Global Voices

Africans Aren't Staying Silent About a Scottish Woman's Patronizing and Factually Inaccurate Gap Year Memoir

Global Voices Online - Fri, 2016/07/08 - 12:51am

The cover of the book In Congo’s Shadow.

The hashtag #LintonLies has been trending on social media since British newspaper the Telegraph published an extract of a book written by US-based Scottish actor Louise Linton about her “nightmare” gap year volunteering in Zambia.

Zambians, other Africans and friends of Africa are using humor to criticize the book's factual errors, deceptive generalisation and misrepresentation of Zambia, a peaceful nation in southern Africa, as a rebel-infested country.

In the extract, Linton says she “had come to Africa with hopes of helping some of the world's poorest people,” but describes being forced to later flee for cover “deep in the Zambian bush” under the “dense jungle canopy” when armed rebels from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo raided the village where she lived. “As the night ticked interminably by, I tried not to think what the rebels would do to the ‘skinny white muzungu with long angel hair’ if they found me,” she wrote.

My innocent dreams of teaching the villagers English or educating them about the world now seemed ridiculously naïve […] I soon learned that Africa is rife with hidden danger. I witnessed random acts of violence, contracted malaria and had close encounters with lions, elephants, crocodiles and snakes. As monsoon season came and went, the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in neighbouring Congo began to escalate and then spill over into Zambia with repercussions all along the lake. Thousands of people were displaced and we heard brutal tales of rape and murder.

There has never been Hutu-Tutsi conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That conflict took place in Rwanda, which does not share a border with Zambia. The country has never experienced a civil war, either. Also, Zambia does not experience monsoon season nor does it really have jungles.

Her geography was wrong, her knowledge of African politics is wrong. Somebody educate this imbecile. @BBCWorld. #LintonLies

— Kaluba Chaikatisha (@kaluba101) 6 July 2016

Besides the factual inaccuracies, people are also criticizing Linton for having a “white savior complex” — the patronizing, colonial attitude that only white people can “save” Africans — and resorting to the tired characterization of Africa as a dark and dangerous place.

#Whiteprivilege is having a book deal on experiences that cannot be verified. #LintonLies

— Sisi Majok (@modernemeid) 4 July 2016

‘You were in Southern Africa honey, not the rainforest’

On Twitter, users picked apart Linton's book, some with a sense of humor. Masuka Mutenda quipped:

The only thing missing from @LouiseLinton jungle caper was Tarzan swinging to her rescue

Categories: Global Voices

Why Did Facebook Remove a Post Criticizing Singapore Police?

Global Voices Online - Thu, 2016/07/07 - 8:30pm

Teo Soh Lung (left) and Roy Ngerng, another activist who has been investigated for political activities. Photos from International Service for Human Rights and The Heart Truths (Roy's blog).

When Singaporean police interrogated political activist and civil rights lawyer Teo Soh Lung, and searched her apartment and electronic devices without a warrant, Soh Lung spoke up. She wrote about the May 2016 incident on Facebook, and her lawyer posted video of the search on YouTube. The posts went viral.

But Soh Lung's most recent Facebook post about the incident met a different fate: censorship. Soh Lung reported that her post (see below) denouncing abuses of power by police in Singapore was removed by Facebook for ‘violating community standards.’

Teo Soh Lung received a notification that her post criticizing the Singapore police was removed on Facebook for violating community standards. Photo from the Facebook page of Singapore-based blogger Kirsten Han.

Police had investigated Soh Lung along with fellow activist Roy Ngerng “for publishing several online articles and postings that may be tantamount to election advertising” on the day prior to election day to “reflect rationally on various issues raised at an election before heading to the polls.” Campaign advertising is also banned on election day. These restrictions apply mainly to online news outlets, not individuals. Soh Lung and Ngerng suspected that they were targeted by authorities because of their previous political activism.

