Worse -By Emily Tamkin | Foreign Policy
✻​ Venezuela’s Crisis | Human Rights Watch
✻​ Thousands Protest Human Rights Crisis in Venezuela -By Tamara Taraciuk Broner | HRW
✻ ​Crisis Upon Crisis in Venezuela | New York Times Editorial Board
✻​ U.S. Sanctions Venezuela’s Supreme Court -By Aria Bendix | The Atlantic

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Hidden Note from Chinese Labor Prisoner Found in Walmart Purse

An Arizona woman’s shopping discovery is the latest instance in a string of reports involving notes penned by Chinese labor prisoners that have purportedly been found inside U.S. goods.

According to KVOA-TV, which first reported the story, Christel Wallace found a note written in Chinese inside a purse she bought at a Walmart near Tucson. A published translation of the note read as follows:

Inmates in the Yingshan Prison in Guangxi, China are working 14 hours daily with no break/rest at noon, continue working overtime until 12 midnight, and whoever doesn’t finish his work will be beaten. Their meals are without oil and salt. Every month, the boss pays the inmate 2000 yuan, any additional dishes will be finished by the police. If the inmates are sick and need medicine, the cost will be deducted from the salary. Prison in China is unlike prison in America, horse cow goat pig dog (literally, means inhumane treatment).

Walmart has declined to comment in response to queries regarding their suppliers (in China or elsewhere), but the company’s national media relations director, Ragan Dickens, sent us a statement regarding Wallace’s discovery:

We’re making contact with the customer and appreciate her bringing this to our attention. With the information we have, we are looking into what happened so we can take the appropriate actions.

Walmart has also been criticized by the advocacy group China Labor Watch, which has accused the company of exploiting workers. The group’s executive director, Li Qiang, told us on 2 May 2017 that it is rare for prison laborers to attempt to communicate their situation for fear of punishment. Speaking through a translator, Qiang told us that the company submits production contracts to factories with a low budget:

Regular factories can’t afford such [a] low budget to produce the products. Usually what happens after is Walmart contracts with [a] prison that will accept the low budget to produce its products.

Dickens provided a separate statement regarding Qiang’s accusation, saying:

We care that our products are sourced responsibly and transparently, and we take these allegations seriously. We require from our suppliers that all labor in their supply chains is voluntary. It is false that Walmart does any labor contracting from prisons.

While the author of the letter Wallace discovered has not been identified, similar notes have been found in purchases from other major U.S. retailers. In September 2012, a New York City woman discovered a handwritten note pleading for help inside a shopping bag she bought at Saks Fifth Avenue.

The person who wrote that letter was identified as Tohnain Emmanuel Njong, a Cameroonian national who was imprisoned under fraud charges in the city of Qingdao at the time he wrote it. It read in part: “We are ill-treated and work like slaves for 13 hours every day producing these bags in bulk in the prison factory.” Njong was released in December 2013.

A month after Njong’s letter was discovered, an Oregon woman reported finding a prisoner’s letter inside a box of Halloween decorations she bought at Kmart. The letter asked anyone who found it to notify the World Human Right Organization, adding, “Thousands people here who are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”

A 47-year-old Chinese national who asked to be identified only as Zhang told the New York Times in 2013 that he wrote the Kmart letter while imprisoned inside the Masanjia labor camp, saying it was one of about 20 notes he secretly wrote while serving a two-year sentence: For a long time I would fantasize about some of the letters being discovered overseas, but over time I just gave up hope and forgot about them.

Of course, it’s always possible that at least some notes of this nature are not on the level and/or are being inserted into products after their arrival in the U.S. and not during the manufacturing process in China. This does not appear to be such a case.

Sources:
Sierra Vista Woman Finds Note from ‘Chinese Prisoner’ in Walmart Purse -By By Aalia Shaheed| KVOA (News 4 Tucson)
Arizona Woman Reportedly Discovers Hidden Note from Chinese Prison Laborer? -By Arturo Garcia | Snopes


Recommended…
Chinese Prisoner Who Hid SOS Letter In Kmart Packaging Identified -By Meredith Bennett-Smith | Huffington Post
An S.O.S. in a Saks Bag -By Emily Greenhouse | The New Yorker
Behind Cry for Help From China Labor Camp -By Andrews Jacob | The New York Times
10 Companies That Still Use Child Labor -By Hannah Lamarque | Career Addict
Buy Slave Free | End Slavery Now

Out of Time in Arkansas

It’s done. The state of Arkansas executed four death row inmates in the span of eight days. From April 20 – April 27, inmates Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams and Kenneth Williams, all paid the price of their crimes by being put to death by lethal injection. Eight death row inmates were originally scheduled to die in Arkansas over that span, but half were spared. During that eight-day span, Arkansas also made history by performing the first double-execution the United States has seen in 17 years. Jack Jones and Ledell Lee were both killed Monday, April 24, just hours apart. The article below appeared in The New Yorker on May 8.
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Arkansas wanted to execute all eight inmates featured above in April. Half were spared. The names of those not spared are in bold. The inmates, clockwise from top left, are Don Williamson Davis, Bruce Ward, Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee;  bottom left, are Jack Harold Jones, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason McGehee (Photo: Arkansas Department of Correction).

By the opaque reasoning of capital punishment, the state of Arkansas grew some unknowable fraction safer on the evening of April 24, when Jack Jones, a fifty-two-year-old, overweight, hypertensive, diabetic amputee, was strapped to a gurney in the Cummins Unit prison and administered drugs to successively sedate him, impair his breathing, stop his heart, and kill him. According to the state’s timeline, the process was a model of efficiency, taking only fourteen minutes to complete—less time than one might spend registering a vehicle at the Little Rock D.M.V. This was significant, as the night’s work was just getting started. Arkansas was staging the first double execution in the United States since 2000. Three hours later, Marcel Williams, a forty-six-year-old man who also suffered from diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, was strapped to the same gurney, injected with the same cocktail of drugs, and declared dead within seventeen minutes.

Jones’s and Williams’s executions were the second and third in a four-day period; at the same facility, on the preceding Thursday, Ledell Lee, aged fifty-one, became the first prisoner to be put to death in Arkansas since 2005. A fourth man, Kenneth Williams, aged thirty-eight, who had been on death row since 2000, was executed at Cummins on Thursday, shortly before midnight, when his warrant was set to run out. These four were among eight men whom Arkansas sought to execute in eleven days. With the state’s supply of the sedative midazolam due to expire at the end of the month, the proposed schedule came to resemble a lethal clearance sale. To socioeconomics and race—the known and inescapably arbitrary factors in the application of the death penalty—we may now add a novel dynamic: the shelf life of benzodiazepine compounds. There is a banal horror in the bureaucratic diligence that noted the drug’s expiration date, calculated how many people might be killed before it passed, and generated the warrants that Asa Hutchinson, the state’s Republican governor, signed.

