Chechnya LGBTQs Subjected to Torture, Murder, and ‘Gay’ Concentration Camps

Hundreds of activists gather outside the Russian Embassy in central London in protest against the treatment of homosexuals in Chechnya. (Photo by Stephen Chung/LNP/REX/Shutterstock); Background photo by Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev.

First, two television reporters vanished. Then a waiter went missing. Over the past week, men ranging in age from 16 to 50 have disappeared from the streets of Chechnya. International human rights activists are decrying reports that at least 100 gay men have been arrested, and three killed, in the Russian region of Chechnya.

Novaya Gazeta, a leading Moscow-owned Russian opposition newspaper confirmed a story already circulating among human rights activists: The Chechen authorities were arresting and killing gay men. The paper cited claims by federal law enforcement officials who said the men, ranging in ages from 16 to 50, were detained “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.”

The sweep, like so much else in Russian politics today, was entangled in the country’s troubled politics of street activism. It began, Novaya Gazeta reported, after a Moscow-based gay rights group, GayRussia.ru, applied for permits to stage gay pride parades in four cities in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, of which Chechnya is a part.

The group had not focused on the Muslim areas. It had been applying for permits for gay parades in provincial cities around Russia, and collecting the inevitable denials, in order to build a case about gay rights and freedom of assembly with the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France. It had applied to more than 90 municipal governments. Nikolai Alekseev, a gay rights activist coordinating this effort, told Novaya Gazeta he had chosen this tactic rather than staging risky, unsanctioned gay parades.

The group had not applied for a permit in Chechnya, but in another Muslim region in southern Russia, Kabardino-Balkaria. The mere application there — denied, as usual — had prompted an anti-gay counter-demonstration. In the restive Muslim regions, Mr. Putin has empowered local leaders to press agendas of traditional Muslim values, to co-opt an Islamist underground. The gay pride parade applications became a galvanizing issue.

“In Chechnya, the command was given for a ‘prophylactic sweep’ and it went as far as real murders,” Novaya Gazeta reported. According to the report, the authorities set to finding and arresting closeted gay men, partly by posing as men looking for dates on social networking sites. “Of course, none of these people in any way demonstrated their sexual orientation publicly — in the Caucasus, this is equal to a death sentence,” the newspaper wrote of those detained in the sweep. “I got numerous, numerous signals,” about the sweep of gay men, said Ekaterina L. Sokiryanskaya, Russia project coordinator for the International Crisis Group, and an authority on the North Caucasus. “It came from too many sources not to be true.”

Gay men have begun deleting online accounts, or fleeing the region. One user of Vkontakte, a Russian social networking site, wrote that a 16-year-old boy had been detained in a village in Chechnya. He returned days later, according to the post, “all beaten, just a sack with bones.”

The newspaper published contact information to aid men wanting to leave Chechnya for relatively more tolerant parts of Russia. But reaching communities of closeted gay men in the remote mountain region poses challenges. “Even delivering the information is very difficult,” Ms. Sokiryanskaya, who is familiar with the aid effort, said. “They are just small islands, isolated.”

The reports, however, were quickly dismissed as “absolute lies and disinformation” by a spokesman for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. The spokesman, Alvi Karimov, then suggested that no gay people were living in the Muslim-majority region. “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” he said, according to The New York Times.

As The Advocate points out, however, Karimov’s statement failed to quash the arrest claims. An April 4 Novaya Gazeta report doubled down on their initial report, with a source telling the newspaper that the Muslim-majority region’s anti-LGBTQ efforts include concentration camps. Detainees in those camps, which have been likened to those in Nazi Germany, are allegedly being subjected to physical abuse at the hands of government officials while being ransomed to their families. Those who are released, sadly, may face additional persecution, as extrajudicial “honor” killings have been known to take place, according to The Washington Post.

Details of the alleged detainments remain frustratingly vague. Chechen activist Kheda Saratova, who is on Kadyrov’s human rights council, dismissed the claims, saying she hasn’t had “a single request” on the issue in a Russian radio interview cited by The Guardian. Much like Karimov before her, however, Saratova downplayed the existence of gay people in the region at large. “In our Chechen society, any person who respects our traditions and culture will hunt down this kind of person without any help from authorities,” Saratova said, “and do everything to make sure that this kind of person does not exist in our society.”

Meanwhile, a number of leading human rights organizations have spoken out against the allegations. On Tuesday, GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis called on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to condemn the alleged attacks and press for an investigation.

