Saturday, December 03, 2011

Jailed Afghan rape victim freed but 'to marry attacker'

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pardoned a rape victim who was jailed for adultery, after she apparently agreed to marry her attacker.

An Afghan woman named Gulnaz was raped and sentenced to prison for adultery for 12 years. Her attacker is the man that she is suppose to marry. Gulnaz's lawyer told the BBC she hoped the government would allow Gulnaz the freedom to choose whom to marry.

Gulnaz is serving time in prison for being a victim of rape. She also gave birth to her daughter while she was in prison. There is no justice and freedom for many Afghan women. Gulnaz’s story is an example of one of the many Afghan women who suffers and is still getting denied basic human rights in the country. In the United States, we typically overlook the freedom we have. We have the right to advocate and stand up for those basic human rights. Also, we have the choice to make decisions without interference of the government, and are able to hold the government accountable for depriving human rights.

Human rights groups say hundreds of women in Afghan jails are victims of rape or domestic violence. Half of Afghanistan's women prisoners are inmates for "zina" or moral crimes. The BBC's Bilal Sarwary, in Kabul, says recent cases of violence against women are embarrassing for the Afghan government. Many Afghan women rights activists say there must be an end to the culture of impunity and police must punish all those behind violence against women, he adds.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Uncertain Future for Coptic Christians in Egypt


"Some members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority — about 10 percent of the population — joked Wednesday that they would prepare to leave the country."

I suspect that the Coptic Christian population was more desperate, honest, and hopeful than "joking”. Just yesterday, in Egypt's first election since Mubarak was ousted of power, the Muslim Brotherhood gained control of nearly 65 percent of the parliamentary seats. This does not bode well for the minority, Coptic Christians, at all. Since the Mubarak regime was ousted of power, the Muslim extremists have actively persecuted Coptic Christians - burned down churches, murdered and tortured, and hurled Molotov cocktails at homes. The ruling military acquiesced to this persecution, and at times even joined in by encouraging violence against Coptic Christians on nationwide news stations, and running over Copt protestors with military vehicles. With the Muslim Brotherhood in power, Coptic Christian persecution could become even worse. No one really knows how bad things could get in Egypt. Some Coptic Christians in the United States even predict genocide in Egypt against Coptic Christians.

The situation in Egypt is horrible; which makes me feel even more thankful for earlier today. This afternoon in Philadelphia, a 19-year-old Coptic Christian student from Egypt, who I along with two other class members have been helping over the past two months, was granted asylum. He is a respectful, hardworking, intelligent, and nice person. Had he lost his case, he would have been sent back to the chaos in Egypt, and subject of even more torture than he already has experienced. I feel thankful that we prevented this 19 year-old not having to "joke" about leaving Egypt; but actually make it a reality.

Local refugees

Everyday millions of individuals face horrific human rights violations. It is estimated that roughly 1% of the world’s population have been displaced from their home country. Refugees are people who flee their country in order to escape conflict. A refugee is defined as a person whom “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country,” (UNHCR).
Refugees face various physical and mental hardships before, during, and/or after their flight. Experiencing or witnessing the traumatic events prior to their arrival to the United States is a major risk factor for chronic mental health problems. Killings, material losses, torture and sexual violence are common traumatic experiences refugees face. Once in overcrowded camps, refugees face depravation, uncertainty, and disruption of community and social support networks. Psychiatric morbidity and psychosocial dysfunction observed within the refugee population often dependent on the nature and time span of the conflict and trauma. (WHO, Mental Health of Refugees). Because of the severity of the trauma, physicians across the United States believe that refugees are at high risk for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. However, little aid is given for Lancaster county refugees for their mental health care needs.Resources and funding are both limited.
Cultural beliefs and stigmas shape the way individuals perceive and overcome traumatic experiences. Physicians should care refugee patients in Lancaster country with culturesensitive approach especially when dealing with mental health care. The distribution of country of origin for refugees varies significantly from year to year. As a result, mental health care workers must be educated and trained regularly about the different cultures they are treating. Traditional treatment for PTSD and depression may not be helpful for certain cultures. In addition, cultural stigmas and norms must be considered in order to effectively communicate and respect the patients. Lancaster County is full of refugees who are at times in dire need of a culture specific approach to care. 

Clearly there is a need – and individually organizations are unable to meet it. Together as a community – we can make Lancaster a place for refugees to seek safe haven and be given the opportunities to become healthy and active citizens of the city.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Freedom of Expression

In the United States, we often take for granted our freedom of speech. Rarely do we think about what would happen if such a right did not exist. People in United Arab Emirates have been faced with such a dilemma. Five activists have been convicted recently by the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi for insulting government officials and received two to three years of imprisonment for criminal defamation. According to Amnesty International, the UAE5 (name given to them by the international community) were charged under articles 176 and 8 of the UAE’s Penal Code for “publicly insulting” the UAE’s president, vice-president and crown prince in an online political discussion forum which had been blocked by the authorities in 2010.

“The defamation charges the UAE5 faced are not internationally recognizable criminal offences and the trial process has been grossly flawed from the outset. The men are imprisoned for nothing but criticizing the UAE President and other officials,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.

The men were arrested in April of 2011, and detained for over two months before they were charged with anything. Their trial was done in secrecy without granting the defendants any opportunity to challenge the charges against them. AI claims the UAE5 have been persecuted wrongfully.

Freedom of expression is protected under international human rights standards, but it does not seem to be the case for Abu Dhabi. Amnesty International is calling for immediate release of the activists, as “It is not a crime to voice criticism or dissent.” I believe freedom of expression should be a basic human right; thoughts?