McKesson Medical-Surgical, Inc., which distributes vecuronium bromide—a drug that is commonly used during surgery but that can also be used to stop a person’s breathing—filed suit against Arkansas, claiming that it had been duped into providing an ingredient of the cocktail. Four of the executions were blocked by court order. The Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual” punishment served as a measure of the elastic morality that facilitates the death penalty: does it constitute cruelty to infuse the condemned with a sedative, rather than a stronger anesthetic, particularly if, as attorneys for Jones and Williams argued, the circulatory conditions of the men might impair its effectiveness?

The rush of executions is notable not only for its barbarism but also for its contrast to prevailing thinking about capital punishment. Support for the death penalty peaked in 1994, with eighty per cent of Americans in favor. Last year, a Pew study found that the number had fallen to forty-nine per cent—the first time since 1971 that less than half of the public supported it. The declining crime rate accounts for part of the drop: in the mid-nineties, murders were twice as common as they are now. At the same time, the idea that death serves as a deterrent to other criminals has been consistently unsupported by evidence. Data from the Death Penalty Information Center shows that, in the past forty years, there have been eleven hundred and eighty-four executions in the South, compared with four in the Northeast, yet homicide figures in 2015 were nearly seventy per cent higher in Southern states than in Northeastern ones. The death penalty is about retribution for past offenses, not prevention of future ones.

There is also a growing awareness that it is perhaps impossible to create a justice system that both executes criminals and avoids killing innocents. The sclerotic appeals process insures that years, if not decades, will pass before the condemned meet their state-authored fate. But streamlining the process only increases the likelihood that innocent people will die. Since 1973, a hundred and fifty-nine inmates on death row have been exonerated of the crimes for which they were sent there. A prisoner in Ohio named Ricky Jackson spent thirty-nine years on death row before a key witness admitted to lying in the testimony that led to his conviction. Jackson is alive solely because of the inefficiency of the system that sought to kill him.

That complexity has been reflected in the politics of death-penalty prosecutions. In January, Bob Ferguson, the Washington State attorney general, proposed a bill that would eliminate the death penalty in his state. The same month, Beth McCann, the Denver district attorney, announced that her city was done with it. In March, Aramis Ayala, the state attorney for the Ninth Circuit, in Florida, announced that her office would not pursue capital punishment in any cases. Her office was in the midst of prosecuting Markeith Loyd, who is accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend and a policewoman. Ayala said, “I’ve been unable to find any credible evidence that the death penalty increases safety for law-enforcement officers.” She added that the expense of death-penalty appeals drains resources from other prosecutions. In response, Governor Rick Scott removed the Loyd case, along with twenty-two others, from Ayala’s jurisdiction—an action she is challenging in court.

Last year, the Presidential election was won by a man who had demanded the death penalty for five young black and Latino men who were convicted of a brutal rape in Central Park that they did not commit. He appointed an Attorney General who had successfully fought to vitiate federal prohibitions on the execution of the mentally ill. He chose a Supreme Court Justice who, in his first major vote on the Court, cast the decisive one, in a 5–4 decision, to allow an execution to proceed—that of Ledell Lee, who died minutes later.

These are the actions of powerful men in service of outmoded ideas. We in this country are unaccustomed to mass executions carried out under government auspices. We would prefer to believe that such things happen in less evolved locales. Yet that is precisely what the state of Arkansas set out to achieve. The condemned men perpetrated a litany of horrors, but the rationales for putting them to death—a decades-delayed catharsis for the victims’ families, a lottery-slim chance that some future violence will be deterred—are as close to their expiration as Arkansas’s supply of midazolam.

Source: The Banal Horror of Arkansas’s Executions -By Jelani Cobb | The New Yorker

Jelani Cobb has been a contributor to The New Yorker and newyorker.com since 2012, writing frequently about race, politics, history, and culture. He is the author of “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress.”


Recommended…
✻​ Arkansas Wants to Execute Seven Inmates Before Their Drugs Expire -By Garrett Epps | The Atlantic
✻​ Four Arkansas Executions Are Tied to the Expiration of a Drug That Does Not Work in Lethal Injections -Jessica Wapner | Newsweek
✻​ Fourth Arkansas Execution in Eight Days Prompts Questions About Inmate’s Movements -By Mark Berman | Washington Post
✻​ After Arkansas Executions, Lawyer Criticizes Use Of Capital Punishment | NPR
✻​ A Century of Death: 196 Executions, 15 Governors, and Arkansas’ Deadliest Day | KATV
✻​ Bearing Witness to Executions: Last Breaths and Lasting Impressions -By Alan Blinder and Manny Fernandez | The New York Times

No Where To Turn: Children As Young As Four Brutually Raped in Greek Refugee Camp

A child carries a blanket at the makeshift refugee camp at the Greek-​Macedonian border last March.​ ​(Photo: AF​P​ / Guardian UK)

“I told myself, ‘Look at yourself – you came to Europe, what was your aim?’ I am not doing this because I like it but I don’t have the money, I don’t have a choice.”

Those are the words of one of many refugee children forced into selling sex to survive in Greece, where a four-year-old girl is among those raped in camps that were supposed to afford them protection.

A study by Harvard University is warning of a “growing epidemic” of sexual exploitation and abuse in the country, which houses 62,000 asylum seekers stranded by the EU-Turkey deal and border closures through Europe. “We had a case of a four-year-old girl who was raped,” a psychologist at a camp in Athens told researchers. “The mother did whatever was possible to report it.”

But aid workers and officials say there is often nowhere to turn, with victims trapped in camps with their abusers too frightened to go to police or authorities, who frequently lack interpreters and specialists. The absence of arrests can lead asylum seekers to take violent retribution. In one Greek camp, a man who had already married one child raped another underage girl, and was badly beaten by other migrants. Aid workers told the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights of criminal gangs “thriving” in squalid camps, where many refugees have been living for more than a year, and terrorizing victims into silence.

“Having endured the risks of sexual violence or having experienced sexual violence during their journey, migrant children suffer from the fear of sexual abuse in a place that should have guaranteed them safety and protection,” the report said. It found that “weak or non-existent” structures leave children at heightened danger, with reports of sexual assault rising while gangs blackmail minors and threaten to send humiliating photos to their families.

“A man from one of the ‘mafia’ groups asked a couple’s seven-year-old daughter into their tent to play games on his phone and then zipped up the tent,” a doctor told researchers. “She came back with marks on her arms and neck. Later, the girl described how she was sexually abused.”

In one government-run camp, in a former Softex toilet roll factory on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, aid organizations claim that the level of risk of sexual attack is so acute that women are too afraid to visit the camp toilets alone at night. One volunteer serving at the Softex camp, which holds 1,400 mostly Syrian refugees, alleged that some young girls had been effectively groomed by male gangs. He said an Iraqi family had to be moved to emergency accommodation outside the camp after their daughter was attacked.

Rape and sexual assault is feared to be significantly underreported because of the fear of retribution and stigma, while administrative backlogs can cause long delays before victims can be moved away from their abusers.