The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights First echoed those sentiments, calling upon Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to speak out against the reports. “In his confirmation hearings, [Tillerson] responded to a question on the human rights of LGBTQ people by noting that ‘American values don’t accommodate violence or discrimination against anyone,’” advocacy counsel Shawn Gaylord said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “Now is the time for him to put the power of his office behind that statement and raise this issue directly with his counterparts.”

Amnesty International, meanwhile, launched a petition of its own, demanding that Chechnya to “stop abducting and killing” gay men.”The Chechen government won’t admit that gay men even exist in Chechnya, let alone that they ordered what the police call ‘preventive mopping up’ of people they deem undesirable,” the petition, which had over 25,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, read.

On April 12, LGBTQ rights activists in London staged a protest outside of the city’s Russian embassy in response to the reports. “We are seeing very little response to this in the mainstream media, and government action so far is poor,” Steve Taylor, who is the communications director for the European Pride Organizers Association (EPOA) told Gay Star News. “We must not be bystanders, and we must challenge this inhumanity.”







Sources & Recommended Reading…
Alleged Gay ‘Concentration Camps’ In Chechnya Spark Global Outrage -By Curtis M. Wong | Huffington Post
Chechen Authorities Arresting and Killing Gay Men, Russian Paper Says -By Andrew Kramer | The New York Times
Honor Killings -By Elena Milashina | Novaya Gazeta
Chechnya Is Torturing Gay Men in Concentration Camps -By Daniel Reynolds | The Advocate
Gay and Terrified in Chechnya -By Editorial Board | Washington Post
Europe, U.N. Urge Russia to Intervene as Chechnya Allegedly Tortures and Kills Gay People -By Emily Tamkin | Foreign Policy
HRC Calls on U.S. Government to Help Stop Anti-LGBTQ Atrocities in Russia -By Jeremy Kadden | Human Rights Campaign

Russia Ministry of Justice Moves to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘Extremist’ Organization

The Jehovah’s Witnesses elders Vyacheslav Stepanov, 40, left, and Andrei Sivak, 43, are facing trial on charges of inciting division and hatred ​(Photo by James Hill​).​

On April 5, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation began consideration of a claim from the Ministry of Justice to liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.  If the Ministry of Justice succeeds, Jehovah Witnesses will be banned as an extremist organization, a move that would lead to the seizure of the church’s headquarters near St. Petersburg and the outlawing of the group’s organized worship. The Russian justice ministry’s call for the country’s Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters to be shut down represents an attempt to “eliminate the legal existence” of the religion, said the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The USCIRF is a bipartisan federal commission, with commissioners appointed by the president, the Senate and the House.

The justice ministry suspended the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in St. Petersburg last month, alleging that its activities “violate Russia’s law on combating extremism.” The Russian branch of the U.S.-based religion said a ban on its headquarters would directly affect around 400 local branches in the country and all 2277 of its religious groups, with their 175,000 followers. The USCIRF said that if the court sides with the justice ministry it would constitute the first time Russia has banned an organized religious organization.

“If the Supreme Court rules in April that this group is ‘extremist’ it would mark the first time that Russia legally has banned a centrally-administered religious organization and would effectively criminalize all Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activity nationwide. USCIRF calls on the Russian government to stop its harassment of this peaceful religious group.”

The ruling would also cap off years of increased restrictions by the Russian Federation against minority religions. Last summer, Russia introduced an anti-terrorism law that also restricted evangelism, and a regional court ordered the deportation of six missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 2015, a court banned the Church of Scientology’s Moscow branch.

Russia’s dominant religion is Russian Orthodox Christianity, which comprises about 72 percent of the population, up from just 31 percent in 1991, according to analysis from the Pew Research Center.

Under a Russian law passed in 1997, there is freedom of religion, but four faiths are designated to be traditional—Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism—and other religious organizations must register with the government. Some groups, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are registered, still face bureaucratic and legal hurdles. Jehovah’s Witness leaders estimate that there are 175,000 Russian-based adherents to the faith, which was founded in the United States the 1870s. Unlike Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is the son of God but do not believe in the Trinity.

“They would basically be prosecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses as criminals,” David Semonian, international spokesperson for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, says of the pending court declaration. “Anyone who would actually would have our publications could be criminalized. It is of great concern.”

