No More ‘Ships of Shame’ to Africa

By Alaphia Zoyab, Online Communities Officer at Amnesty International.

UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

At a meeting with NGOs on the side-lines of the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) negotiations in New York, China made the claim that it does not transfer arms to conflict states in Africa. That claim is simply not true and China has clearly forgotten about the notorious ‘Ship of Shame’. We are happy to remind them.

In 2008 a Chinese ship MV An Yue Jiang arrived in Durban in South Africa with a deadly cargo of more than 3000 cases of arms. The cases included nearly 3 million rounds of rifle ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar bombs and mortar launchers, all exported by Poly Technologies Inc. of Beijing. This cargo was destined for the Zimbabwean Defence Force.

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Flash Protests in Zimbabwe

WOZA women LOVE sign

A flash mob is a” group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment and/or satire.” Flash mobs might be pointless and designed to entertain, but Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) borrowed the concept today for a very different purpose.

To commemorate International Women’s Day, 500 dedicated  WOZA and MOZA (Men of Zimbabwe Arise) activists formed “flash protests” in downtown Bulawayo. Unlike typical WOZA protests where activists sing, march and converge on a central target where they practice peaceful civil disobedience in the face of police presence, today five individual protests sprang up and dispersed as soon as police presence appeared. There was a reason today’s protests were different-Zimbabwe police continue to actively target WOZA members.

Just this past weekend, four more members were arrested at private homes, detained for two nights and beaten by police. One woman, a nursing mother, was unable to hold or feed her child when visited by family members. Today WOZA reported high numbers of police presence who accused them of trying to incite a revolution. Following dispersal by police, the protestors went to the local court in solidarity with the four women being detained. They were victorious-the magistrate dropped all charges.

The flash protests, WOZA demanded President Zuma of South Africa take a more active stance in his role as guarantor of Zimbabwe’s negotiated unity government and end the violence. Amnesty is making a similar call to President Zuma to ensure political violence does not escalate further and elections are free and fair. Raise your voice with WOZA and send a message to President Zuma. Tell him there should be no voting violence in Zimbabwe.

(By the way, if you don’t get the whole flash mob thing, don’t worry, I don’t get it either. But here is a really funny link anyway.)

Vote for Love in Zimbabwe!

Help Zimbabwe Vote for Love this Valentines Day!

I confess-I think Valentines Day is a scam perpetrated by men to buy forgiveness for all the things they mess up the rest of the year by presenting you with bouquet of convenience store flowers. Luckily, the members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) are far less jaded. Every year they take to the streets on in Zimbabwe on Valentines Day, urging political leaders to remember the power of love is greater than the love of power.

This year, celebrating their ninth year of peaceful protest, 1800 members marched in Bulawayo on Friday-their biggest gathering to date. They sang and danced their way to the offices of the state run newspaper, calling attention to the need for free and open access to the media. This will be particularly important this year as Zimbabwe moves toward a vote on a new constitution and expected Presidential elections. Open access by all candidates to the media is critical in ensuring a free and fair election.

As the WOZA members marched, they passed out Valentines to bystanders with messages regarding constitutional reform. You can help WOZA spread the message about the need for open media access and free and fair elections by sending a Valentine to South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma. President Zuma is appointed by regional leaders to supervise Zimbabwe’s negotiated interim government and upcoming elections. Our Valentines urge him to take steps to ensure all votes are free of violence and intimidation.

Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections saw high levels of political violence, with human rights defenders like WOZA, civil society members and political opposition figures particularly targeted. Amnesty is concerned about continuing levels of violence and the great potential for extreme violence to return surrounding any votes. Take action to keep WOZA members and all Zimbabweans safe as they go to the polls. Help Zimbabwe vote for love. Find our Valentine to President Zuma here.

Not all fun and games in South Africa

As the first World Cup match between Mexico and South Africa kicks off today, it is not all fun and games for the homeless, refugees, migrants and street hawkers who have faced harassment and displacement by the South African government.

This harassment has included police raids, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and extortion, as well as destruction of informal housing.  Regulations created to comply with FIFA World Cup requirements in host cities are being used by police to expel homeless people and street traders from “controlled access sites” and exclusion zones around World Cup venues. Penalties for offences under the regulations include fines of up to Rand 10,000 (US$1,300) or imprisonment of up to six months.

In May 2010 street trader (hawkers) protested outside the local FIFA operations centre in Soweto calling for an end to evictions and the disruption of their means of livelihood near soccer stadiums.

Elsewhere tense confrontations have occurred between police and street traders, over seizures of street traders’ goods, in the name of cleaning up the streets for the World Cup.

Xenophobic violence

In the first five months of 2010 at least eleven incidents were recorded in five provinces involving violent attacks and looting of shops, particularly of Somali and Ethiopian nationals.

