Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog COLOMBIA’S PARAMILITARY PARADOX Far-Right Militias Survive “Peace Process” and “Para-Politics” Scandal by Memo Montevino, WW4 REPORT COLOMBIA: “DEMOBILIZED” PARAS TERRORIZE PEASANTS from Weekly News Update on the Americas IRAN: THE ANTI-IMPERIALIST CASE AGAINST NUCLEAR POWER… Read moreIssue #. 136. August 2007
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
The latest headlines from Colombia focus on the ups and downs of the “peace process” with the ultra-right paramilitary network. Talks with the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) have—on paper, at least—led to the “demobilization” of some 30,000 paramilitary fighters, and the uncovering of several mass graves where AUC had dumped its victims. Meanwhile, high-ranking figures in President Alvaro Uribe’s administration have been sacked—and even imprisoned—for their ties to the paramilitaries. Yet despite these developments, all too little seems to have changed on the ground in Colombia’s violence-torn countryside. Weekly News Update on the Americas provides this round-up of recent atrocities by paramilitaries—and points to their continued collaboration with elements of the official security forces.
Paramilitaries Kill Five Near Bogotá
At 1:30 AM on July 1, about eight heavily armed members of a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group, dressed in camouflage and wearing ski masks, arrived in a pickup truck in the municipality of Viota, just two hours from Bogotá in Cundinamarca department. The paramilitaries entered a public establishment known as El Tigre, where 70 people were celebrating father’s day, and shot five people to death, including a 14-year-old boy. A 10-year-old boy was seriously wounded.
The paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Casanare has been active in Cundinamarca department since 2003, and has carried out numerous selective murders and forced disappearances in Viota. Most of the victims have been community leaders or people active in social or campesino organizations. This past Jan. 5, the National Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s office charged Col. Rodrigo Alfonso Gonzalez Medina, Maj. Alexander Lizarazo Parra and Maj. Alejandro Robayo Rodriguez, who served in the Air-Transported Battalion Colombia 28 in 2003, with crimes including multiple aggravated homicide, forced displacement, aggravated kidnapping, forced disappearance and terrorism. As part of the same case, the attorney general’s office ordered the investigation of Capt. Mauricio Arbelaez for similar crimes and charged four other men as members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Casanare. Nine bodies have been uncovered in Viota, but hundreds of other victims remain disappeared. (Agencia Prensa Rural, July 2)
Army-Para Collaboration in Meta Terror?
On June 28, soldiers from the Bacna Battalion of the Colombian army’s Mobile Brigade No. 4 entered the farm of campesino Bertulfo Reyes in the rural community of Palmar in Vista Hermosa municipality, in the lower Ariari region of Meta department. Reyes was away; he had taken his wife to the doctor’s office. The soldiers stayed in the house for three days, and stole and destroyed many of the family’s personal items, according to a complaint sent to the Notimundo agency by the Human Rights Commission. When Reyes returned to the home, the soldiers had gone, but left behind a message reading: “Don’t hide, we came for you, your destiny is to die at our hands: Battalion Bacna.”
On June 29, in the rural community of La Victoria, in Puerto Rico municipality, Meta department, soldiers from the army’s Joaquin Paris Battalion stopped several campesinos who were coming from La Cascada community in Puerto Concordia municipality. Among the soldiers was a paramilitary known as “Pantera,” who told the campesinos: “Greetings to the guerrillas Cachirre and the others from the FARC’s 44th front,” referring to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. “Pantera” also referred in a threatening tone to campesino Edilberto Daza Bejarano, human rights coordinator of the zone and member of the Human Rights Commission of La Victoria. “Pantera” said of Daza: “we’re going to cut that son of a bitch’s head off, because he’s a informer.”
On June 30, a phone message was left with an operator in the town of Santo Domingo, Meta department, for Jaime Ortega, coordinator of the town’s Human Rights Commission, telling him: “Don’t be an informant, son of a bitch guerrilla helper, very soon we’re coming for you.”
On July 1, at 2 PM, three paramilitaries dressed in civilian clothing boarded a canoe ferry transporting passengers on the Ariari river from Puerto Rico to the rural community of Chispas. They violently seized rural worker Oscar Camelo, one of the passengers, and forced the ferry’s operator to continue without him. Camelo has not been heard from since.
“All this takes place in a context of re-engineering of the paramilitary strategy, which combines disarmament processes with the creation of new paramilitary structures like the so-called ‘Black Eagles’ [Aguilas Negras],” said Hector Hugo Torres of the Human Rights Commission. (Agencia Prensa Rural, July 3)
Army Murders More Campesinos
On June 27, Colombian soldiers publicly displayed the body of campesino Cruz Aldelio Brand at the Nueva Granada Battalion base in Barrancabermeja, Norte de Santander department, claiming he was a “guerrilla killed in combat.” Cruz Aldelio was the president of the Communal Action Board of the rural community of La Union, in Yondo municipality, Antioquia department. He had been missing since June 25, when he left to take part in a community road repair project. (Asociacion Campesina del Valle del Rio Cimitarra-ACVC, June 27 via Agencia Prensa Rural)
On May 26, soldiers from the army’s 21 Vargas Battalion under the command of an officer with the last name Ferro, detained Genaro Potes, a 51-year-old campesino with mild physical and mental disabilities, as he left his brother’s home in the rural community of Campo Alegre, in El Castillo municipality, Meta department, and headed on horseback for a meeting about property taxes in the community of Puerto Esperanza. Witnesses say the soldiers tied up Potes in a cacao plantation next to the community’s school and accused him of being a guerrilla. The soldiers interrogated another campesino who was passing by, and asked if he knew Potes. The campesino said he did know him, as an honest worker. On May 27, residents of Puerto Esperanza saw soldiers take Potes’ body in a military truck to Granada municipality in Meta. On May 28, a local radio station reported that the army had killed a guerrilla in an armed clash in El Castillo.
Commander Perez of the 21 Vargas Brigade repeatedly identified Potes as a guerrilla and obstructed his family from recognizing and claiming the body, arguing that Potes had no identification. His family says Potes left his house with his personal identification documents as well as the titles relating to his farm. Potes was easily recognized in the community by his mild disability, caused by childhood polio, which gave him a distinctive off-balance walk. (Statement from Movimiento Nacional de Victimas de Crimenes de Estado, Corporacion Claretiana Norman Perez Bello & Comite de Solidaridad con Presos Politicos, May 3 via dhcolombia.info]
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 8
Weekly News Update on the Americas
From our weblog:
Colombia: soldiers arrested in killing spree
WW4 REPORT, June 12, 2007
Colombia: new armed groups profilerate —despite para “demobilization”
WW4 REPORT, May 16, 2007
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution
Far-Right Militias Survive “Peace Process” and “Para-Politics” Scandal
by Memo Montevino, WW4 REPORT
On July 24, Colombia’s imprisoned paramilitary warlords announced they were cutting off cooperation with prosecutors investigating massacres and other atrocities—throwing into question the country’s peace process. The move was taken to protest the July 11 ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice that paramilitary fighters and “parapoliticos” (politicians who collaborate with the paras) are not automatically charged with “sedition”—meaning politically motivated violence, carrying reduced penalties under the legislation establishing the peace process.
“With this decision the reconstruction of the historical truth, the handing over of mass graves and other legal obligations assumed under the peace pact are frozen,” said Antonio López, once-commander of Medellin’s feared Bloque Cacique Nutibara and now appointed spokesman for the imprisoned warlords. “We can’t allow our fighters to be treated like common criminals.” López said he was speaking for some 30 top commanders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and 30 other mid-level commanders, being held at Itagüí maximum security prison outside Medellin.