The EU-Turkey deal has left thousands of children detained among 13,000 migrants in overcrowded island camps, despite concerns from the UN over unsafe conditions, seeing several refugees die of hypothermia and killed in fires over the winter. Charities previously warned of rising self-harm and attempted suicide in detention centers and elsewhere in Greece, where at least one asylum seeker has killed himself this year amid rising desperation to escape.

Smugglers in Greece, Italy and elsewhere in Europe are known to force refugees including children into prostitution to pay “debts”, while migrants are also resorting to “survival sex” for food and shelter, or to raise money to leave Greece.

“This can be children who are unaccompanied, or it can be women who come here without a husband or person to protect them,” says Eleni Kotsoni, a psychologist at a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in Athens. Refugee women can make “deals” with men from their home countries in exchange for safety inside detention camps, where overcrowding, outbreaks of violence and a lack of security and facilities leave them vulnerable.

In Athens, Thessaloniki and other cities, refugees tend to live in open camps or informal settlements, where adolescents may be preyed on by older men. Children desperate to raise money or find shelter also seek to sell sex themselves, particularly in notorious parks in Athens where they wait to be approached by pedophiles.

The Harvard study found that the purchasers of migrant child sex were mainly men over 35, while children engaging in “survival sex” are mainly teenage boys, particularly from Afghanistan. Some purchasers demand children to accompany them to their homes or meet at a hotel, the report said, while others insist on having sex in a park such as the notorious Pedion tou Areos (Field of Ares) in Athens. The report also found prices “rarely exceed €15 (£13) per exchange”. With smugglers hiking fees as borders and fences have gone up across Europe, prospects of escaping Greece are fading.

Children at the Ritsona refugee camp, north of Athens. A report says the European commission should insist on a child protection officer for every site. (Photo by Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images)

Aid workers expect the situation to worsen as refugees remain trapped in Greece for ever-lengthening periods and relocation programs including a British scheme are scrapped. Within the first 10 months of 2016, more than 10,400 children applied for asylum in Greece, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and other Middle Eastern and north African nations, creating huge backlogs in an unprepared system. But by the end of the year only 2,413 migrant children – 11 per cent of those stranded in the country – had been successfully relocated to other European countries despite 160,000 slots being promised.

​Marleen Korthals Altes, a senior child protection adviser at Save the Children, said the closure of borders through the Balkans route had increased the risk of sexual violence and exploitation. Ms Korthals Altes said that although child protection is heavily legislated in Greece, laws are “inconsistently applied” by overwhelmed authorities, adding: “The policies and the practices are different.”

The Harvard report identified six major risk factors needing to be urgently addressed – the lack of children’s facilities, risky living conditions inside camps, unsupervised mixing of migrant adults and children, under-resourced child protection systems, a lack of coordination among authorities and a “radically inadequate” relocation scheme.

Its authors, Vasileia Digidiki and Jacqueline Bhabha, concluded that EU policies were exacerbating risks by forcing the youngest and most vulnerable refugees to turn to smugglers and take desperate measure to meet their extortionate fees.

While more migrants are dying in treacherous attempts to reach Europe than ever before, political will to help survivors is waning, they noted, adding: “National and international stakeholders should come together to ensure adequate prevention measures, as well as to create safe and legal paths to migration for migrant children in acute need of protection.”

Sources & Recommended…
Four-Year-Old Girl Among Refugees Raped in Greece as Thousands of Asylum Seekers Trapped in Camps -By Lizzie Dearden | The Independent
‘Sexual Assaults on Children’ at Greek Refugee Camps -By Matthew Townsend | The Guardian
RRDP: Women Fear Violence and Rape in Refugee Camps | Al Jazeera
New Report: Emergency Within an Emergency, Exploitation of Migrant Children in Greece | Report

From Democracy to Autocracy: Turkish President Erdoğan Granted Broad Powers In Questionable Referendum Election

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Presidential Palace (Photo by ​Asin Bulbul/​ Reuters). Background image: A woman places a bandage other mouth as she protests Saturday’s explosions in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Authorities in Istanbul banned a protest rally and march by the same trade union and civic society groups who lost 97 friends and colleagues in Turkey’s bloodiest terror attack. Some demonstrators were detained. (AP Photo/ Emrah Gurel)

A slim majority of Turkish voters agreed on Sunday to grant sweeping powers to their President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a watershed moment that the country’s opposition fears may cement a system of authoritarian rule within one of the critical power brokers of the Middle East.

With nearly 99 percent of votes in a referendum counted on Sunday night, supporters of the proposal had 51.3 percent of votes cast, and opponents had 48.7 percent, the country’s electoral commission announced. The result will take days to confirm, and the main opposition party said it would demand a recount of about 37 percent of ballot boxes, containing around 2.5 million votes. But on Sunday night the result was already a political reality, as President Erdoğan hailed his victory in front of a crowd of supporters in Istanbul. “We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history,” he said.

The constitutional change will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the current parliamentary political system. The ramifications, however, are immediate. The “yes” vote in the referendum is a validation of the current leadership style of Mr. Erdoğan, who has been acting as a de facto head of government since his election in 2014 despite having no constitutional right to wield such power. The office of Turkey’s president was meant to be an impartial role without full executive authority.

The result tightens Mr. Erdoğan’s grip on the country, which is one of the leading external actors in the Syrian civil war, a major way station along the migration routes to Europe and a crucial Middle Eastern partner of the United States and Russia.

Since a failed coup last summer, Turkey has been under a state of emergency, a situation that allowed the government to fire or suspend about 130,000 people suspected of being connected to the failed putsch, and to arrest about 45,000.

The campaign itself was characterized by prolonged intimidation of opposition members, several of whom were shot at or beaten while on the stump by persons unknown. The opposition questioned the legitimacy of the referendum after the election board made a last-minute decision to increase the burden needed to prove accusations of ballot-box stuffing. At least three instances of alleged voter fraud appeared to be captured on camera. 

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) says that there were more than 2.5 million of these irregular ballots; other estimates range between 1 million and 4 million. Even the low end of this range would be enough to change the results of the referendum. The CHP has called on the Supreme Election Board to nullify the referendum results. After all, its official guidelines mandate the stamping of both ballot and sealed envelope.

Beyond simply arresting tens of thousands of opponents, it seems that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gamed the system in order to guarantee himself victory. An observer from inside Turkey explains (edited slightly for clarity and grammar):

Apparently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) arranged illegally with the Supreme Election Board and with several voting districts around the country to give ballots out to AKP people the day before the voting. These were given to poor people and others wishing to earn money for a vote.

The ballots were marked “yes” in front, but they lacked the official stamp issued at the polling location on the back. This was done deliberately because those people were to use the pre-prepared ballot in the ballot box and then return the ballot with the official seal which they received at the polling station. They then received between 350-400 Turkish liras, about 100 dollars.

If it seemed that the “no” vote was ahead in initial tallying, then the Supreme Election Board would rule the referendum invalid due to a large number of unstamped ballots. But if it looked like “yes” could win, then those votes would be declared valid.