The statement from the group added: “The treatment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reflects the Russian government’s tendency to view all independent religious activity as a threat to its control and the country’s political stability.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses have filed a counter claim asking the court to rule the Justice Ministry’s actions as political repression. A ruling in favor of the ministry would make it a crime for Jehovah’s Witnesses to worship in the Russian Federation and dissolve the faith’s legal means to own or rent Kingdom Halls, their places of worship. In 2015, the Russian Federation banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website JW.org, and customs officials stopped shipments of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bibles, citing the possibility they were extremist literature. Last year, Russia threatened to close the group’s national headquarters.

Roman Lunkin, a human rights fellow at the Wilson Center and an expert on church-state relations in Russia, says that Russian authorities have been targeting minority religions as “extremists” in an effort to demonstrate support for the Russian Orthodox Church and to marginalize organizations with suspected pro-western sympathies. “The treatment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reflects the Russian government’s tendency to view all independent religious activity as a threat to its control and the country’s political stability,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a statement on April 4.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses are no threat to either the Russian Orthodox Church or to the Russian Government,” Semonian says. “The constitution guarantees freedom of worship, and that is all we are asking, to have the same rights as other religious groups have so we can go about our ministry in a peaceful way.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses are pacifists, and their religious beliefs require them to abstain from political activity. They declare allegiance only to God, not to a state or political entity. They do not vote, lobby, protest, or join military. This lack of participation can be seen as a threat if a state demands nationalist and patriotic activity.

“The persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is very much tied to the resurgence of a new view of nationalism, where everything within the state is fine, but anything outside of the state has to be crushed,” Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, a U.S. commissioner for International Religious Freedom appointed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, says.

“A pacifist group that tells its members that their allegiance is to something outside of the government is immediately a group that will be perceived as dangerous to the regime.” -Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz

Other minority Christian groups in Russia, like evangelicals, have not yet faced the same level of scrutiny. Lunkin says it is impossible to accuse evangelicals of extremist activity because their literature and Bible translation matches that of the Russian Orthodox Church. Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own translation of the Bible, and they also have their own magazine and educational materials. Evangelicals also have closer relationships with government officials, he says. “It’s [about] a protection of traditional religions, and the Orthodox identity of Russian people,” Lunkin says. “But in fact it is about protecting personal power, because the main fear is changing of regimes in Russia.”

Jehovah’s Witness church leadership has reached out to the U.S. State department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the U.S. Helsinki Commission for aid. “We will do everything within our legal means to have the judgment reversed,” Semonian says. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are known worldwide for our peaceful activities, and under no circumstances would we ever resort to violence or any other activity that could be misunderstood or considered extremist.”

Jehovah’s Witness leaders have also asked their eight million members worldwide to write letters to Russia officials, including President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, to ask them to intervene. Instructions tell writers to “be candid but respectful,” and to mention how the faith has benefited their families. “Keep in mind that ‘a mild answer turns away rage,’ and ‘a gentle tongue can break a bone,’” the instructions say, quoting the Biblical book of Proverbs.

The decision will come as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is finalizing its annual report identifying countries of concern, its first such report for the Trump administration. The Commission is a bipartisan government advisory group that makes policy recommendations to the President, Congress, and the Secretary of State. Since 2009, the group has designated Russia as a “Tier 2” nation, on the watch list one step below countries of particular concern. “The fate of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the fate of any religious group that does not pledge its allegiance to the Russian government,” Arriaga says. “April [sic] will definitely mark a new chapter of religious persecution in post-Soviet Russia.”

Source: Russian Supreme Court Considers Outlawing Jehovah’s Witness Worship -By Elizabeth Dias | TIME


Recommended….
United States: Russia’s Ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘Extremist’ Shows That Moscow Views All Independent Religions as a Threat -By Jason Le Miere | Newsweek
Russia Moves to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘Extremist’ -By Andrew Higgins | The New York Times

Charles Blow: War as Political Weapon

Injured boys at a field hospital after airstrikes on the rebel held areas of Aleppo, Syria November 18, 2016 (Photo by Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters/TPX IMAGES). Background image: The Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, pictured above in a 2014 photo, has been described as a “living hell” and “the “worst place on Earth.” (Photo by United Nation Relief and Works Agency/Getty Images)

Donald Trump has turned his back on pretty much everything he has ever said about United States military involvement in Syria and launched nearly 60 missiles at an air base in the country.

