Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Minister dismissed!

(Minister not-very-happy-looking Verdonk: NOS, 'Acht uur journal')

There’s only so much you can resist. She survived three votes of no-confidence. She survived three cabinet downfalls, of which one was directly caused by her tough attitudes of doing and speaking. But today marked the downfall of Minister for Immigration and Integration, Rita Verdonk.

Dubbed ‘Iron Rita’ because of her hard-line approach to maintaining rules, the Parliament voted in the early hours of today to against her performance and policies. Since the adoption of the general amnesty for asylum seekers two weeks ago, (now ex-) Minister Verdonk has continually refused to comply with the wish of Parliament, and insists that she will continue (and did continue) to deport asylum seekers who may be in the category of those with amnesty.

In heated debates lasting almost whole day yesterday, Verdonk refused to concede to the wishes of the parliamentarian majority. Close to 1am ,the group of left-wing parties, with the support of the Christian Union (CU) and Party for Animals (PvdD) voted to oust her out of office. As one parliamentarian said, Minister Verdonk’s refusal to even cease with the deportation of asylum seekers for just 24 hours in order to allow the Parliament to debate on the matter shows how inhumane and inflexible her policies are. Who knows how many people have been wronged by her policies as a result in the past few years. But now she has to go.

The fact that the cabinet is out-going anyways means that her dismissal doesn’t really mean much. But to many, especially the left opposition, her final departure is a welcome success after years of struggle to unseat her.

Actually, her departure comes at an awkward time. It's caused a big stir and left the country in a state of crisis. The bigger political parties are still trying hard to overcome disagreements in forming a coalition government. This is not helped by the fact that the biggest party, Christian Democrats (CDA), has for the past two weeks stood staunchly behind Minister Verdonk—much to the ire of the two left-wing parties (Labour (PvdA) and Socialist Party (SP)), which support the general amnesty motion. These two latter parties are also the most likely candidates of negotiation for the future cabinet formation.

(Minister Verdonk and staunch-supporter Christian Democrat Prime Minister Balkenende: NOS, 'Acht uur journaal')

The vote of no-confidence against Minister Verdonk, some fear, may trigger her Liberal Party (VVD) to pull out of the out-going cabinet, which might effectively leave the cabinet having to rule with only a dozen seats in parliament. In short, a limping government until the parties come to an agreement who gets to govern next. And that could be a long time due to the intense disagreements about this very amnesty issue.

The mess one person, her ego and stauncheadedness, can cause....


For an in depth coverage, see de Volkskrant.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gays represented in the UN

For the first time ever since the estblishment of the United Nations, gay-interest organisations have been granted consultative status which allows them to vote in the Economic and Social Council!

The recognition of three gay-interest organisations-- the International Lesbian and Gay Federation--Europe (ILGA), Danish National Association for Gays (LBL) and Lesbians, and German Lesbian and Gay Federation (LSVD)--means that the UN is taking the rights of the LGBT community seriously.

Previous applications for consultative status were rejected because of strong oppossition from countries like Iran, Poland and the Vatican, and many church-based non-governmental organisations.

Chairman of the oldest gay-interest organisation in the world, the Dutch COC, a founding member of ILGA, said:

" The decision is an important step to get the rights of all gays, lesbians, bisxuals and transgenders recognised as human rights. It is a struggle against those countries where homosexuality is still in the criminal code, if not then [punished] with the death sentence."

The status of COC will be dealt with in 2007, and should be approved easily since it has existed for as long as the UN, and even been granted Royal recognition here in the Netherlands.

There seemed to be some commotion about the granting of consultative status today, because apparently various gay-interest NGOs applied, but only three managed to get approved. Many states complained that the approvals and rejections were done in haste and were very arbitrary and no reasons were given for the decisions that were made.

Finland, representing the European Union argued “the United Nations must try to ensure diversity in the representation of those groups. That was especially true of non-governmental organizations whose mandates fell under the competence of the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary bodies , since much of their work dealt with matters of health, gender, development and human rights and HIV/AIDS”. It is unrealistic that some 2800 NGOs, representing a range of issues, some espousing “ views that were not in keeping with those of the European Union”, are already in the ECOSOC, whereas gay-interest NGOs are not.