Teo Soh Lung published her most recent post on the Facebook page of Function 8, a socio-political website, describing her encounter with police in late May. Her post (some of which is pictured above) continued:

The police have robbed me of my properties and gravely inconvenienced me. They have mined my data. They have seen and read all my private documents and know who are my friends. They have invaded my privacy. They have committed a crime. I am angry. But where is my recourse? We do not have a national human rights institution which our so called less developed neighbors have – Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar.

This is my Singapore. This is your Singapore. We are a police state. For the slightest irritation, Singaporeans run to the police. But when the police commit a wrong, where do we run to?

According to Function 8, the post was mysteriously removed from Facebook:

Latest post by Soh Lung in this page was automatically unpublished by facebook!! Those people who shared that post also have theirs removed automatically from their walls.

Soh Lung was also banned from posting on Facebook for one day. After signing back on Facebook, she confirmed that her post was blocked:

I have joined rank with Andrew Loh. My latest post on F8 facebook and which I shared here has been removed by facebook. It is titled “Police Terror”.

Indeed, this is not the first time a post criticizing Singapore authorities has been censored on Facebook. Soh Lung cited the case of blogger Andrew Loh whose post criticizing the policies of the Singapore government was also removed on Facebook. He was also blocked from accessing Facebook for three days. Subsequently, Facebook apologized for the ‘accidental’ removal of the post and the three-day blocking of Andrew Loh from the social networking site.

Soh Lung has been given no further information about why her post was removed. Facebook's automated message states that it violated the company's “Community Standards,” but did not specify which of the standards was violated.

Soh Lung re-posted the message on her personal page:

I am testing if there is a computer glitch on FB side since I don't know where to write to in order to complain about the removal of my earlier post.

Singapore-based blogger and Global Voices author Kirsten Han suspected that other users might have complained or reported the post using Facebook's “Report Abuse” mechanism. She is worried that it could be a “new tactic to silence” criticism in Singapore:

It's bizarre that Facebook would remove a post about police powers and due process in Singapore because it violates community standards – what standards have been violated here? Then again, it's not the first time – I had a post removed ages ago, and it happened to Andrew Loh recently.

It is possible that the post was removed because it was reported by a large number of people….If this is the case, then it's troubling how this could be a new tactic to silence.

Facebook policy documentation asserts that the company does not remove posts based on the volume of abuse reports that they receive. Any post that has been reported for abuse is said to be reviewed by a real person, who determines whether or not it violates the Community Standards.

It is possible that Soh Lung's post was removed in keeping with Facebook's standards regarding “Attacks on Public Figures.” Their policy on this issue reads:

We permit open and critical discussion of people who are featured in the news or have a large public audience based on their profession or chosen activities. We remove credible threats to public figures, as well as hate speech directed at them – just as we do for private individuals.

Did the company read Soh Lung's post as a “credible threat”? Her reference to a friend pledging to “set her dogs on the police” might have justified this move. On a different note, given that the company is on increasingly high alert regarding terror-related activities on the platform, it is possible that Soh Lung's use of the word “terror” may have triggered the response. Either way, Soh Lung hopes that her future speech on the issue remains online, for all to see.

Categories: Global Voices

Afghan Refugees: “Nobody ‘Wants’ to Leave. It is About Survival.”

Global Voices Online - Thu, 2016/07/07 - 2:46pm

Afghan refugees in Athens, Greece. Shared via Afghan Community in Europe Facebook page.

Thousands of Afghans flee increasing violence, instability and poverty in Afghanistan in the hope of a better life and future. According to Europe's statistical agency, Eurostat, Afghans make up the second largest group of asylum seekers in Europe after Syrians. In 2015 alone around 64,000 asylum applications were filed by Afghans.

Afghanistan's national unity government was set up in 2014 in the wake of a disputed election result in an attempt to unite Afghans for the purpose of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, economic and political instability, as well as unemployment are rising in the country.