Trump’s official statement claimed that the strikes were in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s monstrous chemical weapons attack against his own people. But the statement also went further into the fiction of fear often touted to buttress humanitarian missions: “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

This has echoes of the George W. Bush warning about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” a lie that led us into a near decade-long war.

Not to be indelicate here, but atrocities happen in the world all the time (and have happened on an even larger scale before in Syria). Humans are capable of unimaginable cruelty. Sometimes the victims die quickly and are made visible by media for the world to see. Other times, they die in slow motion, out of sight and out of mind. Sometimes banned weapons are used; sometimes conventional weapons; sometimes, neglect, isolation and starvation.

And the world in general, and America in particular, has a way of being wishy-washy about which atrocities deserve responses and which ones don’t. These decisions can be capricious at best and calculated camouflages for ulterior motives at worst. Indeed, the motivations for military action needn’t be singular at all, but are often multiple, tucked one inside the other like nesting dolls.

Acts of war can themselves be used as political weapons. They can distract attention, quell acrimony, increase appetite for military spending and give a boost to sagging approval ratings. This “rally-around-the-flag” (or “rally”) effect is well documented by pollsters.

As Gallup wrote in 2001 after the attack of 9/11: “In the wake of the terrorist attacks Tuesday, American approval of the way President George W. Bush is handling his job has surged to 86 percent, the fourth highest approval rating ever measured by Gallup in the six decades it has been asking Americans to make that evaluation. Only Presidents George H. W. Bush and Harry Truman received higher ratings — the elder Bush twice during the Gulf War, with 89 percent (the highest ever) and 87 percent ratings, and Truman with 87 percent just after the Germans surrendered in World War II.”

It’s easy to sell the heroism of a humanitarian mission or the fear of terror or the two in tandem, as Trump attempted in this case.

The temptation to unleash America’s massive war machine is seductive and also addictive. Put that power in the hands of a man like Trump, who operates more on impulse and intuition than intellect, and the world should shiver.

The problem comes when the initial glow dims and darkness descends. We punch holes in some place on the other side of the world and the war hawks — many beholden to the military-industrial complex — squawk and parade about with chests swollen. But, feeding the beast of war only amplifies its appetite. Market Watch reported last week, “It could cost about $60 million to replace the cruise missiles that the U.S. military rained on Syrian targets Thursday night,” but Fortune reported that shares of weapons manufacturers, as soon as they began trading Friday, were “collectively gaining nearly $5 billion in market value.”

War is a business, a lucrative one.

Americans, who rightly are appalled by the images of dead children, applaud. They feel proud to slap the hand of a villain without risking American bodies. But now American might is irrevocably engaged. Our thumb is on the scale, and our reputation on the line.

Often, action begets more action, as unintended consequences sprout like weeds. In the most extreme cases, we take down a bad leader in some poor country. In theory, this helps the citizens of that country. But in the complex reality that we have had to keep learning over and over in recent history, it often creates a vacuum where one bad man can be replaced by even worse men.

We are then already in waist-deep. We have to make an impossible choice: stay and try to fix what we broke or abandon it and watch our nightmares multiply. Nobility of the crusade is consumed by the quagmire.

This is why we would all do well to temper the self-congratulatory war speeches and thrusting of pom-poms of our politicians and pundits, some of whom hypocritically opposed the use of military force by President Obama following an even worse chemical attack in Syria in 2013.

As righteous as we may feel about punishing Assad, Syria is a hornet’s nest of forces hostile to America: Assad, Russia, and Iran on one flank and ISIS on another. You can’t afflict one faction without assisting the other. In this way, Syria is a nearly unwinnable state.

We’ve been down this road before. Just over the horizon is a hill: Steep and greased with political motives, military ambitions, American blood and squandered treasury.

Being weary here isn’t a sign of weakness; to the contrary, it’s a display of hard-won wisdom.

Source: War as Political Weapon -By Charles M. Blow | The New York Times


Recommended….
Dan Rather Slams Journalists Who Hailed Donald Trump’s Bombs As ‘Presidential’-By Hillary Hanson | Huffington Post
Donald Trump’s Syrian Civil War Paradox -By Owen Matthews and Sophia Slater | Newsweek
Obama Was Right to Abandon ‘Red Line’ on Syria’s Chemical Weapons -By Christopher Dickey | The Daily Beast
The Real Targets of Trump’s Strike Were His Domestic Critics -By Greg Grandin | The Nation
18 Times Donald Trump Said the U.S. Shouldn’t Bomb Syria -By Ashley Hoffman | TIME

Chemical Weapons, Barrel Bombs, & Massacres – A Litany of Atrocities in Syria

A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria, on April 4, 2017 (YouTube Photo by Ammar Abdullah / Reuters).