Norway (also in favour, and speaking on behalf of New Zealand) complained that the Non-Governmental Organization Committee which admits NGOs into the ECOSOC did not consider the applications of various gay-interest NGOs objectively. Some organisations had their applications rejected without any substantive discussion and no reason given, despite the fact “there was extensive evidence of violations of the rights of people, based on their sexual orientation and gender identity”. Canada (in favour) also supported this view, and argued “it was crucial for non-governmental organizations representing diverse constituencies to be able to express their views in United Nations forums”. Germany (for) expressed similar concerns,

China (against) on the other hand expressed concern granting consultative status to gay-interest NGOs, saying that it might undermine the “credibility” of the Committee, and hoping that today’s decision would not “create any precedents for its future work”. Benin (against) called the decision a “masquerade”, because the hasty way that consultative status was granted was sowing “confusion for the benefit of certain organizations”. Russia also voted against, for similar reasoning.

ECOSOC Resolution 1996/31 provides the criteria for eligibility. An NGO must have "aims and purposes of the organization shall be in conformity with the spirit, purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations", and must "have been in existence (officially registered with the appropriate government authorities as an NGO/non-profit) for at least two years, must have an established headquarters, a democratically adopted constitution, authority to speak for its members, a representative structure, appropriate mechanisms of accountability and democratic and transparent decision-making processes".

It's hard to see how it took so long to have gay-interest NGOs included in the ECOSOC. I mean if the 'International Organization for Biological Control of Noxious Animals and Plants' or the 'International Music Council', the 'Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs', and the 'International Black Sea Club' can be included why not LGBT interest groups?

No disrespect to those groups, but it's just a little bewildering that it took 61years for the UN to recognise that gays need representation too...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Every letter counts

Excellent ads from Amnesty International.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

10 December: Human Rights Day

(click on picture to go to official Human Rights Day Website)

Fity-eight years the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted on this very day, recognising "the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family [as] the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world". For too long, "disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind", and it was " the highest aspiration of the common people"that all "human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want".

Sadly, billions of people in the world still live in circumstances and countries where theyfundamental rights to basic freedoms are denied or infringed upon. It's not just the countless people imprisoned for excercising their freedom to speak out against tyranny and oppression. It's not only the fact so many men, women and children are slaving away for meagre salaries in inhumane conditions. It's not just the many, many who are discriminated against because of their skin colour, their beliefs, gender and sexual orientation. It also includes the millions and millions of people who do not have the right to clean water, adequate food, and security of life and family.

For one day, or maybe just for one single moment today, let us cherish the rights and freedoms we take for granted, and remember those who long to enjoy them. Together we stand.

Because we are all human beings.


Statement from Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:

On this Human Rights Day, we reaffirm that freedom from want is a right, not merely a matter of compassion. Fighting poverty is a duty that binds those who govern as surely as their obligation to ensure that all people are able to speak freely, choose their leaders and worship as their conscience guides them.


Many rich countries have yet to meet development assistance targets they have accepted, yet they continue to spend ten times more on military budgets. They also spend nearly four times their development assistance budget – an amount almost equal to the total gross national product of African countries –to subsidize their own domestic agricultural producers. Indifference and a narrow calculus of national interests by wealthy countries hamper human rights and development just as damagingly as discrimination at the local level.

Here are comments by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan,

I don't need to tell you , of all people, that the United Nations has a special stake, and a special responsibility, in promoting respect for human rights worldwide. But equally – and less happily – I don't need to tell you that the UN has often failed to live up to that responsibility. I know that ten years ago many of you were close to giving up on any hope that an organization of governments, many of which are themselves gross violators of human rights, could ever function as an effective human rights defender.


Development, security and human rights go hand in hand; no one of them can advance very far without the other two. Indeed, anyone who speaks forcefully for human rights but does nothing about security and development – including the desperate need to fight extreme poverty – undermines both his credibility and his cause. Poverty in particular remains both a source and consequence of rights violations. Yet if we are serious about human deprivation, we must also demonstrate that we are serious about human dignity, and vice versa.


We must work to make human rights a reality in each country.

Of course, protecting and promoting human rights is first and foremost a national responsibility. Every member state of the UN can draw on its own history to develop its own ways of upholding universal rights. But many states need help in doing this, and the UN system has a vital role to play.