March 8, 2013
Stripped bare: India’s ‘dancing girls’

Al Jazeera

Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India - Heavily made-up, shimmering with fake diamonds and a sequinned body-hugging dress to match, Disco Laxmi is a sensation when she descends on the stage before a rapt audience - mostly men. Some clap, some whistle. For many it is their closest brush with glamour.

Amid flashing stage lights and garish props, the performance kicks off just after dark. At the beginning, it is like any other Bollywood-inspired dance show that have become a mainstay of India’s cultural landscape. Laxmi is enthralling the crowds with a non-stop medley of popular dance numbers.

The 17-year-old is soon joined by a sprightly bunch of fellow dancing girls. Like Laxmi, they too have taken stage names ranging from those of real film actresses to exotic fruits and celestial nymphs notorious for the art of seduction.

The dance and banter continue up to midnight, when the scene starts to change rapidly. The show is now well past the “family” hours, and the few women and children watching have long since disappeared. It is only men who remain in the audience.

Ultimate indignity’

Disco Laxmi and the team now must tantalise their male audience. The songs become racy, the costumes risqué, and the dances raunchy. As Indian rupee notes begin to rain on the stage, vigilant managers backstage order the girls to push their limits.

The girls have little choice. “If the managers don’t make enough money, we will not have the job. Only girls who are prepared to do everything to bring in more money can survive here,” says Laxmi. But just when the girls think their ordeal is coming to an end, it often gets worse. As the show draws closer to an end in the early hours of the morning, many dancers are coerced into having sex with men who have stayed on and are willing to part with more cash.

"It is common for dancing girls to be forced into having sex with men after the strip dance session. Sometimes the unwilling girls get raped by 8 to 10 men," says Ram Mohan, a social worker whose organisation HELP works with dancing girls.

In recent years, strip dance companies have mushroomed in India’s southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh. Many of these companies prey on traditional dancers who have lost their livelihood to television, cinema and other modern forms of entertainment. Dancers who for generations have entertained thousands during festivals and religious events are now confined to stifling ghettos in small towns and driven to destitution and despair.

Hunting grounds

The market town of Chilakaluripet, home to a large community of traditional dancers, has become one of the favourite hunting grounds for recruiting vulnerable girls. “My younger brother and I would have starved to death and gone unnoticed. We had no money left and joining a dance troupe was my only option for survival,” says 19-year-old Radha.

Orphaned when she was barely in her teens, Radha never went to school. She learned to dance watching her mother practice at home. She now tours the state with other girls performing nude dance shows at festivals and secretly held private parties.

The shows are marketed as entertainment events and often organised around festivals and local fairs to cash in on the large number of people. The performances are usually staged in areas away from public glare. Though illegal, the shows happen year-round and are fast becoming a popular form of edgy entertainment and a staple of the forced sex trade.

S Umapati, an Additional Director of Andhra Pradesh Police Academy, says nude dancing is a crime. “Police will take action to stop such practices. Also, in the guise of dance shows, prostitution is happening which should be stopped everywhere - it is also a form of child trafficking,” he said.

Already stigmatised for being in a profession deemed among the lowest in the social hierarchy, the traditional dancers have now come to be associated with sex work, leading to further social exclusion.

Many dancers are employed for only a few months each year, when they are booked to perform at local festivals. Periods in-between are often desperate. “We have to earn as much money as possible during the festive season,” says 23-year-old Rathna. Relentless work often means being herded like cattle from one place to another during the day and being forced to strip naked at night.

The girls are graded by their looks and sexual earning potential. Even those at the top make fewer than $1,000 in a year, while others survive on just a few hundred. “There are days when we go without food. We are not skilled for any other job, and more so nobody would employ us,” says Meena.

Girls as young as 12 can be pushed into the trade to support their family. “My daughter is nine years old and goes to school. I want her to continue her education but can’t afford it anymore. I worry all the time that she too will end up in a strip dance troupe and be forced into sex work,” says 26-year-old Raji.

Survival strategy

From dance troupe managers to show organisers, audience and even moneylenders, dancing girls are treated like slaves and repeatedly subjected to sexual assault, often involving physical violence. “If I dare to resist, I will have nowhere else to go,” says a dancer, Raji, who is also battling HIV.

Many dancers have contracted the virus and passed it to their children when they were born, and almost every family in the community has an infected member or relative. At 35, Meena is fighting her failing health and fading looks, which she needs to earn money. She, her husband and both their children are HIV-positive. Between bouts of severe illness when she is confined to bed, Meena takes all offers she can find for strip-dance performances and sex work in far-flung places.

As a result of HIV’s spread, very young girls are pushed into sex work to support their families. Preventing this is a huge challenge for organisations supporting traditional dancer communities. “Second-generation prostitution is the least intervened route of trafficking of children into sexual slavery. The abuse of a child starts from early childhood itself,” says SV Bhavani of child rights organisation Plan India, which is running a programme on child protection that provides health support to families.

A 2008 Plan study involving more than 800 children in communities where women are engaged in traditional sex work in Andhra Pradesh found that two out of every three girls are involved in commercial sexual exploitation. By the age of 13, some girls are forced to entertain customers regularly. While the girls face varying forms of sexual abuse, boys often become substance abusers or pimps.

The abuse of children is so rife that nearly one-third of them reported that they feel nothing wrong about it. The study, which was not circulated externally, also showed that nearly 90 percent of children in such communities are not in school. The minority of these children who do attend school face discrimination and condemnation by their peers and others. “Nobody talks to me in my class. I have no friends,” says 6-year-old Sujatha.

In the village of Chilakaluripet, seemingly every household has a story of loss and despair. Venkateshwari, 37, says her daughter’s engagement was called off when the groom’s family learned about her family’s status. “I kept my daughter away from this trade to give her a good life and now all my dreams are shattered. We can never hope to have a future,” she says.

People from Venkateshwari’s community seldom find any marriage prospects outside. Disco Laxmi has long given up hopes of finding a partner. She cannot muster the courage to get herself tested for HIV. “I just want to make as much money as possible to pay off my debts and to give my daughter an education,” she says. 

Meanwhile, a number of girls are getting ready for a week-long tour of rural districts. Retired dancers who have taken the role of stay-at-home mothers huddle the children together. Made-up and ready, the girls nervously wait for their transport to arrive. Soon, their managers turn up. As their young children begin to cry, the girls leave, promising them food and sweets when they return.

Names of case studies have been changed.

Davinder Kumar is the press officer of Plan International.

 Last Modified: 08 Mar 2013 08:51

March 8, 2013

(Source: feisty-feminists, via sparksandfires)

March 8, 2013
Human Rights for US Disabled?

Al jazeera  Last Modified: 27 Jan 2013 18:16

More than one billion people, or approximately 15 per cent of the world’s total population, live with some form of disability.

Often referred to as “the world’s largest minority”, persons with disabilities are accustomed to facing barriers to their participating in almost every aspect of society.

"In the case of disability, we’ve had to spend all our time and energy determining who is a member of the club, rather than if they are being discriminated against," Joelle Brouner, Executive Director of the Washington State Rehabilitation Council told Al Jazeera. 