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Team Amnesty Enters the World Cup

world cup teamWith the 2010 World Cup quickly approaching, football fans around the world have been cheering on their teams since the qualification process began in August 2007. In total, 32 countries will match off at 12 locations throughout South Africa. As the first African country to host a World Cup, South Africa rapidly constructed new stadiums, upgraded security measures and encouraged spectators to visit their beautiful country. Recent headlines range from lackluster ticket sales to Beckham’s Achilles heel injury which renders him unable to participate in the games.

Regardless of the tournament’s final outcome, one thing is for sure, South Africa will be under scrutiny for how it has overcome the nation’s long history of Apartheid rule. Leaders are hoping to show the world it has moved beyond a system of violent racial discrimination to truly become a “Rainbow Nation”. Unfortunately Amnesty International won’t actually be competing as we have little to offer by means of star soccer athletes; but nevertheless feels it imperative to contribute our own team to the mix of international heroes. That is why we are proud to announce Amnesty International’s team of human rights defenders from around the world. Stand Up United is a team of 11 special individuals who have one common goal: equality, dignity and justice for all. Without further ado, let me introduce you to this award winning team of individuals:

1. Mukhmed Gazdiev from the Russian Republic of Ingushetia is still searching for his son who has not been seen since he was reportedly abducted in 2007. He campaigns relentlessly to raise awareness of alleged involvement of security forces in disappearances.

2. Nataša Kandić is a Serbian lawyer and human rights activist. She continues to challenge impunity for war crimes committed by Serbian military, police and paramilitary forces during the wars during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

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Southern Africa To Be One Country

Bono, South X' New Head of State

Bono, South Zamalawimbiqueothobabweibialand's new Head of State

I was very excited to read today that ten countries in southern Africa decided to join forces, eliminate borders and become one country. This will make it easier for many Westerners who already think the continent of Africa is just one country; or at least think all the countries are exactly the same and therefore propose the same “one size fits all” solutions over and over again to mostly Western created problems.

Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana and Angola will now be called South Zamalawimbiqueothobabweibialand. Recognizing this will be a challenge to fit on business cards, government officials have declared its ok to just call this new nation South Africa, since before the union it was the only country most Westerners could reliably find on a map.

It was quite a struggle to decide how this new nation would be governed, and there were points where it became quite ugly when dos Santos and Mugabe descended into vicious name calling, as both men are accustomed to longevity as heads of their prior respective states.  In the end, after many rounds of rock/paper/scissors, it was concluded that Bono would lead this new nation forward because it was felt to be the best way to secure debt relief, HIV funding and better coverage in People/US/OK magazine.

For similar reasons; Madonna will be Minister of Education (sorry to all those people who can now expect to lose their homes so she can build more schools), Oprah will be named Cultural Minister (her new talk show will launch in 2012), Brangelina will be appointed co-Ministers of Internally Displaced Persons  (expect lots of fighting between them and Madonna over those displaced for Madonna’s new schools as well as the best photo opps with their adopted children) and Mariah Carey will be Minister of Agriculture (good luck on that starvation diet Mariah!)

One of the first acts of this new nation will be to set up a large lion preserve to promote the image that lions roam free in the streets throughout Africa. Also, media relations will assure that news coverage focuses predominantly on anything bad happening in the region with an emphasis on promoting negative stereotypes, while ignoring positive stories. In particular, media will assure that any stories about the many amazing Africans working to improve conditions within their new nation will continue to rarely be printed because pictures of sad children are considered the only way to get people to care and stories of Africans helping themselves will discourage other celebrities from traveling to region for photo opps and establishing charitable organizations in an attempt to seem less self-absorbed.

Within Amnesty USA, the Southern Africa Co-group welcomes this new nation because it means much less work for us. It was getting very tiresome to lobby ten different governments about human rights conditions. Now, we only have to pester Bono. Oh, and happy April Fool’s Day.

Imprisoned For Love in Malawi

ADAM-022784-0005-C003050410-026974Homosexuality is little tolerated or accepted in much of Africa. South Africa legalized gay marriage in 2006, but incidence of hate crimes towards gay and lesbian persons are not uncommon. Uganda is currently contemplating a new law allowing the death penalty for those convicted of being gay. This criminalization of homosexuality occurs in many African countries, and Malawi is no exception. So when two men pledged their love and commitment to each other last month, they were promptly arrested.

On December 26th, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga held a traditional engagement ceremony in Blantyre’s poor township of Chirimba. Two days later, the men were arrested after the story was reported in local newspapers. The charges were “unnatural practices between males and gross public indecency.” They were reportedly beaten by police while in custody.

On January 4th the men appeared in court and were denied bail “for their own safety” and “in the interest of justice.” They are currently being held at Chichiri prison until their next scheduled court appearance on January 11th. Further, Malawian authorities have attempted to compel the men to submit to forcible medical examinations, falsely believing this will prove past sexual relations, in order to charge the men with sodomy.