In 2001, there were more than 3.8 million Afghan refugees, according to the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

With the presence of US-led ISAF forces and tentative signs of stability in Afghanistan, the number of refugees decreased sharply in the years that followed.

However, by the end of 2015, the number of Afghans seeking shelter outside the country had spiked back up to 2.6 million following US troop withdrawals that have encouraged a growing anti-government insurgency spearheaded by the Taliban.

According to UNAMA, 2015 was the worst year for civilians, especially women and children in Afghanistan, as the insurgency peaked. The new year, meanwhile, has picked up where the old year left off.

Unsurprisingly, the deteriorating security environment has proven toxic for the economy.

Afghanistan's Central Statistics Organization reported that between February 2015 and February 2016, the unemployment rate in Afghanistan shot up by 15 percent, bringing the total rate close to 40 percent across the country.

What Afghans are saying

Western politicians and sections of the mainstream media in Europe continue to characterise the current tide of refugees seeking safe haven abroad as young, male and opportunistic.

Those few Afghans who have had the opportunity to speak to media or use social media to express their plight have painted a different picture, however.

Speaking to Aljazeera, Ajmal Sherzad, 32, who left Afghanistan for good with his family in February last year, cited war and economic instability as the main reasons he and his family were forced to leave the country in search of a better life:

Everybody is leaving Afghanistan. The only people who will be left there are [President] Ashraf Ghani and [Chief Executive] Abdullah Abdullah.

Fully acknowledging the dangers of the journey to Europe, Wahid Qaderi, a dentist, and Rana Qaderi, an obstetrician, chose to leave Afghanistan with their children anyway.

In an interview with the New York Times, Qaderi said:

If we die, we die one day. If we live here, we die everyday.

The main route for citizens leaving the country is through Iran, then over the mountainous Iranian-Turkish border, and onto Greece, where thousands are effectively trapped and prevented from journeying on to other European countries.

#AfghanRefugee carries a baby as reach the Greek island of #Lesbos,#Greece,#refugeesGr June 16

— ✌☮#UpTheRebels☮✌ (@Chara_fc) June 17, 2015

The proportion of fleeing Afghans who have been  granted asylum in European countries remains small.

Abdul Basir, who had worked with Lithuanian soldiers on logistics in Ghor, Afghanistan since 2005, was one of the lucky ones. He was admitted to Lithuania after his plea on YouTube from a refugee camp in Greece went viral.

Most refugees have less luck.

One happy end: Afghan refugee flown to Lithuania from #Greece after social media plea

— Melissa Fleming (@melissarfleming) April 7, 2016

How are refugees living in the Greek camps? 

The total number of Afghans currently living in Greece is unknown, but estimates place the number at around a third of the 50,000 people that are presently trapped in refugee camps in the country.

#Afghan kid at a refugee camp in Athens Greece during protests yesterday. #Afghanistan

— shafi شفيع شريفى (@ShafiSharifi) June 4, 2016

And living in abandoned old buildings:

#Afghan refugees at an old airport in #Athens #Greece #Afghanistan

— shafi شفيع شريفى (@ShafiSharifi) May 30, 2016

Or at terminals across the Greek islands:

#Afghan refugees camped at an old terminal in #Athens.An estimated 15K Afghans are stuck in #Greece #WorldRefugeeDay

— shafi شفيع شريفى (@ShafiSharifi) June 22, 2016

During a recent visit to Afghanistan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grande warned that “the world is losing sight of Afghanistan and the plight of millions of its people […] unfortunately the attention of the international community seems to have slipped.”

Toba Shahabi, an Afghan artist who has been paying visits to and raising funds for a number of refugee camps, shared on Facebook traumatic excerpts from conversations she had during her visit to the Calais “Jungle” refugee camp located in northern France.

Toba Shahabi with a group of Afghan refugees in the Calais “Jungle” refugee camp in France. Shared via Toba Shahabi's Facebook page.

