July 11, 2013
By Charlene Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from
The Final Call
As Afro-Colombian women leaders work to expose violence and human rights violations, grassroots activists are mobilizing for a historic conference to address their issues, gain and protect the rights of Blacks in the country and to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of a law that was supposed to grant freedom.
The term “supposed” is used because, according to activists, the government of Colombia has yet to fully implement Law 70, which for the first time recognized the rights of Black Colombians to protect their land, culture and other important things.
To commemorate the law, issued in August 1993, activists plan to host the First Afro-Colombian National Congress of Community Councils and Organizations August 23-28 in Quibdo.
“Law 70 … gave African people the material foundation to protect themselves as a people by giving them the right to collective ownership of their ancestral lands. It is the commemoration of the victory by Afro-Colombians that will serve as backdrop to the National Congress,” stated activist Charo Mina-Rojas, coordinator of the Afro-Colombian women’s human rights defenders project.
Organizers want the Colombian government to respect and implement measures to actualize Black people’s right to participate in decision-making on issues that affect their lives, culture, environment and territories as provided for by the law.
Approximately 700 community leaders and state officials are expected to participate and outside observers are also invited to witness the historic gathering, which aims to increase international awareness of the deteriorating human rights conditions Black Colombians face.
Many of the deplorable conditions, displacement and death threats are occurring as part of armed combat between guerilla groups and the military, explained Gimena Sanchez, senior associate for the Andes for the Washington Office on Latin America. The organization promotes human rights, democracy, and social justice in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In 2012, Blacks were 20 percent of all new displacements in Colombia, Ms. Sanchez said. That same year, 36 percent of all new displacements took place along Colombia’s primarily Afro-descendant Pacific Coast. That marked a 22 percent increase in displacements compared to 2011, according to numbers provided by the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement.
“This situation is basically leading to a crisis, a humanitarian crisis as well a very difficult crisis for people because once a person is displaced, they lose their home, their livelihood, and they experience severe stigmatization, and they become second class citizens,” Ms. Sanchez told The Final Call.
Elusive employment, poor treatment, and racism make it harder for people to put their lives back together, she added.
A growing number of U.S.-based organizations and indigenous groups are calling for an end to threats, attacks and murders of Afro-Colombians, including members of AFRODES, a coalition of some 89 groups for internally displaced Afro-Colombians.
AFRODES has suffered 35 death threats against members, had three assassination attempts, a break-in, and constant surveillance of its members, according to Ms. Sanchez.
The threats come in the wake of the deaths of several key leaders: Miller Angulo of AFRODES, Demetrio Lopez of Community Council of La Caucana, and Socrates Paz Patiño, the legal representative of the Community Council of Iscuande.
On June 20, a network of Afro-descendant women in the Caribbean announced they’ve been receiving death threats as well, Ms. Sanchez stated.
Due to a concerted joint inside and outside effort to raise awareness, the Colombian Attorney General’s Office intends to address high priority cases of violence and political persecution of Afro-descent women from Buenaventura, the Caribbean region and Tumaco, according to Ms. Mina-Rojas.
Buenaventura is a very dangerous, major port in Colombia, where women are heavily targeted, according to activists. In 2011, 13 women were killed, they reported.
“We have a case of woman that they tied to a pole in front of everybody … for three days. They tortured her in front of everybody and didn’t allow anybody to touch her. Then they buried her in the sand, up to the neck and left her there for the tide to come over and she drowned,” Ms. Mina-Rojas told The Final Call.
“We have cases of women that have been raped … killed and thrown in the water,” Ms. Mina-Rojas continued. It’s been difficult to count the number of women who have suffered but it’s just a small example of what women are facing, she explained.
People should be concerned about the United States’ role in what’s happening in Colombia, because it has a lot to do with the conflict, Ms. Sanchez said.
“The United States is the largest donor to Colombia in military assistance,” with approximately $8.5 billion to Colombia since 2000 and a signed free trade agreement with the country, she continued.