Laws criminalizing homosexuality violate international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Malawi has ratified both these documents and has an obligation to abide by their precepts. Amnesty International considers individuals imprisoned solely for their private consensual sexual relationships as prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

Expressions of love and commitment between consenting adults can never be unnatural nor violative of public decency. Tell Malawi to release these men immediately and that love is not a crime.

Southern Africa Year in Review 2009

Waiting in line to vote. Amnesty International.

Waiting in line to vote. ©Amnesty International

As 2009 winds down, here’s a wrap up of the year’s highlights from the southern Africa region. From elections, to assassinations, to elections, to awards ,to elections, to boycotts, to elections, to what was all in all a fairly smooth year compared to what might have been, here are a few notes about human rights conditions in the 12 countries we monitor for Amnesty International USA.

Angola
Angola was supposed to hold presidential elections this year but didn’t. Current (and for the last 30 years) president, dos Santos, said constitutional reform must come first and this will take another two years.  Constitutional reform=good. Using it as an excuse to delay democratic elections=bad.

Forced evictions continued in 2009 in Angola. Amnesty International continues to call for an end to illegal evictions and for just compensation for forcibly displaced persons in Angola.

On a positive note, Prisoner of Conscience Fernando Lelo was released this year. Lelo is a journalist imprisoned for criticizing above noted president. However, those who were tried and convicted with him remain incarcerated. Lelo directly credited Amnesty activists for their efforts on his behalf. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done!

Botswana
Botswana held elections this year. Khama was elected to a new term, after finishing out the term of his predecessor. Major concerns in Botswana continue to be media restrictions, repression of labor unions, displacement of indigenous persons and high HIV infection rates. But Khama does his fair share of criticizing regional leaders and tweaking the nose of Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe. He mailed a congratulatory letter to the ladies of Women of Zimbabwe Arise following their win of the RFK Human Rights Award this year.

Guinea Bissau
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How Rugby Built a New Nation in South Africa

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

As a general rule, Americans don’t play rugby.  We are too litigious of a nation to allow grown men to bash into each other without being covered head to toe in protective gear. (Consequently, rugby playing nations think American football is for pansies.) So when I lived in South Africa, it was determined by newly found friends the need to educate me in the finer points of the game. This, of course, occurred over many pints of beer as they screamed at the television. Maybe American football and rugby aren’t so different after all…

Anyway, part of my education concerned explaining the importance of the 1995 World Cup. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected black African president of the Republic of South Africa. A new constitution was instituted. A new country was emerging. None of this was an easy transition, however-there was resentment, fear, anger, uncertainty, vengeance, forgiveness all wrapped up in confusing welter of emotion. But South Africa hosted the rugby World Cup that year and because of its host status automatically fielded a team in the competition. Despite long odds, South Africa won. This fragile, new State won the rugby World Cup!

Without fail, everyone who shared with me their version of this story-where they were and who they were with-had tears in their eyes or streaming down their face, despite ten intervening years, as they described the moment when Nelson Mandela walked on the field to present the trophy and the national anthem was played. People described entire bars standing on their chairs singing at the top of their lungs. One woman said she was jumping up and down on her bed and fell off, breaking her arm. Everyone stated that this was the moment South Africa became a new nation.

Invictus, the story of this defining moment, opens today in the US. This powerful film made me miss my friends in South Africa and the beauty of their stories about the promise of a new nation. It didn’t make me miss rugby. Despite all the beer and everyone’s best efforts, I just never really got into it.

Changing the Battle Against AIDS in South Africa

hiv_sa_150Yesterday on World AIDS Day, South Africa was in the news quite a bit. The executive director of UNAIDS was in Pretoria for the commemoration and along with South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, called for greater HIV prevention measures. South Africa has the largest population of person’s living with HIV-nearly 6 million people. Globally, women are disproportionally affected by HIV and AIDS as the fastest rising group contracting the virus. In South Africa, women account for approximately 62% of all persons over age 15 living with HIV.

South Africa has a sad history of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Despite relentless calls by Nelson Mandela’s 46664 organization for comprehensive government programs, South Africa under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki was a tragic wasteland of an epidemic. At one point, Mbeki promoted a policy of natural herbs for treatment, continuously under-funded anti-retroviral therapy (ART) and condom disbursement programs and committed many other policy failures that many blame for not only doing little to lower infection rates but in fact contributing to an increased infection rate.

Thus far, the Zuma presidency has been markedly different. Yesterday the administration announced increased access for vulnerable populations, including “all HIV-positive children under the age of one would be eligible for treatment,” more pregnant women will receive ART, and more person’s dual diagnosed with tuberculosis will also receive ART. Further, Zuma committed the government to “ensuring that all health facilities in the country are equipped to offer HIV counselling, testing and treatment” rather than only those approved as ART dispersal centers.

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