One asylum-seeker told her:

How long have I been here? 4 months, yes my wife and children are still in Afghanistan and I am anxious to get out of here to a safer place of course! But the media really twists things, I never wanted to leave my beloved watan (home country) and I am not what they call an ‘economic migrant’. It's from helplessness, from futility and fear that I have left everything I know and find myself in this state. What do I want for my future? I want to return to my home, I want peace and harmony where I can raise my family. Nobody ‘wants’ to leave. That is beyond one's control; it's about survival.

It is for their survival that Afghans leave Afghanistan for European countries, where the record for welcoming them is generally poor and where political uncertainty is extending their miserable lives-in-limbo by the day.

They live this life because Afghanistan — a country torn apart by local conflicts and foreign interventions — cannot offer an existence that is any better.

Categories: Global Voices

Puerto Ricans Won't Accept US-Imposed Austerity Without a Fight

Global Voices Online - Thu, 2016/07/07 - 6:40am

The fiscal control board was approved by both Republican and Democratic legislators and signed into law by President Obama on June 30, 2016. In the picture, protesters in front of the Federal Court building in the capital of San Juan, who organized a permanent civil disobedience camp. Picture taken from the public Facebook page Campamento Contra la Junta.

June 30 was a historic day for Puerto Rico, albeit an unhappy one. US President Barack Obama signed into law the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which imposes a fiscal control board with extraordinary emergency powers over the government of Puerto Rico. The islands, which are a US territory, are grappling with more than $70 billion of debt, and the board was promoted as a kind of relief measure.

But Puerto Ricans have no say whatsoever. Many see the board, whose powers go well beyond those of other fiscal boards found in recent US history, as colonialism at its plainest.

The junta, or “board” in Spanish, will be composed of seven members appointed by the president, some of whom are chosen from lists provided by Congress. Members will have complete control over the budget, revenues and operation of the government of Puerto Rico. Its decisions are final and cannot be appealed, nor are its members held accountable if something goes wrong.

On the night of June 29, after the US Senate approved the bill in a 68-30 vote, social media users who were following the Senate's proceedings expressed feelings of sadness, uncertainty and most of all, impotence. For Twitter user and research director of the Center for a New Economy, Deepak Lamba-Nieves, PROMESA is an act of violence:

The #PROMESA vote was another violent spectacle of imperial power. They slowly braided the whip they will try to use against us.

— deepak lamba-nieves (@deepakln) June 30, 2016

Immediately after President Obama signed PROMESA into law, citizens organized a permanent civil disobedience camp in front of the Federal Court building in the capital city of San Juan.

Categories: Global Voices

The Radio Soap Opera That Revived a Genre and Put the Ecuadorian Lesbian Community on the Map

Global Voices Online - Thu, 2016/07/07 - 4:56am

Two women at a gay pride parade in Guayaquil, 2013. Wikimedia Commons.

Almost 20 years after Ecuador decriminalized homosexuality, the daytime drama show “Mariana Is So Lesbian” is widely available on the radio and the Internet. The series tells the story of Mariana, a young woman living in Quito, who comes to accept her sexuality within the context of extreme homosexual repression. The story takes place in Ecuador during the 1990s—a time when federal laws classified LGBTQ communities as criminal. The radio soap opera was inspired by Foundation Causana, “a feminist lesbian group that advocates human rights for dissident identities.” The show was first broadcasted on public radio in March this year, and was made available on Youtube on the same month.

According to Diana Maldonado, who spoke to the local newspaper El Telégrafo on behalf of the Foundation, the show revives a storytelling genre that used to be very popular in the region to tell the stories of many women whose private lives were limited by the law. In Maldonado's eyes, these women have been talked about very little, even after the decriminalization:

Es una iniciativa buena, porque de una manera dinámica han abordado un tema del cómo fue el diario vivir de una mujer lesbiana en una época en la que la homosexualidad era considerada un delito. Es importante traer esto al día de hoy, en el que muchos jóvenes y chicas no conocen de esta realidad, que se puedan enterar de lo que era vivir en esa época y crear conciencia de lo que tiene que ver con nuestros derechos.