The ruling came in the case of Orlando Cesar Caballero, an Antioquia AUC commander accused of arms smuggling and other crimes. The court’s decision denies him benefits such as a maximum eight-year sentence in exchange for renouncing violence and confessing crimes to special prosecutors.
“To accept that instead of criminal conspiracy, paramilitary members committed treason not only supposes they acted with altruistic aims for the collective good, but also flaunts the rights of victims and society to obtain justice and truth,” the court wrote.
President Alvaro Uribe also protested ruling, asserting that “if the sedition of the guerilla is recognized, the sedition of the same elements paramilitarismo should be recognized, and if the sedition of paramilitarismo is denied, the sedition of the guerilla should be denied for the same reasons.”
Administration Shaken by Para-Scandal
However, the “sedition of the guerilla” is only recognized theoretically, as Uribe has never re-established talks with Colombia’s left-wing insurgents. In fact, it was his hardline anti-guerilla creds that allowed him to bring the AUC into a peace process.
The peace process has officially led to the disarmament of some 31,000 paramilitary fighters, and the exhumation of several mass graves earlier this year, mostly in the Putumayo rainforest region along the Ecuador border. But it has not yet secured reparations for the AUC’s victims, or won major confessions from the 60 imprisoned warlords.
Ironically, Uribe—the man who was able to effect the AUC’s official “demobilization”—has simultaneously seen his administration rocked by a scandal over links to the outlawed paramilitaries.
On July 7, Jorge Noguera, former chief of Colombia’s secret police, was arrested on charges of paramilitary collaboration—for the second time. Noguera, freed from prison three months earlier due to procedural errors, was ordered detained again by Colombia’s chief prosecutor, Mario Iguaran. He is accused of providing the paras with information that led to several slayings.
Noguera, who ran Colombia’s Administrative Security Department (DAS) from 2002 to 2005, was but the closest Uribe ally to be imprisoned in the co-called “para-politics” scandal.
Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo stepped down Feb. 19, four days after the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the arrest of her brother Senator Alvaro Araujo, and 12 other legislators for their ties to the AUC. The court also called for an investigation into the suspected paramilitary activities of Araujo’s father, Alvaro Araujo Noguera, including the kidnapping and extortion of a businessman.
In early May, imprisoned AUC jefe Salvatore Mancuso fingered the vice president, defense minister and top Colombian businessmen as collaborators in an explosive judicial hearing. He also said the paramilitaries were aided by top army brass in training and logistics. Uribe told national radio that he had “every confidence in the honesty and moral fiber” of Vice President Francisco Santos and Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos.
National Police chief Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro and his intelligence boss Gen. Guillermo Chaves were forced to retire May 14 following claims that agents illegally tapped calls of opposition political figures, journalists and members of the government. The scandal broke when news-weekly Semana reported the interception of phone conversations revealing that the imprisoned warlords continued to operate their networks from behind bars. The scandal was dubbed the “Colombian Watergate.”
Colombia’s lower house voted overwhelmingly May 23 to request President Alvaro Uribe “immediately remove for incompetence” Sergio Caramagna, head of the OAS peace mission in the country, responsible for overseeing the “safe haven” established for demobilizing AUC fighters at Santa Fe de Ralito, in Cordoba department. José Castro Caycedo, the legislator who sponsored the resolution, told the Associated Press that paramilitaries made a mockery of the peace talks by “holding orgies on the negotiating table.” The resolution followed press reports that paras held all-night, whiskey-fueled orgies with high-class prostitutes, football stars and famous Mexican mariachi bands. The revelations were based on transcripts of phone conversations between paramilitary bosses and several madams published by Semana.
Corporate Connection Emerges
Captains of industry in the US as well as Colombia have been touched by the scandal.
In June, advocates for the families of 173 people murdered in the banana-growing regions of northern Colombia filed suit against Chiquita Brands International, in US District Court in Washington, DC. The families allege that Chiquita paid millions of dollars to the AUC. “This is a landmark case, maybe the biggest terrorism case in history,” said attorney Terry Collingsworth. “In terms of casualties, it’s the size of three World Trade Center attacks.” Collingsworth has filed similar suits against Coca Cola, Drummond, and Nestle for the targeted killings of union leaders by the AUC.
The case began with an investigation by the US Justice Department, which filed criminal charges in March. Chiquita admitted the truth of the charges, and agreed to cooperate in the DOJ’s ongoing investigation. Although Chiquita got off with a $25 million dollar fine and no prison time for executives‚ their admissions set the stage for the multi-billion dollar lawsuit.
“Chiquita’s victims are living in dire poverty,” said Paul Wolf, co-counsel in the case, who met with victims’ groups at shanty towns in northern Colombia where terrorized families have sought refuge. “Reparations can’t bring back the dead, but there are a lot of widows and orphans with no means of support. Most of them have fled their homes, and don’t know where their next meal will come from,” said Wolf.
Also in June, a lawyer for the United Steelworkers asked the US State Department to investigate AUC infiltration of Uribe’s first electoral campaign, based on a video showing then-candidate Uribe meeting with a group that included a man identified as Frenio Sánchez Carreño, AKA “Comandante Esteban”—AUC chief for the violence-torn oil city of Barrancabermeja. The footage was apparently taken at a 2001 campaign stop outside the city. In a statement to Miami’s Nuevo Herald, Uribe’s office replied to questions about the video: “I beg you to abstain from making malevolent insinuations.”
“This video raises grave concerns about the interconnection between the AUC and the Uribe campaign, and quite possibly, the current Uribe administration,” United Steelworkers attorney Daniel Kovalik wrote in his letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “It stands to reason that Mr. Uribe must have known that he was meeting with members of the AUC, including ‘Comandante Esteban,’ given his broad notoriety.”
Kovalik represents relatives of three employees of the Alabama-based Drummond coal company murdered by paramilitaries in 2001, who have filed a civil suit against the company. Kovalik wrote in his letter that he obtained the video during his investigation for the suit, but could not reveal the source for reasons of security.
Aid, Trade Deal Threatened
As the scandals mounted, Congressional Democrats proposed unprecedented amendments to the Bush administration’s annual foreign aid appropriations request for Colombia. If the Democrats prevail, overall funding will be cut by 10%, while 45% of the total package will be devoted to economic and humanitarian aid, the remainder to the military. While this still means the majority of the aid would go to the military, it represents the most significant reduction since Plan Colombia was launched under the Clinton administration.
Even if the aid cuts go through, Colombia is “expected to get an additional $150 million in purely military and police assistance through a separate appropriation in the defense budget bill,” the Houston Chronicle reported June 7. But years of activist pressure on Congress does appear to be finally bearing fruit.
“The Uribe government’s support of the paramilitary preserves a situation of misery, exploitation and exclusion, which, on a daily basis, tramples upon labor rights and robs the Colombian people of freedom,” wrote Jorge Enrique Gamboa, President of the Colombian Oil Workers Union (USO) in a letter to the US Congress in February. Up to 77 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia in 2006, and many more were threatened, attacked or kidnapped. Even the. State Department’s annual human rights report on Colombia found: “Violence against union members and antiunion discrimination discouraged workers from joining unions and engaging in trade union activities, and the number of unions and union members continued to decline.”
The AFL-CIO reports that more than 400 unionists have been murdered since Uribe took office in 2002, with only seven convictions. Of the 236 murdered from 2004 to 2006, there has been only one conviction, according to AFL-CIO figures.
The para scandal is also taking a toll on another lynchpin of Bush’s strategy for Latin America: a free trade pact with Bogotá—already passed by Colombia’s congress, and seen as a step towards an Andean Free Trade Agreement. “You cannot put together a free-trade agreement when there isn’t freedom for workers in terms of their basic international rights,” Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-MI), chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade, told the Washington Post in April.