“A lot of areas where the commerce is being incentivized … are Afro-Colombian areas. For instance the Port of Buenaventura, where ultra-violence is taking place, is the same port that the United States is working with Colombia to help expand for economic interest. It’s also a port where the majority of the workers are Afro-descendants and the human rights and labor rights situation is abominable,” Ms. Sanchez said.
From January to April this year, 91 mutilated bodies have been found there, according to Ms. Sanchez. But the appalling events also present an opportunity to help improve the lives of Afro-Colombians through the U.S. Colombia Racial Action Plan, she added.
“What is needed is more U.S. citizens to follow this situation and get involved politically to help,” stated Ms. Sanchez.
July 11, 2013
By Jennifer Bihm
As the fate of George Zimmerman, accused of killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin plays out in a Florida court this week, the African American community braces itself for his possible acquittal. A gunshot wound expert testified that Zimmerman’s claim of self defense against Martin was justifiable and witnesses testified that screams on a 911 call from the night Martin was murdered definitely belonged to Zimmerman, two key specifics that could sway the jury in his favor. Now, the Internet is abuzz with comments and essays comparing the case to others where killers and abusers of Black American men like Rodney King and Oscar Grant have gone free, pointing to a nationwide system of inherent racism and injustice.
“There’s a specific thing about young black men being murdered by the people who say they’re protecting us,” said a man identified as “Brother Ali” during a video interview posted last week on hardknock.tv.
“They find a way to blame the victim, ‘he did something he wasn’t supposed to be doing.’ And they find a way to let the killers go free under some little weird loophole. This case is part of that legacy.”
Last week, a judge denied the prosecution’s request to disallow toxicology reports indicating that Martin had drugs in his system the night he was killed. As of press time the judge had not yet ruled on whether the defense would be allowed to use an animated reenactment of Zimmerman and Martin’s altercation. Also, Rachel Jeantel who had been talking to Martin on the phone moments before he died, was ridiculed profusely in social media after she took the stand for bad grammar and “sounding ignorant and uneducated.”
“If Trayvon Martin’s trial is about his hoodie, his gold teeth, his ominous middle finger, his possible marijuana use, Rachel Jeantel’s trial is about her appearance, her ‘bad attitude,’ and her use of language,” wrote George Ciccariello-Maher in his article “The Racial Politics of Guilt: Black Skin, White Justice” posted on counterpunch.org.
“It’s about bullying a black man,” the late Rodney King told USA Today last year.
“This time, a young man was bullied to death. I’m still alive; Trayvon Martin is not here.”
Since Martin’s death, many have pointed to similarities between his, King’s and Grant’s scenarios. All were unarmed when attacked and in all three cases no arrests were made for the crimes against them until angry cries for justice became loud and persistent. The perpetrators in King and Grant’s cases were found not guilty.
“George Zimmerman may be convicted, but then again he may not,” predicts Charles Richard Brown in an article posted on uptownmagazine.com.
“It’s not clear which outcome is better, more ‘just.’ Of course he should be convicted, but any conviction will only become fodder for the argument, pernicious as it is pervasive, that ours is a “post-racial” society… There is nothing but racism and white privilege here. Zimmerman felt privileged enough to be able to gun down a black teenager, and he knew the police wouldn't do anything about it. Zimmerman wasn't stupid. He knew very well what he was doing... protecting his white world from ‘one of them…”
“In this particular case when we start talking about these things, people are looking for some way to make this not a racial issue,” Ali said.
“You know, ‘let’s wait until all the facts come out,’ etc. The major facts are out. This guy approached a black kid who was unarmed and wasn’t doing anything wrong. There may or may not have been a scuffle and he shot and killed him. And, the police took him at his word that he was defending himself, that the grown man with a gun was defending himself against the kid with the skittles and the iced tea... People are looking for ways kind of fortify in our minds that George Zimmerman had a reason to be suspicious of Trayvon or that we as a society have a reason to suspicious of Trayvon.”
