Khush Amdeed (Welcome)

Welcome to Chowraha - crossroads!

Chowraha is the crossroads of thoughts, events, opinions and feelings...all that have been shaped by individuals living in an increasingly complex world inter-connected through various means of communications.

This blog is about the crossroads in society - whether it is those of a diaspora community, global media complicating the structure of nations and cultures, or individuals finding parallels in spaces unknown to them.

Note:
The above picture is courtesy a much-admired photographer (Ali Khurshid) whose work is a source of inspiration and reaffirms the belief in the complex beauty of this world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cluster bombs - a step closer to history

In 2006, Israel's indiscriminate use of several million cluster bombs against the Lebanese civilian population raised much outcry across the world. Most of these were fired in the last 72 hours of the conflict.

UN officials estimate that southern Lebanon is saturated with 1 million unexploded bomblets, far outnumbering the 650,000 people living in that impoverished region. This devastation against humanity, which led to many Lebanese wounded, homeless or dead, galvanized much public and diplomatic opinion.


Cluster bombs are volatile explosives dispersed in tens and hundreds of lethal bomblets over a wide area by aircraft or by rocket. Many of these bomblets do not even explode on impact. Thus, they remain fatal for the civilian population, particularly for children who may mistake these lethal explosives for innocent toys.

Michael Slackman of the International Herald Tribune, when writing on the Israeli usage of cluster bombs in Lebanon, said, "They are stuck in the branches of olive trees and the broad leaves of banana trees. They are on rooftops, mixed in with rubble, littered across fields, farms, driveways, roads and outside schools" (Oct. 6, 2006).

At this moment, more than 100 world leaders have gathered in Dublin for a diplomatic conference to negotiate the details of a ban on cluster bombs. For over four decades, these explosives have been used by industrialized nations in "wars" against poorer nations, from Laos to Lebanon, causing much devastation among their civilian populations. Representatives from countries around the world are deliberating what a cluster bomb treaty should cover -- they are wondering whether cluster bombs should be banned fully or not.

Not surprisingly, influential powers like Britain, France and Germany do not want to see a "complete ban" on cluster bombs. The British government is calling for a ban but is asking for some exemptions that would allow it to retain some cluster munitions in its arsenal.

If a treaty is formed calling for a comprehensive ban on cluster bombs, countries with clashing interests like Britain have the option of walking away from signing the negotiation. Although every country has an equal vote, Ireland, the chairing country, is faced with the challenge of balancing the interests of the majority smaller nations versus the major users like Britain, whose signature will lend a sense of legitimacy to the treaty. Furthermore, there is nothing to stop the more powerful countries in the future, for example, from undertaking coalition operations in partnership with the United States, which is not signing the cluster ban treaty.

The treaty is scheduled to be signed in November. It will be the most significant step since the mine ban treaty signed 10 years ago. Despite the fact that the United States, Russia and China have not signed the mine ban treaty and will not sign the cluster ban either, they will find their future actions affected by the outcome of this treaty.

Treaties like these are highly influential in manipulating the mind-sets of the public at large. Just as land mines are derided the world over today, cluster bombs have and will become more detestable by the masses. A survey by a coalition group -- Oxfam, Amnesty International and Landmine Action -- disclosed that 8 out of 10 Britons believe that cluster bombs should be banned.

Organizations like Human Rights Watch, Handicap International and others have combined their energies to give voice to the millions of people around the world calling for a complete ban on cluster bombs. These humanitarian organizations, coupled with the power of the public, will make even the most powerful country think twice before using a menacing weapon like cluster bombs against the innocent population of a country. This is the lesson learned from the process leading to the ban on landmines that came into effect in 1997.

We need to realize that what we want is a complete ban on cluster bombs -- no exceptions. We have to make a resolution for a more peaceful today and a more secure tomorrow for our children. Public outcry, like the one that followed the bombing of Lebanon, can combine to create unstoppable momentum. We don't want the influential powers to undermine moves toward a total ban on the use of cluster bombs. With our voices combined, and our hands joined, together we can make the painful memories of cluster bombs a distant fact from our history.

Shoot me or save me

2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In commemoration, human rights activists in over 60 countries around the world recognize that arms play a vital role in patronizing Human Rights and their control is absolutely essential in order to safeguard the basic rights of the peoples of world. An International Control Arms Week of Action is hence being held between the 13th and 19th of September.

A campaign initiated by prominent and reputable organizations, and human rights activists around the world, it aims at bringing to the notice of governments worldwide that the citizens of the world are peace-loving and they are waiting and hoping that their governments too will contribute positively in controlling arms.

Lives shattered but not forgotten:

Each day lives are being shattered, families broken and peace destroyed thanks to the evil of small arms. According to figures by Amnesty International, Oxfam and Iansa, 245,000 lives have been lost by gunshots since January 2008 alone. About 1000 lives are lost by way of small arms each day!