When Uribe was in Washington the following month to petition for the deal (and continued economic and military aid), he was dressed down by Democratic lawmakers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement: “Many of us expressed our growing concerns about the serious allegations of connections between illegal paramilitary forces and a number of high-ranking Colombian officials.”
Pelosi’s statement failed to actually mention the pending trade agreement. And a statement from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) included an implicit promise of capitulation. “It is possible we can work out something” to address the concerns of US lawmakers, Rangel told reporters.
“We are going to find a way to get Colombia passed. It is very important,” Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D-MT) would tell the press in July. But his statement revealed that real obstacles had emerged. Some House Democrats want a vote delayed for one to two years to see if Colombia has reduced violence against unionists and brought more killers to justice. Pressure from labor groups prompted Pelosi and senior Democrats to say they could not support the agreement until Colombia has shown “concrete evidence of sustained results on the ground.”
Uribe reacted bitterly to the Congressional humiliation. In a June 30 press release, he protested that he’s no “Somoza” (US puppet dictator), and that Colombia is no “banana republic” (rather an ironic assertion in light of the Chiquita revelations). He claimed many of the dead unionists were killed in “proven vendettas and clashes between the guerrilla bands of FARC and ELN.”
He had some especially strong words for Congress: “US congressmen forgot that they were actually addressing a sovereign allied republic and not a puppet nation… We are not going to allow our relationship with the United States to become that of Master and Colombia as the servile republic.”
The Struggle for Narco-Power
While Uribe has barred extradition of AUC figures to face drug charges in the US in the interests of the “peace process,” two members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were tried in Washington federal courts this year: Sonia (Anayibe Rojas), charged with drug trafficking, and Simón Trinidad (Ricardo Palmera), accused of kidnapping. Uribe and Bush alike were clearly hoping convictions would demonstrate the “narco-terrorist” nature of the FARC.
Sonia was convicted in February, but Trinidad had to be tried twice for the same crime, after a hung jury in November 2006. Even the second time, the jury had difficulty reaching a verdict, and asked Judge Royce Lamberth to declare a mistrial. In a bizarre compromise, Trinidad was convicted of conspiring to kidnap three US military contractors, but mistrial was declared for the charges of actually kidnapping them, or of providing material support to the FARC.
Meanwhile, the para-scandal was revealing the AUC’s narco-corruption in no uncertain terms. The New York Times July 28 ran a profile of imprisoned AUC top commander Salvatore Mancuso, who openly admitted to drug trafficking to finance his operations, ostensibly because the guerillas were doing so. “I could not lose the war,” Mancuso said. “We have a narco-economy. We are a narco-society.”
“New Generation” Paramilitaries
In May, a special report from the International Crisis Group, which monitors the Colombian conflict, warned that despite the supposed AUC demobilization, there is “growing evidence that new armed groups are emerging that are more than the simple ‘criminal gangs’ that the government describes. Some of them are increasingly acting as the next generation of paramilitaries…”
Citing data from the OAS Peace Support Mission in Colombia, the report, “Colombia’s New Armed Groups,” found: “These new groups do not yet have the AUC’s organisation, reach and power. Their numbers are disputed but even the lowest count, from the police and the OAS mission, of some 3,000 is disturbing, and civil society groups estimate up to triple that figure.” The report especially cited the New Generation Organization in southern Narino department, and the Black Eagles in Norte de Santander.
Colombia’s paramilitaries have been, perhaps, downsized by the demobilization process and para-scandal—but by no means broken. The real question is whether the ties to official power have really been cut, and rogue elements are now sustained entirely by cocaine profits. Or, is there a shadow play at work—with Uribe, Mancuso and their collaborators in the security forces and private sector alike quietly running the new generation of right-wing terrorists?
Simon Trinidad Convicted of Conspiracy to Take Hostages
ANNCOL, July 11
Uribe press release, June 30
translated by Publius Pundit
See related story, this issue:
COLOMBIA: “DEMOBILIZED” PARAS TERRORIZE PEASANTS
from Weekly News Update on the Americas
AUTOPSY OF A NARCO-GUERILLA
Justice Department Scores One Against the FARC
by Paul Wolf
WW4 REPORT #131, March 2007
COLOMBIA: THE PARAS & THE OIL CARTEL
State Terror and the Struggle for Ecopetrol
by Bill Weinberg
WW4 REPORT #129, January 2007
From our weblog:
Colombia: para commanders break off peace process
WW4 REPORT, July 28, 2007
Congress to cut Colombia military aid?
WW4 REPORT, June 29, 2007
Democrats dress down Colombia’s Uribe —sort of
WW4 REPORT, May 5, 2007
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution
As you read this, I am flying to Japan at the invitation of the National Assembly for Peace & Democracy (Zenko) to attend a second conference in solidarity with Iraq’s civil resistance, and especially the Iraq Freedom Congress (IFC). Our readers will know that the IFC is a coalition of trade unions, women’s organizations and neighborhood assemblies which have come together around two demands: an end to the occupation, and a secular state. Despite the best of my efforts to excite stateside interest in this civil resistance struggle, WW4 REPORT is one of the few sources of information in English on the IFC.
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Aug. 1, 2006Continue ReadingDear WW4 REPORT Readers:
Occupied Iraq’s Not-So-Distant Mirror
by Bill Weinberg, Middle East Policy
The Great Syrian Revolt
and the Rise of Arab Nationalism
by Michael Provence
University of Texas, Austin, 2005
The comparison is nowhere made explicitly, but the subtext for most readers of Michael Provence’s The Great Syrian Revolt will inevitably be the current situation in Iraq—even if it was not the author’s intention. The irony is that Provence poses the 1925 revolt against French Mandate rule in Syria as the watershed event in the emergence of Arab nationalism. In Iraq, where Ba’athism is rapidly being superceded by Islamism in the vanguard of resistance to the occupation, we may be witnessing its death throes.
The revolt also represented a watershed in counter-insurgency and clinical mass killing. It culminated in French aerial bombardment of Damascus—predating by 12 years the Luftwaffe’s destruction of Guernica, which claimed an equal number of lives but is far better remembered.
The revolt began in July 1925, when Druze farmers in the Jabal Hawran, a rugged frontier zone some 50 miles southeast of Damascus, shot down a French surveillance plane. Provence chronicles how the revolt quickly evolved from a local Druze rebellion to a Syrian revolution with a nascent Arab nationalist consciousness.
The Druze had been deported to the harsh Hawran from Lebanon by a joint French-Ottoman force following a civil war with their Maronite Christian neighbors in the 1860s. There they established their dominance over Bedouin raiders and developed a “frontier warrior ethos.” Provence writes: “They sought to preserve their independence both from the state and from provincial elites and would-be landlords.” The initial leader of the revolt, and its eventual military commander, Sultan al-Atrash, was an heir to this long struggle. In 1910, his father, Dhuqan al-Atrash, had been hanged by the Ottoman authorities on charges of insurrection. Sultan al-Atrash was then serving with the Ottoman military in the Balkans—experience which would serve him well back home.
Al-Atrash was involved in the early resistance to the French when they took over Syria in 1920 under the terms of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement, ousting the recently-installed Hashemite King Faisal with reluctant British connivance. Faisal’s loyalists put up a struggle before the king was enticed by Britain to accept the throne of Iraq as a consolation prize. Druze villagers took up arms for Faisal on a pledge of regional autonomy for the Jabal, and many fought at the battle of Maysalun, the brief war’s most significant engagement.