July 11, 2013
By STEPHEN BRAUN
WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal oversight board directed by President Barack Obama to scrutinize the government's secret surveillance system is hearing from civil liberties activists, a retired federal judge and a former Bush administration lawyer in the board's first public event since the spying operations were revealed in news reports.
They were among 16 experts set to testify Tuesday before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board about the National Security Agency's surveillance. The board's five members include an Internet freedom advocate and two former Bush lawyers who helped expand the government's national security authority.
After former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden began exposing the NSA's operations in June, Obama instructed the board to lead a "national conversation" about the secret programs. The board has been given several secret briefings by national security officials and it plans a comprehensive inquiry and a public report on the matter.
"Our primary focus will be on the programs themselves," the board's chairman, David Medine, told the Associated Press last month. "Based on what we've learned so far, further questions are warranted."
American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who is expected to testify, warned the oversight board that the government's massive sweeps of cellphone and telephone call logs and other data on phone and Internet communications erode privacy protections guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure.
Snowden's disclosures revealed that the NSA collects phone "metadata" — records that omitted only the actual contents of conversations — from millions of Americans. A separate NSA surveillance program aimed solely at foreign terrorist suspects also sweeps up metadata about the Internet communications from smaller numbers of Americans, federal officials have acknowledged. Obama urged Americans not to worry about the secret programs because the contents of their communications are rarely targeted.
The president and the director of national intelligence "have been at pains to emphasize that the government is collecting metadata, not content," Jaffer said in advance remarks obtained by the AP. "But the suggestion that metadata is somehow beyond the reach of the Constitution is wrong. For Fourth Amendment purposes, the crucial question is not whether the government is collecting content or metadata but whether it is invading the reasonable expectation of privacy. Here, it clearly is."
Jaffer has urged stricter limits on government surveillance as well as new oversight mechanisms. One of the oversight board's members, James Dempsey, is a top official with the Center for Democracy and Technology, a civil liberties advocacy group.
Much of the NSA's surveillance is overseen by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose classified rulings also have been disclosed by several Snowden leaks. Testimony about the court was expected from former federal judge James Robertson, who served on the secret court. Robertson also ruled against the Bush administration in the landmark Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld case, which granted inmates at the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to challenge their detentions. That ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court.
Steven Bradbury, a former top Bush administration lawyer who played a central role in national security decisions, also was to testify. Bradbury, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, wrote several legal memos backing the CIA's limited use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects, including simulated drowning. But he also signed other memos that placed legal brakes on some of the Bush administration's expanded national security authority.
Two of the oversight board's members also worked as Bush administration lawyers. Elisebeth Collins Cook is a former Justice Department lawyer who drafted revised guidelines in 2008 that expanded the FBI's ability to conduct domestic intelligence investigations. The guidelines gave FBI agents involved in national security probes new authority to conduct physical surveillance without a court order and to interview people without identifying themselves as federal agents.
Oversight board member Rachel Brand is another former Bush Justice lawyer who urged Congress to give the FBI expanded authority to use what are called national security letters and administrative subpoenas to obtain information in terrorism investigations. The use of such tools is limited but can allow federal investigators to demand data without direct judicial approval.
The oversight board is appointed by the president but reports to Congress. David Cole, a professor of constitutional and national security law at Georgetown University, said the board faces high expectations.
"Their very existence may make government officials more careful about their surveillance programs because they will know that a board empowered and obligated to report on privacy and civil liberties abuses exists," Cole said.
July 04, 2013
By Saeed Shabazz
Special to the NNPA from
The Final Call
UNITED NATIONS – A five-member panel of experts recently gathered in Beijing, China for a one-day discussion about the way forward for the international community in restarting peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.
The discussion didn’t produce much optimism and highlighted UN failures over several decades.
One of the purposes of the gathering was to give a candid assessment of United Nations’ ability to rise above the status quo the world body has assumed concerning the on-again, off-again peace process.