Each year, an alarming number of 1 million guns are either lost or stolen, with no account as to which hands they go into and what use they are being brought to. 12 billion bullets are produced each day. Amongst small arms, Kalashnikovs are the most popular and hence most widely spread across the globe. It is estimated that there are between 50 and 70 million of them all over the world being used by soldiers, fighters, and gangs inflicting horrendous pain and suffering. The spread of these weapons continues largely unchecked by governments, threatening safety and lives of millions.

Unchecked arms; unchecked injustice:

The above figures are evidence as to how arms directly violate international humanitarian law and domestic human rights law, hence proving to be the factor behind conflicts around the world. The unchecked spread of arms around the world implies harrowing facts that we are surrounded by:

i. A human being, a group of people, a tribe, an ethnicity, a nation is being suppressed by another of its like by the usage of small arms. As long as it is unchecked, it implies that the authorities either want or choose to ignore this injustice to one by the hands of another.

ii. The disrespect for a human life and how easy it is for us as individuals, and as groups to allow the loss of a life.

iii. Since one person is hurting or killing another person, a group of people is suppressing another group and so on, using these arms human rights are being violated. Since human rights are being violated, there is no curtailing of the frustration and bitterness amongst various groups of people, whether victims or guilty. This means that hatred is only breeding further hatred, hence minimizing if not eradicating our options to world peace.

iv. The greater the intensity of frustration, and dissatisfaction, the more the use of arms and hence the deadlier will be the conflicts in the world.

Why an Arms Trade Treaty?

What the world wants to see is a Global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Thanks to technological advancement, today’s world is known as a global village. Our economies are global, our communication is global and our politics is global. In this age of globalization arms trade is also carried out in a globalized fashion. Arms companies are now operating from a large number of location spread across the world. Components are being delivered from another part of the world, manufactured elsewhere and perhaps assembled in a third place. Assembly of products is often carried out in countries with lax controls on where the arms may reach eventually. Each year, at least a third of a million people are killed directly with conventional weapons and many more are injured, are displaced or lose their lives a result of armed violence. Rapidly widening loopholes in national controls demonstrate how this globalised trade also needs global rules – hence the urgency of an effective Arms Trade Treaty.

Women – suffering yet again:

Countless women and girls have been shot and killed or injured in every region of the world while millions more live in the constant fear of armed violence. Apart from suffering directly in deadly conflicts, their lives are shattered when they see lives around them being lost – whether it may of their fathers, children or husbands. Thanks to the havoc created by small arms, they are turned into single mothers running entire households. The economic, physical, social pressures on her stay on for a life time making her more vulnerable and degraded.

I am a child with a gunshot or a gun

Child soldiers is a tragic production of our peace-less conflict raged world. Vulnerable to manipulation, child soldiers make great resources to gang leaders who need maximum number of followers with guns. In a report released by IANSA, between the year 2001 and 2004 alone thousands of child soldiers were used in the armed forces of over 10 countries. The same report shares the harrowing fact that even today, at least 30 thousand children are fighting in the DRC. Of these 12,000 are girls.

On the other hand, children growing up in homes with single mothers and shattered homes, memories of dead fathers, experiences of injuries and repercussions of deadly conflicts or homicidal cases, are children not growing up in the most ideal environment. They need protection on a physical and mental level – they too have a right to grow like every other happy child in this world.

Poor and getting poorer:

Most developing countries have many faculties of the country to satisfy. With booming populations, their education needs extra attention, and social care has to be improved. At the same time, a self-sustaining economy can save from the budget deficits that many countries face. Inappropriate arms purchases are a drain on social and economic resources something which the developing countries can hardly afford, hence adversely impacting the sustainable development of these countries.

Resources spent on armed conflicts are at the opportunity cost of buying food, a basic human right, for the people of the country. A Survey by the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation showed that between 1993 and 2003, conflicts caused 35% of the food emergencies.

Armed conflicts raise the level of insecurity in the country – people live fearing for their lives, for the economic future of the country and for their children’s future. Money is spent on rebuilding infrastructure whereas it could have been spent on social care human development had the conflicts not been occurring. Conflicts adversely affect the tourism of the country while also increasing the risk for investors wishing to invest in the country.

A conflicted nation is also impacted by brain drain. The educated elite of the country can afford to send their young children, if not entire families, to another country in order to be safe. Similarly young men of working age are either affected by gun deaths or injuries, hence not being a resource to the country.

War on “terror”

The war on “terror” has given the world a new perspective. “terror”ism has been marked a grave threat and it has become the aim of governments to keep their countries clean of “terror”ists. With such a vision, one would expect that the governments would take more of an interest in controlling arms, for fear they may end up in the wrong hands. However, we do not see this happening.