The new system will, among other changes:

■ Abolish the post of prime minister and transfer executive power to the president.

■ Allow the newly empowered president to issue decrees and appoint many judges and officials responsible for scrutinizing his decisions.

■ Limit the president to two five-year terms, but give the option of running for a third term if Parliament truncates the second one by calling for early elections.

■ Allow the president to order disciplinary inquiries into any of Turkey’s 3.5 million civil servants, according to an analysis by the head of the Turkish Bar Association.

Academics and members of the opposition are concerned that the new system will threaten the separation of powers on which liberal democracies have traditionally depended.

“It represents a remarkable aggrandizement of Erdoğan’s personal power and quite possibly a death blow to vital checks and balances in the country,” said Professor Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at Project on Middle East Democracy and lecturer at St. Lawrence University: “Judicial independence was already shockingly weak before the referendum; the new system makes that worse.”

Mr. Erdoğan’s supporters deny that the new system will limit political and judicial oversight. If opposition parties win control of Parliament, they could override the president’s decrees with their own legislation, while also asserting greater control over judicial appointments, supporters of the new Constitution contend.

The victorious “yes” camp also argues that a strong, centralized government will make Turkey better able to tackle its many challenges, including a troubled economy, the world’s largest population of Syrian refugees, two terrorism campaigns, a civil war against Kurdish insurgents and the Syrian war across Turkey’s southern border.

The fearful environment in which the referendum campaign was held has led watchdogs to question its fairness. In addition to the vast purges of perceived opposition members, the authorities also often prevented “no” campaigners from holding rallies and events. And Mr. Erdoğan and his supporters often implied that their opponents were allied with terrorist groups or those suspected of plotting last year’s failed coup.

Analyses of television coverage showed that the “yes” campaign received disproportionately more airtime than its opponents: “It’s been a completely unfair campaign,” said Andrej Hunko, a German lawmaker assigned by the Council of Europe to observe the election. Hundreds of election observers were also barred from monitoring the vote, and thousands of Kurds displaced by fighting in southeastern Turkey may not have been able to vote because they have no address, according to the Independent Election Monitoring Network, a Turkish watchdog.

Despite this, Mr. Erdoğan’s victory fell far short of the 20-point majority that he and his supporters had expected. The result revealed a deeply divided country, nearly half of which now feels highly embittered.

Few could agree about how Mr. Erdoğan would respond, and he offered no conclusive clues in his victory speech. In one breath, he appeared to reach out to his opponents, calling the results the “victory of everyone who said yes and no.” But in the next, he promised to reinstate the death penalty — which would end any hopes that Turkey will join the European Union — and mocked his opponents’ intent to appeal the result.

Some believe Mr. Erdoğan may initially try to rebuild relations with the West, which were severely damaged during the referendum campaign as he sought to manufacture diplomatic crises to energize his base at home.  But Professor Eissenstat said it was unlikely Mr. Erdoğan would spend any time repairing relationships with the opposition.

“Some people have imagined that Erdoğan might reboot after a ‘yes’ victory and reach out to the opposition,” he said. “I don’t think that is likely. The purges will continue; Erdoğan’s instinct is to crush opposition, not co-opt it.  The question is whether further centralization of power and increased repression can bring stability and allow Erdoğan to reboot a troubled economy. The record of the past 10 years is that the opposite is true” added Professor Eissenstat.”

Erdogan may want to claim victory and put the referendum behind him. He has declared that the result ends all debate. It may not be so easy, however. Especially when the real results suggest the Turkish people did not support the system of government over which Erdogan now presides.

Sources: Erdoğan Claims Vast Powers in Turkey After Narrow Victory in Referendum -By Patrick Kingsley | The New York Times

How Erdoğan Rigged the Election That Makes Him a Dictator -By Michael Rubin | Newsweek


Recommended…
Turkey’s Referendum: How Democracies Decline -By Uri Friedman | The Atlantic
Turkey Votes to Make Erdoğan Effectively A Dictator -By Dexter Filkins | The New Yorker
Inside Turkey’s Purge -By Suzy Henson | The New York Times
Turkey’s Election Was Soaked in Suppression and Blood -By Fréderike Geerdink | Huffington Post

Beyond International Women’s Day, Honoring Women Who Defend Land and Human Rights

Photo credit (above): Women of Green; Featured image (background): People gather to form a woman symbol to celebrate International Women’s Day at Manila’s Rizal Park on March 8, 2014. (Photo: AFP/Jay Directo)

Women around the world stand at the forefront of rising movements to defend and protect the health of water, land, air and diverse communities. While we celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, it is vital to honor the women defenders who, with incredible courage and effort, are taking on corporations and governments to say “no” to resource extraction and the continued violation of human rights, women’s rights and the rights of indigenous peoples and front-line communities. Through their work, these women act so that the generations to come may yet stand a chance of inheriting a sustainable and livable planet.

With increased frequency however, many of the women and men who advocate daily in defense of a just world are being systematically criminalized, attacked and murdered with impunity. According to 2016 reports by Global Witness, 2015 was the most dangerous year on record for land defenders, with at least three people per week killed for nonviolent opposition to mining and fossil fuel projects, agribusiness, hydroelectric dams, logging and other extractive industries.

Indigenous peoples defending ancestral territories represent upward of 40 percent of those killed. Women, and indigenous women in particular, face even greater challenges and dangers as they navigate the brutal intersection of environmental devastation, cultural dislocation and sexual violence and gender-based persecution.

Tragedies such as the 2016 murder of Honduran activist Berta Caceres indicate the acceleration of these trends, which have prompted United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous rights Victoria Tauli-Corpuz to warn of an “epidemic” of murder of Earth defenders. The violation of women’s rights and land defenders speaks in a profound way to the derangement of our times, and to the dangerous worldviews of domination and exploitation, which sit at the root of both degradation of Earth’s natural systems, and violence against women of the world.

Despite experiencing the impacts of environmental harms with disproportionate severity, women are rising in diverse manifestations to demonstrate that they hold the knowledge, skills and heartfelt passion needed not only to protect their homelands, but also to build substantial and creative solutions needed to avert the worst impacts of environmental destruction and the climate crisis.

In this context, standing in solidarity with women defenders is critical — to uphold fundamental human rights, to protect front-line communities and to ensure sustainability on Earth. Front-line women can also be supported by demanding governments and corporate actors comply with indigenous rights and sovereignty, issues which often lie at the root of violations.

On International Women’s Day, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network shared the stories of just a few of the world’s countless women human rights and Earth defenders, and raises the call to visibilize, support and honor all frontline women defenders for their fierce dedication and unrelenting voice and action for justice.

➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺➺

Click the image above to see the full sized image and read the name of the featured frontline woman.

