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Turning Point for Human Rights? Passing of Cuban PM Fidel Castro can be the Beginning of Hope for People who Suffered under him, feel Cuban Americans

The primary objective of the Cuban regime today is the preservation of power as long as possible

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People place candles beside a picture of Fidel Castro, as part of a tribute, following the announcement of the death of the Cuban revolutionary leader, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Nov. 26, 2016. VOA

Nov 27, 2016: Six decades after declaring history would absolve him, Fidel Castro’s life has ended and his troubled human rights legacy can be considered.

Cuban-Americans took to the streets of Little Havana on Saturday, saying the passing of one man could be the beginning of hope for the many who had suffered under him.

“A bad dictator that had Cuba under oppression and repression for almost six decades is no longer with us, and that will give an opportunity to the Cuban people to start the journey to freedom and democracy,” Cuban-American Jose Sanchez told VOA as he celebrated with hundreds of other Cuban-Americans in Miami.

The primary objective of the Cuban regime today is the preservation of power as long as possible. Click To Tweet

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Under Castro’s rule, three generations of Cuban people lacked nearly all basic civil and political freedoms, including the rights to expression, assembly and association. The communist government routinely detained journalists and dissenters while denying independent human rights monitoring organizations access inside the country.

“This is a man who is deeply admired in the rest of the region for standing up to the United States,” said Eduardo Gamarra, professor of politics and international relations at Florida International University. “But at the same time, and it’s very important to remember, he also presided over a tyrannical regime, a regime that was responsible for the deaths by firing squad of hundreds of people and somebody who jailed people for their political views.”

FILE - U.S. and Cuban flags hang on a wall at the U.S pavilion during the Havana International Fair, Havana, Cuba, Nov. 2, 2015. VOA
FILE – U.S. and Cuban flags hang on a wall at the U.S pavilion during the Havana International Fair, Havana, Cuba, Nov. 2, 2015. VOA

U.S.-Cuba relations

Even the restoration of relations with the United States, starting in December 2014, didn’t loosen limitations on freedoms.

According to a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, internet access in Cuba was still severely limited despite the opening of 35 Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide, and the government continued to control nearly all media outlets. The number of jailed dissidents remained consistent at between 8,000 and 9,000 prisoners each year.

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Now it will be up to Raul Castro, who had gradually taken over control of the communist island nation starting in 2006, to decide whether his brother’s death marks the end of an era.

“The symbol is dead,” Guadalupe Correa Cabrera, professor of public affairs and security studies at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, said of Castro’s death.

Cabrera said Raul Castro’s control over the country had already opened the door for normalization of relations with the United States, and with the death of Fidel marking the end of an era, even more opportunities could arise.

“He needs to change his approach and allow the country to be more open,” Cabrera said.

FILE - Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White, an opposition group, is detained by Cuban security personnel after a weekly anti-government protest march, in Havana, Sept. 13, 2015. VOA
FILE – Berta Soler, leader of The Ladies in White, an opposition group, is detained by Cuban security personnel after a weekly anti-government protest march, in Havana, Sept. 13, 2015. VOA

Human rights

Human rights concerns have long shaped U.S. relations with Cuba, playing an often crucial role in presidential politics. In the hours after Castro’s death, many U.S. lawmakers took to Twitter to recall Castro’s legacy and express the hope his passing would begin a new chapter for the country.

“While some may wish to paint a rosy picture of communism and this dictator’s leadership, any account that ignores his bloody atrocities and human rights abuses, economic persecution and support for terrorism abroad does no justice to the survivors and victims of his legacy,” U.S. Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee on foreign affairs, said in a statement released Saturday.

Even as the aging leader slipped from public view, the memory of his rule remained alive in the minds of the generations he marked — a psychological toll that could have very real consequences as the nation moves forward.

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“We knew that as long as the dictator who founded the Cuban revolution was alive and in Cuba, change would be very difficult. But now this represents an opportunity — especially for those freedom fighters in Cuba, the opposition leaders who have been risking their lives, their security, their well-being, for years to fight for a better country. Now they’re going to be stronger,” U.S. Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida told VOA.

But change in the wake of Castro’s death could come at a steep cost, exacted by the communist government still in place.

“The primary objective of the Cuban regime today is the preservation of power as long as possible, and while dissidents still have the potential to create the kind of unrest that might unsettle a Cuban leadership, they’ll continue to repress,” said Brian Fonseca, director at Florida International University’s Public Policy Institute.

FILE - A young woman walks near graffiti that reads "Freedom" in Havana, Feb. 21, 2016. VOA
FILE – A young woman walks near graffiti that reads “Freedom” in Havana, Feb. 21, 2016. VOA

Create ‘fissures’

“If the social fissures sort of begin to manifest because of changes in the emotional temper of the Cuban people, and if that does occur, given that preservation of power is most critical to the Cuban political elite, then I think you may find political repression going up, at least in the short term,” Fonseca said.

Back in the streets of Little Havana, many realized the end of the era of Castro is in many ways just the beginning.

