Monday, February 14, 2005

the "tsunami effect" on aid to Africa

Donations for U.N. hunger relief operations in Africa were down 21 percent in January as the world's attention was focused on the Indian Ocean countries hit by the tsunami, and rations to hungry people in Africa have had to be cut.

[...] One example of a major funding shortfall is in Sudan where the WFP is trying to help refugees return to the south of the country after two decades of war. Lack of cash has forced it to slash food rations there by 30 percent. (source)

Sierra Leone: labourers bound for Iraq

From the Feb 3 issue of the Standard Times (Freetown)....

Check out how much they're being paid!
According to the [labour ministry] officials, 750 of them [Sierra Leoneans] would eventually fulfill the prerequisite medical conditions and allowed to depart as the first set of Sierra Leoneans who will be opportuned to work as cleaners, gardeners, caterers, etc., for a monthly remuneration of $175.00 and an allowance of $20.00.

[...] The ESS Support Service Worldwide is an agency that works in close concert with the British army and has its headquarters in Jordan. (source)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Morocco: criticism of equity & reconciliation commission

Morocco is holding public hearings into the human rights abuses committed during the reign of the late King Hassan II ... and the country's three main human rights groups have an issue with how the hearings are being conducted.
The hearings, which began last month and are expected to include testimony from 200 people in 10 cities in a period of 10 weeks, were hailed as a breakthrough for the Arab world.

They were organized by the Equity and Reconciliation Commission, a state body empowered by Hassan's son, King Mohammed VI, to look into rights violations prior to his accession to power in 1999.

But those testifying are not allowed to reveal the names of people responsible for the torture and other rights violations carried out during a period known in Morocco as "the leaden years."

[...] They [human rights groups] also criticized the fact that after the first two days the hearings stopped being shown live in television, and no parallel debates had been organized.(source)
A bit more from the Feb 5 issue of the Telegraph ...
While few doubt the benefits of airing grievances many Moroccans ask whether it is a real step towards democracy or elaborate window-dressing.

The commission is seen as a pressure valve to deflate burgeoning social tensions and frustrations over the slow pace of reform. Morocco has an elected parliament with no real executive powers.

After the Casablanca suicide bombings in 2003, in which 33 people were killed, some 2,000 suspected Islamists were arrested.

The old ways of beatings, mass round-ups and torture persist. Last month a newspaper reported 20 cases of Islamist detainees being tortured. The justice minister, Mohammed Bu Zubaa, said the cases would be investigated.

Members of the respected Moroccan Association for Human Rights believe the commission does not go far enough. The organisation will hold parallel hearings from Feb 12 in which torturers will be named.

Bin Abd al-Salam, for the group, said: "There are many more political prisoners in Moroccan jails." (source)

Friday, February 11, 2005

DRC: UN soldiers implicated in sexual abuse of minors

20/20, an American current affairs show, has a story on tonight about how some UN soldiers/officers have been sexually abusing minors in Congolese refugee camps.
The range of sexual abuse includes reported rapes of young Congolese girls by U.N. troops; an Internet pedophile ring run from Congo by Didier Bourguet, a senior U.N. official from France; a colonel from South Africa accused of molesting his teenage male translators; and estimates of hundreds of underage girls having babies fathered by U.N. soldiers who have been able to simply leave their children and their crimes behind. (source)
Sadly, this isn't a new story. Check out this post from December 2003.

UPDATE: A personal account written by the Independent's Kate Holt, the reporter who first broke the Congo story. (via UN Wire)
February 2004 found me on a photographic assignment in the camp for internally displaced people in Bunia, Congo, next to the UN base. After only four hours in the camp I noticed there were holes in the perimeter fence separating the camp from the UN military base. An investigation revealed young girls from the camp, many of them victims of sexual violence by local militias, would cross over the fence each night to sleep with soldiers stationed there - often for a banana or a bag of peanuts.

When it became evident the UN was reluctant to act on the information I had given it, I decided I had no choice but to publish. Only then did the UN say it was going to start a full investigation.

Returning to DRC in July, I planned a follow-up on the story in Bunia. I became aware that the problem was not just there but was endemic to every town where the UN was based in DRC - and that the UN had first received reports of abuse as far back as 2002. These reports, filed to Kinshasa, had been buried and no action had been taken.

Before departing for Bunia, I received two phone calls warning me "not to return to Bunia", as well as a note delivered to my hotel saying: "If you continue your investigations against the UN there will be trouble for you." This note later disappeared from my hotel room.

I was also approached by several people in the UN who were increasingly horrified as to how widespread the problem was and how so much of the information was apparently being covered up. With long UN careers behind them they were risking their jobs to give me information, but felt that the levels of abuse and corruption had to be exposed if the UN was to continue to function with any degree of integrity. (source)