Melania Chiponda, Zimbabwe
After bearing witness to violence and sexual abuse of women by security and military forces attempting to suppress local opposition to mining, Melania Chiponda of Marange, Zimbabwe began advocating as a woman defender, working independently and with WoMin. For many years, Melania has been speaking out against actions by the diamond mining industry to forcibly break the connection between women and their ancestral lands. For her work to protect indigenous women’s land rights and stop land grabbing and militarization of mining regions, Melania has been arrested, detained and threatened many times. She commented recently as part of the #DefendHer campaign.

“If you take away land from women in the rural areas, you take away their livelihoods; you take away the very thing that they identify with. Then we fight. Because we have nothing else to lose.”

Josephine Pagalan, Philippines
In the Philippines, Manobo indigenous woman leader Josephine Pagalan is fighting to protect her people’s ancestral lands from mining and logging operations. Following the murder of several of her colleagues, Josephine was forced to leave her community to seek safety in the city, fearing that impunity in her remote village would lead to her own death. Despite harassment, Josephine continues representing the public face of the many indigenous Lumad women who are on the front lines demonstrating, documenting human rights abuses and filing legal suits in opposition to the militarization, violation of community rights and environmental devastation taking place across their homelands.

Josephine explained to Womens E-News, “We want the government to be made accountable for the human rights violations and attacks. Mining companies promised too many things in the past but they did not deliver. We don’t want to give up our land because money can be consumed but land will not perish.”

Ana Mirian Romero, Honduras
In Honduras, Ana Mirian Romero, leader of the Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz and San Isidro Labrador Indigenous Council, is standing for land rights for the region’s indigenous peoples, working most recently in opposition to the Los Encinos hydroelectric dam, a project which never received free, prior and informed consent, as required by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Repeatedly since 2014, Ana Mirian has been subject to harassment, death threats, raids, beatings by police while pregnant, arson attacks and gunmen outside her home. In 2016, while being awarded the Front Line Defenders Award for outstanding contribution to the protection of human and land rights despite the immense personal risk endured, she explained, “We defend the river, the forests and the pure air that we breathe. That is all we want — land, air and water that is not contaminated by the dams. We are persecuted and threatened for this, but we do it for our children’s future.”

LaDonna BraveBull Allard and Joy Braun, North Dakota, United States
Joy Braun (Cheyenne River Sioux Peoples) and LaDonna Brave Bull Allard (Standing Rock Sioux Peoples) are two of the extraordinary indigenous women defenders of the Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline resistance movement, both taking action to protect water and life since the first day of the encampments. For many months, both women and their families have been exposed to violence, militarized police forces, raids and surveillance.

Joy Braun works in the region of North Dakota where rampant fracking (which would supply the Dakota Access Pipeline if it becomes operational) has been taking a devastating toll on the health and safety of indigenous women for many years.

LaDonna’s home, and the grave of her son, overlook the Missouri River at the point of Dakota Access Pipeline crossing. During a fall 2016 interview she pronounced:

“First and foremost we are water protectors, we are women who stand because the water is female, and so we must stand with the water. If we are to live as a people, we must have water, without water we die. So everything we do as we stand here, we must make sure that we do it in prayer, and that we do it in civil disobedience. We do it with goodness and kindness in our hearts, but we stand up. We will not let them pass. We stand. Because we must protect our children and our grandchildren.”

When women land and water protectors are harmed we must speak out and take action to resist and repudiate these abuses, and acknowledge that these women put their bodies on the line for the survival of all of us. Though the challenges and dangers faced are dire, we cannot help but remember the proverb which says: “They tried to bury us, they forgot that we are seeds.”

For each woman persecuted for her courageous defense of people and planet — let 100 more rise to build the world we seek.

Source: On International Women’s Day, Honoring Women Who Defend Land and Human Rights -By Osprey Orielle Lake and Emily Arasim | Moyers & Company


Osprey Orielle Lake is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International and serves as Co-Chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. Follow WECAN International on Twitter: @WECAN_INTL.

Emily Arasim is an avid photojournalist, writer, seed saver and farmer from New Mexico. She has served as WECAN International‘s communications coordinator and project assistant since 2014.

The Case of Théo L. and The Toxic Legacy of Police Brutality in French Suburbs

A rally in Paris against police violence when they arrested a young man called Theo in early February. (Photo: AFP / Irina Kalashnikova); Featured imaged: The Observers via FRANCE 24. 

A horrific case of alleged rape by police officers has once again highlighted the culture of abuse and impunity that has driven a wedge between law enforcement and youths in France’s deprived suburbs.

Alexandre T. was enjoying some late drinks with his friends when a police car rolled up outside their estate, one of the huge – and often bleak – housing blocks that have turned parts of Paris’s northern banlieues (suburbs) into giant dormitories. When the inebriated young man reportedly insulted the officers, he was bundled into their car and driven to the local police station. Shortly after, he landed in hospital with a 1.5-centimetre-deep anal perforation caused by an expandable police baton. His blood was found on his clothes and in the car. The tip of the police baton bore traces of his DNA.

Sixteen months later, the 28-year-old man told a court in Bobigny, northeast of the French capital, that he was still bleeding from the wound, had trouble sleeping, and had lost his job as a result. The public prosecutor asked for the officer who wielded the baton to be given a six-month suspended jail term, charging him with “aggravated assault”. He dismissed calls for rape charges, arguing that the incident had a “sexual connotation” but not a “sexual character”. The nuance was rejected by the court, which ruled on February 20 that the policeman should indeed face “criminal proceedings” for rape.

Welcoming the ruling, the victim’s lawyer Marie-Cécile Nathan said the prosecutor had been “wrong” to reject rape charges. She suggested the initial leniency was indicative of a wider tendency to hand out “disproportionate sanctions” when dealing with police violence. “Abusive police officers do get punished,” she told FRANCE 24. “The problem is that the punishment hardly ever reflects the gravity of the offence.”

Théo’s Ordeal
Alexandre’s case had gone largely unnoticed, until a similar incident involving a black man in the nearby town of Aulnay-sous-Bois cast a spotlight on the festering issue of police violence in some of France’s most deprived suburbs, blighted by poverty, unemployment and a dearth of public services. The brutal encounter, on February 2, between a police patrol and the young man, known as Théo L., left the 22-year-old with such severe wounds to the rectum that he required major emergency surgery and was declared incapacitated for 60 days. The incident, part of which was caught on CCTV, sparked outrage and protests – some of them violent – in suburbs across France.

Théo’s ordeal stemmed from a routine ID check, a fraught issue in France’s economically poor and immigrant-rich suburbs, where men of African and North African origin have long complained about being routinely stopped and searched simply because of the colour of their skin. A study conducted by France’s National Centre for Scientific Research has shown that blacks are 11.5 times more likely to be checked by police than whites, and those of Arab origin are 7 times more likely. In a landmark case last November, France’s highest court ruled for the first time that police had illegally stopped three men based on racial profiling, setting more specific rules to ensure ID checks are not discriminatory.