“We’re here honoring all our grandparents and that entire generation that wasn’t here to experience it today, but for them we’re here, and hopefully this is the beginning of freedom for Cuba,” said Lissette Calderon, a Cuban-American woman who has never set foot on the island but brought her children out to witness the historic moment.

“The people of Cuba do not have free elections; there’s no democracy. I think those of us aren’t going to rest until we see freedom for the people of Cuba,” Calderon said. (VOA)

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10 Facts You Should Know About Raif Badawi, Victim Of Religious Persecution

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Facts You Should Know About Raif Badawi – A Victim Of Religious Persecution Source: Wikimedia Common

Saudi Arabia, September 22, 2017: A Saudi writer, atheist, activist and the founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website Raif Badawi, who has been a prey to brutal punishment of Saudi Arabia law, reveals his agony in a book “1000 Lashes, Because I Say What I Think”.

Badawi, through his book expressed one’s life in the autocratic Islamic state under ‘Sharia’, insights about freedom of expression, separation of religion and state, human and civil rights and tolerance.

Raif Badawi
People from Oslo protesting to Free Raif Badawi – A Victim Of Religious Persecution Source: Wikimedia Common

It was in 2012 when Badawi was taken into imprisonment in Saudi Arabia and was sentenced to 10 years torture with 1000 lashes. The reason stated for his imprisonment was his act of showing disrespect towards Islam and produced before the court charges including apostasy.

His punishment was partly enforced due to ‘parental disobedience’ when the debate over freedom of speech and Islam continued to rage. The punishment was in context to the disobedience shown towards one’s father, as follows in Saudi Arabia. Reportedly, Badawi’s father also renounced his son on television.

There are facts that left Raif Badawi to live a life of torture and trauma and you should know these.

  1. Raif Badawi had to face 50 lashes in his first session in front of the crowd gathering near the mosque in Jeddah on January 9, 2015.
  2. After his first session, the medical committee advised not to flog Raid Badawi as his wound had not healed sufficiently, because of high blood pressure. Whereas, another prison doctor objected to that and said that he is fine to take more lashes.
  3. Nevertheless, the flogs were not carried out due to some unknown reason.
  4. He was sentenced with seven years’ imprisonment and 600 lashes, but was extended to 10 years and 1000 lashes later.
  5. He was arrested against his rights to freedom of speech, expression, association and assembly. He was being suppressed with his rights to be democratic.
  6. The case was being dropped twice. The district court passed on the case to high court, saying “could not give a verdict in a case of apostasy.” Also, the higher court refused to hear the case and referred it to the lower court.
  7. His family said that they have learned of judicial attempts to have Badawi retried for apostasy and that it may end up beheading his head for renouncing his religion. Though the human rights are not sure of the claim.
  8. Raif’s wife, Ensaf Haidar was forced to leave Saudi Arabia and move to Canada along with her children after she received anonymous threats.
  9. Badawi expressed his sentiment towards living in a democratic society through his website Free Saudi Liberals until it was shut down by the Saudi authorities. He writes in one of his posts, “You have the right to express and think whatever you want as you have the right to declare what you think about it, it is your right to believe or think, have the right to love and to hate, from your right to be a liberal or Islamist.”
  10. There have been several international awards accorded to Badawi. He was a nominee for 2015 Nobel Peace Prize and for Human Rights and Democracy he was also awarded the Courage award in 2015 in Geneva Summit.

Many people around the world are showing their support to Raif Badawi through different campaigns and protest. The Canadian government also expressed him gratitude with their concern towards his wife and children.

ALSO READ: 2,384 Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) Jailed for Minor and Major Offenses

It was not just Badawi, who was victimized for raising his voice. His lawyer, Waleed Abu al-Khair, in July 2014 was also sentenced 15 years in prison for denouncing the human rights abuses of Saudi during his media interviews and in social media. Khair also had an organization that monitored the human rights in Saudi Arabia.

– Prepared by Abhishek Biswas of NewsGram Twitter: @Writing_Desire

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Islamic State War Crimes in Iraq being Investigated: UN Team

The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to establish an investigative team to help Iraq secure evidence of atrocities committed by Islamic State militants "that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide

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Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk toward the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate (voa)

Iraq, September 22, 2017: The United Nations Security Council has voted unanimously to establish an investigative team to help Iraq secure evidence of atrocities committed by Islamic State militants “that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.”

Britain, which drafted the resolution, said the team would bring some justice to those who had experienced atrocities at the hands of IS, variously known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.

The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, called the resolution “a landmark” that would “provide an indispensable record of the scope and scale” of IS atrocities.

“This means justice for those people who have been victimized by ISIS,” Nadia Murad, a former IS captive in Iraq, said in a Facebook Live video after attending the council vote with well-known international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

ISLAMIC STATE
Yazidi survivor and U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human trafficking Nadia Murad, center, visits her village for the first time after being captured and sold as a slave by the Islamic State three years ago, in Kojo, Iraq, (VOA)

Clooney represents women of Iraq’s Yazidi minority who were kidnapped and held as sex slaves by IS militants after the terrorist organization conquered large swaths of Iraq in mid-2014.

“It’s a huge milestone for all of those who’ve been fighting for justice for victims of crimes committed by ISIS,” Clooney said in the Facebook Live video. “It says to victims that their voices will be heard and they may finally get their day in court.”

Since then, U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have driven IS from most of the land it had seized in Iraq, retaking all the major urban areas, although the group still controls some pockets in Iraq as well as territory in Syria.

ALSO READ UN Human Rights Chief Urges Iraqi Government to help Victims of Islamic State (ISIS) Sex Abuse

IS fighters have been on the run in Iraq since U.S.-backed Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul, Iraq’s second city and the Islamic State’s former stronghold capital, in July.

Tens of thousands of Yazidis fled the August 2014 massacre in Sinjar, and U.N. rights investigations have documented horrific accounts of abuse suffered by women and girls, such as Murad. About 3,000 women are believed to remain in IS captivity.

But Human Rights Watch criticized the resolution as a missed opportunity by the council “to address war crimes and rights abuses by all sides to the conflict in Iraq.”

“No one denies the importance of tackling the widespread atrocities by ISIS in Iraq, but ignoring abuses by Iraqi and international forces is not only flawed, it’s shortsighted,” said Balkees Jarrah, senior international justice counsel at Human Rights Watch. “The pursuit of justice is essential to all victims who saw their loved ones tortured and killed, or houses burned and bombed, regardless of who is responsible.” (VOA)

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UN: Attacks Against Albinos for Body Parts, Stands Human Rights Issue

An albino holds a placard during an Albinism awareness campaign in Harare, Zimbabwe, June 18, 2016

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An albino holds a placard during an Albinism awareness campaign in Harare Source: Pixabay

Geneva, September 21, 2017: “When I was sleeping in my house, four people came and started attacking me with machetes,” said Mariama Staford, an albino in Tanzania. “One of those four people was a neighbor, and he is the one who took the machete and was cutting my arms.”

Staford was 25 years old when she was attacked in 2008. She told VOA that her neighbor first cut off her right arm and threw it to his accomplices. Then, “he chopped off my left arm.”

“I tried my best to struggle in order to defend myself,” she said, “but it was not successful and so they pulled me down in front of my son, who at that time was only two years old.”

She said it took seven hours before villagers carried her on a stretcher to a dispensary.

“When I reached there, the doctor who was on duty said that I should be returned home because I was already dead,” Staford said.

U.N. action

Two years ago, in an effort to counter such attacks, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights appointed Ikponwosa Ero as the first U.N. independent expert on human rights of persons with albinism.

The U.N.'s independent expert on human rights and albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, addresses a news conference at the end of her official visit to Malawi on April 29, 2016.
UN: Attacks Against Albinos for Body Parts, Stands Human Rights Issues

FILE – The U.N.’s independent expert on human rights and albinism, Ikponwosa Ero, addresses a news conference at the end of her official visit to Malawi on April 29, 2016.

Ero, of Nigeria, also has albinism — an inherited condition that affects the pigment of the skin and hair. She said attacks, mutilation and murders occur because of the false belief that albino body parts can bring wealth and good luck.

Ero told VOA that she has documented close to 800 cases of attacks against albinos in the past decade in sub-Saharan Africa, where such witchcraft-related violence is most common.

“Those are reported cases alone. Most cases are not reported because most cases involve family members or people known to the victim,” Ero said.

She said the practice thrives because there is a lot of money to be made.

“The Red Cross reported that the body parts were valued on the black market. Like an arm was valued at $2,000, and a complete corpse at about $75,000. So, there are profits to be made even though you do not believe in witchcraft,” she said.

Though it is the witch doctors who drive this trade, they rarely are brought to justice. Ero said there were very few witch doctors among the prisoners she met during two visits last year to Malawi and Mozambique to assess the situation of people with albinism.

ALSO READ: The Traditional Healers of Malawi Deny Link to Albino Killings.

“Societies are afraid of them,” Ero said. “The police are afraid of them. So, those are usually not prosecuted.

“And then the people on the high scale who are going to pay the money are usually not in jail because they are the elite. Who you find in jail are poor farmers, poor peddlers who are offered a lot of money.”

Staford’s story

No one has paid for the crime committed against Mariama Staford.

“My case reached the trials, and the neighbor that I knew for 10 years was released,” she said. “The court said that because I have albinism, I have low vision, so I could not have recognized my neighbor chopping off my arms.”

Staford has suffered other repercussions, as well. When the attack occurred, she was six months pregnant. She lost her baby.

She told VOA she also must live with the suffering of her son who, as a two-year-old child, was forced to witness the horrific attack against his mother.

“It saddens me to know that, as a mother, I was unable to take care of him, just like a mother would do — even embrace him after the attack,” Staford said. “But also, he is a sad person and he always remembers what happened.”

Staford said there should be stringent laws against any person who attacks people with albinism. She also would like to see the government take away licenses to practice from witch doctors.

Staford and her son, who does not have albinism, as well as two siblings — who do have the condition — are living in protective custody in a safe house in Tanzania run by a branch of a Canadian-U.S. charitable organization called Under the Same Sun. (VOA)