Friday, October 27, 2006

Wild conference


I've never been to a more lively conference in my life before.

[...] Got up at around 7ish to get showered and dressed up for this conference entitled "International Law and the Question of Western Sahara". It was one of these events that our lecturer "strongly encouraged" us to attend. But only one other person in my class was there.

I guess a bit of 'background' is necessary to explain what this is all about.
Western Sahara is a piece of terrirtory on the Northeast African coast, currently under Morrocan occupation. The Saharawi (people of the territory) have been claiming their right to self-determination since the seventies, when the colonial power Spain basically (like in many decolonialisation contexts) simply abandoned the territory. Morroco invaded, and has been occupying it since. In 1976, the International Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion which decided that Morroco and Mauritania have no legal ties to the territory, and that the people of Western Sahara must still realise their right to self-determination. Deportations, grave human rights abuses, intimidation, construction of (Morrocan) settlements and a wall...the situation is somewhat akin to the Palestinian Occupied Territories, with the occupying power illegally annexing territory rightfully belonging to the indigenous people, in contravention to international law.

Well, I turned up and sat down... the first presentations were somewhat slow and made me doze off... then things took a turn. Unsolved issues are often unsolved because they're controversial, and certainly when law and politics are often so closely intertwined, people are going to be personally interested and affected in what is said. A number of people were all too eager to take the microphone and contradict what the speakers said. 'Contradict' is perhaps mild...more like attack, deface, and accuse speakers of lying and spreading propoganda. English, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, French all mingled together like scene from 'Lost in Translation'. Throwing fits, raising their voices and hands. It was an academic exchange out of hand, at some points, with people interrupting and shouting across the room, accusing the organisers of being impartial and biased. Swear words were used... 'f*ck off', said a speaker to an unruly person from the audience. Someone said that the UN "had f*cked my country over"...twice. My friends and I sat there astounded, and were actually getting very afraid someone might just pull out a machine gun and go on a shooting spree. Security guards and police came and stayed around for the rest of the day.

At the end we were all exhausted... not once did I doze off again, and sat in my seat, transfixed to the heated exchanges and remarks. To be fair, the conference overall was delightfully educational, especially presentations by many leading scholars in the field. Of course we're no more closer to a solution, and the people of Western Sahara are probably no more closer to reaching complete independence, but at least it was (for the most bit) constructive dialogue. And it's these kind of dialogue, communcation, mutual understanding that are necessary to avoid misunderstanding and eventually work toward an acceptable, peaceful, and democratic solution acceptable to all. Given that my alma mater, SOAS, is the specialist in Asian/African affairs, no less than three scholars were present there, which made me somewhat proud.

I guess the problem with places like Western Sahara, Palestine, West Papua, or some might even argue Tibet and Chechnya (for a whole list, see Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation), is that we all know and recognise the inherent rights of the people living there to self-determination, and eventual independence. But really, politics, and more specifically real politics and superpower politics trump over people's rights. Blatant violations of international law, horrendous abuses of human rights and absolutely indisputed illegal acts of occupation are viewed with such complacency and indifference, because the interested parties are unwilling to surrender their self-interests. And who suffers most of all, as in all games of power play?

It is the people. The millions of men, women and children subjected to incessant violence, grievous violations and brutal deaths, while a select few bicker, confer and argue.


Disclaimer:
Opinions expressed are entirely my own and are partial and may have been dramatised. In no way should it be taken as an accurate account of the events that occurred and/or opinions expressed at the conference.

Wild conference

I've never been to a more lively conference in my life before.

[...] Got up at around 7ish to get showered and dressed up for this conference entitled "International Law and the Question of Western Sahara". It was one of these events that our lecturer "strongly encouraged" us to attend. But only one other person in my class was there.

I guess a bit of 'background' is necessary to explain what this is all about.
Western Sahara is a piece of terrirtory on the Northeast African coast, currently under Morrocan occupation. The Saharawi (people of the territory) have been claiming their right to self-determination since the seventies, when the colonial power Spain basically (like in many decolonialisation contexts) simply abandoned the territory. Morroco invaded, and has been occupying it since. In 1976, the International Court of Justice gave an advisory opinion which decided that Morroco and Mauritania have no legal ties to the territory, and that the people of Western Sahara must still realise their right to self-determination. Deportations, grave human rights abuses, intimidation, construction of (Morrocan) settlements and a wall...the situation is somewhat akin to the Palestinian Occupied Territories, with the occupying power illegally annexing territory rightfully belonging to the indigenous people, in contravention to international law.

