Archive | December 20th, 2019

Tribunal Declares Trump and Duterte Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity

Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte raise drinks
President Donald Trump toasts with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte during a special gala celebration dinner for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila on November 12, 2017.

BY: Marjorie Cohn

Truthout

Human Rights and Global Wrongs

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his government committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, aided and abetted by U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration, according to a recent ruling from the International Peoples’ Tribunal on the Philippines.

The tribunal, which was held in Brussels, Belgium, on September 18 and 19, 2018, rendered its 84-page decision on these crimes on March 8. Conveners of the tribunal included the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, IBON International, and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines. A panel of eight jurors from Egypt, France, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands and the United States heard testimony from 31 witnesses, including me.

These jurors ordered the defendants to make reparations; to provide compensation or indemnification, restitution and rehabilitation; and to be subjected to possible prosecution and sanctions for their crimes. Although the tribunal does not have the power to enforce those measures, its findings of facts and conclusions of law could be used to bolster the preliminary examination of crimes by the Duterte regime currently pending in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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“The Tribunal has finally rendered its historical and comprehensive decision,” Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) in the Philippines, who also served as clerk of the tribunal, told Truthout in an email. “It is extensive in its presentation of the facts and evidence” and contains “an incisive elaboration of the nexus between the acts and omissions of Defendants and their accountability under a plethora of international instruments.”

Olalia added that the decision “sends out a message loud and clear: a people continually victimized by authoritarian and repressive governments and exploitative entities will seek justice wherever they can before those who are willing to give them a fighting chance.” Finally, Olalia said, “the decision remains ever more relevant to this day and time when the Filipinos are still struggling to ride out the storm of tyranny, brutality, corruption, misogyny and repression.”

Much of this tyranny, brutality and corruption has been endorsed, whether implicitly or explicitly, by the United States. The unholy alliance between the Philippine and U.S. governments is long-standing. For the past 18 years, under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the United States has continued to provide assistance to the Philippine government, which enables it to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against its own people and deny them their legal right to self-determination.

After the 9/11 attacks, Bush declared the Philippines a second front in the war on terror, calling it “Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines.” The Philippine government used Bush’s campaign as an opportunity to escalate its vicious counterinsurgency program against Muslims and individuals and organizations that oppose its policies.

The Philippine government labels specific people and groups as “terrorists,” which makes them targets of the regime. The government also engages in “red tagging” — political vilification. These labels can lead to harassment, assault, detention, torture and even murder. Targets are frequently human rights activists and advocates, political opponents, community organizers or groups struggling for national liberation.

Indeed, attorney Benjamin Ramos, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, was assassinated on November 6, 2018, two months after the tribunal proceedings. “Atty. Ramos was a leading human rights lawyer in Negros, who passionately advocated for genuine agrarian reform and peasant rights,” the NUPL said in a statement. Ramos was the 34th lawyer killed by the Duterte regime. Two more have been killed since.

The tribunal found Defendants Rodrigo Duterte and his regime, and Donald Trump and his administration guilty of gross and systematic violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights; and the rights of the people to national self-determination and development.Although the tribunal does not have the power to enforce those measures, its findings could bolster the examination of crimes by the Duterte regime currently pending in the ICC.

Duterte is responsible for the crimes of his administration under the doctrine of Command Responsibility. Commanders are criminally liable for murders and other crimes committed by their subordinates if they knew or should have known they would be committed and they did nothing to stop or prevent it.

Liability for the Trump administration was based on its role as accomplice to Duterte’s crimes. The Rome Statute of the ICC includes aiding and abetting liability for war crimes. An individual can be convicted of a war crime in the ICC if he or she “aids, abets or otherwise assists” in the commission or attempted commission of the crime. This includes “providing the means for its commission.” The U.S. government supplied the Duterte regime with $175 million in foreign military financing in 2017 and 2018, and $111 million in 2019.

Violations of Civil and Political Rights

The tribunal found the Duterte regime responsible for “mass murder, gross violations of the right to due process, unabated killings, attacks, terrorist-tagging and criminalisation of human rights defenders and political dissenters, muzzling of the right to free expression, impunity to the hilt, general situation of unpeace, and the utter contempt for human rights.”

Duterte is perpetrating a ruthless “war on drugs,” which has taken the form of a violent war on suspected drug users. Most victims of the drug war are poor people from the slums. A police memo ordered that suspected drug users be “neutralized” or killed. The government admits to killing at least 4,410 people suspected of drug use as of July 31, 2018. Independent sources put the number at 23,000. The police claim that they acted in self-defense.U.S. military aid to the Philippine government facilitates its crimes against humanity against its own people.

But, tribunal prosecutor Neri Colmenares, the chairperson of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, argued, “direct evidence including eyewitness’s accounts, CCTV and others show that the police, themselves, killed the victims [who were] not fighting back. They have been killing the victims while the victims were kneeling and pleading for their lives.”

Colmenares noted the brazenness of these killings, saying, “They were committed in broad daylight, in public places, in front of many witnesses … even near police stations showing that the perpetrators were never afraid at all at being accosted by the authorities.”

There is a culture of impunity for officials in the Philippines. Police officers who carry out illegal killings are not brought to justice. They are promoted to higher posts.

Many lawyers are afraid to defend drug suspects for fear they might be killed. Since Duterte took office on July 1, 2016, the regime has illegally killed 10 prosecutors, 21 lawyers, three judges, and 13 journalists.

“The extra-judicial killings have also intensified against human rights defenders and the progressive sections of Philippine civil society who have criticized the current undemocratic and anti-people policies and systems,” the tribunal wrote. “As of June 2018, 169 leaders of the progressive movement have been victims of extrajudicial-killings (EJKs) and an additional 509 political prisoners are illegally jailed, subjected to trumped-up criminal charges and planted evidence.”

Duterte is unapologetic. On September 27, 2018, he publicly admitted, “My only sin is the extrajudicial killings.” Extrajudicial means outside the law.

Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court wrote in an October 2016 statement about the situation in the Philippines that extra-judicial killings may fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC “if they are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population pursuant to a State policy to commit such an attack.” That is the definition of a crime against humanity.Other defendants included the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and transnational corporations and foreign banks doing business in the Philippines.

Witnesses testified at the tribunal that suspects and prisoners endure physical and psychological torture. Janry Mensis, a miner in Mindanao, testified via video. He described how he and his brother were arrested, detained and tortured. They were tied and detained inside an ambulance for nine days. Then they were hogtied and their mouths covered with packing tape. The soldiers then strangled them. When the brothers pretended to be unconscious, they were thrown into a pit with wood and oil and set afire. They dragged themselves out of the pit after the soldiers left them for dead. They both suffered third-degree burns and other injuries from the torture.

Duterte declared Martial Law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017, purportedly in response to an invasion in one city by an alleged ISIS-inspired group (ISIS is also known as Daesh). His government has used the Martial Law to conduct illegal arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, forced displacement and arbitrary deprivation of property, destruction of mosques and schools, and arbitrary denial of humanitarian aid to civilians caught in the crossfire.

After considering this evidence, the tribunal found violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Geneva Conventions; Nuremberg Tribunal; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Murder, torture and cruel treatment constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute and the Geneva Conventions.

Murder or torture committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack, constitute crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute.

Violations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The Philippine and U.S. governments were not the only entities on trial at the tribunal. Other defendants included the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and transnational corporations and foreign banks doing business in the Philippines.

“Duterte’s economic policies result in the deprivation of genuine government service as they divert public funds to corruption and big ticket projects demanded by Defendants World Bank, IMF, WTO and transnational corporations,” the tribunal wrote.

The tribunal determined that Duterte “has perpetrated anti-democratic and exclusionary economics and governance as he dramatically perpetuates neoliberal policies imposed or influenced by Defendant actors and transnational entities doing business in the Philippines by the systematic violation of fundamental human rights as exemplified in the mining exploitation.” Moreover, the tribunal concluded, “This aggravates even more systemic violations of the people’s social, economic and cultural rights.”U.S. presence and the permanent and expanded basing of U.S. troops are further emboldening Duterte in implementing the counterinsurgency program.

Witnesses testified to “the impact of an exploitative system that has deprived millions of Filipinos of their livelihood, demolished the shanties of the marginalized poor, grabbed lands of the peasants and condemned workers to eternal poverty through perpetual contractualization and the exportation of labor, many of whom are victimized abroad,” Colmenares summarized.

The evidence revealed the imposition of “an exploitative system which has reduced the Philippines into a producer of raw material for industries; reduced the Philippines into a mere source of cheap labor and a lucrative and pliant market for their goods.” This is called neoliberalism.

The tribunal concluded that the Duterte regime “has consistently failed to provide the basic rights to work; to living wages and regular employment; to land; to an adequate standard of living; and to health, housing and education.” The tribunal also faulted the regime for imposing “new taxes that hit primarily the poor; and forced displacement of poor families to install tourism projects on their lands.”

“Farmers are deprived of the lands they have tilled for ages and are attacked; workers are exploited and their strikes violently dispersed; the urban poor remain homeless and threatened when they assert their rights; education is commercialized and inaccessible to the great majority,” the tribunal noted. In addition, “thousands are forced to migrate daily, including nurses, under a labor export policy; the right to livelihood is curtailed; and distressed overseas workers are neglected and abandoned.”

The tribunal found violations of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Convention Concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize; Convention on the Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively; Algiers Declaration; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and International Convention on Protections of Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families.

Violations of the Rights to National Self-Determination and Development

“Duterte has essentially demonstrated his allegiance to US imperialist goals in Asia-Pacific region,” the tribunal concluded. His government “also overturned anew the victory of the people in removing US military bases.”

The tribunal explained how the U.S. bases in the Philippines facilitate Duterte’s counterinsurgency program: “US presence and the permanent and expanded basing of US troops are further emboldening the Defendant Duterte government in implementing the counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan patterned after the 2009 US Counterinsurgency Guide and financed by Defendant US government.”Even if the ICC does not ultimately prosecute, other countries could bring the offenders to justice under the well-established principle of universal jurisdiction.

U.S. government assistance to the Duterte government includes the provision of “intelligence, funding, orientation, training and arms to promote and pursue its economic and geopolitical interests in the region.”

The tribunal adopted my testimony as follows: “US military aid to the Philippine government facilitates its commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity against its own people. Like Philippine leaders, US political and military leaders could be liable in the International Criminal Court as aiders and abettors of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

The Filipino people have the right to self-determination, which includes the right to development. As stated in the Declaration on the Right to Development, it is “by virtue of” self-determination that peoples “have the right freely to determine their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” The people have the “inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their national wealth and resources.”

Witnesses documented widespread and systematic attacks on indigenous peoples and national minorities, and the use of white phosphorous gas and enforced disappearances, which amount to crimes against humanity.

“Philippine and US political and military leaders do not enjoy impunity for their crimes. Achieving justice for the Filipino people is not just a matter for people in the Philippines. Americans and other people throughout the world have a responsibility to bring the criminals to justice,” the tribunal wrote, adopting my testimony. “The Filipino people continue their valiant struggle for national liberation and self-determination. Providing legal accountability for the crimes of Philippine and US officials will help to deter them from committing additional crimes.”

In February 2018, Bensouda opened a preliminary examination into possible crimes committed since at least 1 July, 2016, in the context of the “war on drugs” campaign launched by the Philippine government. A preliminary examination is an initial step to determine whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with a full investigation.

The following month, in March 2018, the Philippine government submitted a withdrawal from the Rome Statute. It takes effect one year later. Bensouda responded, “A withdrawal has no impact on on-going proceedings or any matter which was already under consideration by the Court prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective.”

Even if the ICC does not ultimately investigate and prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by military and police officials of the Philippine government, other countries could bring the offenders to justice under the well-established principle of universal jurisdiction.

Any country can try a foreign national for war crimes and crimes against humanity when the suspect’s home country is unable or unwilling to prosecute, and Duterte has proved unwilling to prosecute those responsible for the heinous crimes against the Filipino people.

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The Christchurch Shooting and the Normalization of Anti-Muslim Terrorism

The real forces responsible for the destruction of many Muslim-majority countries and the current chaos present in many Western countries are not generated by civilian populations or religions but instead by the global oligarchy that engineers and profits from this chaos.

New Zealand | Mosque Shooting

Ambulance staff take a man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. Multiple people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques full of worshippers attending Friday prayers on what the prime minister called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” as authorities detained four people and defused explosive devices in what appeared to be a carefully planned terrorist attack. Mark Baker | AP

by: Whitney Webb  

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CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND — What is without question the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history took place on Friday when shooters, 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant among them, opened fire at two Christchurch mosques. Four, including Tarrant, have been arrested for the heinous act, which claimed at least 49 innocent lives. Tarrant was responsible for killing more than 40 victims, among them several children, in a rampage he live-streamed on Facebook, sending chills throughout the Muslim community, particularly Muslims living in Western countries.

Tarrant’s motives and ideology, laid bare in a 74-page manifesto, show a concern over the fertility rates of non-white groups as well as the immigration of non-whites to countries like New Zealand and Australia, which he likened to an “invasion” that threatened the white majority in those countries. However, Tarrant — in his ignorance — failed to grasp that many of the Muslim immigrants he targeted had come to New Zealand after fleeing Western-backed invasions, occupations, or persecution in their home countries.

Notable among Tarrant’s views is the fact that he is a clear ethno-nationalist, promoting his view that different ethnic groups must be kept “separate, unique, undiluted in [sic] unrestrained in cultural or ethnic expression and autonomy.” Tarrant also claimed that he doesn’t necessarily hate Muslims and only targeted those Muslims {i.e., immigrants) that chose “to invade our lands, live on our soil and replace our people.”


He also stated that he chose to target Muslims because “Islamic nations, in particular, have high birth rates, regardless of race or ethnicity” and to satiate “a want for revenge against Islam for the 1,300 years of war and devastation that it has brought upon the people of the West and other peoples of the world.” His views are remarkably similar to those of Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, which is unsurprising given that Tarrant named him as an inspiration for the shooting.

Though many — in the hours after the shooting — have sought to place blame and point fingers at notable demagogues like President Donald Trump or “counter-jihad” alt-right figures like Laura Loomer and Jacob Wohl, it is important to place Tarrant’s motivations in context.

New Zealand | Mosque Shooting

A body lies on the footpath outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019, following a mass shooting. Mark Baker | AP

Indeed, while Trump’s rise to political power has brought Islamophobic rhetoric into the public sphere in an undeniable way, it is a symptom of a much broader effort aimed at propagandizing the people of the United States and other Western countries to support wars in and military occupations of Muslim-majority countries. This manufactured Islamophobia, largely a product of Western governments and a compliant mass media, has sought to vilify all Muslims by maligning the religion itself as terrorism, in order to justify the plunder of their countries and deflect attention from their suffering.

It is a classic “divide and conquer” scam aimed at keeping Westerners divided from Muslims in their own countries and abroad. The horrific shooting in Christchurch is a testament to its unfortunate success and pervasiveness, as well as a potent reminder that it must be stopped. Indeed, this manufactured Islamophobia has made it so that Muslims in their home countries are in danger of dying from Western-backed wars and, if they flee to the “safer” West, they have targets on their backs painted by the very war propaganda used to justify Western military adventurism in Muslim-majority nations.

Islam, the media and “Forever Wars”: Who’s the “real” terrorist?

Since September 11th and the advent of the “War on Terror,” mass media reporting increasingly began to conflate Muslims and Muslim-majority nations with war, terrorism and violence in general. Indeed, 9 out of 10 mainstream news reports on Muslims, Islam, and Islamic organizations are related to violence and Muslims who are named on mainstream media are all-too-frequently warlords or terrorist leaders.

This near-constant association of Islam and violence has created the false perception that the religion of Islam, by its very nature, is violent and that Muslims too must then be violent and thus dangerous. This media-driven association has had very real and troubling consequences. For instance, a 2010 study by the University of Exeter found “empirical evidence to demonstrate that assailants of Muslims are invariably motivated by a negative view of Muslims they have acquired from either mainstream or extremist nationalist reports or commentaries in the media.” In other words, Islamophobic media reports are directly related to hate crimes targeting Muslims.

This is no accident, as such biased reporting on Muslim-majority nations also began as Western-backed wars in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan sought to put these countries’ natural resources, namely their oil and mineral wealth, into the hands of American corporations. It should be no surprise then that top funders of media outlets that have routinely promoted Islamophobic narratives are also those who have profited considerably from the “War on Terror” and Western-backed regime-change wars in other countries.

This concerted effort to vilify Muslims has had the potent effect, likely by design, of reducing empathy among Westerners for the largely Muslim victims of Western military adventurism in Muslim-majority countries. Indeed, while mainstream news outlets often trumpet the imminent dangers Americans face from “radical Islamic terror,” the death toll of innocent people — most of them Muslim — that have been killed by the U.S.-led “War on Terror” is several orders of magnitude greater than the number of Americans who have died from all terror attacks over that same period.

Iraq | Mosul

Residents carry the bodies of several civilians killed in a US air strike in Mosul, Iraq on March 24, 2017. Felipe Dana | AP

For instance, from 2001 to 2013, an estimated 3,380 Americans died from domestic and foreign terrorism, including the September 11 attacks as well as acts of domestic terrorism carried out by white nationalists and supremacists. If one excludes the September 11 death toll, the number of American deaths over that same period stands at around 400, most of them victims of mass-killers who were not Muslim.

By comparison, an estimated 8 million innocent people in Muslim-majority nations died as a result of U.S. policies and wars in the Middle East and North Africa from 2001 to 2015. Yet, the magnitude of this loss of life of these “unworthy victims” is minimized by media and government silence, and the creation of a climate of Islamophobia in the West has only served to deepen the ease with which mass murder is accepted by the aggressor countries’ populations.

Beyond the staggering disparity in the death tolls caused by terror groups and Western-backed imperialist wars is the fact that many of these very Western governments that purport to be so concerned with “radical Islamic terror” have often created and funded the most notorious terror groups of all. Indeed, the U.S. government helped to create Al Qaeda and continues to protect its Syrian branch — Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — in Syria’s Idlib province to this day. In addition, the CIA was just recently revealed to be helping the Islamic State regroup in Syrian refugee camps. Furthermore, the U.S. has long turned a blind eye to the funding of terror groups by allied states like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The role of Western money, arms and policy in the creation and maintenance of radical Wahhabi terrorist groups is often entirely ignored by Western media portrayals of Muslim-majority nations, thereby creating a false image that such violence is endemic to these nations when, in fact, it is often imported state-sponsored terror.

These nuances of the situation are rarely heard in the narratives parroted out on mainstream media and those who regularly consume mainstream news sources are more likely than not to support those narratives. For that reason, it is easy to see how someone like Donald Trump — who is said to watch television for eight hours every day, much of it Fox News — has espoused the views that he has. Thanks to the manufacturing of Islamophobia of mainstream media, racist policies like the so-called “Muslim ban” have found wide support, as this false narrative has conflated Islam with violence so often that many have come to believe that only by banning Islam can violence and terrorism in the U.S. be reduced.

However, the recent shooting in Christchurch, as well as the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting and other recent acts of domestic terrorism, should alert us to the fact that it is the hate manufactured by this false narrative that is itself endangering American lives while also covering up the mass murder that has been perpetrated by the U.S. and other governments around the world for decades.

‘Israel’s’ leading role in stoking ethnonationalism

While the realities of post-9/11 America, as well as the rise in visibility of white ethnonationalism during the Trump Era, have done much to normalize attacks on immigrants, the country that has done the most to normalize anti-Muslim terrorism over this same time frame has been the state of Israel.

Israel, from its founding days, has long been steeped in neocolonialist ideology that is remarkably similar to the ideological basis behind other settler states like the United States, Australia and New Zealand. This system of beliefs holds that the native inhabitants of the land — whether the Palestinians, the Sioux or the Maori — are “primitive” and incompetent and that the land would have remained “wild” and undeveloped were it not for the “fortunate” appearance of European settlers. As MintPress noted in a previous report on the subject, such narratives cast these settlers as both superior and normal while the natives become inferior and abnormal, thus obfuscating the settler’s status as foreigner and conqueror.

In Israel’s case, this ideology has promoted the idea that all Arabs are “sons of the desert” while the desert simultaneously represents a barbaric obstacle to “progress” and development. However, the state of Israel, under the lengthy tenure of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has seen these long-standing and somewhat hidden underpinnings of the Zionist state burst out into the open.

The result has been the overt expression of ethnonationalism in such a way that Israel has become an inspiration to white nationalists in the United States, like Richard Spencer, and far-right ethno-fascist leaders like Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and India’s Narendra Modi. The inspiration has been mutual, according to reports and testimonials published by Jewish newspaper The Forward.

For years, through its military occupation of Palestine, Israel’s government and military have sought to paint all Palestinians, including children, as “terrorists” or “terrorist sympathizers.” Take, for example, current Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who wrote in 2014, “This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people …”

A more recent example came from former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who asserted just last year that “no innocent people” live in the Gaza Strip and that every inhabitant in the enclave is somehow connected to Hamas, even though nearly half of Gaza’s population are children and teenagers. Such rhetoric has become par for the course and numerous examples show that Shaked and Lieberman’s views are increasingly accepted and “normal” in today’s Israel.

Yet, the clearest indication of anti-Muslim terror’s normalization in Israel is the recent rise of Otzma Yehudit, or the “Jewish Power” Party. This party, founded by devotees of radical American-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, has now merged — at Netanyahu’s urging — with the Jewish Home Party and stands to become part of Israel’s ruling coalition if Netanyahu manages to win in the country’s upcoming elections.

Palestine | Israel

With a portrait of late Rabbi Meir Kahane on the wall, left, a Jewish settler walks inside a building taken from a Palestinian family in Hebron, Nov. 16, 2008. Dan Balilty | AP

In the office of Itamar Ben Gvir, one of Otzma Yehudit’s leaders, is a framed picture of Baruch Goldstein. In an act that bears a striking similarity to the events in Christchurch, Goldstein — a long-time devotee of Kahane — entered a mosque in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994 and opened fire, killing 29 and injuring more than 125 worshippers. After the act, Kahane’s Kach party — the predecessor of Otzma Yehudit — was labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel.

Despite official condemnation, Goldstein’s atrocious act has been the subject of praise and inspiration for subsequent extremists who, under Netanyahu’s government, have become increasingly normalized. Goldstein’s gravestone reads “He gave his life for the people of Israel, its Torah and land” and continues to be used as a site of pilgrimage and homage by the very extremists that Netanyahu is openly courting for political gain.

While the followers of Kahane are making a comeback in Israel, several notable Arab political parties have been banned from participating Israel’s upcoming elections, with some being accused of “supporting terrorism” owing to their opposition to Israel’s decades-long military occupation of Palestine. Yet, by elevating clear terror supporters among the ranks of the Jewish Power Party, it has become increasingly clear that openly supporting and advocating anti-Muslim terrorism is no bar to legitimacy and political power in today’s Israel.

No ‘clash of civilizations,’ only manipulation and exploitation of differences

The tragic and barbaric shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand is yet another horrific and glaring reminder that the “divide and conquer” war propaganda that has sought to promote the so-called “clash of civilizations” between Christianity and Islam, West and East, has not only been monstrously effective but continues to be monstrously destructive to people on both sides.

However, the media’s manufacture of Islamophobia, in seeking to reduce empathy for Muslim suffering and reduce Western empathy for innocent Muslim civilians, has increasingly placed targets on the back of Muslims everywhere — in the West and the East — making it increasingly difficult for practitioners of the Islamic faith to feel safe regardless of where they live.

With most Muslim-majority countries now killing fields in Western-backed wars, ruled by oppressive, Western-backed dictatorships, or under threat of Western-backed regime change, even those Muslims who have sought a safer, quieter life in the “civilized” West have now found themselves targets thanks to the very war propaganda used to justify the destruction of their home countries.

While the murderer Tarrant had stated that he hoped his horrific crime would help stoke “civil war” in Western countries, this tragedy should and must serve as a wake up call for people everywhere that the real forces responsible for the destruction of many Muslim-majority countries and the current chaos present in many Western countries are not generated by civilian populations or religions but instead by the global oligarchy that engineers and profits from this chaos. These oligarchs loot from the people of the West just as they do from the people of the East and it is time to recognize that they are the real threats to a more peaceful world — not regular people praying, whether it be in a church, a synagogue or a mosque.

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Erdogan says Turkey won’t be silent over mercenaries in Libya

MOSCOW/ANKARA: President Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Turkey will not stay silent over Russian-backed mercenaries supporting Khalifa Haftar in Libya, as Moscow voiced concerns over possible Turkish military deployment to Libya in support of Haftar’s enemies.

Turkey has backed Libya’s internationally recognized government led by Fayez al-Serraj and the two sides signed a security agreement last month which could deepen military cooperation between them.ADVERTISING

Turkey has already sent military supplies to Libya in violation of a United Nations arms embargo, according a report by U.N. experts seen by Reuters last month. It said Serraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) asked Turkey for help after Haftar received support from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

Turkey had not responded directly to the assertions in the report, but Erdogan said Ankara could not ignore the support that Haftar was receiving from the Kremlin-linked Wagner group.

“Through the group named Wagner, they are literally working as Haftar’s mercenaries in Libya. You know who is paying them,” Erdogan was quoted by broadcaster NTV as saying on a flight back from Malaysia.

“That is the case, and it would not be right for us to remain silent against all of this. We have done our best until now, and will continue to do so,” he added.

Erdogan’s comments come a day after Serraj’s government said it ratified last month’s security and military accord with Ankara, opening the way for greater Turkish support, as it fights a months-long offensive by Haftar’s forces.

Earlier on Friday, Russia said it was very concerned by the prospect of Turkey sending troops to Libya, adding that the deal on military cooperation between Ankara and Tripoli raised many questions for Moscow, according to the Interfax news agency.

Erdogan said on Wednesday Turkey would improve cooperation with Libya by offering military support to the GNA and backing joint steps in the eastern Mediterranean. Ankara has previously said it could send military support to the GNA if it requested it, but says no such request has been made yet.

The Kremlin said on Tuesday Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin would discuss Ankara’s potential military deployment to Libya during talks in Turkey next month.

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India: Hundreds detained as protests rage

NEW DELHI: Indian police fired tear gas and detained hundreds of people Thursday as fresh violence broke out and demonstrators defied bans on assembly, amid growing anger at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged anti-Muslim agenda.

Security forces and protesters clashed in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka states as elsewhere police bundled demonstrators onto buses, shutting Delhi metro stations and cutting cellphone access in some areas.

The protests were sparked by a new law easing citizenship rules for people fleeing persecution from three neighbouring countries, but not Muslims, stoking accusations at home and abroad that Modi wants to reshape India as a Hindu nation, something he denies.

Seven months after Modi swept to a second term, the past week has seen six people killed, dozens injured and on Thursday, authorities banned gatherings across swathes of the world’s biggest democracy that together are home to hundreds of millions of people.

They included all of Uttar Pradesh and Bangalore, areas of the northeast and parts of Bihar, New Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai. All of them have seen protests in recent days, and in the case of the capital, riots and police storming a university.

Fresh violence erupted in Samhbal, Uttar Pradesh, where hundreds of protesters set fire to vehicles and threw stones at security forces who responded with tear gas, local police chief Yamuna Prasad told AFP.

“We are trying to control the situation. People have been asked to return to their homes,” Prasad said.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon at several thousand protestors in state capital Lucknow while in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, police said they baton-charged demonstrators and arrested 50 people.

As others ignored the assembly bans in Delhi and elsewhere, authorities ordered telecom firms to cut calls, text messages and data in parts of the city.

India is already the world leader in cutting the internet, activists say, and access was also restricted in parts of the northeast and in Uttar Pradesh, home to a large Muslim minority.

In Bangalore, one of those dragged onto a police bus was globally renowned historian Ramachandra Guha, while in Delhi, Harsh Mander, a prominent rights activist, was also detained.

In the northeast, where the protests began last week — albeit for different reasons — around 20,000 people took to the streets in different locations. No violence was reported, however, after last week’s deadly clashes.

But the day’s biggest demonstration so far took place in Malegaon in Maharashtra state — no assembly ban was in place — with as many as 60,000 people, police said.

In Mumbai, a crowd of thousands including tattooed students and older Muslim men wearing skullcaps brandished Indian flags, posters of Mahatma Gandhi and handed out copies of the constitution.

“We cannot stay silent or on the fringes anymore. We have to act now,” financial advisor Aman Verma told AFP.

“Something has changed. This is the first time in a long time that people in Mumbai have come out in such large numbers to register dissent,” said consultant Karishma V.

The crowd in Kolkata was estimated at more than 40,000.

– ‘Police brutality’ –

The protests have been fuelled by anger about alleged police brutality including at a university in Delhi on Sunday night.

Security forces in the capital have fired some 450 tear gas shells in the past five days, the Hindustan Times daily reported. One student reportedly lost an eye.

The demonstrations in the city have at times turned violent with vehicles set on fire and protestors hurling stones at police in heavily Muslim parts on Wednesday.

“If they show us the lathi (police baton), we will show them roses,” a student in Delhi, Shivanji, told AFP as she handed flowers to police on Thursday.

With international concern about the situation growing, Modi has insisted that his government does not aim to marginalise Muslims, tweeting this week that the new law “does not affect any citizen of India of any religion”.

But many in India’s 200-million-strong Muslim minority fear that they will be the main target of Modi’s plans to implement a national “register of citizens” to remove all “infiltrators” by 2024.

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The Arrogance Of BBC News

When we started Media Lens in 2001, we had a rather naïve expectation that journalists might: a) want to respond rationally to reasoned criticism; and b) have privileged access to unparalleled journalistic resources, experts and arguments that would enable journalists to respond with serious points to our challenges. In particular, we imagined that BBC journalists and editors – being funded from the public licence fee – might actually feel obliged to respond.

We were quickly disabused of such notions. Reasoned debate with journalists employed by the misleadingly-termed ‘mainstream’ media is as rare as a newspaper editorial in support of Jeremy Corbyn in the run-up to last week’s General Election. The dearth of such media debate – in fact, the arrogant and condescending dismissal of vital truths – has been highlighted as never before by recent pronouncements from senior figures in BBC News.

BBC director general Lord Tony Hall told BBC staff in a post-election message:

‘Social media offers a megaphone to those who want to attack us and makes this pressure greater than ever. The conspiracy theories that abound are frustrating.’

The dismissive term ‘conspiracy theories’ is intended to simply shut down debate: it need not be specified just what these ‘theories’ are; they are instantly rejected as irrational.

Hall added:

‘And let’s be clear – some of the abuse which is directed at our journalists who are doing their best for audiences day in, day out is sickening.

‘It shouldn’t happen. And I think it’s something social media platforms really need to do more about.’

This is another repeated theme from on-high: a deliberate focus on abuse that journalists do, unfortunately, receive; which then diverts attention from the many reasoned complaints from the public. How casually senior figures call for social media platforms to censor content just four short years after the whole world defended the right to offend in the name of free speech, declaring,  ‘Je Suis Charlie Hebdo.’

A week before the election, Fran Unsworth, BBC’s director of news and current affairs, trotted out the standard BBC ideological stance that:

‘Our impartiality is precious to us and we will protect it.’

For Unsworth, it is a fact that BBC News is impartial, and that the well-documented examples of ‘mistakes’ in recent coverage – all leaning in favour of the Tories – were indeed simple errors. Whether deliberate editing decisions were made, or whether they were subconscious tendencies in support of Boris Johnson, the media coverage was heavily biased in favour of the Conservative party.

Famously, or infamously, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, once said that:

‘I would die in a ditch for the impartiality of the BBC.’

Readers may recall that, curiously, Boris Johnson used similar phrasing when he declared that:

‘I’d rather be dead in a ditch than agree Brexit extension.’

He then lost that particular parliamentary vote, but magically managed to avoid any ditches.

As many media observers noted, Kuenssberg’s proudly-declared ‘impartiality’ came unstuck in the election campaign; as it had done previously when she was found to have breached impartiality over her biased and inaccurate reporting of Corbyn. During this election, the BBC’s political editor:

Other examples of breached impartiality, highlighted in a letter by environmentalist and campaigner Joel Benjamin to the BBC director general, include:

  • A BBC political correspondent referred during a live broadcast to the majority that Boris Johnson ‘so deserves’.
  • Editing out BBC Question Time audience laughter at Johnson’s expense and inserting audience applause.
  • Running a news ticker on the so-called ‘Labour anti-semitism crisis’ during a BBC News item on the Holocaust.

More generally, at least two former senior BBC figures would dispute the self-serving depiction of the BBC’s wonderful ‘impartiality’. Greg Dyke, a former BBC director general, once warned that:

‘The BBC is part of a “conspiracy” preventing the “radical changes” needed to UK democracy.’

Sometimes, then, conspiracies can, and do, exist. To current BBC senior staff, this would, of course, be swatted away as a ‘conspiracy theory’ that need not be examined.

Dyke called for a parliamentary commission to look into the ‘whole political system’, adding that:

‘I fear it will never happen because I fear the political class will stop it.’

And Sir Michael Lyons, former chairman of the BBC Trust, said that there had been ‘some quite extraordinary attacks’ on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by the BBC.

Perhaps Lyons’ comment is also to be disregarded as merely a ‘conspiracy theory’.

The Most Stupid Boast In Journalism

After the election, Huw Edwards, the main news presenter on the BBC News at Ten, published a screed that was long on hyperbole, but short on evidence-based reasoning. He proclaimed that he was ‘supported by the best news team in the world’, and that:

‘BBC News is a rather unsettling mix of awkward, contrary and assertive people who (in my very long experience) delight in either ignoring the suggestions of managers or simply telling them where to get off. That’s how it works.’

The famous newsreader added:

‘For the record, I have never been asked to change a script (unless there’s a factual error to be sorted) or adopt a slanted line of questioning.’

Back in the 1930s, George Seldes, the US press critic, called this:

‘The most stupid boast in the history of present-day journalism’.

This, he put bluntly, is often the inane response of:

‘the writer who says, “I have never been given orders; I am free to do as I like”. We scent the air of the office. We realise that certain things are wanted, certain things unwanted.’

In an interview with one of us in 2000, Alan Rusbridger, who was then Guardian editor, made a similar point:

‘If you ask anybody who works in newspapers, they will quite rightly say, “Rupert Murdoch’, or whoever, ‘never tells me what to write”, which is beside the point: they don’t have to be told what to write. It’s understood.’

As Noam Chomsky has frequently explained, there is a strong in-built tendency for power-friendly journalists to rise to senior positions in big organisations because they undergo a selective filtering process, set by the structure of the state-corporate media that employs them. If you can be trusted to say and do the ‘right’ things’, and even think the ‘right’ thoughts, you are more likely to rise higher up the career ladder.

In an interview with Chomsky, Andrew Marr (then political editor of the Independent) expressed the default corporate opinion that ‘journalism [is] a crusading craft’ with ‘a lot of disputatious, stroppy, difficult people in journalism’, holding power to account.

Chomsky’s riposte to Marr left him momentarily speechless:

‘If you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.’

Alas, Marr learned little, if anything, from his bruising encounter with Chomsky, later rising to BBC News political editor. In perhaps his supreme moment of obsequious deference to political power, standing outside 10 Downing Street on April 9, 2003, Marr said live on BBC News at Ten that Tony Blair had ‘take[n] Baghdad without a bloodbath’ and declared with a beaming smile that:

‘tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister.’

That night, it was the same Huw Edwards who sat in the studio back in London, happy to channel Marr’s fawning praise for Blair as ‘impartial’ BBC reporting.

After Edwards’ post-election exculpatory piece was published, extolling the supposed virtues of BBC News, he was challenged by historian and foreign policy expert Mark Curtis via Twitter:

‘I know you need to tell yourself and the public this, but people saw for themselves how BBC performed during the election (along with now considerable academic and other analysis). The idea that BBC reporting is generally impartial or accurate is unsustainable, in fact laughable.’

Edwards’ response was mocking:

‘Explain again, Mark. Slowly. With your “academic and other analysis”. How does an organisation direct thousands of its staff to work in unison to back one political cause? I know you need to tell yourself this stuff, but it’s risible.’

Whether feigned or not, the newsreader’s ignorance of how organisations work to a certain agenda without being explicitly directed to do so, is ludicrous. As blogger Tom London remarked:

‘.@huwbbc do you really not know anything about sociology and psychology and organisational cultures? The BBC must urgently find some humility and start engaging with its critics rather than treating them with arrogance and what might be best described as aggressive defensiveness’

BBC’s Long History Of Contempt For Public Challenge

No doubt, lengthy tomes could be written on the subject line above, going back to the BBC’s founding in the 1920s. In our own experience over almost two decades of close media monitoring, we have seen a serious deterioration, from an already low base, in the BBC’s engagement with the public. In the early days of Media Lens, Richard Sambrook, then head of BBC News, did, on occasion, respond on email to us: not really addressing our points in any depth. But it was, at least, direct, respectful engagement of a sort.

Helen Boaden, his successor, also responded to direct emails; at least, initially. Most famously, and tragicomically, Boaden sent us the equivalent of six pages of A4 full of quotes from Tony Blair and George Bush supposedly as evidence demonstrating their sincerity in wanting to bring democracy to Iraq. Around this time, Media Lens was highlighting numerous war crimes by western armed forces in Iraq; notably in Fallujah. We were copied in to many articulate and cogent emails sent to Boaden by members of the public in response to our media alerts. Not long after, she boasted at a media event that she had changed her email address to duck such public challenges.  

When our second book, Newspeak, was published in 2009, one of our readers wanted BBC News staff to be informed of our detailed arguments and copious examples of BBC bias, omission and blatant deception. This kind person paid for 100 copies to be sent to BBC editors and journalists. Our publisher, Pluto Press, included a letter inviting responses via a dedicated email address to receive BBC replies. The response was both pitiful and paltry, as we highlighted at the time.

With the rise of Twitter, our challenges to the BBC shifted away from email. Despite always adopting a reasoned tone, free of abuse, one BBC News journalist after another has blocked us over the years: Huw Edwards and Jeremy Bowen, Middle East editor, for instance. Others have simply blanked us: Andrew Marr, Frank Gardner, Paul Royall (editor of BBC News at Six and Ten), Andrew Roy (BBC Foreign Editor), Kamal Ahmed (BBC News editorial director). We are not blocked because we are abusive – we never have been – just because we are a nuisance, a cause of embarrassment they can do without.

One recent exception – seemingly – was Lyse Doucet, BBC chief international correspondent. Earlier this year, we flagged up whistleblower testimony that a report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons about an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma in 2018 had been manipulated to provide a rationale for a US/UK/France missile attack on Syria (an excellent brief overview can be watched here).  She agreed on Twitter that it was an ‘important story’, said that she had informed BBC news colleagues about it, but has since fallen strangely silent about this growing scandal, including further revelations by WikiLeaks.

Many readers will be aware that we have written several books and hundreds of media alerts carefully marshalling evidence showing that BBC News has systematically presented ‘news’ and commentary from a skewed perspective that strongly favours state and corporate power. A partial list alone would include:

  • The issue of Iraq’s supposed ‘WMD’
  • Promoting the disaster of the war on Libya
  • Pushing for ‘regime change’ in Syria
  • Lack of scrutiny of the government’s role in the Yemen catastrophe
  • Attacks on the NHS, opening it up to corporate profiteers
  • Endless smears and attacks on Jeremy Corbyn; not least the fake news of a Labour party supposedly infested with antisemitism
  • The appalling lack of action in the face of climate breakdown
  • Virtually no challenge to Boris Johnson and other senior Tories for their dreadful voting and policy record on all of the above, and more besides

In March 2018, numerous corporate media reported that, in 2012, Corbyn had responded to plans to remove an East London mural, which he believed to be anti-capitalist rather than anti-semitic, with the question, ‘Why?’ Commentators declared themselves aghast that Corbyn had not been able to perceive the racist content in the mural. Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook commented:

‘Not that anyone is listening now, but the artist himself, Kalen Ockerman, has said that the group in his mural comprised historical figures closely associated with banking. His mural, he says, was about “class and privilege”, and the figures depicted included both “Jewish and white Anglos”. The fact that he included famous bankers like the Rothschilds (Jewish) and the Rockefellers (not Jewish) does not, on the face of it, seem to confirm anti-semitism. They are simply the most prominent of the banking dynasties most people, myself included, could name. These families are about as closely identified with capitalism as it is possible to be.’

Our search of the ProQuest media database for the terms ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘mural’ since 1 May 2015 – the month Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership –  produced 1,179 results. Over the same period, a search for ‘Boris Johnson and ‘picaninnies’ – an ethnic slur used by Johnson – found 59 results.

Although the bias is already clear from this quick search, to restrict a moral comparison to the words said by Corbyn and Johnson is absurd and risks straying into virulently racist territory.

Why? Because an honest accounting of the General Election – as described herehere and here – reveals that the moral choice was stark indeed and had nothing to do with what had been merely said by the contestants.

On the one hand, we had Corbyn, an all but unique UK political leader in modern times steadfastly refusing to support US-UK illegal wars of aggression that have killed, injured and displaced literally millions of human beings (brown-skinned, but still human) in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. And on the other side, we had Boris Johnson, with his proven track record of proudly participating in these great crimes against humanity exactly as almost every other Tory and Labour leader has.

In other words, Corbyn was an almost unique opportunity to vote for an opponent of our country’s worst moral crimes in modern times. Thus, the idea that the electoral choice involved a comparison between ‘controversial’ words that Corbyn said, versus ‘controversial’ words that Johnson said, was not just an example of media bias; it was an example of truly pathological media bias.

It is difficult, but we can try to imagine a media that placed an honest discussion of Corbyn’s question about the mural alongside analysis and pictures of hundreds of thousands of dead civilians, flattened cities, mutilated torture victims, millions of refugees in tent cities, starving children dying in trashed hospitals, refugees drowning at sea, terrorist ‘blowback’ targeting the UK and other European countries, on and on – all consequences of murderous policies that Corbyn, almost alone in the political system, opposes and Johnson does not.

If journalists had suggested a moral equivalence between these crimes and Corbyn’s comment on the mural, it would obviously be outrageous. To even suggest that a comment deemed ‘offensive’ by some is comparable to the mass death of hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Arabs would be racism raised to a level of insanity rivalling the Nazis.

But the fact is that journalists did not even rise that high. Instead, they completely ignored the gargantuan crimes of the Blairs, Camerons and Johnsons, while focusing solely and obsessively on Corbyn’s ‘offensive’ comments. Our ProQuest database search found that, between November 1 and the day of the election on December 12, the terms ‘Boris Johnson’ and ‘Yemen’ were mentioned in 30 newspaper articles. But only one of these, in the Independent, mentioned Johnson’s complicity in war crimes that have caused the deaths of 50,000 Yemeni children a year. Over the same period, the terms ‘Corbyn’ and ‘anti-semitism’ were mentioned in 2,386 newspaper articles.

And here we arrive at a truly awesome, structural bias that is barely guessed at by journalists themselves. The fact is that it is simply understood by ‘mainstream’ media at election time that foreign policy – especially our leaders’ high crimes – is somehow unaccountably, inexplicably, irrationally, not an issue the electorate need trouble its pretty little head about. Even after the devastating, illegal 2003 invasion-occupation of Iraq, with the crime still fully underway, foreign policy barely featured as an election issue in 2005.

Corbyn was presented, relentlessly, as a moral monster, as a threat to humanity on the basis of miniscule, in fact non-existent, evidence. But Johnson and the Tories, and Corbyn’s Blairite enemies, escaped all scrutiny – for the simple reason that their very real crimes have been declared a non-issue by an awesomely corrupt system of media corporations serving the power of which they are an integral part.

DC and DE

This Alert is Archived here:

The Arrogance Of BBC News

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SUNY Uses Taxpayer Dollars to Torture Kittens in Useless Experiments

Two kittens cuddle in a rusty cage
The experiments conducted on the cats appear to be of little to no scientific value, and taxpayers have been footing the bill.

BY: Stephen Wells,

Truthout

Documents reviewed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund show that since 2002, researchers at the State University of New York’s (SUNY) College of Optometry have been performing invasive, painful and expensive experiments on young cats and kittens. These experiments appear to be of little to no scientific value, and taxpayers have been footing the bill.

What we have learned about these experiments, through public records and published research, is shocking. As Barbara Stagno, the president and executive director of Citizens for Alternatives to Animal Research and Experimentation (CAARE), explained in testimony given to the House of Representatives in April 2018, cats and kittens between the ages of 4 and 12 months old are anesthetized, before having their heads secured into frames. Their eyes are forced open with contact lenses so their eye movements can be tracked. While the cats are still alive, parts of their skulls are removed and electrodes are inserted into their brains. The experiments can take hours or even days to complete.

The stated purpose of these experiments is to learn about a cat’s visual cortex — the part of the cat’s brain that controls vision — with a goal of better understanding human vision disorders, particularly amblyopia, or “lazy eye.” Cats are often used in these types of experiments because they are relatively easy to keep in labs and their neurology has similarity to humans’, but cats receive less protection than some other animals used in experimentation, such as primates.

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However, our examination of available documents and published results leads us to the observation that the research has not yet produced much, if any, information useful for human medicine. In fact, the lead researcher said in a 2017 grant application that 30 years of research has only “started to reveal the principles underlying visual cortical topography and their possible functional implications.” In our view, this statement suggests that after three decades, the lead researcher believes these cat experiments are still in their early stages — which could mean many more cats being harmed, and taxpayers paying many millions more dollars.

What is important here is that even with some similarities between human and cat brains, this dearth of useful results is likely at least due in part to differences in human and cat physiology. Moreover, to the extent that knowledge about the cat’s visual cortex may be valuable, brain imaging techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, offer nonlethal ways of scanning and mapping their brains.

And even if the experiments did produce meaningful results, effective treatments for amblyopia already exist. One example is through the use of high-tech, digital programmable glasses called Amblyz, which were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2014 — and, it should be noted, were developed without animal testing.

These cat experiments began at SUNY’s College of Optometry in 2002, but they originated at Rockefeller University in 1985, before being taken up by SUNY. In other words, this cruel experimentation on cats has been going on for more than three decades. Some 7.95 million taxpayer dollars have been spent on the experiments.

But rather than renounce the experiments, given how little of value the animals’ agony has produced, the principal investigator for the research received an additional grant to incorporate monkeys into his research in 2017. The monkeys have coils inserted into their eyes, and electrodes implanted in their brains.

So that’s what we do know about these invasive experiments. But there is still a lot we don’t know, as well — because despite being required to provide the public with information under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, which is similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act, the university has refused to turn over documents relating to these experiments.

The lack of compliance with the law means there are many troubling questions that remain: How many cats have been experimented on? What measures are taken to minimize the cats’ pain? How many hours, or days, do the experiments last? Does the SUNY College of Optometry have any metric to determine if the experiments are a success? Will the cat experiments continue indefinitely even if no useful results are ever produced?

The university claims it can’t release the records that would answer these and other questions, because doing so would endanger its researchers’ safety and because this information constitutes “trade secrets.” In other words, SUNY’s College of Optometry wants the benefit of taxpayer funding for these cruel experiments, without the required transparency that comes along with it.SUNY’s College of Optometry wants the benefit of taxpayer funding for these cruel experiments, without the required transparency that comes along with it.

Last June, my organization, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, filed a lawsuit against SUNY to compel production of the documents in compliance with New York law. The suit was filed on behalf of Citizens for Alternatives to Animal Research and Experimentation, a nonprofit that works toward promoting alternatives to animal testing and protecting animals used in experiments.

Our lawsuit is currently pending in the Supreme Court of the State of New York — New York’s trial court. A hearing is scheduled for May 20, 2019. Before the hearing, we will also be delivering a petition, signed by more than 11,000 animal advocates, to the SUNY College of Optometry. It, too, demands that the relevant records be released.

While transparency obligations may be understandably unpopular with those who must comply, they are not optional.

SUNY’s College of Optometry is compelled under the law to release these records about horrific experiments carried out under its watch on young cats and kittens, experiments that have been going on for years using taxpayer money. The public has the right to know.

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Preventing Civil War and US Intervention in Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (L) and Opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (L) and Opposition leader Juan Guaido.

BY: Edgardo LanderROAR Magazine

For almost two months now, Venezuela has been caught in a tense stand-off between the incumbent government of Nicolás Maduro and the US-backed right-wing opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who proclaimed himself president in January and who has since been trying to force Maduro from office with the active support of the Trump administration and various right-wing regional leaders. Over the next weeks, ROAR will be publishing a series of interviews with Venezuelan activists and intellectuals to help share local perspectives on the origins of the current crisis, the risks of an escalation in the conflict, and possible ways out for radical-democratic forces.

The first interview, published below, is with the Venezuelan sociologist and left-wing intellectual Edgardo Lander, who is a Professor Emeritus at the Central University of Venezuela and a Fellow at the Transnational Institute (TNI). Lander was a critically constructive supporter of former president Hugo Chávez, and served as a consultant to the Venezuelan commission negotiating the Free Trade Area of the Americas. He was one of the organizers of the 2006 World Social Forum, and is currently involved in TNI’s New Politics program. In this interview, he calls on the international left to recognize the complexity of the situation, and not to conflate the need for firm opposition to the ongoing US intervention with unconditional support for the Maduro government.

As the perceptive reader will notice, Lander’s position differs in several important respects from the reading offered by the Venezuelan sociologist and former government minister Reinaldo Iturriza in our second interview, published here. We offer these different perspectives on the assumption that the critical and intelligent reader will be able to make up their own mind as to which reading they find most persuasive, and which position they are most comfortable to align themselves with. We are currently preparing two more interviews with Venezuelan activists that we hope to publish over the next weeks. We consider these grassroots perspectives particularly important in the present context, given the international media’s systematic inattention to (and active marginalization of) the voices of ordinary Venezuelans.

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In the process, we hope to relay some of the complexity of the present situation on the ground, while at the same time continuing to insist on the importance of the key principles of anti-militarism, non-intervention, self-determination, radical democracy, and solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed.

ROAR: Professor Lander, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Could you please tell us a little bit about everyday life in Venezuela right now? What is the situation like on the streets, and how do people experience the current crisis?

Edgardo Lander: The situation is extremely tense. Everyday life is becoming more and more difficult, more and more complicated. Inflation last year was over a million percent. Just this January it was estimated to be over 200 percent. People’s salaries have absolutely dissolved. There is no way people can afford to buy basic necessities. Oil production, the source of 96 percent of the value of the country’s exports is just a third of what it was six years ago. Public services have severely deteriorated.

Venezuela’s GDP is today just 50 percent of what it was five years ago. Per capita GDP is lower that it has been for quite a few decades. There is a profound health crisis. Severe child malnutrition will have a long term impact on the country’s future. According to the International Red Cross, the two countries in the world that worry them most today in terms of their respective social crises are Yemen and Venezuela.

There is such a high level of discontent and desperation among the population and the threats to their well-being that they are facing are so severe that all this could lead to an extremely negative outcome. We know from history that desperation is a breeding ground for fascism. People who are really desperate are willing to accept any alternative to the present state of things. A US military invasion and/or civil war are today real possibilities. Many people are just so fed up and so desperate that they are willing to accept basically anything, which makes for an extremely dangerous situation.

Venezuelan society today is not only extremely divided; people seem to live in two completely different realities. There is widespread distrust and fear of the “other.” In this context, people are willing to believe anything said by “their side.”

How did the situation get to this point?

The government seems decided to try to remain in power by any means necessary. And this has only been possible — so far — because of the backing from the military, which up until this point has shown no signs of fragmentation, divisions or doubts about its support for the government. But this is something that could change as external pressure increases.

On the other hand, as US policy has demonstrated in the cases of Iraq, Libya and Syria, the number of people who suffer or are killed as a consequences of economic sanctions or military intervention are not a matter of much concern to the hawks (figures like John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, Mike Pence) who, along with Donald Trump, are today in charge of US foreign policy. The new level of economic sanctions is leading to an even more catastrophic situation.

In a policy characterized by extreme cynicism, the US government is simultaneously worsening an already dire situation for the population by strangling the Venezuelan economy, with a cost of tens of billions of dollars, and offering a few million dollars in “humanitarian aid” to alleviate the socio-economic crisis to which it is actively contributing.

These two opposing forces — the Maduro government with the backing of the armed forces, and the National Assembly with the backing of the US, including the threat of armed intervention — are slowly moving the country towards the brink of war.

On February 8, 2018, Guaidó declared that he would call for a US military intervention “if necessary.” He also announced that he would organize “volunteers” to open up a “humanitarian corridor.” This could easily have led to a confrontation with the Venezuelan military controlling the border between Venezuela and Colombia. After the failed attempt to bring in US aid into the country on February 23, “no matter what,” he has been actively asking the United States government to “use force” to oust the Maduro government.

Military backing makes Maduro believe that he has no need to negotiate. US backing make the opposition present in the National Assembly think that it is just a matter of time before they can overthrow Maduro. The risk of more violence — by February some 40 people had been killed, according to the United Nations Human Rights Office — increases by the day. At this moment both sides are playing a zero-sum game in which they want to annihilate the other. Some form of negotiation or agreement is urgently needed if this escalation of violence is to be stopped.

The Maduro government still has some popular support. It is not true that the support for the government among the popular sectors of Venezuelan society has completely disappeared. But it is smaller than it used to be two, or even one year ago, and certainly much, much smaller than it used to be during the Chávez years. The humanitarian crisis, the difficulties in everyday life, as well as the government’s authoritarian and repressive policies continue to erode popular support.

According to UN sources, 3.4 million people have fled the country over the last five years, representing more than 10 percent of the total population. A large proportion of Venezuelan families have close relatives — their sons, their brothers and sisters, as well as dear friends — that have left the country. This family fragmentation is a source of widespread pain.

How does Guaidó legitimate his claim to the presidency?

It is really important to highlight that the rest of the opposition coalition was not really aware about the fact that Guaidó was planning to declare himself president at the rally of January 23. But the US, in contrast, was absolutely aware of what was about to happen. A few minutes — literally less than ten minutes — after Guaidó declared himself president, there was an official public statement put out by the Trump administration recognizing Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela. So it is clear that this has all along been a highly coordinated script written in strict collaboration with the US government.

It is impossible to imagine that the US government could have put out an official statement — not just a tweet by Trump, but an official written statement — just a few minutes after Guaidó declared himself president if this had not been coordinated beforehand, with the US being fully aware of what was about to happen. This was absolutely prepared: the largest flag at the podium of self-proclaimed president Juan Guaidó’s rally on February 2 in Caracás was the US flag. They knew because they were involved in writing the script. I have no doubt in my mind that all this was designed in Washington.

There are several constitutional and legal issues regarding whether Guaidó had or did not have the right to declare himself president. And that has to do with whether Maduro is a legitimate president or not, or whether there was a “power vacuum,” the main justification used by this opposition.

These are complicated issues. On the one hand there has been no power vacuum. Whether you like him or not, Maduro heads the government and is in control of the armed forces. In May last year, we had presidential elections. The elections were supposed to be carried out seven months later, in December, but the government decided that they should be held in May. Practically all the main opposition parties had been outlawed by the government, because Maduro had the so-called Constitutional Assembly approved an arbitrary retroactive law, according to which political parties that had not participated in the previous (municipal) elections that had been held a few months before were no longer recognized as legal political parties that could participate in elections. This implied that to be recognized as legal political parties they would have to go through a long complicated process of, once again, gathering signatures across the country. It was in this context that the Electoral Council convened these elections seven month before they were due.

It was clear that the main opposition parties would not have time to re-register as officially recognized parties in order to participate in those elections or hold primary elections to select a single opposition candidate as they had done in previous elections. So these were not, by any stretch of the imagination, free elections. The conditions were highly controlled to ensure that Maduro would be re-elected. The whole process was a fraud. You cannot have free democratic elections if the government decides when they are convened, regardless of what the Constitution and the electoral law dictates, if it gets to decide which parties and which candidates can participate and which cannot. Ever since the government lost the elections for the National Assembly in December 2015, the government has taken an increasingly anti-constitutional route.

In those parliamentary elections, the opposition parties won two thirds of the National Assembly, which gave them a tremendous amount of state power. According to the Constitution, they had enough votes to select the members of the Supreme Justice Tribunal as well as to decide the composition of the National Electoral Council. At that moment, Maduro and his government were confronted with a crucial dilemma. Should they recognize these election results, the will of the people, and respect the Constitution, or decide to remain in complete control of state power, no matter what? They clearly opted for the second option.

Since early 2016, Maduro has been governing by means of successive decrees of State of Exception and Economic Emergency. This means that he attributed powers to himself to decide on practically anything he wants. According to the Constitution, the president can decide on a sixty-day state of economic emergency, which can be extended for a further sixty days if approved by the National Assembly. Currently, the state of emergency is in its third year.

How has this affected the country, and how have the people of Venezuela responded to this?

This permanent government by decree has had severe consequences. One particular negative consequence with potentially disastrous long-term effects was the decision to create the Orinoco Mining Arc (Arco Minero del Orinoco), opening up more than 120.000 square kilometers — 12 percent of the national territory, approximately the size of Cuba — to transnational mining corporations. This is a very critical part of the country. It includes the territories of several indigenous people, is the most biodiverse part of the country, the most important source of water and hydroelectricity. It is part of the Amazon basin, with its absolutely critical global role in limiting climate change.

As a consequence of this decree, there are now tens of thousands of miners who are rapidly carrying out an accelerated process of large scale socio-environmental devastation. This is probably the most serious socio-environmental crisis in all of Latin America today. All this is the result of a decree issued by Maduro, with no public debate, with no involvement from parliament, and in direct violation of the country’s Constitution and its environmental, indigenous peoples and labor laws.

Since 2016 the government has become more and more authoritarian. It has completely closed the door to the possibility of free trustworthy elections where the population is able to decide on the present and future of the country. At the same time it has become more and more repressive.

In this increasingly desperate situation, it is not surprising that the population is open to solutions that would have previously been completely unthinkable. Even the presence of US troops is seen by many as an acceptable possibility because they see no other way out of the crisis. This is not only a middle-class phenomenon; it shows how deeply the country has changed. Now, unfortunately, part of the population is no longer particularly scandalized by this possibility, simply because they see no other way out.

What are the implications of this for the future of Chavismo and the Bolivarian revolution?

The immediate future is open, but extremely dangerous. There are high degrees of uncertainty. As long as Maduro stays in power, the destruction of the country’s economy will continue, living conditions will continue to deteriorate and repression will increase. As I said before, there is still a significant, though much reduced, hardcore support for Maduro and his government. Many seem to be willing to take up arms if necessary to defend their government and their country.

The top brass of the armed forces has so far shown no signs of division and repeatedly reaffirmed their backing for the government. The upper echelons of government and the military have much to lose if they have to give up power, so they will not give up without a fight. The government’s discourse has become more militaristic by the day. They are willing to participate in negotiations as long as nothing much changes — that is, as long as Maduro remains president.

For the extreme right wing of the opposition — and this obviously involves the US government — the “solution,” or the salida (exit), is not only to get rid of Maduro, but to crush the Bolivarian experience. For the far right, the so-called “transition to democracy” is not just to have an election and have another president. They want to completely destroy the Bolivarian experiment. The aim is to teach the Chavista popular movement a lesson: you cannot confront capitalism or try to even imagine an alternative. The collective and personal costs are simply too high.

In this tense situation, in which neither side seems willing to yield, the space for talks and negotiations has been greatly reduced. As opposed to the interventionist policy of the US government, as I said before, we welcome the offers by the Secretary General of the UN, as well as those of the presidents of Uruguay and Mexico, to mediate for a peaceful, constitutional, electoral alternative to violence, military intervention and civil war.

How likely is the possibility of an actual US invasion at this point?

The threat of a US military intervention is more than just paranoia. The US government has stated again and again that every option is on the table, and President Donald Trump has explicitly stated — and repeated almost daily — that one of those is a military intervention. The recent experience of Iraq, Libya and Syria would indicate that this is not a far-fetched possibility.

For the objectives of US policy (regime change), a direct military intervention might not even be necessary if — as a consequence of economic sanctions and blockades — there is a total collapse of the economy. Additionally, the presence of troops is not a necessary requirement for state-of-the-art military interventions. Missiles and drones could do the job, as they did in Libya.

The economic blockade that was recently intensified by the US government will no doubt have very serious implications, not only for the Maduro government, but also for the Venezuelan population who are already facing a severe humanitarian crisis. This is the reality we are facing today, and it could lead to a complete collapse of the country. Besides a strict financial blockade, all oil-related trade has been prohibited. CITGO, the Venezuelan-owned subsidiary of the national oil company (PDVSA) has been practically taken over by the US government.

The decisions to boycott the oil company will have a serious impact that will increase the already severe social crisis. It is expected that in no more than a few weeks this could lead to a general scarcity of gasoline in the country. There will also be shortages of medicine and food at even higher levels than we have right now, because the government will lack the cash required to pay for these imports and most of its credit lines are closed.

In recent weeks, there has been increasing tension on the border between Venezuela and Colombia, near the city of Cúcuta. So-called “humanitarian aid” has been concentrated by the border and Maduro has said repeatedly that it will not be allowed into the country. Guaidó has called for volunteers to create a “humanitarian corridor” in order to get these USAID packages into the country. This could easily lead to an armed confrontation. It could even be the spark that starts a civil war.

When after the failed attempt to introduce US “humanitarian aid” into the country on February 23, the Lima Group met in Bogotá with the participation of Guaidó and Pence, the group put out an official statement against military intervention in Venezuela. The US government promptly declared that it did not belong to the Lima Group, and thus was not bound by its decisions. That was something for Trump to decide.

What do you propose as a way out of the crisis?

We, as the Citizen’s Platform in Defense of the Constitution (Plataforma Ciudadana en Defensa de la Constitución, PCDC), and the newly created coalition, the Alliance for a Constitutional Consultative Referendum (Alianza por el Referéndum Consultivo), are pushing for an alternative to this path that is leading to an escalation of violence and the possibility of a civil war or a US military intervention.

The first step on this alternative peaceful path would be a basic agreement between the two sides to name a new transitional National Electoral Council in other to carry out a Consultative Referendum to ask the population whether general elections should be convened for all levels of government, in order to achieve a peaceful, democratic, constitutional and electoral solution to the present crisis. Most importantly, it would put the decision in the hands of the people.

In practical terms this is a very simple process with one question: yes or no. The National Electoral Council has all the required infrastructure. It could be carried out in less than a month, as opposed to the organization of national elections, which would take at least six months. This negotiated option is quite different from what Guaidó and the so-called “international community” have as their route: first to get rid of Maduro and then to convene elections. This would require the unconditional defeat of the Maduro government, something that is not likely to happen without a foreign military intervention.

It was in our pursuit of this path towards a negotiated peaceful solution to the crisis that we, as the PCDC, had a meeting with Juan Guaidó as President of the National Assembly — not as president of Venezuela, since we do not recognize him as such. Basically, we told him that the route of a parallel government, increasing confrontation and the threat of US military intervention could lead to a civil war in Venezuela for which he and Maduro would be responsible. To avoid this scenario, a negotiated alternative is urgently required. We have been trying — so far unsuccessfully — to arrange a meeting with President Maduro for the same purpose.

We have been calling on international progressive activists, intellectuals and organizations, governments and multilateral organizations to recognize the threat represented by this escalation of violence, and step in to contribute to an end to this descent into death and destruction. We celebrated the initiative taken by the governments of Uruguay and Mexico to call for an international conference on Venezuela in Montevideo to contribute to a non-violent, electoral solution to the current crisis facing the country. We also value the statements by the Secretary General of the United Nations, who has repeatedly declared his willingness to contribute to a peaceful negotiated solution.

A negotiated alternative based on a consultative referendum, where the Venezuelan population can decide on the way out of this crisis in free and trustworthy elections, with a new consensus-based Electoral Council, is absolutely critical at this moment to avoid a violent outcome.

What do you expect from the international left, in this respect?

The historical experience has been that at least part of the left tends to analyze conflicts like the present one in Venezuela today in Cold War terms — imperialism vs. anti-imperialism — and thus give backing to governments like the one in Nicaragua that have a radical, leftist, anti-imperialist rhetoric, even if at the same time they carry out policies and engage in practices that have nothing to do with the principles of the left: corruption, repression, blocking democratic expressions, a neoliberal opening up to transnational corporations, and so on.