The US government has in fact increased its military aid to other countries. Strangely enough, some of these countries were said to have poor human rights records in the eyes of the State Department. These include countries in Latin America, Central Asia, South and South East Asia and the Middle East. What is further disturbing is that war on ““terror”ism” has become a tool to repress all those elements of the countries which the establishments fear. The result is an increase in attacks against the establishment, in suicide bombs, in fuelled conflicts within the countries. These tribal, ethnic, political group armed rivalries are used by the establishment many a times to distract people from the main weaknesses of the government and for the governments to use as an excuse to further repress the citizens.

As a result of the war on “terror”, today there is some armed operation or the other happening in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Syria, Colombia, Armenia, Azerbaijan etc. As a result, there is an increased supply of arms either via trade or military aid. With more weapons in the country, there is an increased trend of arms reaching the wrong hands, in a barter for money within the countries themselves. All of these factors combined, are further fuelling the lack of peace within countries.

What can the governments do?

There is an imperative need for a global Arms Trade Treaty, in order to protect basic human rights and lives, in order to prevent families from breaking and in order to save our women and children from abuse and vulnerability. It is the responsibility of the governments to ensure that the supply of arms is reduced, trade curtailed and violators of international law receive justice.

The Controlling Small Arms campaign precedes an important UN meeting which will be held next month where member states will decide on whether to move work forward with an international Arms Trade Treaty. In 2006 amongst 154 countries, the US was the only country to have voted against it.

While the governments contemplate their next steps, the world is watching and waiting for an Arms Trade Treaty.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bail Hearing Before September 11th (Dr. Afia Part III)

In a recent development of the case of Dr. Afia Siddiqui, her lawyer has demanded the American government to immediately allow Dr. Afia to be hospitalized in order for her to be treated for her critical health condition.

 

In a press conference held recently Elizabeth Fink shared that Dr. Afia’s health was deteriorating and the US officials had been approached in this regard. The lawyer further said Dr. Afia was being incarcerated and abused on the name of search by US authorities. This fact was first made public by UK House of Lords Member, Lord Nazir Ahmed who raised the issue in the House. He referred to her as Prisoner 650, as was disclosed by Moazzam Beg in his book when talking about the only female prisoner in Bagram jail (For background, refer to Part I of this series).

Lord Nazir brought to the notice of House of Lords the condition of this prisoner saying that she was physically tortured and repeatedly raped by officers in the Bagram prison. It was further disclosed that Dr. Afia or Prisoner 650 was being forced to share the same toilet facilities as her male counterparts where she would have to attend to her bathing and other needs in full view of the male prisoners.

It seems that this humiliation continues in the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn where Dr. Afia is being held now. Lawyer Elizabeth has shared that the authorities continue to strip search Dr. Afia each time she leaves her detention room to meet with her attorneys, sympathizers, Pakistani diplomats or family and friends.

Thanks to the public pressure applied on the United States and Pakistani officials since the disclosure of Dr. Afia’s case and the joining hands of the human rights activists, well-wishers and concerned citizens around the world, Afia Siddiqui now  faces the prospect of a Political Trial. Whereas it is a ray of hope for the detained woman, it is obvious that the America government was not left with many options to protect itself from embarrassment.

It is interesting to point out here that the court where her case is being held and will be listened to in the future too, is not even half a mile away from Ground Zero - the site where the World Trade Center stood previously. The location plays a tremendous role in winning the emotional appeal of the Americans hurt by the 9/11 memories. It will further play a massive role in continuing to display Dr. Afia as a dangerous terrorist. The bail hearing is scheduled to be held right after the American Labor Day weekend, during the time when the Republican Convention will be held and very interestingly just before the September 11th. It will not be surprising if the Republicans use terror as their playing card to win the favors in the upcoming elections. It should, therefore, not be difficult to figure out how the venue and dates have been selected to manipulate the case against the Prisoner.

 

Earlier it was also revealed that the US officials had admitted to holding the custody of Dr. Afia’s eldest son, Ahmed. The whereabouts of her other children has still not been disclosed. The youngest child is supposed to be 5 years old now. (For further details, please refer to Part II of this series). Perhaps the only reason behind holding innocent young children for 5 years with their mother is because if left free, they could bear witness to the inhumanity subjected to Prisoner 650.  

 

A public campaign has been launched for the release of her children. Dr. Afia’s sympathizers are being asked to send post cards on her address. It has been further arranged via Barnes & Nobles that the general public may buy books, newspapers and magazines for her which the publishers can directly mail on her address. This is being encouraged in order to keep her morale boosted as well as to show the massive support for her justice. Dr. Afia’s team is also encouraging donations for her cause.

 

In a case which has made much head way and yet questions such as Who exactly was responsible for her disappearance? Why was she detained with no charge at Bagram, where her other children are etc remaining unanswered, it becomes more important for the general public to remain aware of the details of the case. It further makes us responsible for raising our voices, expressing our concerns and keeping the mainstream media on its toes about the case. This is the only check we have to ensure that we do not turn immune to the injustice several such prisoners are being subjected to around the world. It is to keep reminding ourselves that in public lies the real power and hope for the future.