Abdullah Abdullah, head of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s Political Committee in Ramallah, opened the discussion by saying the UN has been dealing with Israel’s occupation of Palestine since 1947.
He reminded the gathering that the UN Security Council declared inadmissible Resolution 242 (1967), the forcible seizure of territory.
Israel’s violations of that principle have been considered by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, and resulted in adoption of numerous anti-Israel resolutions, said Mr. Abdullah.
Unfortunately, none have been implemented, he said.
That has led to the conclusion that the UN has become irrelevant to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and no force can stop Israel from violating the UN Charter, UN resolutions or international law, Mr. Abdullah continued.
Frenchwoman Christine Chanet, chairperson of the UN Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements and a member of the Committee Against Torture, offered a candid assessment of Israel’s intransigence.
She recalled establishment in March 2012 of an independent, international fact-finding mission to examine the impact of Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of Palestinians. “The mission addressed many requests for cooperation to the government of Israel, but had received no answer,” she said.
Mr. Abdullah said one of the great ironies was Israeli government insistence that negotiations with Palestinians happen without preconditions, but Israel declared Jerusalem, settlements, and the Jordan Valley were non-negotiable because of their importance to Israeli military protection.
Panelist Mohammad Loulichki, Morocco’s ambassador to the United Nations, reminded the gathering that his delegation currently holds a two-year seat on the Security Council. He called for a revival of collective international engagement towards a two-state solution for the conflict.
Palestinians cannot be accused of not being a genuine partner for peace, the Moroccan ambassador said, pointing out it was the United States that sponsored the two-state vision and added momentum to the idea around the world. The U.S. gave rise to genuine hope that efforts by the Obama administration would lead to resumed negotiations and a political solution, added the diplomat.
“Yet, the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, combined with Israel’s lack of engagement, has triggered pessimism about the two-state solution,” Ambassador Loulichki observed.
Admitting failure would mean that the United Nations and the international community have been unable to deliver on promises made 56 years ago to Arabs, particularly Palestinians, he added.
“Failure to reward the painful compromises made by the Palestinians with a solution based on United Nations’ resolutions would be a blow to the credibility of the United Nations,” Ambassador Loulichki warned.
Panelist La Yifan, deputy director-general of the Dept. of International Organizations and Conferences in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, “To promote the just, peaceful and proper settlement of the Palestinian issue was in the interest of all people in the Middle East and in line with the wishes of the entire international community. The Security Council should send delegations to the region in order to gain a better understanding of the situation. It should also approve at an early date Palestine’s application for full United Nations membership.”
Nathan Stock was the only American speaking at the confab, but not as a panelist. He is assistant director of the Conflict Resolution Program at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Ga.
“The political dynamics in the United States made it tougher to maintain the kind of engagement that had led to past territorial withdrawals,” Mr. Stock conceded. But he believes President Barack Obama would like to see a two-state solution and Secretary of State John Kerry would like to make his mark by resolving the conflict.
“However, hopes of success would depend on President Obama deciding to use the full powers of his office to realize the creation of a Palestinian state,” said Mr. Stock.
Mr. Abdullah countered that the peace effort launched by Mr. Kerry faced a “near stalemate” owing to Israeli positions.
On June 18, the Guardian newspaper in London reported how a member of the Israeli cabinet told settlers in Jerusalem that Israel should annex large tracts of the occupied West Bank. The idea of a Palestinian state “is dead,” he said.
France 24, International News 24/7 reported on Twitter June 19 that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Palestinians support Mr. Kerry’s efforts to revive peace talks.
Meanwhile activists in 60 nations are marching and protesting the “illegal Zionist State of Israel” in a Global March to Jerusalem.
On June 7, Jews from Neturei Karta International/USA marched from the West Village in New York to the United Nations.
“We are marching for the freedom of Jews and all of Palestine,” said a spokesman. But such freedom remains a long way off.