We expect the left internationally to understand the complexity of the situation we are facing in Venezuela, a confrontation between a corrupt, increasingly repressive, undemocratic militaristic government on one hand, and active US intervention on the other. A rejection of imperialist intervention can in no way justify unconditional support for the Maduro government. Support for the Maduro government from the international left will do profound harm to the future of popular struggles, because, as was the case with the Soviet Union, people will identify this repressive regime as constituting “the left.” For this reason, unconditional solidarity with the Maduro government can do much harm, both to the Venezuelan population and to the future of popular anti-capitalist struggles.

What we need today is not solidarity with Maduro, nor support for an imperialist intervention, but solidarity with the Venezuelan people. At this moment this means basically two things. First, to do everything possible to prevent a civil war or a military invasion in Venezuela. This means actively rejecting economic sanctions and the threat of military intervention and pushing for a negotiated solution with multilateral participation, not unilateral intervention. And second, to recognize that there is an extremely severe social crisis in the country, that a multilateral solidarity effort has to be made to help provide Venezuelan’s with food and medicines, as an alternative to the politically motivated, militarily backed “humanitarian” US aid that is today threatening the country.

Posted in USA, VenezuelaComments Off on Preventing Civil War and US Intervention in Venezuela

NPR’s Source on Mosque Murders Can’t Recall People Ever Being Murdered in a Mosque Before

People lay flowers and notes to pay tribute at streets close to the Masjid Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque, shooting area, in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 16, 2019.
People lay flowers and notes to pay tribute at streets close to the Masjid Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque, shooting area, in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 16, 2019.

BYJim Naureckas

FAIR

On NPR’Morning Edition (3/15/19), Jonathan Greenblatt, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, was interviewed by host David Greene about the mass murder of 49 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Asked by Greene “how common” it is for online hate speech to turn into a “mass shooting this terrible,” Greenblatt responded:

Well, I think this act of violence really doesn’t have a precedent as far as we know, murdering people in a mosque like this, and the social media dimension is something new. However, hate speech online is an increasing problem.

Greene didn’t react on the air to Greenblatt’s claim that there’s never been a mass murder in a mosque before. But of course, this is far from the first Islamophobic murder to take place in a mosque.

A little more than two years ago, on January 29, 2017, six people were killed by a gunman at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City in Canada. Last year, covering the sentencing of murderer Alexandre Bissonnette, the New York Times (5/5/18) reported that

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more than a year after the Jan. 29, 2017, rampage, Canada is still grappling with Mr. Bissonnette’s crime. It shocked the nation and underlined the perils of Islamophobia and the far right in a country that prides itself on its multiculturalism and tolerance.

Similar to accounts of the Australian immigrant charged in the Christchurch murders, the Quebec City shooter was described by the Times as “drawn to far-right ideas, fueled by the election of Mr. Trump and fanned by fears that immigrants threatened Quebec’s identity.”

Another famous mosque attack—as Mondoweiss (3/15/19) pointed out in a post on the NPR interview—occurred in Hebron in the Occupied West Bank on February 25, 1994, in the Cave of the Patriarchs (Extra!5–6/94). Baruch Goldstein, a member of the Israeli army reserves, entered the site sacred to both Judaism and Islam and opened fire while Muslims were praying there, killing 29 before he himself was killed. This act of terrorism still casts a shadow over Israeli politics, as Haaretz (2/26/19) recently reported in an article about a Knesset debate over Goldstein’s burial place:

The killer’s grave has become over the years a pilgrimage site for extremist Jews who support him, and a shrine to his memory was set up next to his tomb.

Perhaps the biggest mosque-related mass murder occurred in the Philippines on September 24, 1974, when some 1,500 members of the Moro people were rounded up by the Philippine army and killed in a mosque in the village of Malisbong.

Other anti-Muslim mosque attacks include the 25 worshipers killed on October 11, 2017, at a mosque in Kembe, Central African Republic; the 20 people slaughtered at the Han Tha mosque in Taungoo, Myanmar, in May 2001; and the 147 victims of the Kattankudy mosque massacre in Sri Lanka on August 3, 1990.

Mosques have also been frequent targets of Islamic extremists, particularly Salafist militants such as ISIS attacking Shia and Sufi religious centers. The deadliest terrorist attack in Egyptian history took place on November 24, 2017, at the al-Rawda mosque in the Sinai Peninsula, when some 40 attackers, suspected of being affiliated with ISIS, killed 311 Sufi worshipers (New York Times12/1/17).

That none of this was recalled, either by the host of Morning Edition or the director of a group that presents itself as a “global leader in exposing extremism” with a mission “to secure justice and fair treatment for all,” is a testament to the failure of our information systems to give due weight to violence against Muslims—and the consequent dangerous impoverishment of our collective memory.

Posted in New ZealandComments Off on NPR’s Source on Mosque Murders Can’t Recall People Ever Being Murdered in a Mosque Before

Facing Wrongful Detention and Threats, Afro-Colombian Women Call for Justice

A participant at the February conference holds a sign featuring Sara Quiñonez's and Tulia Maris Valencia's photos.
A participant at the February conference holds a sign featuring Sara Quiñonez’s and Tulia Maris Valencia’s photos.

BYJ.M. Kirby,

Truthout

Sara y Tulia Libres!” (“Free Sara and Tulia!”) declared a colorful butcher-paper sign. It was taped to the floor next to a ceremonial centerpiece composed of flowers, leaves, seeds and other natural elements surrounded by candles that burned throughout the day.

It was late February, and around 30 Afro-Colombian human rights defenders from around the country had gathered in the western Colombian city of Cali for a conference. They were taking stock of their efforts toward meaningful peace and security, and toward racial and gender justice in a country still experiencing violence despite being in a post-peace accord context.

The conference was organized by the Black Communities’ Process (PCN), a national network that has advocated for protections and rights for Afro-descendant Colombians for more than 20 years, and my organization, MADRE, an international women’s rights organization.

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At the conference, the human rights defenders strategized how to move forward under the right-wing administration of Iván Duque Márquez, which rose to power last year on promises of undoing key provisions of the government’s 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Afro-descendant regions of Colombia, heavily impacted by conflict, overwhelmingly supported the peace deal. Advocates, including women leaders from those communities, helped secure inclusion of a chapter protecting and promoting Afro-descendant and Indigenous rights, including gender rights.

Given the unceasing threats against and killings of Colombia’s human rights defenders over the last couple years, these activists’ continued advocacy is cause to celebrate. Nevertheless, the fates of Sara Quiñonez and Tulia Maris Valencia weigh heavily in their minds.

Criminalization of Colombia’s Human Rights Defenders

April will mark a year that Quiñonez and her mother Maris Valencia have spent in what amounts to administrative detention in Jamundí, a swamp area about an hour from Cali. The prison in Jamundí, one of the largest in Latin America, was constructed with assistance from the United States Bureau of Prisons. Dedicated members of PCN, both Quiñonez and Maris Valencia are from Tumaco on the southwest coast of Colombia, an area that continues to be heavily impacted by Colombia’s ongoing armed violence.

A ceremonial centerpiece at the February 2019 conference on Afro-descendant collective security and gender justice.
A ceremonial centerpiece at the February 2019 conference on Afro-descendant collective security and gender justice.

When arrested, Quiñonez was under protective measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Colombia’s own National Protection Unit. The measures are quite necessary: Quiñonez has faced threats and forced displacement due to her advocacy on behalf of the collective and territorial rights of Afro-descendant peoples and her push for fair implementation of the government’s coca crop substitution program. She was forcibly displaced twice because of her leadership position in the Afro-descendant Community Council of Alto Mira and Frontera. Also a well-known local leader, Maris Valencia was part of the women’s group and local committees of the Community Council. The leadership of the Community Council, one of the recognized units of Black autonomous governance in Colombia, has received repeated death threats. Three of its members have been assassinated since 2015.

Along with about 30 people, the government arrested Quiñonez and Maris Valencia in 2018 on what advocates say are unfounded charges of connections to the guerilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as narco-trafficking. This tactic is emblematic of the Colombian government’s attempt to smear human rights defenders, particularly from Black and Indigenous communities, as members of armed groups. Both were denied bail, and remain in maximum-security detention awaiting trial. Quiñonez has only been able to see her young daughter once during this time.

The arrests and lengthy administrative imprisonment follow a pattern all too familiar to Afro-Colombians and other human rights defenders, who see this as a state strategy to halt effective human rights work. In March 2017, for example, police arrested Afro-Colombian human rights defender Milena Quiroz, who had denounced environmental destruction by palm oil and mining companies. The Colombian government accused Quiroz of being part of the ELN support network and charged her with conspiracy and rebellion. Four months later, the prosecutor who ordered the arrests was arrested herself for allegedly belonging to a corruption network within the prosecutor’s office that benefited drug traffickers and paramilitaries.

Quiroz, however, remained detained based on this prosecutor’s allegation that she posed a danger if released because the protest marches she helped organize were evidence of a purported connection to the ELN. In November 2017, the prosecutor’s order for preventative detention was revoked due to lack of adequate evidence. In the finding, the judge remarked that the prosecutor’s office was more focused on producing scandalous media headlines than on conducting a useful investigation.

Quiñonez and Maris Valencia’s detention comes as Afro-Colombian women have become more widely recognized as leaders in struggles to protect the environment from destructive mega-projects and illegal mining, to secure their constitutional right to collective territory, to end armed conflict and to confront gender-based violence. Francia Marquez, for example, won the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America for her years-long work to end illegal gold mining in her community’s territory and to protect the environment. The Canadian Embassy, meanwhile, recently nominated PCN activist Charo Mina-Rojas for its feminist prize for her work on behalf of sexual and gender-based violence survivors, including shepherding a months-long effort to document and report cases of gender-based violence committed against Afro-descendants.

Often framed as a product of armed conflict, targeted killings and other violence against human rights defenders — particularly those whose advocacy impacted the interests of Colombia’s economic and political elites — has long plagued Colombia. While the armed conflict largely ceased following the 2016 peace accord, the killings of such activists continue unabated. More than 550 human rights defenders have been killed since the start of 2016, according to one estimate, and Black and Indigenous communities have been disproportionately impacted. On January 5, 2019, for example, longtime Afro-descendant and displaced victims’ rights advocate Maritza Quiroz Leiva was killed. Her murder came after multiple warnings from Colombia’s public advocate, a government body that promotes human rights adherence and produces early alerts on conflict risks, threats victims’ advocates and social leaders in her region face.

The Search for Meaningful Protections for Human Rights Defenders

In response to international pressure, the Duque government recently announced a “Timely Action Plan” to address the threats and murders of social leaders — a plan representatives of the European Union and other international actors have praised. Colombia’s human rights advocates, however, are concerned that it over-emphasizes military and police responses in communities that are already heavily militarized at the expense of initiatives that address root causes of violence and insecurity. They are also concerned that it fails to provide for implementation of social leader protection programs developed in consultation with impacted communities, as called for by the peace accord. Under the former presidential administration, several communities arrived at agreements with government officials on measures to address the insecurity, but these have yet to be implemented.

