Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vocal critic of Kenyan government murdered

An influential human rights activist and his colleague have been shot dead in central Nairobi in an organised killing that sparked accusations that they were assassinated by security forces.

A week after a UN expert described the Kenyan police as “a law unto themselves” the cold-blooded shooting of Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu threatened to send strained relations between the olice and its population to a new low.

Mr Kingara and Mr Oulu were ambushed as they sat in a white Mercedes in rush-hour traffic on a road outside the University of Nairobi’s halls of residence. Three gunmen in dark suits fired repeatedly into the car. Mr Kingara was killed outright and Mr Oulu mortally wounded. Witnesses said the killers sped away in two cars.

Hours before the attack a government spokesman had berated Mr Kingara publically for allegedly helping the outlawed Mungiki criminal sect. Mr Kingara’s death immediately raised suspicions that the police and State were responsible.

“The human rights community in Kenya holds the Government fully and wholly responsible for the assassinations,” said Cyprian Nyamwamu, of the Kenya Human Rights Consortium. The police deny any government responsibility for the murders. The Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, condemned the killings and warned that the country was at crisis point. “We are hurtling towards failure as a state,” he said.

After the attack students fearing that police would remove important evidence and with it the best chance of finding Mr Kingara’s attackers, pushed the shot-up Mercedes into their halls of residence compound and hid Mr Kingara’s body in a stairwell.

“Without the body there is no evidence,” said one angry student, a 22-year-old who did not want to be named for fear of police reprisals.

A stand-off ensued between dozens of students holding the corpse and police reinforcements that arrived in trucks after dark. The police used tear-gas and live ammunition, while the students threw rocks and chunks of masonry.

After more than three hours, the police found Mr Kingara’s body and drove away with it, but not before one of the students was shot dead by an officer. Three policemen have been arrested for that killing.

Yesterday the dead student’s blood was still fresh on the ground near the gates, surrounded by pebbles and protected by grieving classmates who refused to allow it to be washed away.

Mr Kingara’s Mercedes remained jammed against a wall outside the student bar, a thick trail of smeared blood leading past the pool table and into the dingy stairwell where his body had lain.

“It is clear the police are utterly compromised,” said Ben Rawlence, Kenya researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Mr Kingara, the founder of the respected Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic, published a report last year accusing the police of torturing or killing more than 8,000 Kenyans in a crackdown on the Mungiki.

Earlier on Thursday the Mungiki – a Kikuyu tribal gang that runs protection rackets and is responsible for many gruesome murders – held its own protests against police violence.

“It is imperative, if the Kenyan police are to be exonerated, for an independent team to be called from somewhere like Scotland Yard,” said Professor Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings. Last week Mr Alston issued a damning indictment of Kenya’s police and its British-trained army. At the end of a ten-day fact-finding mission he concluded that Kenya’s police “kill often, with impunity”.

Iranian assylum seeker fails in UK on claim of persecution because of sexual orientation.

March 11, 2008 -- Updated 1937 GMT (0337 HKT)

Gay Iranian teen loses asylum appeal

(CNN) -- The Netherlands has rejected an asylum plea by a gay Iranian teenager trying to escape possible persecution in his homeland.

Mehdi Kazemi believes he will face persecution if he is made to return to Iran.

Mehdi Kazemi, 19, had originally sought asylum in Britain, where he was taking classes on a student visa, because, he said, his boyfriend had been executed in Iran after saying he and Kazemi had been in a gay relationship. Britain's Home Office rejected his request, prompting Kazemi to flee to Netherlands.

Tuesday's decision by the Council of State -- the highest administrative court in the Netherlands --means Kazemi could face deportation to Britain, which he fears will send him back to Iran.

Council spokeswoman Daniela Tempelman said the council decided it must comply with the Dublin Regulation and return Kazemi to Britain. Video Watch how teenager has lost his right to remain. »

Under the Dublin Regulation, European Union member nations agree that an application for asylum submitted in any EU country would be handled by that country alone. The regulation seeks to ensures that an asylum seeker is not redirected from nation to nation simply because none will take responsibility.

Kazemi's initial appeal for asylum in the Netherlands, made in October, was rejected. He then appealed unsuccessfully to a regional court in December. His last appeal was to the Council of State in January.

Tempelman said that in order for the Dutch court to consider Kazemi's asylum application, he needed to prove that Britain did not handle his asylum application properly, but he wasn't able to prove any wrongdoing on the part of the British government.

Kazemi now has exhausted his chances for appeal in the Netherlands and, according to Tempelman, could be returned to Britain on a short notice. The British government about six months ago accepted the Dutch request to take him back.

Kazemi's lawyer will have the option of taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights to request an "interim measure" that could allow Kazemi to stay in Europe until further notice.

"If anybody signs his deportation papers and says, look, he's got to be deported to Iran, that means they have signed his death sentence," said Kazemi's uncle Saeed, who asked CNN to withhold his last name over safety concerns.

Gay rights activists in Europe and Iran are also researching Kazemi's case.

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"When Britain is prepared to send a young man back to possible execution, that is inhumanity on a monumental scale," said Peter Tatchell, an activist for gay campaign group OutRage. "And I hang my head in shame, as a British citizen."

In a written statement, Britain's Home Office said that even though homosexuality is illegal in Iran and homosexuals do experience discrimination, it does not believe that homosexuals are routinely persecuted purely on the basis of their sexuality.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Mexicans seek asylum from surging violence in Ciudad Juarez


Although Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas are separated by the US-Mexico border, the two cities compose one of the largest bi-national metropolitan areas in the world. Before the end of 1848 U.S.-Mexican war, they were the same town, El Paso del Norte. Although they have seen been broken up to form two cities, each day 60,000 still people travel between these two cities.

Despite their proximity, reality is much different depending on which side of the fence you live on. Although Ciudad Juarez’s economy has been doing well in recent years, violence has escalated. Beginning with the brutal killings of more than 400 women and children since 1993 in what has been deemed by some as a “feminicide,” violence has been rising in the area. A recent surge in violence has left 350 people dead in Ciudad Juarez this year alone and 1,000 across the country. Last year, the drug violence was so brutal that 6,290 people lost their lives in Mexico. This article explains the situation in the morgues in Ciudad Juarez, which has gotten so bad that the morgue is forced to turn corpses away: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hQk0IcGHRThAZGok6vKI4lrnPasQD96Q0D7G0.

As the violence continues to increase, more and more people are coming to El Paso to seek asylum in the US. According to a BBC article, “Drug-related violence in Mexico has become so extreme that some policemen and journalists would rather sit in a cell at a US immigration detention centre than run the risk of being caught in the crossfire between rival gangs in their home country.” One journalist who is currently living in El Paso on temporary visa notes that, “I would prefer seven months in jail because it’s a matter of life and death.”

The asylum cases that we are working on involve people from countries that are located far away from the United States, in some cases half way around the globe. Fleeing from land only separated from the US by a fence, these asylum seekers from Ciudad Juarez are a large contrast to what we have seen.

My question is whether the asylum process should be different for them or does it not matter if the asylum seekers comes from .01 miles outside the US or 10,000 miles? To me, I think that we need to pay special attention and give consideration to our neighbors in this process. In addition, the US should continue its effort to control the drug war in Mexico. Along with the obvious concern that the violence could spill over to US soil, it’s impossible not to see what is going on there. As Ciudad Juarez is physically visible from the United States, I hope that we do not turn a blind eye to the situation there.