The 1925 revolt would prove a greater challenge. The French cast their colonial project in anti-feudal terms, and the armed resistance that exploded that year as sectarian, not nationalist: the work of local chiefs whose power was threatened by the Mandate’s reforms. Provence writes: “Sectarian conflict was a theoretical necessity for French colonialism in Syria, since the entire colonial mission was based on the idea of protecting one sectarian community, the Maronite Christians, from the predations of others. Without sectarian conflict, colonial justification evaporates.” The French encouraged such conflicts by imposing territorial divisions based on religious and ethnic lines. The rebels were immediately labeled “bandits,” “extremists” and “feudalists.”
From the start, Provence dismisses France’s self-serving “narrative” of a civilizing anti-feudal mission. He informs us that Druze village sheikhs were not absentee landlords, and in fact served to protect village interests in dealings with Damascus merchants who purchased their grain. But the village political orders they oversaw seem to have been fairly authoritarian, and the Bedouin were made to pay tribute to the sheikhs for access to pasture and water.
Paradoxically, trouble started brewing with the Druze when the old-guard military administrators—who were of a “right-wing, pro-Catholic political bent”—were cycled out under a new high commissioner for Syria, Gen. Maurice Sarrail, “a republican anticlericalist freethinker and a darling of the French Left.” Sarrail appointed as governor of the Jabal Hawran one Capt. Gabriel Carbillet, who zealously sought to break the grip of Druze “feudalism” in the region. Carbillet conscripted the sheikhs for forced labor (officially in lieu of taxes) on modernizing projects such as road-building. Protests were met with repression, villages raised militia, and the regional capital Suwayda was besieged.
As always, the forces of “civilization” quickly resorted to barbarism. France responded to the rebellion with aerial bombardment of villages and “collective punishment” measures: wholesale executions, public hangings, house demolitions, forced removal of the populace from disloyal regions. There were rebel claims of poison gas used against Jabal villages. Meanwhile, leaflets air-dropped on the Jabal read: “Only France can give you wheat, running water, roads, and the national liberty you desire.”
At its inception, the revolt used the “language of Druze honor and Druze particularism,” and French counter-insurgency measures sought to encourage this. The French used Christians—especially Armenian and Circassian refugees from Ottoman rule—as shock troops against the rebel Druze villages. “Irregular troops” were also conscripted from the lumpen, who committed some of the worst atrocities—an echo of the “Salvador Option” apparently now being employed by the Pentagon in Iraq.
Yet the rebellion also exhibited the beginnings of a national consciousness from the start. In defiance of the divide-and-conquer strategy, al-Atrash wrote the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Damascus apologizing for rebel reprisals against Christians, pledging reparations, and calling for mutual solidarity against the French.
The real turning point came when the rebel leadership, following ties already established through trade, made contact with the prominent Arabs of Damascus who supported independence. The Hizb al-Shab (People’s Party), whose leader Shahbandar had already been imprisoned and seems to have been operating in semi-clandestinity, embraced the Jabal revolt and called for a general revolution. At this point, the rhetoric of Druze particularism was decisively abandoned in favor of an Arab nationalism that was at least tentatively secular.
In an August call “To Arms!” addressed to all Syrians and distributed in Damascus by the People’s Party, al-Atrash (now “Commander of the Syrian Revolutionary Armies”) delineated French crimes, including: “The imperialists have stolen what is yours. They have laid hands on the very sources of your wealth and raised barriers and divided your indivisible homeland. They have separated the nation into religious sects and states. They have strangled freedom of religion, thought, conscience, speech and action. We are no longer even allowed to move about freely in our own country.”
Rebel propaganda emphasized that Druze, Sunnis, Shi’ites, Allawis and Christians alike were “sons of the Syrian Arab nation.” As the Druze rebel army (now swelled with volunteers from Bedouin tribes) advanced on Damascus in October, and urban militants erected street barricades in preparation for the coordinated uprising, brigades were organized to protect the Christian and Jewish quarters of the city from potential mob violence. “These Moslem interventions assured the Christian quarters against pillage. In other words it was Islam and not the ‘Protectrice des Chrétiens en Orient’ which protected the Christians in those critical days,” wrote the British consul in Damascus (arguably not the most objective source).
On the other hand, al-Atrash apparently called for the amputation of the hands of informers (albeit with anesthesia and under a doctor’s supervision, a touching nod to modernity). Captured Circassian fighters were summarily killed and mutilated. Rebel demands that prominent Christians and Jews provide taxes and conscripts for the independence struggle were often made under explicit threat of retaliation—which can be read as either embrace or persecution. And in a grim harbinger of a generations-long ethnic struggle to follow in both Syria and Iraq, there were episodes of internecine violence between Arab and Kurdish rebel bands.
As guerillas besieged the city and the uprising broke out, Sarrail approved the bombardment of Damascus. Nearly 1,500 were killed as the bombs fell for two days. Then, in a gesture of stupendous arrogance, the French demanded a large fine be paid by leaders of the rebellion in the city. It was eventually paid by the Mandate’s own puppet president, Subhi Barakat, in a bid to buy peace.
In the aftermath, when the guerillas had withdrawn, the pro-independence forces once again mobilized brigades to protect the city’s Christians from reprisals. Interestingly, the leader of this effort was Said al-Jazairi, grandson of Amir Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi, the famous Sufi warrior who was exiled to Ottoman Damascus after a failed 1856 uprising against the French in Algeria.
The post-bombardment peace was illusory. France had regained control of the capital, but guerilla control of the countryside around Damascus was nearly total. Paris realized a change of direction was called for. Sarrail and Barakat were both removed, and the more popular Taj al-Din al-Hasani, son of Damascus’ leading Islamic scholar, was installed as president. Moves towards greater self-government were pledged. These measures weakened the links between the urban movement and guerillas. In the summer of 1926, a French counteroffensive drove al-Atrash first into the mountains and then, the following year, into Transjordan, where the British authorities expelled him and his followers across the border to the new Saudi Kingdom.
Al-Atrash and his comrades spent the next ten years in exile and under sentence of death. They continued to agitate for Syrian independence from their refugee encampment at Wadi al-Sirhan oasis. In Jerusalem, their supporters launched the newspaper Jamiat al-Arabiyya (Arab Federation), which protested Zionist designs on Palestine as well as the continuance of Mandate rule in the Fertile Crescent. In an early example of anti-imperialist solidarity, one issue protested the US intervention in Nicaragua, where Marines dispatched by President Calvin Coolidge were also pioneering the use of the airplane to deliver terror and death to peasant villages.
In Syria, a new party called al-Kutla al-Wataniyya (National Bloc) displaced the pro-independence leadership of 1925, and pursued a course of “honorable cooperation” with the French. They called for establishment of a constituent assembly to draft a constitution, and a timetable for self-rule. Full independence, of course, did not come until a full 20 years after al-Atrash’s revolt had been put down.
Provence writes that the history of resistance to French rule in Syria has been “recolonized” by the Ba’athist regimes that have held power since 1963. As the Allawi minority holds sway in the regime, the new version favors the Allawi revolt in Latakia, led by Salih al-Ali, which Provence downplays as one of a “series of uncoordinated resistance movements” that followed the transition to French rule, lacking the significance of the later 1925 revolt in terms of emerging national consciousness.
Given Provence’s thesis, it is an irony as well as a testament to the continuing efficacy of imperial divide-and-rule strategies that the Druze today have been pitted against Arab nationalists. The relatively favored status of the Druze under Zionist rule, and their widespread use in the security forces against their Palestinian neighbors, dates at least to 1948. In Lebanon, the Druze political patriarch Walid Jumblatt is one of the harshest opponents of Syria—and recently called openly for US military intervention against Damascus. (Druze in the Israel-occupied Golan Heights continue to wage an anti-colonial struggle.)