Initially appointed to lead the new initiative was Leonardo Alfonso Barrero Gordillo, a retired general who stigmatized social leaders and allegedly obstructed investigations into grave human rights abuses the Colombian military committed. Popular outrage led the interior minister to announce that instead of directing the initiative, Gordillo would serve as a link between the operation of the Timely Action Plan and Colombia’s armed forces and national police — a role that still worries human rights advocates. Notably, the plan comes at a time when the administration has disrupted operation of the body tasked with oversight of peace implementation. The government also is interminably delaying final regulation of a key transitional justice body.

At the February conference, Afro-descendant women leaders — among them women who themselves are under protection due to threats to their lives — raised concerns about gaps in the president’s plan.

“In Colombia, all human rights defenders are considered criminals,” said Danelly Estupiñan Valencia, a feminist activist who faces threats for her advocacy for Afro-descendant communities’ rights in the face of industrial port expansion in the city of Buenaventura.

Local advocates recently called for solidarity with both Estupiñan Valencia and a fellow woman advocate for Buenaventura’s Afro-descendant communities, Leyla Andrea Arroyo Muñoz, after the two noted an uptick in monitoring of their movements and communications. The threats haven’t stopped Estupiñan Valencia from organizing for social justice, nor from calling for meaningful protections for human rights defenders. In order to truly minimize the threat to their lives, Valencia said at the February conference, the Colombian government must take meaningful steps to uphold Afro-descendant and Indigenous ’ territorial rights, including their right to free, prior and informed consent regarding development impacting their communities. Death threats don’t just impact an individual, but “threaten the entire territory,” Estupiñan Valencia explained.

At the very least, advocates hope that the government will re-examine the use of its resources to criminalize threatened Afro-descendant women human rights defenders like Quiñonez and Maris Valencia.

Standing in a circle around the centerpiece and sign, Black women advocates called for Quiñonez’s and Maris Valencia’s freedom — that the prison doors will open for them and Quiñonez’s young daughter will finally be able to hug her mother.

Posted in ColombiaComments Off on Facing Wrongful Detention and Threats, Afro-Colombian Women Call for Justice

Brazil to Open Indigenous Reserves to Mining Without Indigenous Consent

BY: Sue Branford & Maurício TorresMongabay

An industrial mining operation in Brazil. Note the forest at the edge of the open pit mine.
An industrial mining operation in Brazil. Note the forest at the edge of the open pit mine.

For many years, international and Brazilian mining companies have dreamed of getting access to the mineral wealth lying beneath indigenous lands. And finally, the government of Jair Bolsonaro seems determined to give them that opportunity. On 4 March, while Brazilians were distracted by Carnival celebrations, the new Minister of Mines and Energy Admiral Bento Albuquerque announced plans to permit mining on indigenous land.

Speaking at the annual convention of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), a major event in the mining world that attracts tens-of-thousands of attendees, the Minister said that Brazil’s indigenous people would be given a voice but not a veto in the matter. The opening of indigenous ancestral territories to mining, he predicted, would “bring benefits to these communities and to the country.”

He also said that he intends to allow mining right up to Brazil’s borders, abolishing the current 150-kilometer (93-mile) wide mining buffer zone at the frontier.

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The minister said that current mining restrictions are outdated. The long-restricted indigenous and border areas “have become centers of conflict and illegal activities, that in no way contribute to sustainable development or to sovereignty and national security.” The administration will shortly be holding a nationwide consultation to discuss how the changes should be made, he concluded.

President Jair Bolsonaro (left) with new Minister of Mines and Energy Admiral Bento Albuquerque.
President Jair Bolsonaro (left) with new Minister of Mines and Energy Admiral Bento Albuquerque.

Bolsonaro’s Indigenous Land Development Agenda

The minister’s announcement was not unexpected. President Jair Bolsonaro, an ex-army captain, has said that he admires the 1964-85 military dictatorship, and some are drawing parallels between Bolsonaro’s policies and theirs regarding indigenous and quilombola communities.

Bolsonaro recently wrote on Twitter: “Over 15 percent of national territory is demarcated as indigenous and quilombola land. Less than a million people live in these isolated areas, exploited and manipulated by NGOs. We are going to integrate these citizens.”

Back in 1976, Maurício Rangel Reis, Interior Minister in the military government of General Ernesto Geisel, expressed harsh views toward indigenous peoples: “We plan to reduce the number of Indians from 220,000 to 20,000 in ten years,” he declared. But the military didn’t achieve this goal. Far from being eliminated, Brazil’s indigenous numbers increased to their current 900,000 population.

Indigenous groups achieved real gains after the military government passed into history, and its dictatorial rule was supplanted by the progressive 1988 Brazilian constitution, which brought two important innovations. It abandoned the goal of assimilating indigenous people into the dominant culture (a goal Bolsonaro wants to reinstate), and it affirmed the concept of “original rights,” recognizing indigenous peoples as Brazil’s first inhabitants, with the right to remain on ancestral lands.

Article 231 of the Constitution states: “Indians have the right to the permanent occupation of their traditional land and to enjoy the exclusive use of the wealth in the soil, rivers and lakes.” Moreover, their land rights are “inalienable.” The Constitution allows for mining on indigenous land, but only after the Indians have been consulted and specific procedures for doing so, approved by them, have been ratified by Congress.

Mining industry and individual prospecting requests on indigenous land as filed with the federal government.
Mining industry and individual prospecting requests on indigenous land as filed with the federal government.

Admiral Albuquerque’s recent announcement provided no clue as to how the Bolsonaro government could legally give indigenous groups a voice but no veto regarding use of their lands, while somehow staying within the letter of constitutional law.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy has, however, confirmed to Mongabay that it plans to authorize mining on indigenous areas. Though, as to the legal mechanisms for doing so, it would only say that “the specific regulatory model will be discussed with Congress and other involved parties.” Though its reports are unconfirmed, analysts suggest Bolsonaro will probably issue a presidential decree to allow mining, which is the approach he plans to use to permit agribusiness to lease land within indigenous reserves ­– a move that faces a similar constitutional roadblock.

If it goes forward with these presidential decrees, the administration will very likely face opposition from powerful figures in the judiciary, including the country’s top prosecutor. Speaking at a conference attended by representatives of some of Brazil’s 305 indigenous tribes, advocacy groups and a dozen European nations, Prosecutor General Raquel Dodge noted that indigenous land rights are guaranteed in Brazil’s Constitution and warned: “There can be no backsliding on public policies toward the indigenous people.”

The Amazonas branch of the Federal Public Ministry (MPF), an independent group of federal and state litigators, is so concerned at Bolsonaro’s mining plan that in February it went to court to ask the National Mining Agency (Agência Nacional de Mineração, ANM), the federal body that administers the mining sector, to turn down all requests by international and Brazilian mining companies to prospect or mine on indigenous land.

The mining industry has not only made prospecting requests (red) within indigenous reserves (yellow), but also on other conserved lands (green).
The mining industry has not only made prospecting requests (red) within indigenous reserves (yellow), but also on other conserved lands (green).

According to the MPF, mining companies and individuals have altogether lodged 4,073 requests with the ANM for mining-related activities on indigenous land since 1969, seemingly in preparation for an eventual land rush. The companies say that they are only registering their interest, but MPF argues that, until the required constitutional amendments have been written and approved by Congress, such requests should not even be permitted.

Brazil’s indigenous peoples have clearly indicated that if the mining plan goes forward they will fight back. Most don’t want mining on their land. Munduruku female warrior Maria Leuza Munduruku told Mongabay: “We’ve had a lot of outsiders coming onto our land to mine. Many fish disappear and the ones that remain we can’t eat, as they’re dirty.”

Joenia Wapichana, Brazil’s only indigenous female federal deputy, said that Indians don’t want the money mining might bring in: “For us indigenous people wealth is having health, land to live on without receiving threats, a stable climate, demarcated land, a preserved culture and respect for our community.” Brazil’s mining environmental and safety record is marred by frequent waterway contamination and land pollution, and includes two deadly tailings dam collapses in the past three years,

Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, one of Brazil’s best-known indigenous leaders, says that large-scale mining by big companies is particularly harmful: “This kind of mining requires roads to transport the mineral, large areas to store production, big dormitories where workers can sleep. It will transform our forest.” A 2017 study found that mining and its auxiliary activities caused 10 percent of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon between 2005 and 2015. How much Amazon deforestation might skyrocket if indigenous reserves are opened to mining now is anyone’s guess; indigenous groups are currently the Amazon’s best land stewards.

Federal Deputy Leonardo Quintao, a major backer of the mining industry.
Federal Deputy Leonardo Quintao, a major backer of the mining industry.

Mining Companies in the Driver’s Seat

After last year’s election, the pro-mining lobby in Congress, known by some as the “mud lobby,” is stronger than ever.

Their main spokesperson, federal deputy Leonardo Quintão, is a member of Bolsonaro’s Civil Office. He openly admits to receiving money from mining companies: “I am a parliamentarian legally financed by mining companies,” he says. Quintão was the first rapporteur for Brazil’s new Mining Code, presented to the National Congress in 2013, which mining companies helped him formulate. He is proud of his work: “Our Code is modern… outlawing all kind of speculation in the mining sector.”

But others complain of Congress’s failure to talk to potentially impacted communities when planning the new code. According to anthropologist Maria Júlia Zanon, who coordinates the Movement for Popular Sovereignty in Mining (Movimento pela Soberania Popular na Mineração), “The companies’ economic interests, evident in the elections, help explain the lack of democracy in the [congressional approval] process.”

As of now, the new Mining Code has yet to be signed into law, and the horrific Vale mining disaster in Brumadinho this January, with 193 people dead and another 115 missing, might further delay approval. Andréa Zhouri, at the University of Minas Gerais, said the disaster stemmed from “politico-institutional failures,” particularly a lack in regular monitoring of hazardous mining operations. “The [value of] ore is above everything and everyone,” Zhouri said.

There has been little indication so far that the government intends to significantly toughen environmental controls in the new Code. Some fear that, once the Brumadinho hue and cry dies down, it will be business as usual and the Mining Code will be approved. Prosecutor Guilherme de Sá Meneghin, who led the investigation into the earlier Mariana mining disastersaid: “What we clearly see is that Brazil doesn’t learn the lessons of history.”

Today, mining companies chomp at the bit, having registered many prospecting requests within indigenous reserves. Minister Albuquerque – an admiral with a long, illustrious military career, and known for getting what he wants – has signalled readiness to help those firms translate their plans into action. However, Brazil’s indigenous people, with a history of batting away threats, often against bad odds, are ready to fiercely resist. The lines are drawn for battle, likely in the courts, and potentially all across Brazil.

Posted in BrazilComments Off on Brazil to Open Indigenous Reserves to Mining Without Indigenous Consent


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