Monday, 22 May 2017

Imprisoning the victims – Jordan places abused women in “protective custody”

Credit: Equal Rights Trust

In Jordan, a country with a reputation of being progressive, women and girls who go to the police to report abuse or honour crimes, often end up being the ones thrown in jail.  Instead of prosecuting their abusers, the police place them in “protective custody” – a common practice in the country, seemingly to protect women from gender-based violence.

The practice not only fails to protect women, but further exacerbates the harm they experience and allows perpetrators to act with impunity, according to a damning new report by the Equal Rights Trust, which urges civil society and the Jordanian authorities to end the practice.

The report, Shouting Through the Walls, documents instances where women were detained for up to 10 years and only released with the support of a male relative or husband, an extremely dangerous practice in domestic violence cases.  Indeed, the report cites cases of women being killed upon release by male relatives, despite guarantees of their safety. And women who don’t have a husband are kept until they can find one. “The Governor is insisting I need to have a husband [to be released], but where am I supposed to find a one when I am locked up?” one women in protective custody said.

The practice is also used to detain foreign women who have been trafficked or who have left their employer’s home because the employer abused them.

Women in “protective" custody's situation is grim: they are detained without having committed any crime, often following significant violence or threats of violence. They have no prospect of release nor any real ability to influence their release. Not surprisingly, they are more likely to experience psychological problems than women in judicial detention. According to a 2014 Penal Reform International survey undertaken at Jordan’s Juweida prison, 62% of women in “protective custody” suffered form depression and a quarter have self harmed and had suicidal thoughts.

The report also paints a bleak picture of the conditions in jail, including overcrowding, a lack of access to healthcare, poor hygiene and few opportunities for work.

There are very little data about this practice, which exists also in other countries, but figures from the National Centre for Human Rights (2015) showed that nearly half of women prisoners in Jordan are administrative detainees.  Despite its reputation as a progressive state, Jordan ranks low on gender equality and women’s rights amongst world’s countries. 


Friday, 5 May 2017

Rodrigue Katembo - the Congo's park ranger who risks his life to protect wildlife

Rodrigue Katembo/Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize

The best part of my job as a journalist is to spend time with amazing people whom I would never have a chance to meet otherwise.

One of them is Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, a former child soldier who has become one of the most passionate defenders of Congo’s natural heritage, first as head ranger at Virunga National Park and now as the director of Upemba National Park, one of Congo’s most spectacular, but also most pillaged, neglected and dangerous parks. 

I’ve met Katembo on one of his rare forays away from Upemba. He spoke in French, in a measured way, sounding more like the civil servant he always wanted to be than the brave ranger who has risked his life many times to protect Congo’s iconic parks. He wants to fight corruption and illegality – a dangerous mission in a country like the Congo.

Katembo was in London last month on his was to San Francisco to receive the 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa (a sort of Nobel for environmental activists), for exposing illegal oil exploration in Virunga - a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to one quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. 

He paid a heavy price: during his investigation, he has been kidnapped, tortured and faced mock executions. You might have seen “Virunga,” the 2014 Netflix documentary which recalls that story. 

A year later, he was transferred to Upemba for his own safety. There he is trying to slowly stabilise wildlife. The elephants, which were emblematic of the park, had been poached on a massive scale by the rangers themselves, the military, the police, the locals and the brutal Mai Mai militia- and those who escaped the slaughter had left the protected area.

He has already reintroduced one population of 68 elephants and another larger one is approaching the park’s borders.  Under his watch, no elephants have been poached in Upemba since 2016.  But it’s no easy job.

Since starting work at Upemba, Katembo has fought off armed militia, faced death threats and refused to accept multiple bribes to gain access to the park for illegal mining. He now lives apart from his wife and children for their safety.

“I am not special, ” Katembo simply said. “Yes, I was imprisoned and tortured, but many guards have died doing their jobs.”   Protecting Congo’s national parks is widely recognized as one of the most dangerous jobs in conservation. Over the past 20 years, more than 160 of Katembo’s park ranger colleagues have been killed - and they still continue to get killed today.

“We need to respect their work. We need to be willing to defend what they have died to protect. By protecting the park, we are protecting unique wildlife, local populations’ livelihood and Congo’s natural heritage – which is also the heritage of the whole world.”

Here is my full story on Katembo for Positive News. There are some great photos too!