Brouner, who experiences a major physical disability herself, works to see that a greater number of people with disabilities enter the workforce and progress in their careers. 

But, like so many people with disabilities, sometimes just getting to work can pose as great a challenge. Smiling, she asked: “How do I figure out how to build a life when I have to figure out how to ride a bus? 

 ”In 2004, I went to New York City and there were very few wheelchair accessible cabs, and I couldn’t use the subway. ‘We don’t want more of you in the world’ is the message some of this sends to people with disabilities.”

And that message can be quite prominent, such as when the US government failed to approve ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on December 4. 

On that day, “it [was] individuals with disabilities in the United States, including American veterans, as well as people with disabilities living in poverty and oppression abroad who look to the leadership of the United States, who truly lost”, said Curtis Decker, the executive director of the National Disability Rights Network. 

Fear

The day before the US refused to ratify the UN convention was the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a day set aside specifically to provide an opportunity to address the exclusion of persons with disabilities from jobs and communities by focusing on promoting accessibility.

his added both a degree of poignancy to the US vote, as well as an extra sting to the failure to ratify the convention.

There are long held prejudices against people with disabilities that keep us from being full participants and equal contributors to our communities, and that prevent us from being as successful as we should and could be,” Duane French, division director of the state of Washington’s disability determination services department told Al Jazeera.

French believes that, at the root of all prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities, one will find fear. 

"People without disabilities fear that could be them [with a disability], and that fear elicits a visceral response," French explained. "And from that emanates a sense of helplessness and powerlessness … they think: ‘Oh, if I were like that I couldn’t stand looking different, relying on someone else for help, I couldn’t stand being treated differently, or not being in control of my behaviours like people with psychiatric disabilities.’ What’s funny about that is it’s based on a premise of arrogance that somehow people without disabilities don’t look and act in ways that are outside of the norm, because plenty of folks without disabilities look and act outside the norm."

Brouner agreed, and added another layer.

"There is so much discrimination against people with disabilities because I think it’s a natural part of being human to notice differences in other humans. And when people notice difference, one of the places they can go with it is fear. And if disability is seen as a diagnosis or a weakness, what is sexy about having a disability?"

French was blunt about how he summed this up.

"There is some arbitrary and mysterious barometer for the quality of life, and there’s a threshold, and if you drop below it you are seen as being better off dead. And somehow people with disabilities are viewed as being below that threshold where life is worthy."

The way this plays out in society thus becomes obvious.

According to the US Department of Labour, only about 20 per cent of the country’s citizens with a physical or cognitive disability participate in the traditional workforce, and, of that group, 14 per cent are unemployed, a rate that historically has trended at roughly twice the nondisabled rate. 

But that number grossly underestimates the extent of the problem, because it only counts those actively seeking employment, and not those who have given up hope of finding a job.  Only 20.6 per cent of people with disabilities are in the workforce, compared with nearly 70 per cent of people without disabilities.

"There is an infantilisation of people with disabilities," Brouner said. "Being treated like you’re a permanent child, with childlike expectations of what your life is going to be like."

Disability Rights experts and advocates such as Brouner and French believe many people translate the difference of people with disabilities into a belief that they are less-capable than – or generally inferior to - those without disabilities.

"America has always had this romantic notion about individualism, where independence literally means doing something by yourself, for yourself," Brouner pointed out. "But my experience with my disability is that independence can mean different things to different people, and even the most rugged cowboy who flips on his light switch in the morning, he didn’t string those electrical wires." 

In addition, many disability rights advocates believe being treated equally is also a political issue.

ttitude problem

"Disability has now become a huge political issue with high stakes for the medical industry and an aging population," Don Brandon, who was the Americans’ with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator for Alaska, told Al Jazeera. "In most other countries it is still a health issue, but here in the US it is political and health related."

Brandon pointed out that half of Americans over the age of 65 have a disability. “But they just call it aging,” he said.  

Brandon, who also founded the gruelling Midnight Sun wheelchair marathon in Alaska, believes the biggest obstacle facing people with disabilities is the attitude of others. 

"Attitude regarding disability is still the number one barrier for people with disabilities. Architectural barriers will be the second major hurdle to be addressed, then transportation and affordable accessible housing and health care," he said.

Barriers people with disabilities must face can take a variety of forms, including those relating to the physical environment or to information and communications technology, or those resulting from legislation or policy, or from societal attitudes or discrimination. 

The end result of all of these is that persons with disabilities lack equal access to society, services, education, employment, health care, transportation, political participation, and most of all, justice and human rights.

However, when these barriers are removed, people with disabilities are clearly able to make more than their share of contributions to society.

A study of its distribution centres by the American Society of Safety Engineers found that workers with disabilities had a turnover rate at least 48 per cent lower than that of the nondisabled population. 

Their medical costs were also 67 per cent lower and time-off expenses 73 per cent lower.

Furthermore, a 2005 study published in the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation found that 92 per cent of US respondents view companies that hire people with disabilities more favourably than those that do not.

Nevertheless, problems persist.

"It’s easy to say things are better than they used to be [in the US], we’ve made huge strides in terms of physical access, but when you look at employment of people with significant disabilities, in the last 10 years we’ve not really moved the bar," Lynnae Ruttledge, a disability rights trainer and programme consultant of more than 30 years, told Al Jazeera.

"I’m not satisfied. I know there’s a lot of good that happens in the US, and good fundamental legislation with the ADA and other things, yet we still have people that, because of disability related benefits, have to choose between health care or going to work, to choose between a nursing home or community based supports, because that’s still the reality in 2013."

Ruttledge, who has administered $4bn in federal resources to serve more than one million individuals with significant disabilities, believes the US is poised and equipped to be a world leader in the field, but there is much work yet to do.

"I will not rest until people with disabilities have the full participation they should, and until they are included in every aspect of society they should have," she added. "But people still have really low expectations about whether people with disabilities should be fully included in the community, so we’re not where we ought to be as a country."

According to Ruttledge, the US system is one that discourages many poorer people with disabilities from attempting to become middle class - because if they did so, they would lose many of their benefits. 

"We are still in a system that forces people with significant disabilities into poverty," she said.

A different perspective

French, who became quadriplegic at the age of 13 when he broke his neck in a diving accident, explained to Al Jazeera that his disability had given him with an increasing awareness of gratitude, compassion - and love.

"In having, for a time, everything taken from me that I thought was important when I first had my accident and experienced my disability for the first time, that was devastating to feel my independence and mobility were gone," he said. "These were of course things I’d taken for granted, and the ability to do the littlest things was gone. That was difficult for me to wrap my head around, and imagine that those parts of my life were no longer available to me. I didn’t know all that could be gone that quickly and that easily."

Since then, French has made it a practice to remember the day he broke his neck, and “to endeavour to see everything around me with an equally keen appreciation and gratitude for all of it as a gift … I work hard to not take anything for granted. And I realise if I feel a positive emotion, I need to share it - and the negatives - because it could be the last time I feel that emotion and be able to share it with someone.”

His attitude, however, is constantly challenged by the world that people with significant disabilities find themselves in.