It's a good initiative that has found a dynamic way to address the idea of what it was like to live a day-to-day life as a lesbian woman during a time when homosexuality was considered a crime. It's important to bring this to today's world, in which many young people and girls don't know this reality, so they can grasp what it was like to live during that time and create an awareness of our rights.

The soap opera has a total of 11 episodes and is available on the Foundation Causana's YouTube channel.

Laws, Homosexuality, and Society

According to one anonymous blogger writing about the “legal framework of sexual diversity in Ecuador,” the legalization of the LGBTQ community was a watershed moment in the country's history, but the decriminalization was “only a partial victory,” considering the Constitutional Court's questionable rationale:

El Tribunal Constitucional no motivó su resolución de anular el delito de homosexualismo consentido bajo criterios de libertad de conciencia, de autonomía y soberanía corporal, tampoco de respeto a la diferencia, a la intimidad, al proyecto de vida y a la identidad y menos aún por la consideración de que la diversidad fuera valiosa y tuviera relevancia en el ámbito de los derechos culturales. El 516, inciso 2do, se despenalizó bajo tres consideraciones: Primera, que el homosexualismo era una enfermedad, segunda, que la condición de enfermedad eximía la responsabilidad delictiva; y tercera, que despenalizar esta enfermedad evitaría que se propagara en las cárceles.

The Constitutional Court did not decriminalize homosexuality based on ideals of freedom of conscience, autonomy, or bodily sovereignty, nor was it done out of respect for differences, intimacy, life plan, or identity. Nor was there any consideration that diversity is valuable and has relevance in the realm of cultural rights. Instead, Amendment 516, section 2, decriminalized homosexuality based on three considerations: first, homosexuality was a sickness; second, the condition of this sickness exempted all criminal responsibility; and third, decriminalizing this sickness would avoid the need to expand prisons.

While same-sex marriage remains illegal, Ecuador adopted same-sex domestic partnerships almost a decade ago, in 2008. Today, the country's LGBTQ community is still fighting for many basic rights, but stories like Mariana's and the stories of other women who appear on the radio show help shed light on persecution and love that has generally been kicked to Ecuador's social margins.

Categories: Global Voices

After Florida Court Verdict, Latin America Remembers Executed Musician Victor Jara

Global Voices Online - Thu, 2016/07/07 - 4:30am

Tribute to Víctor Jara, September 2013. Image on Flickr by user Marcos G. (CC BY-NC 2.0).

It's been 43 years since Víctor Jara‘s death, but the Chilean musician, songwriter, teacher, theater director, and political activist keeps making news headlines. On June 27, 2016, an US court in the state of Florida found retired Chilean military official Pedro Barrientos liable for killing Víctor Jara. This was the result of a civil suit filed in 2013 by Jara's wife, the British choreographer Joan Turner, and by his daughters, Manuela and Amanda.

The Florida jury also found that Barrientos owes the Jara family $28 million for damages, and he might even face extradition, if federal government decides to send him back to Chile. (Barrientos became US citizen through marriage.)

After Augusto Pinochet led a military coup against President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, the new government promptly arrested Jara, torturing him and later executing him at the old Chile Stadium—a venue that has since been renamed after Jara.

In 1990, when Pinochet's dictatorship ended, the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation established that Víctor Jara died from 44 gunshot wounds on September 16, 1973. His body was discarded outside the stadium and then taken to a morgue without identification. The body was later identified and retrieved by his wife.

Years later, in 2012, Miguel Vázquez Plaza, a judge in the Santiago Appeals Court, started proceedings against the retired military officials Hugo Sánchez Marmonti and Pedro Barrientos Núñez for orchestrating Jara's murder. The judge ordered the international arrest of Barrientos Núñez, who was now living in the United States.