Activists say the identity checks frequently bear a sexual component, ranging from heavy-handed frisking to extreme – and much rarer – cases such as Théo’s. On three occasions since 1999, the French state has been found guilty of police sex abuse by the European Court of Human Rights. The abuse included anal rape with a baton, a fractured testicle, and an attempt to force oral sex. In each case the victim was a man of North African origin.

Ceremony of Degradation
“Some officers do their job extremely conscientiously, but others behave like thugs,” said Omer Mas Capitolin, a community worker in Paris who helps youths victimised by police. While he conceded that cases like Theo’s and Alexandre’s were rare, Capitolin argued that abuse of a sexual nature was “frequent, even regular”. He pointed to groping and repeated homophobic taunts as part of a “ceremony of degradation” designed to assert the police’s domination, with devastating consequences for youths’ physical and psychological integrity.

“It’s perfectly normal for police officers to pat down individuals they deem suspicious,” he told FRANCE 24. “But it’s not normal for the procedure to include stroking their testicles, passing a finger between their buttocks, or staring at their privates. Remember we’re talking about kids here. They might be as tall as adults, but they’re not mature. They’re uncomfortable with nudity. Some may also be unsure about their sexuality.”

While the abuse is generally aimed at visible minorities, Capitolin said white youths can also be targeted if they come from the “wrong” neighbourhood or stick to the “wrong” crowd. “Some officers might ask them why they ‘hang around with bamboulas [a racist slur to refer to a black man]’, or say, ‘watch out, you might turn into a monkey’,” he said. When a police union representative argued on national television that using the term bamboula was “just about acceptable”, days after Théo’s assault, critics saw this as evidence of widespread tolerance of racism within the police.

When Outrage Stifles Outrage
Capitolin said many cases of abuse go unreported because victims fear they will be exposed to taunts in their neighbourhoods. “They dread being ‘the one who shows his arse to cops’ or ‘who got a baton up his bum’,” he said. “Besides, who are they supposed to report abuses to? The police? And then end up with an outrage and a conviction?” he added, referring to a “contempt of cop” rule, known as outrage à agent public, that allows for the arrest and prosecution of individuals deemed disrespectful of public authority.

Rights groups working in the banlieues have expressed fears that Théo’s ordeal will ultimately go unpunished, their suspicions heightened by a police inquiry that suggested the 10-centimetre-deep anal penetration had been “accidental”.  Months earlier, the muddled investigation into the death in police custody of another black youth, 24-year-old Adama Traoré, had already amplified the feeling that the justice system cannot be trusted to protect minority youths and punish abusive officers.

Both cases have stoked fears of a repeat of the huge riots that followed the 2005 deaths of teenagers Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré (no relation to Adama), who were electrocuted in a power station while hiding from police in the suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. The officers in pursuit, who left the scene when a phone call would have sufficed to cut the voltage and save the two boys, were cleared of wrongdoing.

“Théo and Adama remind us of why Zyed and Bouna were running,” says this poster, referring to the teenagers’ death while running away from police in 2005. (Photo: Florence Richard)

Sophie Body-Gendrot, a researcher at the Centre for Sociological Studies on Penal Institutions (CESDIP) who has written extensively about the 2005 riots and policing the suburbs, said the odds tended to be stacked in favour of the police when disputes made it to court. “It is hard to catch officers at fault, and their accounts are smoothened by lawyers and their hierarchy,” she told FRANCE 24. “In contrast, minority youths are generally reluctant to speak to institutions they don’t trust. And when they do come out, they are often intimidated, confused and incoherent.”

Them and Us
A member of the National Police Complaints Authority for five years, Body-Gendrot said the “rotten apples” on display in the worst cases of abuse were not representative of the institution as a whole. “Most officers are very professional,” she noted, adding that the antagonism with youths in sensitive suburbs meant police patrols were “constantly being targeted and provoked”.

With France’s security forces under exceptional stress due to the threat of terrorism, police unions have reacted angrily to the stinging criticism elicited by Théo’s alleged rape. Replying to an op-ed signed by several artists in left-wing daily Libération, the Unité SGP union wrote on its website: “Do you know that dozens of police officers are attacked and injured each day? Do you know that hundreds of officers receive insults and threats each day? Do you know that hundreds of officers cannot live and work in the same neighbourhood because of the risk for their families, their children?”

Body-Gendrot said the antagonism between police and minority groups in deprived areas reflected a structural reluctance to engage with local communities. “New recruits don’t join the police in order to give free rein to racist or violent impulses,” she said. “It is once they are inside the institution that a ‘them and us’ mentality develops. Officers feel – often wrongly – that they are despised by residents, magistrates and the media. Sometimes they snap, verbally or physically; particularly when they operate in small units, hidden from the public eye.”

The establishment of community policing, at the turn of the century, marked a short-lived attempt to bridge the gulf with residents of the banlieues. But the so-called police de proximité (proximity police) jarred with the tough “law and order” rhetoric of conservative firebrand Nicolas Sarkozy, who disbanded the unit after becoming France’s interior minister in 2002. “You’re not a social worker,” Sarkozy famously told an officer who had helped organise a football tournament for youths in a poor suburb of Toulouse. Most unions were happy to see the programme ended. “Police unions hated the idea of being accountable to the local community,” said Body-Gendrot. As a result, “community policing was never really given a chance to prove its worth”.

Politicians’ Betrayal
Ever since, left-wing politicians have regularly floated the idea of reintroducing some form of police de proximité. But President François Hollande’s Socialist government made no such attempt. Instead, to the dismay of minority youths singled out by police, Hollande’s administration reneged on a campaign promise to introduce a form of written receipt for all identity checks carried out by officers – a measure long advocated by campaigners against racial profiling.

“The receipts would have protected our dignity and our essential right to move freely in the public space, without being constantly harassed,” said Capitolin, the community worker, for whom Hollande’s U-turn explained why many in the banlieues have “no faith in politicians”. Another of the president’s broken promises, to give foreign nationals the right to vote in local elections, was seen as further evidence of politicians’ neglect of the immigrant-rich suburbs.

Nor is the prospect of national elections in two months raising hopes for change. Body-Gendrot said she was doubtful governments would, in the near future, take concrete steps to address the problem of policing the suburbs, such as improving police training and supervision, and ensuring seasoned officers are deployed where they are most needed. “The strength of police unions means junior officers will continue to be deployed to sensitive neighbourhoods they are unfamiliar with,” she said. “Sadly, the banlieues are simply not a key electoral issue.”

Sources
Racism, Sex Abuse and Impunity: French Police’s Toxic Legacy in the Suburbs -By Benjamin Dodman | France 24
The State of the Suburbs: Is France at its Ferguson Moment?: Part 1 | France 24 (Video)
The State of the Suburbs: Is France at its Ferguson Moment?: Part 2 | France 24 (Video)


Recommended…
Police Violence and Discrimination in France’s Suburbs | The Observers | France 24

Justice for Theo: ‘Police Abuse Is An Everyday Thing’-By Shafik Mandhai | Al Jazeera
Investigators Say French Police Who Sodomized Black Man With A Baton Did So By Accident -By Jesselyn Cook | Huffington Post
The Tragedy of Theo L. Reveals France’s Failures on Race -By Joel Dreyfuss | Washington Post

Husbands Are Deadlier Than Jihadist Terrorists in America

dv-2

With the President Trump Reality Show, it’s easy to be distracted by ANGRY ALL-CAPITAL TWEETS or Oval Office tantrums. But resist, and stay focused on matters of life and death. Consider two critical issues: refugees and guns. Trump is going berserk over the former, but wants to ease rules on the latter. So let’s look at the relative risks.