The decision came on April 6 on Air Force One on the way to Florida. Mr. Donald Trump assembled his National Security Council on his plane, some by secure video link, as the generals made the case that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had to learn there was a price to pay.

Mr. Trump claimed he was shaken by photos his staff had shown him of children dying after the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack — far more graphic than those the public had seen — so he did not need a lot of convincing: “What happened in Syria is truly one of the egregious crimes, and it shouldn’t have happened,” he told reporters when he poked his head into the press cabin. “And it shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

Two hours later at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, Mr. Trump gave the order to unleash 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles (at a cost of $500,000 per missile) at Al Shayrat airfield in western Syria, where the chemical weapons attack originated. His generals had given him the option of delaying a day, but Mr. Trump chose not to wait.

It had been only 63 hours from the chemical attack to the American strike.

With its missile strike on Shayrat air base in central Syria, Washington signaled that it had judged President Bashar Assad responsible for the horrific chemical weapons attack in northern Syria that drew international outrage last week. But it is not the first or even deadliest atrocity of the war. Rights groups and many Middle Eastern and Western nations say Assad is responsible for a litany of war crimes in the six years he and his supporters have struggled to extinguish a popular uprising and armed insurgency against his rule.

The violence started early on, with detentions, torture, and summary executions, and escalated to bombardment, massacres, sieges, and chemical warfare. Various monitors put the war’s toll at over 400,000 killed. The United Nations has recorded over 5 million refugees from the conflict, and says about half the country’s population is displaced within Syria’s borders or abroad.

Assad has denied responsibility for all specific allegations of war crimes. He maintains his war is one against terror, though he acknowledges that civilians have sometimes been caught in the cross-fire.

Here are some of the 6-year-old war’s worst atrocities:

Abdul-Hamid Alyousef, 29, holds his twin babies, who were killed during a suspected chemical weapons attack, in Khan Sheikhoun in the northern province of Idlib, Syria, April 4, 2017. Alyousef also lost 22 members of his family, including his wife, two brothers, nephews and many other family members in the attack that claimed scores of his relatives. (Photo: AP)

BARREL BOMBS
Though not the deadliest weapon in the government’s arsenal, the so-called barrel bomb is now synonymous with Syria’s civil war. The crude, unguided munition — oil barrels packed with explosives and shrapnel — is emblematic of the government’s determination to brutalize its opponents. Soldiers roll them off of helicopters above opposition areas to slam into markets, hospital, schools and military baes below. Sometimes squadrons will bomb an area twice, minutes apart, to kill the first responders who have gathered in the area — a grisly scenario dubbed a “double tap” attack. Thousands of people have been killed in documented barrel bomb attacks, though Assad denies they even exist.

BAYDA AND BANIYAS MASSACRES
On May 2 and 3, 2013, government troops and government-backed militias stormed the towns of Bayda and Baniyas on Syria’s coast and, according to a Human Rights Watch investigation, went door to door burning homes and shooting families in cold blood. At least 248 people were killed. The troops were allegedly looking for army defectors and other dissidents.

It was one of the most widely reported killings in a string of tit-for-tat massacres by pro-government and pro-opposition forces that hardened the conflict’s sectarian dynamics. Bayda and the affected neighborhood in Baniyas are predominantly Sunni districts in a coastal region distinguished for its high proportion of Alawites and Christians. Assad is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and he has crafted the image of his government as a bulwark against Sunni terrorism. Though the initial protests against him represented a cross-section of Syrian society, the spiraling sectarian violence in 2012 and 2013 fractured the country along religious lines, and now opposition forces are dominated by Sunnis.

A similar massacre a year earlier in the town of Houla, near the Lebanese border, also stoked Sunni fears. A U.N. investigation said government forces and pro-Assad militias carried out that attack, which killed 108 people, including 49 children.

GHOUTA SARIN GAS ATTACK
On Aug. 21, 2013, exactly one year and one day after then President Barack Obama issued his “red line” warning against chemical weapons use and transfers, a horrific sarin nerve gas attack killed hundreds of people in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus. Shocking images of residents suffocating in the streets were seen around the world, and one survivor, Kassem Eid, said he saw neighbors dropping dead “like it was judgment day.” In hospitals, medical workers produced videos of victims convulsing and gasping for breath, while others lay motionless, white foam coating their mouths. Doctors lifted patients’ eyelids to reveal their pupils shrunken to the size of pinpricks, just like victims of the attack last week in the opposition-held northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun.