Well, I turned up and sat down... the first presentations were somewhat slow and made me doze off... then things took a turn. Unsolved issues are often unsolved because they're controversial, and certainly when law and politics are often so closely intertwined, people are going to be personally interested and affected in what is said. A number of people were all too eager to take the microphone and contradict what the speakers said. 'Contradict' is perhaps mild...more like attack, deface, and accuse speakers of lying and spreading propoganda. English, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, French all mingled together like scene from 'Lost in Translation'. Throwing fits, raising their voices and hands. It was an academic exchange out of hand, at some points, with people interrupting and shouting across the room, accusing the organisers of being impartial and biased. Swear words were used... 'f*ck off', said a speaker to an unruly person from the audience. Someone said that the UN "had f*cked my country over"...twice. My friends and I sat there astounded, and were actually getting very afraid someone might just pull out a machine gun and go on a shooting spree. Security guards and police came and stayed around for the rest of the day.

At the end we were all exhausted... not once did I doze off again, and sat in my seat, transfixed to the heated exchanges and remarks. To be fair, the conference overall was delightfully educational, especially presentations by many leading scholars in the field. Of course we're no more closer to a solution, and the people of Western Sahara are probably no more closer to reaching complete independence, but at least it was (for the most bit) constructive dialogue. And it's these kind of dialogue, communcation, mutual understanding that are necessary to avoid misunderstanding and eventually work toward an acceptable, peaceful, and democratic solution acceptable to all. Given that my alma mater, SOAS, is the specialist in Asian/African affairs, no less than three scholars were present there, which made me somewhat proud.

I guess the problem with places like Western Sahara, Palestine, West Papua, or some might even argue Tibet and Chechnya (for a whole list, see Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation), is that we all know and recognise the inherent rights of the people living there to self-determination, and eventual independence. But really, politics, and more specifically real politics and superpower politics trump over people's rights. Blatant violations of international law, horrendous abuses of human rights and absolutely indisputed illegal acts of occupation are viewed with such complacency and indifference, because the interested parties are unwilling to surrender their self-interests. And who suffers most of all, as in all games of power play?

It is the people. The millions of men, women and children subjected to incessant violence, grievous violations and brutal deaths, while a select few bicker, confer and argue.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Schiphol fire: one year later


In the night of 26 to 27 Ocotber last year, a fire raged at the prison complex at Schiphol Airport.

According to an independent investigation, the government is responsible in many ways for the tragic spread and consequences of the fire, especially in the failure to provide proper safety and plans in the construction and operation of the detention centre.

The fire started in a cell in K Wing. Personnel rush to the cell where the fire started and freed in the one person inside. They forgot to close the door, which resulted in the fire and smoke to spread. Due to the poor fire prevention system the fire department only arrived 15 minutes later. But because of security obstacles, poor coordination and information the firemen only managed to get to work almost 30 minutes after the first started.

11 asylum seekers choked to death. Another dozen or so suffered terrible burns and trauma. As a consolation 39 asylum seekers were given a permanent right to remain in the country.

The prisons were constructed in great haste, primarily to hold rejected asylum seekers before they are deported out of the country. Many construction regulations were bypassed and ignored. The roof windows did not open, causing the smoke and heat to be trapped in the wing. Most people perished because the cell doors were jammed and could not be opened. The security personnel at the prison complex were poorly trained to deal with emergency evacuations. Prisoners were herded aimlessly from one wing to another, and further exposed to unnecessary fear, panic and traumatic near-death experiences.

Here's a film reconstructing the events of that horrible evening...

To those who died so unnecessarily...

Abu Graib conditions in the Netherlands


I received this today from an internet friend who is closely involved with refugees and asylum seekers in the Netherlands. That many of these people are treated badly in detention and during their deportation is not new...but the fact that it is to this extent is simply shocking. Some practices are unthinkably familiar to the stories and pictures floating from the US debacle of Abu Graib...

What followes is a a number of first-person accounts from within deportation centres in the country (From: Zwartboek van het Vluchtelingenkordon Fryslan 2004):

(The acronymn IND stands for Immigration and Naturalisation Service, which is in charge of processing and executing the status and deportation of asylym seekers in the Netherlands):


Deportation centres

In the Netherlands there are two concentration centres for people to be deported.

One at Rotterdam airport and one at Amsterdam airport. The one at Rotterdam airport is the biggest, the most used one and most horrible one.

After finishing the asylum procedure, people officially can be kept here by force under custody for 8 weeks. The centres are known by refugee-workers as intimidation centres because of the methods that are being used to manipulate people to cooperate with deportation. The centre is also used for illegal people, no matter if they were on asylum before or not. If the judge estimates the chance on possible deporta­tion after 8 weeks on more then 50 %, people can be held for another 9 months in one of the numerous detention centres for illegal people all over the Netherlands.