In the four decades between 1975 and 2015, terrorists born in the seven nations in Trump’s travel ban killed zero people in America, according to the Cato Institute. Zero. In that same period, guns claimed 1.34 million lives in America, including murders, suicides and accidents. That’s about as many people as live in Boston and Seattle combined. It’s also roughly as many Americans as died in all the wars in American history since the American Revolution, depending on the estimate used for Civil War dead.

It’s true that Muslim Americans — both born in the United States and immigrants from countries other than those subject to Trump’s restrictions — have carried out deadly terrorism in America. There have been 123 such murders since the 9/11 attacks — and 230,000 other murders.

Last year Americans were less likely to be killed by Muslim terrorists than for being Muslim, according to Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina. The former is a risk of approximately one in six million; the latter, one in one million. The bottom line is that most years in the U.S., ladders kill far more Americans than Muslim terrorists do. Same with bathtubs. Ditto for stairs. And lightning.

Above all, fear spouses: Husbands are incomparably more deadly in America than jihadist terrorists.

dv-chart

And husbands are so deadly in part because in America they have ready access to firearms, even when they have a history of violence. In other countries, brutish husbands put wives in hospitals; in America, they put them in graves. Yet Trump is raging about a risk from refugees that seems manageable, even as he talks about relaxing rules on another threat, guns, that is infinitely more lethal.

“I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools,” Trump said last year. “My first day, it gets signed, O.K., my first day.” Trump hasn’t in fact signed such an order, but his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, backed him up at her confirmation hearing last month, saying that guns might be necessary in schools because of “potential grizzlies.”

Then there’s Sebastian Gorka, a White House aide to Trump, who wrote a book in which he suggested that Americans engage in their own private counterterrorism strategy: “Consider applying for a concealed-carry permit.” One reason to think that this isn’t great advice: Gorka was arrested at Reagan Airport in Washington last year for trying to bring a gun through security. This didn’t prevent him from getting a White House job.

The House of Representatives this month voted to end a restriction on people with severe psychiatric disorders buying guns. Likewise, there is a strong push in Congress — backed by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son — to end longstanding curbs on the purchase of silencers. The younger Trump and other advocates say that silencers would reduce the danger of hearing loss from gunfire.

“It’s about hearing protection,” Donald Jr. explained in a video for SilencerCo, a Utah company that makes silencers. “It’s a health issue, frankly.” He expressed admiration for silencer technology and frustration that “I don’t get to use it in the People’s Republic of New York.”

The truth is that we don’t have much evidence on the impact of silencers (partly because the gun lobby tries to block research on gun safety). But the sale of silencers has been restricted nationally since the 1930s because of fears that they help criminals avoid attention after shootings, and the National Rifle Association’s battle for them seems to be rooted in its broader campaign to eviscerate gun laws.

The evidence does suggest that if we really want to make Americans safer, then we should require universal background checks before gun purchases (22 percent of guns are purchased without background checks). We should work hard to get guns out of the hands of people subject to domestic violence restraining orders, or people with recent histories of crime or alcohol or drug abuse.

We should also require trigger locks or safe storage of guns, especially in houses with young children. We should crack down on gun trafficking and straw purchasers.

So let’s not be diverted by shiny things and furious tweets. With his travel ban, Trump is peddling an ineffective policy that is morally repugnant, even as he marches toward a looser policy on guns likely to result in more school shootings, more shattered families and more lives lost.

Those graves will last long after Trump’s tweets are gone.

Source: Husbands Are Deadlier Than Terrorists -By Nicholas Kristof | New York Times


Recommended…
Little National Security Benefit to Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration -By Alex Nowrasteh | Cato Institute

Guns and Violence Against Women: America’s Uniquely Lethal Domestic Violence Problem | Everytown for Gun Safety

Guns in the US: The Statistics Behind the Violence | BBC

Compare These Gun Death Rates: The U.S. Is in a Different World -By Kevin Quealy & Margot Sanger-Katz | The Upshot via New York Times

The NMAAHC Explores the Beauty and Brutality of African-American History

shackles-worn-by-childrenSlave shackles used to chain children (Credit: All Artifacts from the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is a Smithsonian Institution museum established in December 2003. The museum’s building, designed by David Adjaye, is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. at 14th Street and Constitution Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20001. Historian Lonnie Bunch is the museum’s founding director; Jacquelyn Serwer is its chief curator.

Early efforts to establish a federally owned museum featuring African-American history and culture can be traced to 1915, although the modern push for such an organization did not begin until the 1970s. After years of little success, a much more serious legislative push began in 1988 that led to authorization of the museum in 2003. A site was selected in 2006. The museum opened September 24, 2016, in a ceremony led by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The museum confronts head-on America’s history of slavery and racial oppression. Yet, while memorializing suffering, the museum wants even the bleakest artifacts to have a positive message. As visitors face an auction block where slaves stood to be bought and sold, they can also imagine the strength slaves summoned to survive.

Unusually, the museum had to start from scratch without a collection. It ran an “Antiques Roadshow”- style project in 15 cities that encouraged people to give heirlooms from their closets and attics, and yielded some of the 40,000 objects the museum now holds. About 3,500 artifacts will be on display in the opening exhibitions, many of them treasures donated by ordinary people.

Click the images above to enlarge or read the caption.

The museum tells its story in part chronologically rather than thematically. This decision is written into the architecture itself, as visitors descend 70 feet below ground to begin the historical journey centuries ago with the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The museum displays the original coffin of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old savagely killed in Mississippi in 1955; Ku Klux Klan hoods; and a piece of rope used in a lynching. The museum tells a history that continues to evolve. It documents the presidency of Barack Obama, but artifacts reflecting events like Black Lives Matter protests underscore persistent inequality and police brutality.

Above ground, the museum departs from the chronological narrative to examine African-American achievements in fields like music, art, sports and the military. Visitors can tour these brighter third-floor and fourth-floor themed Culture and Community galleries without venturing into the history sections below.

Some exhibitions depict the diverse experiences of African-Americans in regions across the nation, from the birth of hip-hop in the Bronx, for example, to life in the South Carolina rice fields. Though here, too, the exhibitions refer to the oppression and discrimination that African-Americans experienced and highlight their fight to overcome segregation and bring about social change.

From the building’s upper levels, visitors can view the Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, the White House and the National Mall — a symbolic reminder, officials say, that the museum is a lens on the broader American experience.