Jara's family reacted with joy, after hearing the Florida court's decision:

Joan, la viuda de Jara, y sus hijas Manuela Bunster y Amanda lloraron de alegría y se abrazaron con sus abogados al conocer la resolución del tribunal, mientras Barrientos recibió la noticia en silencio y con la vista clavada en el piso. La defensa de los familiares de Jara consideró que esta declaración de culpabilidad puede motivar al gobierno de Estados Unidos a agilizar la extradición de Barrientos a Chile.

Joan, Jara's wife, and their daughters, Manuela Bunster and Amanda, wept with joy and hugged each other with their lawyers after hearing the verdict, while Barrientos received the news silently and looked fixedly at the ground. The defense attorneys for Jara's relatives believe this conviction can motivate the US government to speed up Barrientos’ extradition to Chile.

The trial lasted seven days and was conducted by a federal court in Orlando, in the state of Florida.

Víctor Jara Visits Peru

On July 17, 1973, during his visit to Peru, the television host and master of ceremonies Ernesto García Calderon (the father of this text's author) interviewed Victor Jara. Today, the conversation is available on YouTube:

During the interview, Garcia Calderon described Jara's music as the songs of “the agricultural laborers, [and] the factory, mine, sea workers,” adding that his music was also about love and peace. Describing his early years, Jara shared that there was always a guitar lying around at his home, as his mother was a singer and used to perform countryside songs at baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

“We are better individuals because love exists; it's the foundation, it's vital, [and] the essence of the reason of being,” Jara told Garcia Calderon.

Jara said he felt fortunate for having met Violeta Parra, the Chilean songwriter considered to be one of the most important folklore specialists in the Americas, and he even noted that some people mistakenly thought he was her son.

Categories: Global Voices

For Refugees at Katsikas Camp, Life Remains in Limbo

Global Voices Online - Thu, 2016/07/07 - 2:15am

A partly cloudy afternoon over Katsikas camp. Photo by Cristina del Campo Martín. Used with permission.

Sitting on the matted floor of his tent with an arm spread across a military-provided cot, Mohanad takes a long, pensive drag off a cigarette. “We didn’t leave because we wanted to. We had homes, we had jobs, we had cars.”

Months of bitterness and frustration are palpable through a caustic smile. “And now I just wait. They might take months, or years, of my life. I don’t know.

“This isn’t living – this is surviving.”

In early March, in the hopes of finding a safe place to start a family, Mohanad left his home near the Syrian city of Homs and, like hundreds of thousands before him, made his way via Turkey, the Mediterranean and the island of Lesvos to mainland Greece. Today, he is one of roughly 800 people living at Katsikas camp, a military-administered refugee camp six kilometres outside the city of Ioannina in northwestern Greece, and one of roughly 40 such camps that have emerged across the country since late winter.

Arriving at Katsikas in mid-April, I was immediately struck by the contrast in settings: picturesque, snow-capped mountains dominate the horizon, with rolling green foothills in the foreground; while the camp is a dusty sea of large jagged rocks and row upon row of identical triangular tents.

Each large tent is given a letter-number combination, and the rows and sections of tents coincide with ethnic and linguistic communities: Palestinian-Syrians, Iraqi Kurds, Yazidis, Afghans, and so on. The weather in the region is volatile and intense, alternating between clear blue skies with punishing sun, and incessant heavy rain, usually for two or more days in a row.

Clothing hangs out to dry between tents in row A. Katsikas, northern Greece. Photo by author.

When she first made her way to Katsikas in March to continue her volunteer work in Greece, María Peñalosa was under the impression that she would primarily be helping distribute milk, diapers and other basic supplies in the newly established camp. “There were seven of us to 1,200 refugees when we arrived,” she recalls. “Everyone was freezing, and there was absolutely nothing in the entire camp besides the tents themselves, without floors. People didn’t have shoes, socks or proper clothes – it was a desperate situation.”