A U.N. investigative team determined that sarin gas was used in the Ghouta attack, but its report did not identify a culprit. The U.S. and other nations said Assad’s government was responsible. Human Rights Watch said the government was the “likely” culprit and the rockets that carried the gas were likely fired from one or more of a string of military installations that ring the capital.

An injured Syrian child waits for treatment at a makeshift hospital in the rebel held area of Douma, north east of the capital Damascus, following reported air strikes by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on February 2, 2015. More than 400,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict started, and around half of the country’s population has been displaced. (Photo: Getty Images)

NAPALM-LIKE WEAPONS ATTACKS
Five days after the gas attack on Ghouta, government aircraft bombed a school in the town of Orem al-Kubra, near Aleppo, with a napalm-like weapon, activists reported. Fuel clung to students like jelly, witnesses said, burning skin and flesh. At least 10 people were killed. Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of attacks where the Syrian government used so-called “incendiary weapons” in the conflict. Their use in civilian areas is against international law. Schools are also frequent targets of the government’s airstrikes.

THE SIEGE OF EAST ALEPPO
After four months of siege and non-stop bombardment, government forces retook the eastern sector of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, last December. By the end of the campaign, every medical facility had been bombed at least once, according to the Syrian American Medical Society. More than 20,000 civilians and fighters agreed to evacuate from the city to other opposition areas in northern Syria instead of face the government’s feared security forces; thousands more crossed first into government parts of the city then continued on to opposition-held Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

A U.N. investigative panel said the evacuation, made under crushing duress, amounted to forced displacement of civilians from their homes, a war crime. Other such actions have dislodged tens of thousands more dissidents to opposition areas of northern Syria, part of a population shift that is changing the demographics of the country.

The U.N. panel also blamed Syrian jets for bombing a humanitarian convoy in the Aleppo countryside during the siege, killing more than a dozen relief workers. It said the attack was a war crime.

TARGETING THE MEDICAL SECTOR
Human rights organizations and international medical charities say Assad’s forces target hospitals, clinics and ambulances in opposition-held areas. Earlier in the conflict, doctors said they were tortured by security forces for helping wounded protesters at anti-government rallies. According to Physicians for Human Rights, government and allied Russian forces have killed 727 medical workers in the course of the conflict.

Sources & Recommended Reading…
Syrian Civil War Timeline | Wikipedia

Chemical Weapons Attack Latest in Litany of Syria Atrocities | AP via The New York Times
63 Hours: From Chemical Attack to Trump’s Strike in Syria -By Michael D. Shear & Michael R. Gordon | The New York Times
World Report 2017: Syria | Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International Annual Report 2017: Syria | Amnesty International
Syria’s War on Doctors -By Ben Taub | The New Yorker
The War on Syria’s Doctor -By Ellen Francis | Foreign Policy

Michigan Doctor Is Charged for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

A young girl cries after being circumcised in Bandung, Indonesia on April 23, 2006. The families of 248 girls were given money to have their children circumcised in a mass circumcision celebration timed to hon​or the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. While religion was the main reason for circumcisions, it is believed by some locals that a girl who is not circumcised would have unclean genitals after she urinates which could lead to cervical cancer. It is also believed if one prays with unclean genitals their prayer won’t be heard. The practitioners used scissors to cut the hood and tip of the clitoris. The World Health Organization has deemed the ritual unnecessary and condemns such practices. Background Image: A young girl screams while being circumcised in Bandung, Indonesia on April 23, 2006. (Photos by © Stephanie Sinclair | Female Circumcision in Indonesia Series).

A Michigan doctor has been accused of performing genital genital mutilation on two 7-year-old girls at a medical clinic, in a case that federal officials believe to be the first prosecution under a law banning the brutal practice.

The doctor, Jumana Nagarwala, 44, was arrested on Wednesday on charges that she performed the genital cutting at an unnamed medical clinic in Livonia, Michigan; transported minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; and lied to federal agents. According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court on Wednesday, Dr. Nagarwala performed the procedure on two girls from Minnesota who traveled to the clinic with their parents in February. The complaint also said that “multiple” other girls, including some from Michigan, may have been victimized between 2005 and 2007.