Visitors are able to leave their own thoughts at public video booths. After such powerful displays, they can also sit in a space called the Contemplative Court to come to terms with what they have witnessed.

Appropriately for a public museum at the heart of Washington’s cultural landscape, the museum’s creators did not want to build a space for a black audience alone, but for all Americans. In the spirit of Langston Hughes’s poem “I, Too, Sing America,” the museum and all of the artifacts within it make a powerful declaration: The African-American story is an American story, as central to the country’s narrative as any other, and understanding black history and culture is essential to understanding American history and culture.


The National Museum of African American History and Culture
I, Too, Sing America | The National Museum of African American History and Culture | New York Times (Interactive)

James Baldwin: I Am Not Your Negro | Film Review

james-baldwin-2Photos: Mark B. Anstendig (above); featured: Daniel Bretton Tisdale, “James Baldwin,” 2007, (graphite on Italian handmade paper) from the “Harlem Masters” series.

James Baldwin is having a posthumous resurgence, but we are so in need of his words at this moment that it’s hard to believe he hasn’t still been writing every day since his death in 1987. In every genre Baldwin dabbled, from novels to political commentary to arts criticism, he found the core of our identity as a nation: a core that feeds off division and prejudice; that celebrates its own history while refusing to learn from it; and that was, and plainly remains, too painful for anyone other than him to talk about honestly.

Today’s media is flush with essayists who trace a direct line to Baldwin, the most prominent being Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose bestselling sensation Between the World and Me is a grim postscript to Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and dispels even the slim notion of hope for true racial justice Baldwin offered in 1963. But Baldwin refused to see himself as a “race writer”: Instead, he framed arguments for equality as pleas to save the entire American soul from corrosive hatred and isolation. The exceptional new documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which director Raoul Peck began to work on before the Obama presidency, gives us a fresh new view on Baldwin’s words, while also reminding us that the same American soul he struggled so hard to convince us was worth saving remains on life support today.

“If any white man in the world says ‘Give Me liberty Or Give Me Death,’ the entire white world applauds. When a black man says EXACTLY the same thing; he is judged a criminal, and treated like one, and everything is possibly done to make an example of this bad nigger so there won’t be anymore like him.” – James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro is also not your Baldwin CliffsNotes. Instead, Peck gives us a far more urgent, revelatory document: a visual imagining of the writer’s last, unfinished manuscript. Titled Remember This House, it was to be Baldwin’s personal reflection on the lives and assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, all of whom he was close with. “I want these three lives to bang against and reveal each other,” Baldwin wrote. And as these lives bang, Baldwin’s (and Peck’s) gaze turns: from the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s to America’s insistence on imagining great social progress where little has occurred.

The film uses only Baldwin’s words, superbly narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. There are no talking heads to put them “into context,” because the context is already there, in our history and all around us. Peck, working from 30 pages of raw text gifted him by Baldwin’s sister Gloria, animates the prose with archival news clips, still photographs, and scenes from popular films of Baldwin’s time. And he also, with dreamlike continuity, grants brief passage into the modern day: young black men shot by police, the Black Lives Matter protests, a montage of superficial apologies from white politicians. Robert Kennedy accurately predicts that America will see a black president 40 years from his time, and then Baldwin takes apart the idea that we had to wait so long in the first place.

Baldwin was also a voracious consumer of pop culture. Some of the film’s most intriguing passages muse on the history of onscreen black identity from Stepin Fetchit to Sidney Poitier, the latter characterized as a kind of panacea to comfort white people. (Poitier’s escaped convict in The Defiant Ones jumps off a train carrying him to freedom in order to save the white escapee he’s been chained to for the entire film. Baldwin’s response: “Get back on the train, you fool!”) These bits are where you realize just how much of a documentary’s strength depends on its editing. Would Baldwin’s memory of finding a black woman who “looked exactly like Joan Crawford” have carried as much symbolic weight were it not overlaid on the perfect clip of the lily-white Crawford boogying in Dance, Fools, Dance?

Peck renders his subject’s prose with brisk pacing, without turning Negro into a soundbite film — a remarkable task, given how much Baldwin structured his sentences with the intention of his audience getting to reread them, picking over their bones for protein. It helps that the film frequently leans on Baldwin’s gift for oratory, as he delivers his own message on college campuses and late-night television, with his wry smile and searching eyes. This approach is dense and yet accessible, and seems to be a direct challenge to Baldwin’s own musings that television “weakens our ability to deal with the world as it is, as we are.” (That Jackson, the reigning king of escapist entertainment, is the one reciting these words adds a delicious layer of irony.)

“What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it… then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it’s able to ask that question. -James Baldwin, “The Negro and The American Promise”, 1963

It is easy, in a time when protest feels urgent and the past seems to have vanished, to get swept up in Baldwin’s essays, and in so doing to forget that he was also a peerless storyteller. One flaw to the film is that, by painting such a convincing portrait of Baldwin-as-polemicist, it neglects that only a great novelist could make those arguments as forthright and necessary as he did. In books like Another Country and Giovanni’s Room, he could take manners of race and sexuality no one was talking about in public and render them with such finely wrought passion as to rip their invisibility cloaks to shreds. Negro wants to anoint Baldwin as the voice of reason in our troubled, divided times, but we need to remember he valued the power of stories and chastised those who did not. Of Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe, he once wrote, “She was not so much a novelist as an impassioned pamphleteer.”

Though it was just nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar, Negro seems at risk of being overshadowed in the public eye by the two more popular nominees that broadly deal with that discordant, shapeshifting topic we call “race relations”: the sweeping yet granular true-crime saga O.J.: Made in America, and the fiery mass-incarceration lecture 13th. All are worthy of attention. But to dismiss all three movies as different pages of the same pamphlet — or to declare that Negro is only relevant now because it’s Black History Month — is to continue to misunderstand Baldwin’s message. He wasn’t lecturing to “white America” or passing instructions to “black America”; he truly wanted everyone to confront the same narrative together, to stop hiding behind fictions and make some sense of the country. Did he succeed? Well, when confronted with such pressing, vibrantly cinematic power built entirely from decades-old words, we must ask ourselves exactly why, in 2017, these words may as well have been written for the first time.

Reprint: James Baldwin, In His Own Searing, Revelatory Words: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ -By Andrew Lapin | NPR (Movie Review)


Recommended…
James Baldwin from “The Negro and the American Promise” | PBS

‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Review: Brilliant Notes on a Native Son -By Joe Morgenstern | Wall Street Journal

Review: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Will Make You Rethink Race -By A.O. Scott | New York Times

Box Office: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Shaping Up to Be Documentary Hit -By Brent Long | Variety

The Misunderstood Ghost of James Baldwin -By Ismail Muhammad | Slate

The Tragically Chronic Relevance of James Baldwin -By Wesley Morrison & Jenna Wortham | New York Times

Do Yourself a Favor: Go See Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro -By Julia Felsenthal | Vogue

James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78 | Interview by Jordan Elgrably | Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984