Monday, 29 July 2013

Iran's Deadly Summer: 97 executions so far

Courtesy of ABF

This is disturbing (but not surprising) news I received from The Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF), a non-governmental independent organisation dedicated to the promotion of human rights and democracy in Iran.
Executioners rarely rest in the Islamic Republic of Iran, even during the hot summer months. July has been particularly deadly this year. At least 97 executions have been reported between June 20 and July 20, 2013. The majority of these executions have been announced by the authorities themselves or reported by the semi-official media inside Iran.  Surprisingly, the high number of executions has not triggered particular reaction outside of Iran. Nor has it affected the cautious optimism prevalent since the June 15 election, won by Mr. Hassan Rouhani, a member of the Iranian ruling elite and former nuclear negotiator. 
The spike in executions, following the election of a president whose campaign theme was moderation, could be a test, and the absence of reaction could be fatal for hundreds of prisoners on death row. It is in this context that the mothers of four Arab Iranian cultural activists, recently sentenced to death for "Enmity against God” and “Spreading corruption on earth", are desperately calling on the international community to speak up on behalf of their threatened children.

Human rights groups can document cases and echo the voices of victims, as they haverecently for these four young men But they are not invited to any negotiations with Iran, whose authorities rarely engage directly with them. So far, Iran-related discussions are focused on the impact of the 2013 presidential election on nuclear matters; how to engage with the new president; and whether or not to ease economic sanctions. The current human rights crisis, including scores of executions carried out in less than a month and, importantly, the President-elect’s views about it, do not seem to be on the agenda for international stakeholders.
Who are the 20 individuals who were hanged in Karaj’s Qezelhesar Prison, for example, or the 5 women and 2 men hanged in Zahedan’s Central Prison on July 6, and what were they charged with? Were they provided the means to defend themselves or, like the four young Arab activists, were they kept incommunicado, beaten, and coerced into false confessions that were then used against them in court, in violation of the most basic human rights standards? These are life-saving questions that should be part of any dialogue with the Islamic Republic’s leaders regarding its international obligations.
The arrival in August of a new Iranian presidential team provides an opportunity to bring up the issue of the arbitrary and repeated use of capital punishment in Iran and the systematic violation of due process of law and Iran’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. No doubt, there are many important and urgent topics on the agenda of talks with the Islamic Republic, but leaving the crucial topic of human rights practices to the side sends a reassuring message to the Iranian leadership, which uses the threat of its tireless killing machine to spread fear and eliminate dissent.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Reporting from Syria - one woman's struggle as freelancer

A dark, rancid corner Borri says journalists have failed to explain Syria’s civil war because editors only want ‘blood.’ (Alessio Romenzi)

Here is an interesting, infuriating and disturbing article about the risks freelance journalists covering the civil war in Syria have to take and the editors who insist on “blood and bang-bang” rather than explanations and the impact of war on the people who have to live through it.

The article untitled  “Woman’s Work” – the twisted reality of an Italian freelancer in Syria by Francesca Borri in this issue of Columbia Journalism Review also highlights the lack of support from editors who don’t seem to give a damn about what their freelancers have to do to get the story, the lack of resources, the ridiculous pay ($70 a story!) and perhaps the most depressing, the fierce competition amongst journalists who believe they need to fight each other in order to survive as journalists.  

Behind the harsh reality of journalists’ life in conflict zones is the larger problem of reduced staff positions driving reporters to the front lines without the support of a publication, CJR points out.

The piece has received hundreds of comments from readers. And many wanted to help.  CJR has published a subsequent article asking freelancers to share ideas and organizations, which can help, protect and support journalists. Here is what they have come up with so far. The site will be updated regularly.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, which acts as a line of first defence when journalists working in conflict zones are imprisoned, kidnapped, or otherwise harmed.

Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues: Reporters on staff at publications often receive medical training for managing battle wounds. RISC fills the gap for independent journalists, providing medical training to journalists who cover conflict free of charge. 

The Dart Center: Columbia’s Dart Center provides a roster of resources for journalists trying to cover stories of violence and conflict with sensitivity.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Syria’s war creates biggest rise in global refugees since 1994

Syrian boys walk shoulder to shoulder in the rain at the Boynuyogun refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay province February 8, 2012. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Syria's war has contributed to the biggest rise in global refugee numbers since 1994, the year of the Rwandan genocide and the height of conflict in the Balkans, according to the U.N.refugee agency (UNHCR)’s annual report

By the end of 2012, more than 45.2 million people worldwide were refugees, seeking asylum or displaced in their own country -- and the number increased on average by one every 4.1 seconds.

There are as many refugees who fled Syria since January 1 as the total number of refugees who fled all over the world during 2012, said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres.   This year, the total number of refugees stands at 1.65 million, but UNHCR predicts the number will more than double by the end of this year, reaching 3.45 million. 

Syria also has about 4.25 million internally displaced people (IDPs) - people forced from their homes by the spiralling violence who are displaced within Syria itself - a number the United Nations expects to remain constant for the rest of the year.

“IDPs have often been the invisible and forgotten victims of this brutal conflict that has raged since 2011, out of the media spotlight and largely sidelined by the political wrangling between all parties to the conflict and their international backers,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser.

Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq are shouldering most of the refugee burden, with help from foreign aid donors such as the European Union, Kuwait, the United States and Japan.

There was no alternative strategy to hoping for an end to the fighting or accepting the risk of an explosion in the Middle East, Guterres said.  "Either this conflict stops, sooner rather than later, or the humanitarian consequences become out of proportion with anything we have known in the recent past."

Aside from Syria, recent refugee black spots include Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, but Guterres said there were signs of hope in Somalia, which is emerging from two decades of war.