Thursday, 30 August 2012

Thousands sill missing in Balkans

The beautiful Mostar Bridge has been rebuilt, but elsewhere the scars from the Balkan wars are still visible and raw/Veronique Mistiaen

I’ve recently travelled through Bosnia and Croatia, and was shocked to see that two decades after the Balkan wars, the scars are still so visible and raw: many buildings are still in ruins or poked with bullet holes. People are suspicious and deeply divided, and many children are growing up without ever meeting a child from another ethnic group. Across the Balkans, thousands of people are still missing.

Today, some 14,000 people remain unaccounted for in the countries that make up the former Yugoslavia – nearly half of the total number who disappeared in the decade since war broke out in 1991.
Between 1991 and 2001, a total of 34,700 people were reported missing due to enforced disappearances or abductions in the region. The majority of their relatives are still waiting for justice.
In a briefing published yesterday on the International Day of the Disappeared, The right to know: Families still left in the dark in the Balkans, Amnesty International calls on the authorities in the Balkans to investigate enforced disappearances – crimes under international law – and to ensure the victims and their families receive access to justice and reparations.
Not far from the Mostar Bridge, many buildings are still in ruins/Veronique Mistiaen

Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director, Jezerca Tigani, said:
“People living in the Balkans have not closed the chapter on enforced disappearances. They are a daily source of pain for the relatives still waiting to learn the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones, still searching for truth, justice and reparation.
“The victims of enforced disappearances come from all ethnic groups and from all walks of life. Civilians and soldiers, men, women and children – their families have the right to know the truth about the circumstances of the enforced disappearance, the progress and the result of the investigation and the fate of the disappeared person. For families of the disappeared, having the body returned for burial is the first step towards achieving justice.
 “The lack of investigations and prosecutions of enforced disappearances and abductions remains a serious concern throughout the Balkans.  
“The major obstacle to tackling impunity and bringing the perpetrators to justice is a persistent lack of political will in all countries of the region.”
The briefing highlights cases of enforced disappearances and abductions in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia and Kosovo. All six governments have failed to abide by their international legal obligations to effectively investigate and prosecute these crimes.
Some perpetrators have been brought to justice by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but the Tribunal is nearing the end of its mandate.
Domestic courts are slow to abide by their responsibility to seek out, identify and prosecute the remaining perpetrators.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Ikal Angelei fights giant dam

Ikal Angelei/courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize
 In my work, I come across numerous projects designed to bring progress and development to developing countries across the world. Often, these projects affect the environment and clash with human rights of local populations – sometimes violently so.   I often wonder how to strike the right balance?

I’ve recently spoken with Ikal Angelei, a remarkable young Kenyan whose fight to save Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake from Africa’s biggest dam project, has thrust her at the forefront of one of the most polarizing environmental and economic battles in Africa.

When built, the Ethiopian-led Gibe III Dam will nearly double electrical output to Ethiopia, and Kenya is expected to purchase a third of the power generated from it. The Ethiopian and Kenyan governments believe the energy is vital to fuel development, and the project had the backing of China, the World Bank and other major investors.  But Angelei worried that the giant dam would deprive local communities from vital water and cause more bloodshed in an already volatile region.  “The dam will cause further scarcity of resources and exacerbate conflicts in an already fragile region. Communities there are in need of water and food much more than electricity.”

She made it her mission to stop the dam. She founded Friends of Lake Turkana and worked tirelessly to inform local chiefs and elders about the implications of the project. She also approached academics, politicians and influential people across the world in person and through social media.

Angelei addressing villagers on lake's shores/courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize

Amazingly, she has succeeded in stopping the dam in its tracks through effective campaigning of the Kenyan parliament and UNESCO.  For her work and courage, the 31 year old has been awarded the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize – a sort of Nobel Prize for grassroots environmental activists.

When asked what she would tell her critics who argue that her campaign is blocking much needed development in Kenya and Ethiopia, she replied:

“We are witnessing governments destroy the environment to increase their GDPs.  While we appreciate the need to develop, meet Millennium goals by 2015, and agree that we all have to solve the current problems of access to energy and employment, we cannot achieve these at the expense of the environment, especially with the availability of alternatives and the reality of climate change."  She pointed out that both Kenya and Ethiopia have wind and geothermal energy resources.

"Progress cannot leave people or the Earth worse off. We are not against development: we can develop in a sustainable way, in a way that would not violate human rights and destroy the environment."

 Read my article about Angelei in the summer issue of the New Internationalist here.

Monday, 6 August 2012

England riots one year on – Hackney’s youths reflect on freedom and safety

Freedom/Lydia Noura, 16

To mark the anniversary of the devastating riots, which spread across the country last summer, Art Against Knives is hosting an exhibit exploring notions of freedom and safety in London’s Hackney’s diverse community.

Through film, audio, photography, painting and writing, the exhibition showcases the community’s response to the riots, police’s stop-and-search and freedom. The work is the result of collaborations between established photographers and young people from the borough.

The exhibition, which opens on Thursday 9 August at the Art Against Knives Gallery in Shoreditch and runs until the end of the month, kick-starts ‘STOP AND TALK’, a nationwide campaign that calls for better and fairer relationships between the police and young people.

The exhibit’s opening night also features a talk on journalism and the riots with award-winning Guardian journalist Paul Lewis, as well as a preview of Pagan, a short film about Kes, a 18-year-old from Hackney caught between the police and rival gangs. The film opens to the public on 31st August at Dalston Eastern Curve/V22.

For many young people, the borough is a haven of arts, culture and fashion, but for Kes and thousands who grew up here, most of the area is off-limits.  Large parts of Hackney have been claimed by one gang or another, and though most people have no idea where the borders lie, for Kes these invisible lines dictate where he goes and what he does in the place he calls home.

Instead of being able to turn to the police, young black people like Kes are 30 times more likely to be stopped-and-searched than white people, so the presence of officers on the streets only makes them feel less safe.

Stop and Search/Ondre Roach, 18

Hackney has been simmering with discontent as young people find themselves on the wrong side of the police and increasing social inequality. Last year's riots saw the borough reach boiling point.

The 'STOP AND TALK’ campaign is asking the police to try to better understand young people, connect with them and protect them rather than automatically see them as suspects.

Art Against Knives is a youth-led charity, which works to reduce the causes of knife crime through art initiatives and providing an alternative to violent gang culture.

The charity was born from the tragic and unprovoked stabbing of Oliver Hemsley, a 21-year-old student from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design. The attack, which has left Oliver in a wheelchair, took place in Shoreditch, East London in August 2008. Art Against Knives decided to create something positive from this terrible experience.

Art Against Knives Gallery, Unit 55, Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London E1 6GJ