Deportation centre Rotterdam can not be visited by refugee workers. Only a few people ever saw the inside of this centre. After a visit from the departmental investigation committee for health care, the centre health care system was rejected strongly. A television crew from Dutch public broadcasting was denied any future entry after showing a negative impressi­on. Later crew members from a concurrent TV-station were shown windows by staff of the deportation centre but these appeared to be existing of non transparent material covered with curtains.

During 2004, we received the following stories which were confirmed by more witnes­ses. Dutch broadcast stations also spent several television programs recently on this issue. The reaction from the department of foreign affairs was one of anger and denial.

Under custody 1

I was held inside a hall with blind walls for 8 weeks in a cell from 2x2 meter including toilet. There was no window in the cell, so no daylight and there was no fresh air. I was not allowed to use a toothbrush, there was nothing to rub my body with. One visitor smuggled a needle and dread inside the prison which was used to prepare some material to clean our bodies. Every day we were put in a cage for one hour so that we could see the air. I was feeling like an animal. In one other cage, people made noises like if they already became animals.

Under custody 2

Me and my little child were arrested without any reason while stamping our stamping cards. We were brought to Rotterdam and put inside a room with prison personnel. We were forced to undress, kneel down and stand up several times. After some days we were released without any explanation.

Under custody 3

We had to eat white rice with beans for a couple of weeks, day in day out. Till I started to vomit. During my stay one woman was objecting very politely having to enter her cell after 40 instead of 60 minutes.

After that, she didn't get any food for the rest of the day. When she knocked on the door for explanation, some military personnel dragged her out of the cell, pushed her on the floor, bound her wrists together on the back, taped her mouth with wide isolation tape and pulled some kind of cotton bag or sheet around her head. They were dragging her along the hall to some place. Everybody saw this, included children. People started shouting and screaming like hell, we all thought that she was going to be killed because we experienced this before in our own country.

Under custody 4

My lawyer said there was no chance that they were going to deport me because of my health condition. But they still came to get me out of my cell. I was struggling for my life because I knew I was going to be killed in my own country or die without medical treatment. Five armed men came and used a lot of force on my body for a longer period. After 8 hours in isolation, they released me, accidentally having taken the wrong person. Some weeks later they took me again to a separation department for people waiting for the airplane. The prison doctor took my blood-pressure. I was crying all night, thinking about my killed family-members and begging God to take my life that very night. One hour before departure I was taken away to a normal prison thanks to my lawyer and released later because of my health without explanation or means of transport.

Under custody 5

They always came unexpected in the middle of the night to take the people out of there cells. You never knew on which doors they were going to knock. On these nights it was like you could smell death passing along. Afterwards I always experienced a penetrating smell of piss.

Under custody 6

My lawyer sent a medical statement to the IND to get me out of prison because of an apparently life threatening disease. But the IND said that they never received the statement and tried to deport me during many weeks.

Under custody 7

My visitor forgot to take her wallet from the locker. He only got it back when I signed for it. Next day they told me that I signed for some nationali­ty-declaration so they could now bring me to some country. But I didn't come from there. My lawyer asked for a copy from the statement but he never got it.

Under custody 8

I was complaining about my health. The prison doctor said it was only relevant if I could be transported by plane or not. He added that how soon I would die was not important. In the hospital, despite begging, I had to walk with my arms bound on the back. I was very ashamed and it was very painful due to my health. The IND-chosen surgeon didn't want to examine me and decided there was no transportation-problem. After a second opinion I was turn into the streets again.

Under custody 9

People where imprisoned only with pyjama and slippers and also put on the airplane like that. It seemed that they wanted to deport everybody to Lagos/Nigeria, even French speaking people.

Under custody 10

After 8 weeks in a deportation centre, I was imprisoned in a detention centre for 6 months. I was released on a Friday. Sunday I have been thanking my God on the podium of our ministry.

Next day (Monday) I was visiting a friend staying under church asylum and doing her hair. Suddenly the police broke the door and took all of us out of the apartment and I stayed in prison again for a long time.

Under custody 11

People have been calling me to tell about their experiences in a deportati­on centre and I talked to people who visited a deportati­on centre. I have to express my deepest horror about what I have been hearing. I found out that heavily ill people were not assisted by a doctor because he didn’t want to help people simulating serious diseases to avoid deportation. I am deeply ashamed having to be a member of this so called Christian society lead by a government who is treating people less than animals because these people where so unlucky to be born on the wrong place without peace and food and are therefore condemned to life long expulsion from the so called civilised society.