Provence makes only the most cautious and tentative references to the obvious contemporary analogue to the 1925 Syrian revolt. “Resistance against occupation remains a potent theme in the Middle East,” he states rather obviously. “Few scholars today would use words like ‘bandit’ or ‘extremist’ to describe insurgents against colonial rule, though ‘terrorist’ is perhaps one equivalent.”
The US makes no blatant claims to be protecting one minority in Iraq, as France did with the Maronites in Syria and Lebanon, but does purport to be defending secularism against sectarian fanaticism. Groups such as al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia play into the self-serving propaganda of Bush’s “Operation Iraqi Freedom” to a far greater degree than the petty authoritarianism of the Druze sheikhs ever could have with French auto-justifications for their colonial venture. If the trajectory of the Syrian revolt was from sectarian particularism to secular nationalism, in Iraq since 2003 it has all been in the reverse direction.
Independent Syria would degenerate into the ugly Ba’athist regme of Hafez Assad—due, in no small part, to ongoing US attempts to subvert the more moderate nationalist regimes which preceded it. The world will be lucky if Iraq now manages to avoid a far greater disaster.
This piece first appeared in the Spring 2006 edition of Middle East Policy Journal
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution
“Verging on Genocide” in the Czech Republic?
by Gwendolyn Albert, WW4 REPORT
PRAGUE — For almost two decades now it has been possible for just about anyone from the outside world, including people from the formerly taboo democracies of the “West,” to freely visit countries which were once satellites of the former Soviet Union. Indeed, the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague, has quickly become a favorite European tourist destination due to its millennium of preserved architecture. Former dissident Vaclav Havel, the playwright and one-time president, continues to be the main personality on the international stage associated with the country’s peaceful transition to democracy.
But NATO and EU memberships notwithstanding, the “transition,” as it is referred to here, has failed to correct a grim human rights legacy with regard to the Roma minority—a record which includes the still-unredressed crime of coercive sterilization.
The Roma minority, originally from India and visibly quite different from ethnic Czechs and other “white” Europeans, has been living on European territory for almost a thousand years. Their history is one of intense persecution, including a period of being owned as chattel slavery in what is now Romania from the 14th century through the mid-19th century. During the Nazi era, Czech Roma were 95% exterminated from the “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia,” which covered roughly the same geographical area as today’s Czech Republic. Today, open and proud “anti-Gypsyism,” manifested by political leaders and the ordinary people who elect them is a fact of life in the Czech Republic which human rights advocates have been attempting to address for more than a decade now.
Where the Roma are concerned, “democratization” has yet to reach social welfare, child welfare or the housing policies of hundreds of towns across the country. Discriminated against in almost every area of life and all but completely sidelined from the prosperity the country enjoys, members of this community more than any other find themselves dependent on the state and on local authorities—which continue to subject them to the kind of invasive control of their personal lives for which totalitarian Czechoslovakia and other Soviet bloc states were once infamous. Tthe transition to democracy and a market economy has brought Roma in the Czech Republic little but further degradation. The 1990s saw a rush of Czech Roma emigration to Canada and the UK as a result.
Roma in the Czech Republic face pervasive racism—racially segregated housing and forced evictions; segregated education in which Romani children are disproportionately sent to schools for the mentally disabled, resulting in high illiteracy levels; and the disproportionate placement of Romani children into state care. Romani parents who are deprived of their parental rights, purportedly due to poverty, are still paradoxically required to bear the costs of maintaining their children in institutional care and can face prosecution for failing to meet their parental responsibilities. Roma face an exclusion from most employment even should they attain education, and are a frequent target of skinhead violence. Despite these abuses, there is no anti-discrimination legislation in place—for which the European Commission may soon sanction the Czech Republic.
This is the context for an ongoing campaign of coercive sterilizations of Romani women, which has been in place for decades—starting in the late 1950s, and with cases reported as recently as 2004.
Since the late 1970s, human rights advocates have been sounding the alarm that doctors in both the former Czechoslovakia and the present-day Czech Republic have been sterilizing Romani women without their informed consent. It was not until the year 2005 that an in-depth investigation into specific cases was conducted by the Czech Health Ministry. The results of the investigation were reviewed by the country’s human rights oversight body, the Czech Public Defender of Rights (also known as the Ombusman), after coercive sterilization survivors complained to the body. On Dec. 29, 2005, the Public Defender issued its “Final Statement of the Czech Public Defender of Rights on the Matter of Sterilizations Performed in Contravention of the Law and Proposed Remedial Measures,” which concluded that “the problem of sexual sterilization carried out in the Czech Republic either with improper motivation or illegally, exists, and Czech society has to come to terms with this.”
Despite the Public Defender’s ground-breaking acknowledgement of these human rights violations, Czech officials have yet to make any public statements on the matter.
Since the 1970s, when the practice was official policy in what was then totalitarian Czechoslovakia, hundreds of Romani women have been coercively sterilized. In some cases, the patient’s consent was never provided to the sterilization at any time. There are also cases in which signed “consent” was obtained from a patient who was in an advanced stage of labor or shortly before Caesarian delivery of a child—i.e., under circumstances in which the patient was under intense stress. There are cases in which “consent” was provided without a real understanding of the terminology used, or absent explanations of the permanent consequences of sterilization. There are cases in which social workers pressured Romani women to undergo sterilization either by offering financial incentives or threatening sanctions (withholding of benefits, taking children into state care, etc.).
In short, the sterilizations have occurred either entirely without the consent of the person concerned, or by applying standards of consent divergent from those required under international law as “fully informed.” The European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (ECHRB), Article 10 (2), states that “Everyone is entitled to know any information collected about his or her health.” This right is reinforced in the World Health Organization (WHO) Declaration on Patients’ Rights, Article 4 (4), which states that “Patients have the right of access to their medical records and technical records and to any other files and records pertaining to their diagnosis, treatment and care and to receive a copy of their own files and records or parts thereof.”
As the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) noted in its March 2007 “Shadow Report” on the issue to the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: “These practices potentially implicate the Genocide Convention and are to be regarded with the utmost gravity.” Article 2 of the Genocide Convention states: “In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:… (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”
Under the Communist regime, the sterilization of Romani women in order to bring their rate of reproduction to parity with the Czech birth rate was part of a larger state policy promoting sterilization as a birth control method. Following the termination of this policy in 1991, a number of doctors have apparently acted illegally to continue the practice. At a press conference releasing the Ombudsman’s Final Statement, Deputy Ombudsman Anna Sabatová, (herself a Charter 77 signatory and former dissident who was periodically imprisoned by the communist regime along with most of her family members) said the investigation had revealed “fully deformed praxis in the Czech medical community” with regard to these procedures.
With only rare exceptions, all of the persons who have come forward to complain of this treatment so far have been Romani women. Pages 23-58 of the Ombudsman’s Final Statement note that “a group of Charter 77 signatories had pointed out the use of sterilization…as early as 1978, at the time of the most active implementation of the state assimilation policy towards the Romani minority, labeling it without hesitation as a technique on the verge of meeting the attributes of genocide.”
The Statement also notes: “It would be wrong to believe that the relation of the pre-November  Czechoslovakian state [policy on the] Roma was random, uncontrolled, and lacking co-ordination.” Further: “What should be primarily condemned … is that the state-controlled social services set itself controlled birth rate curbing in the Romani community as one of its socio-prophylactic and unconcealed eugenic measures (see the constant references to improving the quality of population) and that for this purpose it developed practical administrative procedures leading in individual cases as far as the legally and morally dubious persuading of women to undergo sterilization, i.e. a virtually irreversible intervention…”
So far the perpetrators of these crimes have enjoyed total impunity. This is due both to the high level of contempt for the Roma in the Czech Republic and to the fact that Czech officials have failed to adopt necessary safeguards for patients’ rights in general.
The Ombudsman also requested criminal investigations into the coercive sterilization complaints. To date most of the criminal charges filed have been dismissed by the police out of hand—including cases which require no particular “expertise” in order to decipher the nature of the illegality concerned. After all, when the law requires a hospital sterilization commission to pre-approve sterilizations, and a sterilization is performed before approval, there should be no doubt that the law has been broken. The Czech police, however, can’t quite see it that way.
In another case, an “expert” on medical procedure who was contacted by the police to evaluate the evidence characterized the victims as having been “irresponsible” for not voluntarily agreeing to the sterilization.
The Ombudsman recommended the state institute a reparations procedure for persons who were sterilized up until 1991, when the state policy promoting sterilization was rescinded, and that those sterilized since 1991 try to access justice through the courts (this in a country with no state-supported legal aid system).
Most human rights advocates see the matter differently and believe all of the victims, regardless of the point in time at which they were sterilized, should be apologized to and compensated by the state—and at least one UN committee agrees with them.
In August 2006, the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women issued the following recommendations as part of its regular periodic review of the Czech Republic’s compliance with the CEDAW Convention:
Recommendation 23: The Committee is particularly concerned about the report, of December 2005, by the Ombudsman (Public Defender) regarding uninformed and involuntary sterilization of Roma women and the lack of urgent Government action to implement the recommendations contained in the Ombudsman’s report and to adopt legislative changes on informed consent to sterilization as well as to provide justice for victims of such acts undertaken without consent.
Recommendation 24: The Committee urges the State party to take urgent action to implement the recommendations of the Ombudsman/Public Defender with regard to involuntary or coercive sterilization, and adopt without delay legislative changes with regard to sterilization, including a clear definition of informed, free and qualified consent in cases of sterilization in line with the Committee’s general recommendation 24 and article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine; provide ongoing and mandatory training of medical professionals and social workers on patients’ rights; and elaborate measures of compensation to victims of involuntary or coercive sterilization. It also calls on the State party to provide redress to Roma women victims of involuntary or coercive sterilization and prevent further involuntary or coercive sterilizations. The Committee requests the State party to report on the situation of Roma women pertaining to issue of coercive or involuntary sterilization, in its next periodic report, including a detailed assessment of the impact of measures taken and results achieved.
The UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which reviewed the Czech Republic in March 2007 issued its own recommendation:
The State party should take strong action, without further delay, to acknowledge the harm done to the victims, whether committed before or after 1991, and recognize the particular situation of Roma women in this regard. It should take all necessary steps to facilitate victims’ access to justice and reparation, including through the establishment of criminal responsibilities and the creation of a fund to assist victims in bringing their claims. The Committee urges the State party to establish clear and compulsory criteria for the informed consent of women prior to sterilization and ensure that criteria and procedures to be followed are well known to practitioners and the public.
Despite the urgent tone of these communications and the relatively large media impact in the Czech Republic of the CEDAW recommendations in particular—which were preceded by testimony at the UN from one of the victims—the Czech government has maintained silence on this issue. There is therefore no guarantee whatsoever that right now, in some medical facility in the middle of Bohemia or Moravia, another Romani woman is not being subjected to this very same treatment at the hands of the medical professionals to whom she has entrusted her health.
It is tempting, when trying to place this disturbing information in context, to associate this behavior on the part of the Czech medical profession with the legacy of the Nazi era and the country’s communist past, but this would be an oversimplification. The fact is that state-sanctioned sterilizations of minorities (whether based on ethnicity or disability) are not unique to the Czech Republic. In the post-WW II era, complaints of such practices have been made in Australia, Canada, China, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Iceland, India, Japan, Norway, Panama, Peru, Slovakia, the former Soviet Union, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and 33 of the United States of America.
In other words, regardless of political regime, culture, or geographical location, the medical profession itself seems to have regularly become the willing instrument of what can only be considered eugenics of the crudest sort. In the context of the “fourth world,” such practices have had a profound impact on indigenous and minority communities worldwide.
International recognition of the global reach of these crimes, performed upon anaesthetized victims in the silence of the operating theater and leaving no easily discernible traces, has yet to be properly achieved. Coercive sterilization victims have rarely if ever been compensated, and the perpetrators of these crimes have been punished even less frequently. To date, only Norway and Sweden have instituted reparations programs for coercive sterilization victims.
The human rights community needs to review the facts of the last 60 years, recognize the worldwide scope of this ongoing practice, and hold medical practitioners and the states that oversee them accountable for these violations of human dignity.
Gwendolyn Albert, a US citizen, is a permanent resident of the Czech Republic, a member of the Czech Government Human Rights Council representing civil society, and Director of the Women’s Initiatives Network at the Peacework Development Fund.
RESISTING THE NEW EURO-MISSILES
Czech Dissidents Stand Up Again—This Time to the Pentagon!
by Gwendolyn Albert
WW4 REPORT, June 1, 2007
From our weblog:
China detains lawyers for peasant advocate
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 19, 2006
Mexico: “dirty war” files reveal “genocide plan”
WW4 REPORT, March 8, 2006
Speaking of Nuremberg laws…
WW4 REPORT, Aug. 3, 2005
From our archive:
UNQUIET EARTH IN ABENAKI COUNTRY
by Bill Weinberg
reprinted from Native Americas, Spring/Summer 2002
Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution
by Reza Fiyouzat, Dissident Voice
Those in the Iranian socialist opposition arguing for a nuclear-free Iran have either been absent from the Western left’s discourse—or have been getting the short end of the stick from some in the US left. Trapped in a mentality as simplistic as that of George Bush, a good part of the US left has been repeating a similar logic, saying that either you can go along with the imperialists’ plans and support Bush or else find excuses to support the Iranian government’s pursuit of nuclear energy.
This in spite of the fact that the same American left-leaning activists and writers have a strong tradition of taking an anti-nuclear stance when it has come to the US society. May EP Thompson’s soul rest in eternal peace, but his spirit must be spinning in his grave.
The point of discussion here is not nuclear weapons, but the use of nuclear power for the peaceful purpose of producing energy.
Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a disaster to awaken people’s deadened responses. The US left has recently had the opportunity to be re-sensitized to the dangers of nuclear power as a result of the recent earthquake in Japan, which caused the shut-down of a nuclear power plant. We have consequently seen many insightful articles questioning the wisdom of pursuing the nuclear route for providing energy, most notably by Ralph Nader and Harvey Wasserman, to name only two.
The disaster that gave everybody a wake-up nudge was the earthquake that rocked the western coast of Honshu Island on July 16, causing the shut down of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station, in the Niigata prefecture. More earthquakes as well as several aftershocks kept the area trembling well into the day and night. The resultant shutdown of the power plant has attracted the critical attention of many observers—exposing many problems worrying the government officials, energy-producing company officials, experts, pundits, and ordinary citizens alike.
Increasing numbers of reports have focused on both the attempted cover-ups by company officials in the immediate aftermath of the quake, as well as the understatements regarding the real and potential dangers of the radioactive leakage into the atmosphere and the surrounding water, and the its potential impacts.
The fact that Japan sits atop a very active earthquake zone has meant that over the centuries and especially over the last century, measures have been taken to design and implement high earthquake-proofing standards for buildings—and particularly for nuclear power plants, which provide for some 30 percent of Japan’s energy needs.
We know that it is customary for capital to wish to save costs. Since safety measures cost money, nuclear energy providers are likely to meet building requirements not maximally, but just barely adequately. To make things worse, even if and when standards are devised, enforced and followed, earthquakes have dynamics of their own and may not necessarily limit themselves to the scope wished for by human-made regulations. For example, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant was built to withstand earthquakes of up to 6.5 magnitude. Unfortunately, the July 16 quake measured 6.8; hence, the problems that arose.
This particular quake scenario has not escalated to the worst-case scenario—but it very easily could have.
The same occurrence in Iran, however, almost definitely would have turned into a huge disaster. If an earthquake of such magnitude had erupted in the tectonically active south-southwestern coastal plains of Iran, with the Bushehr reactor having gone live, you can bet your house that cover-up and evasion would have been the only “aid” sent by the government to the people affected there; plus some troops to make sure, much like in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, that things didn’t get too out of hand.
For one thing, how much can we really trust the seismological surveys carried out to determine how near or far major fault lines are from the Bushehr reactor? What about the safety regulations? What about the environmental-impact studies for the best-case scenario? Has any thinking gone into plans for a worst-case scenario? Or, are the gentlemen in Tehran too dependent on good luck and divine protection?
And what about evacuation procedures should the worst happen? Iran’s roads are not exactly extensive or kept in any decent order. We know from New Orleans’ experience with Katrina that even in a country with extensive highway systems, evacuating large populations can take very long and therefore be very hazardous or even murderous deal, even when advance preparations are possible. A nuclear accident, by contrast, is capable of precipitating extremely poisonous atmospheric conditions in less than an hour.
Iran stands atop many very active and large fault lines. Of the major earthquakes that do occur in Iran, a good many are stronger than magnitude 6 on the Richter scale (from which point on, major damages increase exponentially). Here are some facts about major earthquakes since 1972:
* Dec. 26, 2003: Bam, Southeastern Iran, magnitude 6.5; 26,000 killed.
* June 22, 2002: Qazvin province, Northwestern Iran, magnitude 6; at least 500 killed.
* May 10, 1997: Northern Iran near Afghanistan, magnitude 7.1; 1,500 dead.
* June 21, 1990: Northwest Iran around Tabas, magnitude 7.3-7.7; 50,000 killed.
* Sept. 16, 1978: Northeast Iran, magnitude 7.7; 25,000 killed.
* April 10, 1972: Southern Iran near Ghir Karzin, magnitude 7.1; 5,374 killed.
In each of these cases, thousands if not tens of thousands more suffered dislocation and complete loss of livelihood, which was never compensated for. Now, imagine the additional casualty and displaced figures if any of these quakes had been combined with the meltdown of a nuclear reactor!
It should be pointed out that the deaths occurring as a result of these quakes are far larger than they should have been, mostly because of lax building codes in Iran. While Japan has some of the world’s highest standards for earthquake proofing, we can easily state that no such standards exist at all in Iran. Additionally, the building codes that do exist are regularly ignored and violated by unscrupulous contractors, developers and even individual home-builders more inclined to bribe an official than bear the larger costs of building safely.
We would therefore be right to wonder aloud about the building codes implemented in the construction of Bushehr’s nuclear power plant. Likewise, we should be worried about the maximum quake strengths the plant is supposed to be able to withstand, and even more worried about safety and rescue procedures foreseen for a worst-case scenario.
Forget IAEA inspections! In Iran what we really need is a guaranteed right of citizens‚ groups consisting of independent scientists, activists, and citizens‚ direct representatives, to carry out inspections of nuclear facilities on demand. Transparency and open accountability is the most legitimate demand of any citizenry as regards governmental activities; when it comes to meddling with nuclear power, transparency in accountability becomes absolutely essential.
In Iran, however, there is no accountability for anything the government does. For example—and directly related to this topic—there is no accountability for the fact that in an oil-rich country, refined oil (for the everyday consumption of the people) is mostly imported! Refining oil is not exactly nuclear science (no puns intended, but take as many as you like). This is a century-old technology. Why is it that the Iranian government is not investing some of its vast sums of petro-euros and dollars on improving the oil-refining capabilities of the nation, thus reducing the need for importing (much more expensive) refined oil products? Would this not be safer, more logical, more efficient, and a more economical short-to-mid-term investment of the national resources?
In Iran, it would be impossible to even bring to justice any government official who plays with peoples’ lives and livelihoods. We do not have the most rudimentary legal structures in place guaranteeing the citizens’ right of oversight over anything the governmental does.
As any Iranian could tell you, there is only one branch of government in Iran, the Executive branch; the other two stems (the legislature and the judiciary) merely decorate that one branch so it doesn’t look too bare. As enshrined into a theocratic constitution, the legislature, is not even a rubber stamp; it can easily be overturned by the Supreme Leader, as it has been repeatedly. The same goes for the judiciary, which has historically been a mere enforcer of the Executive’s will rather than an adjudicator of the laws of the land.
This situation clearly does not allow for a realistic system for citizens to keep a vigilant eye on the government’s handling of nuclear power. Indeed, should any disasters occur (which is to say, when a disaster does occur), the government is virtually guaranteed to act in the least responsive manner possible and to shirk as much responsibility as needed, leaving the citizens to bear the costs of a nuclear disaster on their own.
It is therefore the duty of any democratically inclined person—and more so the duty of leftists, environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists in the West—to stand on the side of the well-being of the Iranian people and unambiguously oppose any nuclear energy development in Iran carried out by an unaccountable government.
No doubt some “leftists” will argue that demands for a halt to all nuclear activities in Iran amount to aiding and abetting the imperialists, especially at this historical juncture. But such logic smells too much like the knee-jerk Zionists retort of “anti-Semitism” to anybody daring to criticize anything about Israel. In the end, all fanatics argue in the same way: You are either with me, or against me!
What those so-called leftists do not understand, or willfully ignore, is that imperialism feeds on oppressed, un-represented people. To the extent that the Iranian regime stifles its own people and their potentials, to the extent that Iranian people’s well-being is undermined by their government, they as a whole are more likely to be swallowed up by the plans and designs of the imperialists. Empowered people are the best defense against imperialist aggression.
Those who, like the Islamic regime in Iran, insist that pursuing nuclear power as an automatic right must also be prepared to bear the responsibility of fully accounting for any and all activities relating to the handling of nuclear materials, especially if nuclear facilities are built near dense population areas, and most definitely if those reactors are located on active tectonic plates, as is the case with the Bushehr reactor.
Lacking transparent accountability for the preparations that have occurred so far, as well as for the future full operations of Bushehr’s nuclear power plant, people have a legitimate right to demand a halt to all activities that could lead to the enormous health threats from radioactive poisoning, potentially lasting hundreds of years, causing mutations in the gene pools of all living organisms in the area, and destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people.
Nobody has an automatic right to take people down this kind of road! And definitely not a government that refuses to be accountable to any on this earth, least of all its own citizenry.
Reza Fiyouzat is an Iranian writer and activist currently working abroad.
This story first appeared July 24 in Dissident Voice
Atomic Blowback: The New Face of Nuclear Power (Same as the Old)
by Ralph Nader, Counterpunch, July 21, 2007
Lies and Leaks: The Earthquake That Screamed “No Nukes!”
by Harvey Wasserman, Counterpunch, July 20, 2007
From our weblog:
“Bad nuke” closes in North Korea; “good nuke” leaks radiation in Japan
WW4 REPORT, July 17, 2007
Oil prices rise as Iran nuclear deadline passes
WW4 REPORT, Feb 27, 2007
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution
by Assieh Amini, Stop Stoning Forever Campaign
Despite official denials, the stoning to death of women and sometimes men for such offenses as adultery continues in Iran, with state sanction. Iran’s Stop Stoning Forever Campaign documents and protests such instances, in cooperation with contacts abroad in the International Campaign Against Stoning. The Campaign’s members have been repeatedly harassed and arrested by Iran’s authorities. The author of this report, Assieh Amini, was arrested most recently at a rally in front of a Tehran courthouse this March, protesting the detainment of several women at a march against enforcement of sharia law in June of last year. While Amini was released after several days, some of those arrested at the June 2006 march were sentenced to more three years—as well receiving a prescribed number of whip lashes. All members of Stop Stoning Forever remain under risk.