"The oppression and discrimination and prejudice are relentless. The pressure to over-perform is exhausting. You can’t just be equal to your peers if you have a disability, you have to do better than someone else just to be equal. For me, I have peers who are directors of agencies, and they look alike, act alike, in that they don’t have a disability. Their mere physical presence doesn’t draw attention to them as mine does for me."

And with extra attention comes a greater level of inspection and examination. 

"Everything I do is scrutinised to a greater degree," French added. "The same concerns can be raised about me as about them, and for some reason for me there’s a heightened sense of urgency that the concerns may be true. Like: ‘Well, he may not really be capable of doing this job at this high of a level, so we really ought to look at that.’ And that’s exhausting because I see able bodied people getting a pass when I don’t, and it’s discouraging, frustrating, and maddening."

What French speaks of is brought into focus when one considers the fact that he manages more than 400 people in his current position, and is known by his peers as a true pioneer and powerful advocate in the disability rights movement.

"So you over-perform and out-perform, and you’re still seen as different," French concluded, an experience that Brouner has had as well.

"It’s always an efficiency and productivity argument when it comes to the workplace," said Brouner. "It’s about money, and people being able to work harder and faster, but I would rather have something that causes me to do something differently because that’s where the innovation is, and innovation comes from having to do something a different way."

Like French’s learned gratitude, Brouner’s experience of her disability has turned the mainstream negative perspective of disability on its head.

"Disability challenges conformity, and also biological fundamentalism," she continued. "The idea that if we can modify something to be bigger and stronger, then it’s better. I don’t know that it is, and I think people with disabilities are on the edge of that. I don’t think people with disabilities are seen as innovators and people who push that envelope, but in reality, that’s what we are."

Brouner has another interesting idea as to where some of the discrimination comes from.

"I think the medical industrial complex sees us as people they didn’t know how to fix and thus as a sign of their own weakness, so that’s why there is frustration. But I don’t think most people are malicious. I don’t think they wake up and say, ‘I want to be a discriminatory b***ard.’ I think there’s just a cluster-f**k in their head." 

She was clear about what happens when she refuses to attempt to normalise her condition.

"The desire to make my disability look ‘normal’ translates into a lie. A sanitisation of what my experience is in order to make other people comfortable," she said. "I need to be able to give myself enough credit - and the other person - to show them that it’s not always that neat. If people don’t see what it really is, how can they really respond? But it’s a huge risk and it makes me feel afraid sometimes, because I don’t know what my relationship is going to be like with that person in the future." 

Clearly, Brouner doesn’t buy into mainstream concepts of productivity and strength.

"Pushing only for a certain kind of intelligence or ability is pushing for conformity, and only pushing to keep the speed up, to keep certain routines going, but when things go slower, and there’s time for a conversation, or someone needs something, that’s when you learn what you and we are made of, and you learn how hard you’re willing to work for something.

"People are reminded of their mortality when they see people with physical disabilities," Brouner said, then leaned forward in her wheelchair and paused. "I remind people of death. It confronts them. To have your very presence make people uncomfortable, if I continue to think about that my whole life I couldn’t ever go outside. Now, when I’m at my best, I feel compassion for people that I see this happen to. But I have an eight month rule socially, which is if you still can’t use the word "walk" in a sentence around me, I might put some distance between us, because it’s not my thing to process, it’s yours."

A way forward?

Given this complex world of myriad challenges facing people with disabilities in the United States, where can one look for solutions? How can things be improved?

French explained how he moved out of poverty long ago, but that his financial success had brought about the aforementioned discouragement from social mobility, by the fact that he lost much of his financial assistance as his income increased.

He now has to pay for some of his personal attendant services and medical supplies; when he was earning less he did not.

"I pay $30,000 each year from my net income," French explained. "My peers who earn the same income as I have a much greater amount of discretionary revenue, and they can spend it on vacation homes, travel, cars, etc. But for a lot of people with disabilities they think: ‘What’s the point? I’ll have just enough money to survive, but not to thrive.’ And we guage success in your ability to not just survive, but to thrive."

But not having coverage for personal assistant services, interpreters, and other services, and not having them more readily available, isolates people with disabilities from living in communities, and have what they need in order to live a full life. 

This is how not having these services limits people with disabilities’ ability to succeed. 

Nevertheless, French’s work towards solving these problems continues in earnest.

Ruttledge, meanwhile, works to avoid complacency in the US when it comes to disability rights, given the Americans’ with Disabilities Act, and other helpful historic legislation.

"We can’t get complacent about the rights we have in the US," she said. "Realising that on any day there are legal arguments being raised against the ADA, [and] these challenges go all the way to the supreme court, and we could have to fight the battle all over again to get amendments to the ADA."

Ruttledge believes the disability rights movement in the US can learn from strategies used in other countries, and that there is power to be gained from having people with disabilities becoming elected government officials. 

She believes that this needs to happen internationally, so that others in government “can learn from people with disabilities who are at the table from the very beginning”.

Brandon believes if it were possible to deal effectively with attitudes faced by many people with disabilities, “all the other major issues would be greatly minimised”. 

Alongside these thoughts, Brouner maintains that the purpose of the disability rights movement is not the struggle in itself, but to reach the goal of people living the lives they dream of.

"I want a world where people have the knowledge that they will be OK, even if they are not OK. Even if they acquire an illness or lose a lot of function, they will surprise themselves with their own resourcefulness, and they’ll be surprised by the resourcefulness of their community. Because if we really believed that together, we’d live in a world without fear, and we’d live there together."

March 8, 2013
Child brides: How old is too young to marry?

The UN warns that 140 million girls will become child brides between 2011 and 2020.

 Last Modified: 08 Mar 2013 15:14 - Al Jazeera

The United Nations is warning that millions more young girls are destined to become child brides, saying if current trends hold many will be under the age of 15.

The marrying off of young girls is a culturally sensitive issue, and one that draws a range of reactions from different countries and different communities.

Critics argue it is fraught with danger, damage and discrimination - a violation of human rights.
 
And the UN is worried, predicting that 140 million girls will become child brides between 2011 and 2020. That is more than 14 million girls a year it says will marry too young – some 39,000 each and every day.

Furthermore, it is warning that of these, 50 million will be under the age of 15

The UN has identified 42 countries where one in three children under the age of 18 are married.

Statistics gathered over the last decade found that in both proportions and numbers, most child marriages take place in rural sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Niger has the highest rate with 75 percent of girls marrying before the age of 18, and Bangladesh is ranked the highest in Asia - at 66 percent.
 
Moving down the list, more African countries feature prominently, like Mali with 55 percent and Burkina Faso with 48 percent.

Morocco is one of the countries where child marriage is on the increase.
 
The latest figures show the number of young girls getting married rose to 35,000 in 2010, up from 30,000 just two years before.
 
Rights groups are calling for a total ban on the practise, and the government looks set to bow to pressure to change a law allowing those accused of raping minors to escape punishment by marrying their young victims.

Research suggests girls who get married when they are young are at greater risk from violence and health problems.

The International Centre for Research on Women says girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die in child birth than women in their twenties, and pregnancy is now the leading cause of death for women aged 15-19 in the developing world.

It adds that girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and sexual abuse, and child brides affected in this way show feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and severe depression.
 
So how old is too young to marry? And what are the reasons behind the marriage of minors?

Joining Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, are guests: Kakenya Ntaiya, a former child bride, who is the founder of the Kakenya Center for Excellence - a girl’s primary school in Kenya; Sadaf Raza, from the Ideas for Life Trust - promoting, among other things, women’s rights and education; and Naomi Williams, from the global children’s charity, Plan.

 "We grow up in a society that doesn’t know otherwise, we are molded and trained as soon as we start walking and being told on how to become a perfect wife, you train to collect water fire wood and help raise the other young siblings and everything around you is really to perfect you to become that perfect wife at 12, I grew up where we didn’t know otherwise." 

- Kakenya Ntaiya, a former child bride

March 8, 2013
The Secret Life of a Girl with Learning Disabilities: Loneliness

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of childhood is to create a bond in one’s peer group.  For me, this was a challenge.  Many of my peers were unwilling to befriend me due to my obvious disabilities.  Besides moving slightly funny and talking weird, I also had trouble learning. This made me an easy target for being ridiculed and ostracized.  The worst of this happened between 3rd and 4th grade. 

            At the beginning of 3rd grade, I entered a new school.  Previously, I attended the largest elementary school in the district.  This school held both those who had to be in special education and gifted and talented.  In preschool I started off in the special education program.  In 2nd grade, the school mainstreamed me for half the day with a regular 1st grade class.  Throughout the year, I slowly spent more time with the regular class than in the special education program class. On top of this, the child study team had plans to fully mainstream me into 2nd grade the following year.  For the few areas that I was not on par with my peers who were a year younger, I would be brought into the resource room. 

            That summer, my family and I moved into a new house five minutes away from the old one.  We were still in the same school district, however our “home school” had changed from being the biggest elementary to the smallest one.  Both attending a new school and being mainstreamed are major changes in lifestyle and would be too much for a girl my age.  To help me assimilate into a normal class atmosphere, it was decided that I would keep attending the school that I had been going to since preschool and change schools the next year. 

            I was very happy that year.  For the most part, I was not given a hard time by my peers but was accepted.  The only problem I had was with my neighbors who attended the gifted and talented program.  I was very upset when that school year ended.  I did not want to change schools, and I made a point of letting everyone know. 

            The next fall, I joined my little sister at our “home school.”  Just like at any school, the new kid was given a lot of attention and was well liked.  At the same time, just like at any school, the new kid’s popularity wears off.  When this happened to me, there were disastrous consequences. 

Instead of finding a medium ground of popularity, I was shoved to the outskirts of the peer group.  All my peers fell into one of two groups: those that ridicule me and those who treated me like a little child.  Even though those who treated me like a child were nice, they never asked me to play with them.  As for those that ridiculed me, I stayed away from them.  As a result, I spent recess sitting on the wall watching everyone and day dreaming.  During lunch, I also sat alone. 

In time, those who ridiculed me greatly outnumbered those who were nice.  In addition, those who were nice never stuck up for me.  Consequently, my whole self-esteem plummeted. During lunch, I would sit alone, eat fast, and then spend the remainder of the time with my fake leather black jacket over my head. 

I was grossly depressed.  As a result, my social, emotional and mental health suffered. My desire to learn disappeared.  I did not want to go to school nor did I often do my homework.  I just was sad and felt alone.  I could not handle it.

At some point at the end of 4th grade, I did make two friends in my class.  This helped a little.  By the next year, it helped a lot.  However, they were not in my class in 5th grade.  As a result, I could not sit with them during lunch, and I was alone again.

  Regrettably, the school did nothing about it, despite there being an easy solution.  My mother put an end to that.  She demanded that the school let me sit at the table with my two friends. By the end of that summer, I was back on track.  I was learning to love to go to school again and was craving knowledge.  By the end of 6th grade, though I did not know phonics, I could read. 

I was back into in-class support for everything but math by the end of 6th grade.  The only thing that I had trouble with (and still do) is writing.  When I graduated high school, I was in National Honors Society and was known as a know it all, despite still being (by force, but that is another story) in the in-class support class. 

I might not have been the most popular girl and hung with the outcasts.  I was still often picked on, but I had friends.  I was not this depressed little girl who felt alone and as a result had all aspects of her life suffer from it.  Instead, I was this ambitious young lady who would not let anyone or her learning disability stop her from being successful. 

 The detrimental effects of feeling lonely do not only plague young girls with learning disabilities but can affect anyone.  This includes college students who may or may not have disabilities.  For this reason, it is important that everyone becomes proactive in making sure that everyone feels included.  When you think that an individual is suffering from the effects of feeling alone, do not be a bystander.  Instead, make a point to give an upbeat hello, invite them to eat lunch with you, and befriend them on Facebook.   Also, do not stop at this; when a party is scheduled make sure that they are there.  

September 23, 2012
Pat Robertson, Televangelist, Encourages Man To Become Muslim So He Can Beat His Wife

The Huffington Post 

September 11, 2012

Once again, Pat Robertson has said something ridiculously offensive and cruel.

Past targets have included gaysfeminists and pagansatheistspeople with Alzheimer’sadoptive parentsHaitians and people who don’t pray enough. This time, the televangelist focused his ire on wives who fail to properly obey their husbands.

On Monday’s broadcast of Robertson’s television show “The 700 Club,” he answered a question from a viewer named Michael about how to repair his marriage to a woman who “has no respect for me as the head of the house.”

Robertson’s response: “Well, you could become a Muslim and you could beat her.”

Bizarrely, this comment elicited laughter from Robertson’s co-host, Terry Meeuwsen.

Unfortunately, Robertson didn’t stop there.

"I don’t think we condone wife-beating these days but something has got to be done to make her."

He also called the woman a “rebellious child” who doesn’t want to “submit to any authority." However, since the Scripture doesn’t allow for divorce, Robertson urged the husband to "move to Saudi Arabia," where, ostensibly, beating the woman would be permissible.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE.

According to Right Wing Watch, the very same clip was edited when posted on the Christian Broadcast Network’s website in order to remove the offensive rhetoric.

And if you’re tempted to write off Robertson as just a fringe character, know this: He spent last weekend hanging out with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, NBC News reported.

September 23, 2012
Obama vs. Romney 101: 5 differences on women’s issues

The Christian Science Monitor 

President Obama won the women’s vote four years ago, and he’ll need to again to win reelection, given Mitt Romney’s strength among male voters. The Obama campaign has long argued that Mr. Romney is waging a “war on women.” Team Romney says it’s Mr. Obama who is waging war on women, with policies that have harmed the economic recovery – which harms women.

Here are some of the women’s issues on which the candidates differ.

1. Health care

When fully implemented in 2014, Mr. Obama’s health-care law will add millions of women to the insurance rolls. If Romney succeeds in repealing the law, that will eliminate the subsidies and guarantees of coverage that benefit women. It will also end the requirement that insurers cover preventive services such as mammograms, prenatal care, and certain cancer screenings with no co-pays.

Starting in August 2012, insurers must also cover well-woman visits, domestic-violence screening, and breast-feeding supplies at no additional charge.  Insurance plans must also cover birth control, though religious institutions are exempted (see next item).

Romney’s fix for health care is to repeal the law, and allow innovation at the state level that promotes competition among insurers and makes coverage more affordable. His campaign website does not address women’s health issues in particular, but the campaign says women would certainly benefit from the flexibility Romney would grant states.

States can help uninsured women through public-private partnerships and subsidies, and they can help chronically ill women gain access to high-risk pools and reinsurance. Romney also says he would “unshackle” health-savings accounts by allowing funds to be used for insurance premiums.

2. Contraception

Under the health-care reform law, insurance plans are required to cover contraception – including morning-after pills and sterilization – in employee health plans, though the law exempts churches, synagogues, etc. Not exempted are religiously affiliated institutions, such as schools and hospitals.

In response to the uproar, Obama announced that insurers would be required to cover contraceptive services free of charge for employees of such institutions, and thus the institutions themselves would not be paying for such services. But they have filed suit anyway, on the grounds that theirFirst Amendment guarantee of religious freedom is violated.

Romney would sign a repeal of Obama’s health-care law, and thus eliminate the guarantees of contraceptive coverage. He prefers to have insurance companies respond to market forces, not government mandates. Romney also supports eliminating federal funding of Planned Parenthood, because some affiliates provide abortions (though not with federal money).

Romney does not oppose the use of birth control. But when he abandoned his support of abortion rights in 2005, that had implications for the birth-control issue. He says he supports a constitutional amendment stating that life begins at conception, and because some forms of birth control – such as intra-uterine devices and morning-after pills – prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, some social conservatives believe they cause early miscarriages and should be banned.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney did not restrict access to birth control, though in 2005, he vetoed an emergency contraception bill. His explanation: The drug the bill authorized would “terminate life after conception.”

The Romney campaign has declined to comment on the movement to pass state “personhood” amendments, which declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person. The adoption of such amendments could outlaw some forms of birth control. 

In putting Rep. Paul Ryan – a conservative Catholic – on the GOP ticket, Romney has reinforced his shift to the right on social issues. Congressman Ryan has been involved in the “personhood” movement at the federal level. In 2009, he cosponsored a bill that stated that a fertilized egg has the same rights as a human being.  

Ryan rejects suggestions by the Obama campaign that a Romney administration would restrict access to birth control. “Nobody is proposing to deny birth control to anybody,” Ryan told a CBS affiliate Aug. 22.

3. Abortion

Obama supports a woman’s right to choose abortion, and opposes efforts to add restrictions to that right at both the federal and state level.

Romney and Ryan are both anti-abortion, thoughRomney allows for the exceptions of rape, incest, and a threat to the life of the mother. Before he joined the GOP ticket, Ryan favored only the “life of the mother” exception, but now he says he’s comfortable with the other exceptions. The Republican Party platform has also long opposed abortion, calling for a constitutional ban without exceptions.

Controversy around the abortion issue exploded Aug. 19, when Missouri GOP Senate nominee Todd Akin said in a TV interview that  He women’s body could prevent pregnancy during a “legitimate rape.” opposes abortion under any circumstance. Congressman Akin’s refusal to quit his Senate race, despite demands from top Republicans, including Romney, guarantees abortion will remain in the national campaign spotlight.

In a bid to energize women voters, a majority of whom support Obama, Democrats will feature many speakers at their convention, including top activists on reproductive rights. They include Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke. Ms. Fluke became famous when she told a House panel that birth control was a health issue for women, leading Rush Limbaugh to call her a “slut.”

It’s worth noting, however, that there’s no gender gap in views on abortion: A recent Pew poll shows half of men and women believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

4. Equal pay

According to US Census data, women earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar for the same work and level of experience.

In 2009, Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which allows women more time to file wage-discrimination lawsuits. Obama also supports the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to make it easier for women to prove wage discrimination but has yet to clear both houses of Congress. The legislation pressures employers to prove lack of discrimination in wage differences, and makes it easier for employees to reveal information about their salaries.

In June, the Romney campaign replied to a request from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow for comment, but did not specifically take a stand on the legislation.

“Gov. Romney supports pay equity for women,” a Romney spokesperson wrote. “In order to have pay equity, women need to have jobs, and they have been getting crushed in this anemic Obama economy, losing far more jobs than men. As president, Mitt Romney will create a pro-jobs business climate that will put all Americans back to work.”

5. Domestic abuse

The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) – which funds programs addressing domestic abuse – has long enjoyed bipartisan support. But this year, in its latest round of reauthorization, it has hit a snag. This is in part because Democrats have expanded coverage to include gays and lesbians, illegal immigrants, and native Americans.

President Obama supports this version, as does Vice President Biden, author of the original version when he was a senator.

Conservative Republicans object to the expanded version’s protections for same-sex couples and illegal immigrants, which, in the latter case, could provide access to temporary visas. Republicans say Democrats are using the bill to claim the GOP is waging a “war on women.”

The bill is now languishing in Congress.

Mitt Romney has said little about VAWA or domestic abuse in general. In April, the Romney campaign said the candidate supports reauthorization, but did not endorse the expanded Democratic version.

September 23, 2012
Anti-Muslim groups’ ad in NYC subway calls jihad ‘savage.’ Is now a good time?

The Christian Science Monitor

 September 21, 2012

Ron Scherer

With the Muslim world still roiled by the US-made, anti-Muslim video on YouTube, the ad citing ‘war between civilized man and the savage’ will appear Monday at 10 NYC subway stations.

With the Muslim world still roiled by a YouTube video denigrating Islam that was made in California, an ad that some groups consider anti-Muslim will appear in 10 of New York’s subway stations starting on Monday.

"In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad,” reads the ad, which is being paid for by two groups, the American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop the Islamization of America, both of which have a distinctly anti-Muslim bent.

The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center consider Stop Islamization of America to be a hate group.

One of the people involved with placing the ad is Pamela Geller, a co-founder of the two groups who was also behind the effort in 2010 to halt the construction of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. She says there are plans to run the ad in several other US cities once there is funding, and on Thursday the sponsors filed suit to have it run in the nation’s capital as well.

The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority tried to ban the ad on the grounds that it was demeaning. But a federal judge ruled recently that the message is protected under the First Amendment.

Nevertheless, it is likely to provoke a debate over how far the First Amendment right extends in a city with a large Muslim population.

Mainstream Jewish groups call the ad “offensive and inflammatory,” and many New Yorkers worry that it might provoke a violent reaction.

“I understand free speech, but on a visceral level you feel like you have a bull’s eye on your back,” saysDoug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch University and a subway rider. “I just tweeted that I don’t want to be a victim of Muslim rage.”

The ads are coming at a time of high tensions over the anti-Muslim YouTube video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which was seen as insulting the Prophet Mohammed and which led to a surge of anti-American violence in the Arab world. The US ambassador to Libya was among four Americans killed in an attack inBenghazi.

On Friday, the violence overseas continued with 17 people reported killed in Pakistan in anti-Western protests. The high tension is the reason the Washington, D.C., transit system has said it wants to “defer” running the ads. On Thursday the ad’s sponsors filed a lawsuit against the Washington Metro system challenging the action.

“When is a good time?” asks Geller in a phone interview. “There is never a good time.”

Geller defends the ads, saying they are a recognition of reality. “Those ads are accurate,” she says, citingHamas attacks on Israel and the July attack on Israeli citizens in Bulgaria. “Isn’t that savagery?” she asks.

One of the people involved with placing the ad is Pamela Geller, a co-founder of the two groups who was also behind the effort in 2010 to halt the construction of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. She says there are plans to run the ad in several other US cities once there is funding, and on Thursday the sponsors filed suit to have it run in the nation’s capital as well.

The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority tried to ban the ad on the grounds that it was demeaning. But a federal judge ruled recently that the message is protected under the First Amendment.

Nevertheless, it is likely to provoke a debate over how far the First Amendment right extends in a city with a large Muslim population.

Mainstream Jewish groups call the ad “offensive and inflammatory,” and many New Yorkers worry that it might provoke a violent reaction.

“I understand free speech, but on a visceral level you feel like you have a bull’s eye on your back,” saysDoug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch University and a subway rider. “I just tweeted that I don’t want to be a victim of Muslim rage.”

The ads are coming at a time of high tensions over the anti-Muslim YouTube video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which was seen as insulting the Prophet Mohammed and which led to a surge of anti-American violence in the Arab world. The US ambassador to Libya was among four Americans killed in an attack inBenghazi.

On Friday, the violence overseas continued with 17 people reported killed in Pakistan in anti-Western protests. The high tension is the reason the Washington, D.C., transit system has said it wants to “defer” running the ads. On Thursday the ad’s sponsors filed a lawsuit against the Washington Metro system challenging the action.

“When is a good time?” asks Geller in a phone interview. “There is never a good time.”

Geller defends the ads, saying they are a recognition of reality. “Those ads are accurate,” she says, citingHamas attacks on Israel and the July attack on Israeli citizens in Bulgaria. “Isn’t that savagery?” she asks.

“We intend to raise money in every city where the ads ran,” says Geller, naming Los AngelesMiamiDenver,Philadelphia, and Chicago. “As soon as we raise the money, the ads will run,” she says.

The ads appeared in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (“Muni”) system on 10 buses in August. But Muni donated the proceeds from the ad buy to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission and placed its own ad on the buses that stated it did not support the message.

“The recent ad has no value in facilitating constructive dialogue or advancing the cause of peace and justice,” said Tom Nolan, chairman of the board of directors, and Ed Reiskin, director of transportation for Muni, in a statement in August.

Groups supporting Geller’s ads hailed the New York court decision. “I am very pleased to report that for once the freedom of speech and the truth have triumphed over political correctness and submission to the Islamic supremacist agenda,” wrote Jihad Watch.org on its website after the decision. “All kudos go to Pamela Geller, who originated this ad.”

However, the ads place many groups in a bind since they support free speech but dislike the message.

“The advertisements are patently offensive, but more offensive would be their censorship because that would violate the guarantee of free expression of all ideas regardless of how distasteful they are,” saysDonna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Mainstream Jewish groups also support the right to run the ad but don’t appreciate the message.

“We agree with the court’s decision that this is protected speech and this organization has the right to run such speech even if we strongly disagree with the sentiment and what they are expressing,” says Ron Meier, director of the New York region of the Anti-Defamation League. “In our view being pro-Israel does not mean being anti-Muslim.”

Even Islamic civil rights groups in the US support the right for the ads to run. “The First Amendment grants everybody rights, including to be a racist and bigot like Pamela Geller,” says Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington.

Mr. Hooper says there are ramifications such as a rise in attacks on Muslims or mosques as a result of the ads. “The ordinary Muslim has to deal with the consequences of her (Geller’s) promotion of hatred and bigotry,” he says.

Geller’s reply to CAIR: she calls it a backer of the Palestinian group Hamas, which is the governing party in Gaza and is listed by the State Department as a terror organization.

September 23, 2012
Protect the most innocent in Syria – children

The Christian Science Monitor

 Monitor’s Editorial Board

September 20, 2012 

The largely ignored civil war in Syria has taken a big toll on children. They are often targeted, even tortured. Russia and China must not again block an effective UN response to the Assad regime’s war crimes.

The raw numbers alone can be numbing. Over the past 18 months, more than 26,000 people have been killed in Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists. On Wednesday, however, the world’s attention was focused on a special group of Syrians who are not only innocent victims of this brutal civil war but also purposely targeted: children.

At a Security Council meeting, the United Nations special representative on children in conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said children in Syria are facing a “dire” situation. They are often tortured or sexually abused. Their schools are attacked or used for fighting. She also cited reports of the oppositionFree Syrian Army using children in its forces.

Her comments come after an official report in August to theUN Human Rights Council that found the Assad government responsible for 49 children killed last May in a massacre in the village of Houla. The report lays the groundwork for possible prosecution of Syrian leaders in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Private groups, too, are tallying the toll. Anti-Assad Syrian groups claim close to 2,000 children have died in the conflict so far. In July, a British-based group called War Child said the Syrian conflict is “disturbingly unique” in the deliberate targeting of children, citing reports of hundreds of children being detained by the regime.

“Not one of [Syria’s] two million children and young people can now be considered safe,” the group stated.

Ms. Zerrougui’s comments on Syria were part of a special Security Council session devoted to naming and shaming governments and armed groups that recruit, attack, or kill children. The council voted 11 to 0 to cite 52 such governments and groups, including Syria. Not surprisingly, Russia and China were among the countries that abstained, fitting a pattern by the two permanent Council members to protect the Assad regime.

A strong reason to highlight the plight of Syrian children is to further the progress of the UN in its efforts over the past decade to protect children in conflict zones. Since 1999, it has passed eight resolutions on the issue, with positive effects in a few countries, such as Nepal and Afghanistan. In addition, former African warlords Thomas Lubanga and Charles Taylor have recently been convicted by the ICC for using child soldiers.

Saving the children of Syria from more harm is alone worth a more intense international focus. But such efforts will also save the global momentum toward ending the abuse of children in war.

Western leaders can do more to convince Russia and China to not stand in the way of a tougher UN response on Syria. The world has a special responsibility to protect the innocent, but most of all, children.

September 23, 2012
Anti-Islam film: Pakistan minister’s bounty condemned

22 September 2012  ~ BBC

A Pakistani minister who offered $100,000 (£61,600) for the death of the maker of an anti-Islam film has been condemned by the PM’s spokesman.

Shafqat Jalil told the BBC the government “absolutely disassociated” itself from comments by Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour.

The film, produced in the US, has led to a wave of protests in the Muslim world and many deaths.

The bounty offer came a day after at least 20 died in clashes in Pakistan.

Friday’s violence, which saw protesters pitted against armed police, occurred in cities throughout Pakistan, with Karachi and Peshawar among the worst hit.

"I will pay whoever kills the makers of this video $100,000," the minister said. "If someone else makes other similar blasphemous material in the future, I will also pay his killers $100,000.

"I call upon these countries and say: Yes, freedom of expression is there, but you should make laws regarding people insulting our Prophet. And if you don’t, then the future will be extremely dangerous."

At one point, he even called for the help of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in killing the filmmaker.

His ANP party, which is part of the governing coalition, told the BBC this was a personal statement, not party policy, but added that it would not be taking any action against him.

Mr Jalil said: “He is not a member of the (ruling) PPP (Pakistan People’s Party), he is an ANP politician and therefore the prime minister will speak to the head of the ANP to decide the next step. They are not ruling out action against him but say he will stay in his post for now.”

Tear gas and batons

Meanwhile, scores of people were reported to have been injured on Saturday in a clash in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka between police and hundreds of demonstrators.

Police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse stone-throwing protesters who set several vehicles alight, the Associated Press news agency reports.

In Pakistan itself, a peaceful demonstration was held in Islamabad. Protesters marched through the capital and gathered near parliament, chanting slogans against the filmmaker and demanding his punishment.

And in Nigeria, tens of thousands of Muslims marched in the northern city of Kano in a protest that passed off peacefully.

Marchers shouted “death to America, death to Israel and death to the enemies of Islam” in a procession several kilometres long. US and Israeli flags were dragged through the dirt.

In hiding

The exact origins of Innocence of Muslims, the low-budget film that has prompted the unrest, are unclear.

The alleged producer of the trailer of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, is in hiding.

Anti-US sentiment grew after a trailer for the film dubbed into Arabic was released on YouTube earlier this month.

US citizens have been urged not to travel to Pakistan, and the US embassy has paid for adverts on Pakistani TV showing President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemning the film.

Although US targets have borne the brunt of protests against the film, anti-Western sentiment has been stoked further by caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published this week in the satirical French magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

France shut embassies and other missions in about 20 countries across the Muslim world on Friday.

To the non-muslims; the film that was made is disgusting, however those rioting/killing and putting hits on people is wrong!  In fact it is unIslamic.  Durring the time of the Prophet, (mpbuh) worse was done to the the Muslims and the Prophet.  They did nothing about it.  

(Source: BBC)

September 22, 2012
Unity State Calls for Underage Marriage Action

Unity State Calls for Underage Marriage Action ~Sudan Tribune~ September 19, 2012

September 19, 2012 (KAMPALA) – Unity state authorities are calling upon the families of young girls to keep them in school, rather than allowing or forcing them to marry, especially when they are under the legal age of 18.

William Ghar Bol, deputy director of general education in Unity State told Sudan Tribune that the state Ministry of Education in collaboration with US-based non-governmental organisation, Winrock International, are giving financial support to young girls to remain in school.

It is hoped that this will dissuade young girls from the path of underage marriage.

Bol said the government is working hard to tackle the issue despite the silence of many of the girls’ parents. He called upon parents to “respect the dignity” of their children by keeping them in school.

Female students in Unity state told Sudan Tribune that is a deeply-rooted cultural practise common amongst the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups. They also claimed that the pride and financial gain involved in receiving marriage-wealth in the form of cattle is a significant contributing factor for some parents.

The focus upon wealth can also lead young girls to marry men much older than them.

It is common practise for girls between the ages of 15 and 17 to marry, despite the legal age being 18. In the last six months there have been 10 cases of underage marriage in the state.

Mary Nyawika Wal a student from Bentiu Secondary school strongly condemned the ongoing practice of forcing her colleagues into early marriage by parents.

Wal urged the government and non-governmental organisations to assist girls in remaining in education.

A report published in April by ex-British PM, Gordon Brown, claimed that less than five percent of South Sudanese girls complete their primary education.

(ST)

June 19, 2012
Israel deports South Sudanese migrants

Al Jazeera -June 18, 2012 -Jane Ferguson

A week of arrests across Israel culminated on Sunday with the several bus loads of South Sudanese being taken to the airport. Most showed up by themselves. They know by now that there is little point in trying to hide.

At Tel Aviv’s main bus station, dozens stood surrounded by their luggage, and security.

“We got arrested and we had to sign to go back by force,” said Jisma Alia. The 29-year-old held her daughter close as she waited to board the bus to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. “It’s very sad because why are we here? Because of the future of the children.”

Most were indignant. They are being sent away, but have no desire in staying in a country where they are not welcome, they said.

127 South Sudanese were airlifted to the South Sudanese capital, Juba, early on Monday. They were told by the security forces that they could either choose to leave, with a 1000 Euro offering from the government, or they would face an Israeli jail.

The Israeli government is responding to pressure from some elements of society to crack down on immigration from Africa. In recent protests, some locals voiced their concerns about the Jewish identity and the demographics of the state.

There are around 60,000 illegal African immigrants in the country, said Paul Hirschson, spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry.

“If we don’t take steps to disincentive them from coming, then more and more of them will come,” he said.

Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that there would a flight bound for Juba leaving on Monday morning, adding there would be another one next week. He referred to those being deported as “illegal infiltrators”.

Hirschson denies that the crackdown is politically motivated, saying that the number of illegal African immigrants in the country amounts to almost one per cent of the population. “In British terms that is 500,000 people. In Israel it is 60,000. We have to start somewhere.”

According to Hirschson, up to 30,000 could be deported eventually, and the Israeli government is actively working towards that goal. The rest of the migrants, who came from countries such as Eritrea and Somalia, cannot be sent home so long as their countries pose a threat to their safety.

Those from countries which have no diplomatic ties to Israel, such as North Sudan, cannot easily be expelled as full support from such countries is needed for repatriation of this nature, said Hirschson.

As South Sudan was granted independence last year, and it maintains fully supportive ties with Israel, its expatriates were the first in Israel to be forced out.

Africans often come to Israel by walking across the border from Egypt’s northern Sinai region. The government is now reinforcing the border with a new electric fence, partly out of concern from the outcome of the Egyptian revolution and also to stop such illegal entry into the country.

Not all of Israeli society fully supports the move. By the buses in Tel Aviv were some members of the Aid Organisation for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF).

“Don’t ask me about the legal basis for this,” said Orit Rubin, a member of ASSAF, who was trying to call the UN before the immigrants boarded the bus. “The only thing I know is that we are in the Wild West right now. Nobody knows what’s happening and nobody knows their rights.”

She sees no future for Africans in Israel, as society is increasingly hostile to them.

“Without getting rights in Israel, without proper policy, with the Israeli population being more and more afraid of Africans just because they are Africans, and with all the incitement, the situation here is very bad.”

For those going home so quickly, it is a stark and devastating end to what had been a long journey into the country.

Adhar has been in Israel for three years, but remembers how tough it was for him to get to this point. Travelling from South Sudan, through a hostile North Sudan, and into Egypt, he stayed there for four years before crossing the Sinai region and into Israel.

“The journey was difficult, I injured my leg; everything was difficult,” he said.

Adhar was not leaving on Sunday. Like many he was there to see off friends who were boarding the first deportation flight. Such flights are planned to leave weekly from Tel Aviv, and those from South Sudan know they will likely end up on one sooner or later.

June 19, 2012
Bangladesh 'turns back' Myanmar refugees

Al Jazeera - June 15, 2012

An unknown number of people fleeing violence in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine region are adrift in boats on the Naf river and some have been turned back by Bangladesh authorities, the United Nations refugee agency said.

"The UN refugee agency has first-hand, credible accounts of boats from Myanmar not being enabled to access Bangladeshi territory. These reports indicate women, children and some wounded are onboard,” the Geneva-based agency said in a statement on Friday.

Andrej Mahecic, spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news briefing in Geneva: “They are turning them back. Some were quite close because the locals were trying to give assistance to them.”

"It is vital that these people are allowed access to a safe haven and shelter," Mahecic said.

Sectarian violence

The bloodshed has displaced tens of thousands of people, left dozens dead and many homes destroyed, in the western region.

The Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya have accused each other of violent attacks which have caused thousands of people to flee, according to government figures.

"UNHCR recognises that, for years, Bangladesh has been bearing the brunt of the forced displacement caused by earlier crises in Myanmar,” said Mahecic.

"The latest events pose new challenges and UNHCR hopes that Bangladesh will respond in line with the country’s long history of compassion and solidarity."

Agency workers visiting areas of unrest on Wednesday and Thursday to assess the situation witnessed “smouldering villages”, he said.

"The situation is still tense. We hope that law and order will be reestablished soon - that would allow us to redeploy the staff that we had to move from the area temporarily as a precaution."

Those adrift are in desperate need of water food and medical care, he said, adding: “We have been talking to the Bangladeshi authorities and we hope that Bangladesh, in line with its long tradition of hospitality for the people of Myanmar, will allow access to safe haven and to assistance for this people.”

There are already some 30,000 Rohingya staying in two camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said on Tuesday the impoverished country’s resources were already strained.

'Illegal immigrants'

Myanmar considers Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship.

Bangladesh says Rohingya have been living in Myanmar for centuries and should be recognised there as citizens.

Myanmar’s state television on Thursday showed what it said were 29 people who were allegedly involved in the recent unrest between the two communities of ethnic Buddhist Rakhine and Rohingya in Rakhine state.

The arrest allegedly took place on Wednesday night in Sittwe where 16 Muslim Rohingya and 13 Buddhist Rakhines were seized with knives, sticks and 70 petrol bottles.

With tension running high in the country, police urged local residents to be alert and to report any suspicious incidents.

More than 20 people have been killed in the fighting that erupted last week.

The clashes between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists have taken a roughly equal toll on both communities, though each blames the other for the violence.

June 19, 2012
Rwanda 'gacaca' genocide courts finish work

BBC World News - June 18, 2012

Rwanda’s community courts, known as gacaca, have finished their work, after 10 years of trying those accused of involvement in the 1994 genocide.

The courts were set up to speed up the prosecution of hundreds of thousands of genocide suspects awaiting trial.

Human rights group say the gacaca fell well short of international legal standards.

About 65% of the close to two million people tried have been found guilty, according to latest government figures.

Controversial justice

Rwanda’s legal system was left in ruins after the massacres by ethnic Hutu militia and soldiers of some 800,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus in 100 days between April and June 1994.

The UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up in neighbouring Tanzania to try the ringleaders of the genocide - it has convicted 38 people and acquitted eight so far. It is due to be closed down at the end of the year.

But this left hundreds of thousands of people accused of involvement in the killings, leading to an enormous backlog of cases in Rwanda.

Correspondents say up to 10,000 people died in prison before they could be brought to justice.

Community courts were set up to clear the backlog - and once a week the so-called gacaca met in villages across the country, often outdoors in a marketplace or under a tree.

The BBC’s Prudent Nsengiyumva in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, says one of the main aims of the gacaca was to achieve truth, justice and reconciliation among Rwandans. Gacaca means to sit down and discuss an issue.

The hearings gave communities a chance to face the accused and give evidence about what really happened and how it happened.

Our correspondent says many people in Rwanda say this process have helped to mend the wounds of the past.

But the use of traditional grassroots courts to try complex genocide cases was also controversial - previously the gacaca had only been used to settle local disputes.

More than 160,000 judges were elected from among communities - but they lacked legal qualifications.

The Rwandan government says about two million people went through the gacaca system - final official figures about how many were found guilty are yet to be released, but data from two years ago points to a conviction rate of about 65%.

Some of those found guilty have been sentenced to long jail sentences, with hard labour.

Others have been released and sent back to help rebuild communities - and this has brought its own problems, legal experts say.

"Survivors are worried about their security because they are living side by side with those who had wanted to previously exterminate them," Albert Gasake, the Legal Advocacy Project Coordinator at the Survivors’ Fund Organisation told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

"Suspicion is very high," Mr Gasake said.

He also says failure to compensate survivors for the loss of their properties poses another threat to genuine reconciliation.

Our reporter says most Rwandans do not openly criticise the gacaca system.

But local and international human rights groups have expressed concern about its fairness because trials were held without defendants having access to qualified lawyers.

The courts’ closure leaves many unanswered questions, our correspondent says.

Human rights groups are asking why some members of the ruling RPF party never had to face the gacaca courts.

June 19, 2012
Nigeria's Boko Haram 'bombed Kaduna churches'

BBC World News - June 18, 2012

Radical Islamist group Boko Haram has said it was behind Sunday’s suicide bombings of three churches in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna.

The blasts were in revenge for what it said were previous Christian “atrocities” against Muslims, the group said in an email sent to local media.

At least 50 people were killed in the bombings and reprisal killings, the Red Cross says.

Boko Haram has carried out a series of deadly attacks in the past two years.

Retaliatory attacks

The Red Cross says another 131 people were injured by the violence - the third weekend in a row in which Boko Haram has carried out bombings on churches.

Two of Sunday’s blasts happened in the Wusasa and Sabon-Gari districts of the town of Zaria and a third hit the nearby city of Kaduna, the state capital.

Rioting broke out in different parts of Kaduna state as youth took to the streets in anger and attacked Muslims.

BBC Nigeria correspondent Will Ross in Lagos says the church bombings are a serious threat to the stability of Nigeria because existing religious divisions mean there is a danger of retaliatory attacks spiralling out of control.

Kaduna lies on the dividing line between Nigeria’s largely Christian south and mainly Muslim north.

It is one of the areas where conflict between rival religious and ethnic groups has claimed many hundreds of lives.

Kaduna state governor Patrick Yakowa told the BBC the weekend’s attacks were “sad and disheartening” and a blow to government efforts to promote peace and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims.

In an emailed statement in the local Hausa language, Boko Haram spokesman Abul-Qaqa said: “Allah has given us victory in the attacks we launched today against churches in Kaduna and Zaria towns which resulted in the deaths of many Christians and security personnel.”

The group justified the weekend attacks on churches by saying they were carried out in revenge for what it described as government-backed killings of Muslims in central Nigeria during earlier bouts of violence.

Christians were warned to “either embrace Islam or… never have peace of mind,” the statement said.

A 24-hour curfew has now been relaxed to allow people to move about in the hours of daylight, but correspondents say there is still a heavy military presence.

The Nigerian army says it has recovered a mobile phone that belonged to one of the suicide bombers.

Boko Haram - which means “Western education is forbidden” - wants to impose strict Muslim law across Nigeria.

Since 2009, it has targeted police stations and other government buildings, churches and schools.

Hundreds of people have died in the attacks, and analysts suggest the group is trying to trigger clashes between Christians and Muslims.

Liked posts on Tumblr: More liked posts »