Under Custody 12

I have been hearing about big amounts of people originally coming from the West-coast of Africa now being transported to Lagos, without any means of life and causing heavy problems in the area, trying by all means to get a way of life or get back home, often becoming the victim of rape and murder.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Treatment of deportees in the Netherlands


Shocking revalations remisnicent of Guantanamo Bay...

The current affairs programme Netwerk recently reported on the medical neglect of asylum seekers, which resulted in the death of a 2 year old boy. He couldn’t go to a regular doctor because he is an asylum seeker, so ended up consulting a medical clinic for asylum seekers (medische opvang asielzoekers). The nurse gave the boy paracetemol, but it didn’t stop the fever or diarrhea. The father went back to the clinic for more help on three separate occasions, but was only referred to a medical specialist four days later. Despite medical intervention, the boy died of a lung infection. This is not an isolated incident. Since 2000, nine asylum seekers have died from, among others illnesses, cancer, internal bleeding, chronic stomach upsets, because they could not go see a doctor.

In another episode, limelight was cast on the inhumane deportation of asylum seekers. Members of the Dutch Royal Constabulary revealed some shocking practices to force asylum seekers with no right to stay in the Netherlands out of the country. An internal report of the constabulary said that deportees must be forced onto the plane and deported through whatever means necessary. There are no guidelines which specify what can and cannot be done, admits a member of the constabulary, so basically they are able to do whatever they want.

Disproportionate levels of verbal intimidation and physical violence seem to be the norm.
A number of NGOs and the National Ombudsman also verified the accounts of asylum seekers exposed to great mental and physical coercion. All are subjected to strip searches, some handcuffed and put in cells for many hours without food or water before they are put on the plane. In a report by the National Ombudsman concluded the treatment as “not humane” (niet menswaardig), and suggested that even heavy criminals are not treated in such a way.

One Bosnian Muslim family was taken away from their home without warning and separated. The mother and children in one detention centre, and the father held somewhere unknown to the family members. One of the daughters was strip searched, while three male wardens stood by and watched. The youngest daughter who is on medication against epileptic attacks could not take the medicine with her. An Afghan was brutal maltreated by his escorts, who covered his face and nose that he almost died from lack of oxygen. One anonymous member of the constabulary reported his colleague engaging in derogatory racist abuse, and resorted to kicking and banging the head of the deportee against the wall. A Guinean deportee said attacks dogs, pepper sprays and fire hoses were used to coerce them onto the plane. The Immigration Service denies the use of violence in this specific case.

Many of those who refuse to be deported resist in whatever ways they can. Spiting, biting, sucide etc. The Constabulary have special means to prevent this, including the use of hand and foot cuffs, helmets, body constrainers. Many attempts to deport asylum seekers had to be cancelled because the scuffle and violence caused too much commotion on the plane.

Upon arrival in the country, it was reported that the escort constabulary often simply try to get rid of the deportee, sometimes by bribing government officials. There were instances of Cameroonian deportees brought to Nigeria and in order to get rid of the deportees were simply handed over to the Nigerian authorities. “People dumping”, the former Ombudsman called it, as long as the objective of removing the deportees from the Netherlands is achieved.

A recommendation by the Council of Europe (the pan-European institution which defends and protects human rights) warned that:

“All too often, persons awaiting expulsion are subjected, in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, to discrimination, racist verbal abuse, dangerous methods of restraint and even violence and inhuman or degrading treatment. All too often, the officials responsible for enforcing expulsion orders resort to an unjustified, improper or even dangerous use of force.”


A lot of the practices that seem to be occurring in the Netherlands (deprivation of food, detention of asylum seekers, prevention of breathing, denial of medical care, “proportionality and respect for safety and human dignity in any other measures taken during the expulsion procedure”) are exactly the ones that the Council has held should be outlawed.

A resolution adopted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly reminded the Netherlands of it obligations with regards to return of asylum seekers:

Council of Europe member states should promote the voluntary return of failed asylum seekers and that forced return should be considered only as a last resort. Where forced return is inevitable, it should be implemented in a humane and transparent manner in compliance with human rights and with respect for the safety and dignity of the person concerned.” [emphasis mine]

See the two part series “Wrapped up and away” (Inpakken en Wegwezen).

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Strange mallard

I'm not dead yet...

Came across this strange 'scientific' reserach into "homosexual necrophilia in the mallard"...conducted by a Dutchperson (who else?)

"On 5 June 1995 an adult male mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) collided with the glass fa├žade of the Natuurmuseum Rotterdam and died. An other drake mallard raped the corpse almost continuously for 75 minutes. Then the author disturbed the scene and secured the dead duck. Dissection showed that the rape-victim indeed was of the male sex. It is concluded that the mallards were engaged in an ‘Attempted Rape Flight’ that resulted in the first described case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard."