The Rights Stuff

Two Unsettling Conversations About Upcoming Assignments

| Tue Feb. 15, 2011 3:47 PM EST

"You're gonna wanna have a car and driver. It's not that safe."

"We're going to have to figure out where we could possibly interview people. We're seeing them disappear on a regular basis, the ones who have the courage to talk about it."

Looks like I'm probably headed out of town again in early April. This trip is going to be even more sensitive than most, and if I were having any doubt about that, two preparatory conversations I just had with sources made it crystal clear.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Tips for Dick-Kicking

| Fri Feb. 11, 2011 5:00 PM EST

Something perhaps obvious but still unexpected that I learned this week: Kneeing somebody in the balls as hard as you can 47 times makes your thigh sore. But it's important to do it as repeatedly as possible. The more you practice it, the easier it—and asking someone not to get in your face and sounding like you mean it, and dropping someone to the floor with an elbow across his jaw—gets.

There are six physiological responses to crisis: flight, fight, freeze, collapse, disassociate, hypervigilance. Freezing is incredibly common. It is, in fact, the reason the "full-force" personal safety course I started on Sunday was invented. Its founder is a black belt in karate who was stunned to find, one horrible day, that when it came down to it, she couldn't defend herself against being beat up and raped. She was an expert at fighting—in theory. All the highly skilled kicking and chopping she'd done had been in controlled spars, not under the influence of survival adrenaline, which can overwhelm cognitive function. The 13 women between the ages of 20 and 60 who were at the Oakland dojo with me either have had a similar paralysis or anticipate they might if something bad went down. They enrolled in this Impact Bay Area training because they want to practice deescalating threatening situations and, in case that doesn't work, fighting a way out of violent ones. They came because they want to feel safer in general or have a better chance next time. Or because, let's say, they went to Haiti for a reporting assignment and disassociated while watching a recent rape victim have a screaming meltdown and/or froze while being dangerously harassed, then came home and were diagnosed with PTSD and couldn't get out of bed for kind of a long time, and are addressing their own and their editors' preference that they have more on-the-ground crisis-coping tools before soon being dispatched to the rape capital of Africa.

Hanging with the Robber Barons of Haiti

| Wed Feb. 9, 2011 6:00 AM EST

For a guy who feels he needs to be armed at absolutely all times, Mike says he's feeling "perfect" surprisingly often. Like this morning, when he picks me up in a cushy silver truck from my Port-au-Prince hotel, early on a muggy Saturday: "How are you doing?" "Perfect." And there are two extra ammunition clips on the cup holder between us and a loaded .45 in the driver's-side door. "You never know," he says, smiling, when I express skepticism that all this is really necessary; we are just going to the beach. "I wished I'd had extra ammunition when we were firing and firing a few weeks ago." The half-Haitian, half-Puerto Rican, American-born 34-year-old stops smiling and shakes his head slightly when he says, "You don't know what it takes to do what I do."Mike's Texaco station in Martissant.: Photos by Mark MurrmanMike's Texaco station in Martissant. Photos by Mark Murrman

Well-Spent Dollars in Afghanistan

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 11:00 AM EST

I had a really patriotic experience while reading one of the stories from our current issue that just went live on the site. It's about a tough Afghan prosecutor, Maria Bashir, who's trying to protect the rights of her countrywomen even though that means she needs more protection than anyone. A few pages (print-version-wise) in, this little piece made me super proud to be an American:

In a city where the council of clerics has issued a fatwa against women leaving the home without an appropriate male escort, [Bashir] began to feel alone and exposed. She requested around-the-clock security, but the government refused. She asked for a bulletproof car and was denied. Then, in 1997, her house was bombed.

Now, as she leaves her office, Bashir's clicking heels keep pace with the rolling gait of four armed guards—hired by the American government, not her own.

U! S! A! I was so overcome with pride in American power, which doesn't come so easy to war-haters in wartime, that I actually choked up a little. I have a similar experience when I watch the part in The Saint when Elisabeth Shue is running away from evil Russians and hurtles herself toward the American Embassy guards yelling "I'm an American! Open the gates! Open the gates I'm an American!" and then they do and then she's safe in the arms of corn-fed soldiers and anti-communism.

You should read the article. It's heartbreaking, but somehow simultaneously hopeful.

Priorities! Or, Malawi's Flatulence Law

| Wed Feb. 2, 2011 7:48 PM EST

I don't know how I missed this, but it's really important, so in case you did too: The Malawian government has proposed a bill that would criminalize passing gas in public. The new local courts established to prosecute such impolite infractions would also arraign challengers of duels and insulters of women's modesty.

For those keeping track: Still legal in Malawi? Making immigrant detainees stand for 16 hours a day in overcrowded prisons.

 

 

UN Memo: Just in Case Haiti Blows Up...

| Tue Feb. 1, 2011 7:31 PM EST

In December, when electoral officials announced the results of Haiti's presidential election, people rioted. Following much outcry and many accusations of fraud on the part of President Rene Preval's party, an Organization of American States panel conducted an investigation. The OAS panel recommended election officials drop Preval's handpicked and deeply unpopular candidate, Jude Célestin, from the upcoming runoff ticket; election officials said they may or may not. So, now you're up to speed on why the UN, which has a huge peacekeeping force in Haiti, is worried about what's going to happen tomorrow when election officials finally announce which candidates are advancing to the next round. Check out the memo the UN sent to its in-country staff, below. 

To all UN personnel,

SITUATION: The announcement of the result of the presidential elections is expected to take place on Wednesday, 2nd February 2011. This may impact on the security situation in Haiti and on UN staff and operations.

MOVEMENT RESTRICTION: In case the security situation deteriorates a 'Restrictions of Movement' may be put in place, which will only allow a few essential movements. Staff members will be not allowed to travel to the beaches or to other leisure locations.

PREPARATIONS

Critical Staff: All designated 'Critical Staff' may be requested to stay in the office for several days without having the opportunity to travel to their residence starting morning of the 2nd February.

Therefore, all Critical Staff is requested to make preparations to have their 15Kg Emergency Bag with sufficient supplies, sleeping bag, change of clothing and toiletries at hand.

International and National staff: Those staff members that are NOT determined 'Critical Staff' may be requested to stay at their residence until further notice.  Staff members must ensure that they have adequate supplies (food, water, and gas, medications) to last for one week at least.

Vehicles: Ensure that vehicles are in good order & fully fuelled and the radio is working. All UN vehicles, especially during the night, have to be parked in secured compounds.

COMMUNICATION: Radios must be monitored at all times.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Remembering the Holocaust's Roma (or Not)

| Fri Jan. 28, 2011 6:30 AM EST

Here's a part of the Holocaust that rarely gets mentioned: "A staggering 95 percent of the Czech-born Romani and Sinti population perished in the war, most through extrajudicial killings." Or that up to a million and a half Gypsies (I'm allowed to call them that, without quotation marks, because my mom is Hungarian Roma) were exterminated during World War II. A chilling article by Brian Kenety at Czech Position (ceskapozice.cz/en) uses yesterday's anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—within which there was a special camp for Roma—as an occasion to give that tragedy its rare due. Though 70 percent (!) of Europe's Romani were killed in the war, no testimony was given by or about the group at Nuremberg.
 
Of course, the Roma continue to be persecuted across Europe, with everything from illegal deportations to assaults by skinheads. For its part, the Czech government is keeping up its end of insulting Gypsies by refusing to memorialize their 66-year-old slaughter. Rather than any sort of commemoration at the site of the biggest Czech concentration camp where Roma were held, there's...a pig farm.

"I think the fact that there is a pig farm is still run on the Lety site shows that, in general, the Roma are still considered to be second-class citizens," says European human rights activist Markus Pape. "Especially when you look at Lidice [the site of the massacre of in reprisal for the assassination of reprisal for the assassination of Nazi governor Reinhard Heydrich in 1942] and Terezín [the concentration camp known in German as Theresienstadt] and other places of Nazi persecution of the ethnic Czech or Jewish population in this country, it is not understandable…why the Roma victims don’t deserve similar recognition."

The whole article is well worth reading. Warning: some disburbing archival photos accompany it.

Gay Ugandan Activist Murdered

| Thu Jan. 27, 2011 11:08 AM EST

One of the complainants against a Ugandan newspaper that published photos of "Top Homos" with the caption "HANG THEM" has been bludgeoned to death in Kampala. 

David Kato, activist for the organization Sexual Minorities Uganda, won a court case to stop the paper Rolling Stone (no relation to the American magazine) from publishing photos and addresses of alleged homosexuals earlier this month, after his face appeared on the front page.  

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, though the "kill" part of Uganda's "kill the gays" bill is dead, Ugandan homosexuals are currently subject to sentences of up to 14 years in prison, and legislation to step that up to life in prison is still expected to go before parliament soon. But that's not enough for some vigilantes, or Giles Muhame, the editor of Rolling Stone, who has promised to appeal the injunction. Muhame did not want the public to attack those whose pictures he published, the editor explained after the announcement of Kato's murder. No, no, that would be soul-shreddingly awful. On the contrary: "We want the government to hang people who promote homosexuality."

Photo of the Day: Promises Promises

| Wed Jan. 26, 2011 6:59 AM EST

A Haitian walks past government plans for reconstruction at ruined Fort National, Port-au-PrinceFrom MoJo photo editor Mark Murrmann: A Haitian walks past pictures of proposed redevelopment plans at ruined Fort National, Port-au-Prince

Earthquakes Don't Kill People, Bad Governments Kill People

| Mon Jan. 24, 2011 6:37 AM EST

A recent report in the journal Nature has bad (if somewhat obvious) disaster news for citizens of bad governments: Corrupt countries have been responsible for 83 percent of all deaths caused by building collapse during earthquakes over the last 30 years. Haiti, of course, being responsible for 300,000 of those deaths in the January 2010 quake. Number of people killed during an earthquake of the same magnitude during the same year in New Zealand: 0. 

"The structural integrity of a building is no stronger than the social integrity of the builder, and each nation has a responsibility to its citizens to ensure adequate inspection," the Nature article says. "In particular, nations with a history of significant earthquakes and known corruption issues should stand reminded that an unregulated construction industry is a potential killer."

As I reported during the past two weeks in Haiti, here is a (just very partial) list of other things a corrupt government fails to do for its people: protect them from horrendous violent crimes, provide them with basic welfare services, get their orphans out of the country and into new families. Add to the list "not making the same massive fatal mistake twice": A year after Haiti's quake, there is some rebuilding going on, a lot of it in the private sector. But if you'd like a Haitian to look at you like you are very stupid, ask them, "What kind of permits and code requirements do you need to do that?"