One year and three months a go, a man and a woman were stoned to death in Behesht-Reza near Mashad. When we followed up and reported it, the authorities, including the late Karimi-Rad, Justice Department spokesman, denied it. Even our own friends and colleagues repeatedly reminded us that following a directive issued by the head of the judiciary in 1381 (2002), there have not been any stonings in Iran .
While this indifference was going on, another convict in Ahwaz was told to get ready to be stoned to death.
We had gone to Ahwaz to meet with the woman’s lawyer and family to see if there was any way we could save her. That’s when we heard there was another woman in Jolfa in a similar predicament whose case is truly shocking.
The woman in Jolfa had already been taken to be stoned once before. She was a smart woman who had read books on related laws while in prison, and who had reminded the judge on the day of her execution, that her execution would have been illegal since she had not yet received a reply to her latest appeal. The judge was swayed to postpone the execution until the appeal is heard. The woman’s elderly mother and her pro bono lawyers publicized her case as they pursued legal remedies. Eventually, the sentence was overturned, she was re-tried and acquitted of adultery.
These events, which can be amply documented—and what document could be better than living witnesses?—were happening at a time when the authorities were denying them, and ordinary citizens doubted they could happen.
[Translator’s note: Apparently, while stoning is a permissible punishment in Islamic Republic’s penal code, it is not practiced with any fanfare, or even overtly. Most cases involve poor, uneducated defendants, usually women, in rural areas which seldom receive national attention. The sentence is usually handed down by a local judge who then oversees its execution.]
Why This Campaign?
It was during these times that Stop Stoning Forever Campaign came to being. Our goals were to find cases, research them, help find attorneys who would vigorously represent the defense, organize activism & publicity, and, ultimately, free the convicts with an eye towards abolishing stoning altogether. Stoning is a cruel and backward punishment. We knew that raising awareness about an issue like stoning in the 21st century is not just about saving one life or changing one law. It will inevitably lead to examining other draconian or discriminatory laws in the court of public opinion.
Founders of this campaign had previously been active in other human rights and women’s causes. Their focus on stoning was initially seen [by critics] as a struggle over something “that’s not all that important.”
There were several reason this campaign was not initially taken seriously. One was that the number of cases involved was small. Second, it seemed as if this was a single injustice against women and not legally very broad. Third, some people questioned why challenge a law that is not supposed to be enforced anyway?
Fourth, there were some who felt stoning was not a cause for legal activism but a matter of prevailing social customs that consider sexual indiscretions unforgivable. Needless to say, these “customs” typically leave a thousand loopholes for men to escape the charge of adultery. In other words, the fourth group believed that as long as there are people in society who are willing to throw stones at an adulterer—or even willing to witness it as a public ritual—then this loans some legitimacy to stoning as a punishment.
There were more than a few objections but we were aware of the issues. For example, we’ve known all along that when you fight against something like stonings, just as the law needs to be changed, so do certain underlying social power bases that go with it. Case in point: Why is that in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan or Iraq, it is not the state or law enforcement who carry out stonings, but these stonings, like all other honor killings, are the wish and will of the local men? Furthermore, the more tradition and custom enters the equation, the more anti-woman the formula gets. Why is it, in Pakistan, for instance, the punishment for a man who rapes a woman is to let the victim’s male relatives rape one of the rapist’s female relatives? These are matters of masculine honor which punish any perceived sexual indiscretion by women according to a traditional patriarchal order.
In any case, the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign was formed and carried on for several reasons:
First, the severity of the act embodies “cruel and unusual punishment” prior to a preordained death. Even if someone escapes this fate, you can’t expect them to escape the psychological trauma that follows them for the rest of their lives [not to mention the social stigma]. Stoning convicts are typically some of the neediest, most destitute people in society. It’s hard to ignore them and still call yourself a woman’s rights or human rights activist.
Second, even though the number of stonings in Iran is small, and even though men are among the victims, these cases almost always involve gender discrimination against women.
The nightmare that is the life of a stoning defendant is part of a tunnel of horrors through which a woman has traveled all her life, unable to choose her spouse, unable to get a divorce, precluded from equal inheritance, subjected to her husband’s polygamy, deprived of sexual freedoms, financially dependant, unworthy of her children’s custody, etc. She stands at the end of this tunnel. Are there not people, especially women, who know this tunnel well, and who walk the halls of the legal system, that can help these victims?
This aid, this comfort, does not in any way condone what is referred to as “infidelity.” This is support for a human being’s right to choose his or her fate, regardless of gender. This is support for equality under law. It is also a reflection of the need to reform social institutions to benefit women.
Women’s rights activism in our predominantly visual culture needs visual arguments. The image of half-burying someone alive and stoning them to death is a compelling picture.
One can not read Hajieh’s story and not feel compassion for her. When you read Makrameh’s story, you’ll no doubt appreciate the case for allowing young girls to choose their own spouses. This campaign tries to delve into the lives of the men and women who are victims of stonings and reveal them to society. We want to follow their stories and study the relationship between their particular lives and the place women have in society.
Today, the result may be the knowledge that a person’s life was taken under a barrage of stones. But these events were happening before, away from the scrutiny of public opinion. Once we shine a light on such acts, in a world where international treaties demand respect for human dignity, someone has to answer for these acts. This time, the reality of what heretofore was reported as “sharia justice,” and was recorded in death certificates as “execution without resistance,” can come into public view.
And what about those who ask, “Shall we allow spousal infidelity pass in silence?” The answer to them is that the purpose of our campaign is not to argue criminal justice aspects of infidelity. The focus here is on punishment— the punishment itself—not its relationship to the crime. Whether we consider infidelity a crime, a torturous punishment is illegal and unacceptable. Further legal arguments are beyond the scope of our concerns at the moment.
One of the strangest arguments is that so long as there are people who are willing to throw the stones, and so long as infidelity is unacceptable in our society, nothing will change. Laws do not reflect the wishes of a few hundred people who throw stones at others. Laws must protect the safety of individuals. Laws must be in step with civilized norms of our times. Laws must lead societies away from violence and criminality.
If women like Mahboubeh or Makrameh [current pending stoning cases] had had the right to separate from spouses with whom life under the same roof had become unbearable, had they had some legal refuge in their predicaments, there would not have been infidelity, nor spouse killing. There would not have been any stonings.
Another incredible aspect of these legal proceedings is the inconsistency and inequity of judgments. A woman who was pimped by her husband receives the same sentence as the woman who followed her own heart’s desire. A woman who was in another town at the time of her husband’s murder, and who never confessed to an inappropriate relationship, is given the same sentence as the woman who was found living with her husband’s killer in another town.
Human rights protect every individual. When a woman from the lowest rungs of society enjoys the same legal protections as everyone else, then we can say we have are moving towards equal rights.
Translated by Manesh
This story first appeared July 16 in Rooz Online, and was also run on Meydaan.org
RAPE AND REFORM IN PAKISTAN
Real Change on Anti-Woman “Hudood” Laws?
by Abira Ashfaq, Peacework
WW4 REPORT #132, April 2007
From our weblog:
Iran: execution by stoning for adultery
WW4 REPORT, July 12, 2007
Iran: women’s rights activist gets prison and lashes
WW4 REPORT, July 7, 2007
Iran: women activists attacked
WW4 REPORT, March 6, 2007
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Aug. 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution
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