One of the girls told investigators that she thought she and the other girl had gone to the doctor because “our tummies hurt.” The other said the cutting procedure was so painful that she screamed and could barely walk afterward. She drew a picture of the room where the procedures were allegedly carried out, marking an “X” on the spot where she said she had bled on the examination table, according to the complaint.

“Dr. Nagarwala is alleged to have performed horrifying acts of brutality on the most vulnerable victims,” Kenneth A. Blanco, an acting assistant attorney general with the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement on Thursday. “The Department of Justice is committed to stopping female genital mutilation in this country, and will use the full power of the law to ensure that no girls suffer such physical and emotional abuse.”

Dr. Nagarwala appeared in court on Thursday and was ordered held in jail until another hearing on Monday. The doctor’s lawyer, Shannon M. Smith, could not be reached by phone for comment on Thursday. According to the complaint, Dr. Nagarwala said she had never performed genital cutting on any children.

Dr. Nagarwala, who practices emergency medicine at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, has been placed on administrative leave, said David Olejarz, a spokesman for the Henry Ford Health System.“The alleged criminal activity did not occur at any Henry Ford facility,” he said in an email. “We would never support or condone anything related to this practice.”

Female genital cutting involves removing parts of the genitalia. The World Health Organization has documented the practice in 30 countries, most of them in Africa. The procedure, which is illegal in the United States, is typically performed on girls before they reach puberty and can lead to infections, childbirth complications or pain during urination or menstruation.

The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of genital cutting. A study last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than a half million women and girls were affected by, or at risk of, genital cutting in the United States in 2012.

Genital cutting has been illegal in the United States since 1996, but that law was amended in 2013 to outlaw what is sometimes referred to as “vacation cutting,” or transporting a girl overseas to carry out the procedure.

The Michigan case is significant because it can help to raise awareness of an issue that often flies under the radar, said Shelby Quast of Equality Now, an international women’s rights advocacy organization. She said people who might see evidence of genital cutting, such as teachers and health care providers, are not always aware of obligations to report it. “We need better information about exactly where they are,” Ms. Quast said of practitioners of genital cutting. “We know that this is a child abuse issue, and we know that we need to start training our child protection folks better.”

Source: Michigan Doctor Is Accused of Cutting 2 Girls -By Jacey Fortin | The New York Times


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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.

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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.

Fault Lines – The Economic, Racial, & Social Inequality That Persist in South Africa

All photography by Johnny Miller.

In Makause, a sprawling settlement of overcrowded shacks built on an abandoned gold mine, some 30,000 residents face the leafy streets and gracious homes of Primrose, an affluent suburb of Johannesburg. Separated only by a narrow highway, the two neighborhoods offer a stark reminder that, 22 years after apartheid was abolished, South Africa is still defined by massive inequality and stark segregation.

This is where apartheid was born. When British financier Barney Barnato arrived in Johannesburg, not long after miners struck gold there in 1886, it was little more than a tent city, with a single hotel and a handful of saloons. The following year, Barnato founded his first mine just outside the settlement, and named it after his daughter, Primrose. The city’s fault lines were quickly established: Black Africans lived in cramped barracks, set apart from affluent whites.

Today, the residents of Makause live sardined in small shacks constructed from corrugated tin, scrap metal, and wooden planks. The ground is contaminated with toxic chemicals. Water was not available until 2008, when two pumps were installed. Fires are common. One, in 2012, destroyed 18 homes before fire trucks lingering across the street in Primrose finally arrived.

Photographer Johnny Miller moved to South Africa that year and set out to chronicle the country’s segregation from the skies. “Drones have an incredible ability to transform how we see the world,” he says. “There is an electricity in the air in South Africa right now, a nervous tension. People are tired of relying on platitudes and promises from 22 years ago. They want to see change.”

A sprawling settlement borders the Papwa Sewgolum Golf Course in Durban.

The settlement of Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay has few toilets and no sewage system for its more than 15,000 residents. The shacks are just a stone’s throw from sprawling homes.

Leafy trees and swimming pools in the middle-class suburb of Bloubosrand border the Kya Sands settlement in Johannesburg.

The Killarney industrial park borders Dunoon, an informal settlement on the northern outskirts of Cape Town.

Source: South Africa’s Fault Lines | New Republic


Johnny Miller is a freelance documentary photographer and filmmaker based in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow on Twitter @UnequalScenes

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)


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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

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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


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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)