After an especially turbulent first few weeks, a support network began to take shape. A few small NGOs arrived in Katsikas, as did growing numbers of volunteers and increasing donations of food, clothing and other basic supplies from across Europe. With the exception of a small core of long-term mainstays such as María, the roster of volunteers fluctuates regularly, usually numbering around 40.

Through creativity and tenacity, the volunteers at Katsikas have managed to improve the day-to-day conditions for those living at the camp. They have set up equitable distribution systems for clothing and basic supplies, they lead language classes and movie nights, they cook hearty meals to supplement the barely edible and nutritionally inadequate military rations, and they have built communal spaces and private bathing cabins for women, among many other initiatives.

Despite these efforts, however, the living conditions at the camp remain poor. Tents flood when it rains and are stiflingly hot on warm days; toilets, of the portable variety, are extremely unsanitary; drainage systems are inadequate, with puddles of standing water providing a breeding ground for insects. There is a lack of communal spaces for women. Children, who make up about one-third of the camp’s population, are especially vulnerable to diseases—and are perpetually bored.

Children play on an improvised swing next to their tent in Katsikas. Photo by Cristina del Campo Martín. Used with permission.

Still, Katsikas is far from the worst of Greece’s military-run camps. Especially since Greek police evacuated the enormous improvised refugee camp at Idomeni in late May and dispersed the thousands of refugees remaining there to new, official sites, reports have surfaced of extremely poor conditions in many of the camps across the mainland.

On another afternoon in Mohanad’s tent, he mentions a brief WhatsApp chat he had with an acquaintance from back home who is currently stuck in a detention centre on the island of Chios.

“I guess I was one of the lucky ones.”

He is referring to his date of arrival in Greece, March 19, one day before the EU-Turkey deal came into effect and the registration “hot-spots” on the Greek islands off the Turkish coast became closed detention centres.

Of course, none of the vague promises or absurdly convoluted proposals in the deal were ever going to be made a reality, not least because many of the suggested measures contravene international human rights law, and because the idea of actually granting visa-free travel to Turkish citizens within three months was never really on the table. The deal was a transparent political maneuver to take pressure off EU leaders seen as doing little to manage—or, more accurately, stop—the continued refugee influx from Turkey into Greece.

An illustration by a refugee living at Katsikas camp shows the details of his journey to Greece. Photo by Andrew Huang, drawing by Kawa. Used with permission.

This crass political move has serious human consequences. The core concept of the deal is the same notion that continues to inform migration policy in the EU and beyond: deterrence. Make life increasingly miserable for those who arrive, and those yet to come will get the hint and stay home; offer safe and dignified living conditions, and the floodgates will open. It is an approach that shows a complete lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation in conflict areas, and one that abandons any notion of human rights or basic compassion.

Over five weeks I spent volunteering at Katsikas, I was told of lives left behind in cities that have become shorthand for despicable atrocities and brutal violence: Raqqa, Mosul, Sinjar, Palmyra, Aleppo. Yet, the act of fleeing some of the most dangerous places in the world is currently being punished with substandard living conditions and a maddening, perpetual state of limbo and uncertainty; the same principle of deterrence is in effect.

In late May, the UNHCR announced that it would be collaborating with the Greek Asylum Service to begin pre-registration of refugees at camps across the mainland, a necessary part of the protracted process of applying for asylum in Greece or elsewhere in Europe. By late June, no one at Katsikas has been able to pre-register yet; the latest indication is that this will start in mid-July, but official predictions are rarely taken seriously anymore. In a multi-step process that moves at a glacial pace, the refugees at Katsikas are still at Step 0. As many enter their fourth month at the camp and the Greek summer intensifies, they will continue to be pushed to their limits—and beyond. For them, as for some 50,000 other refugees stuck across Greece, there is still no end in sight.

A refugee at Katsikas camp takes a throw-in in a game of football on a nearby field. Photo by author.

Categories: Global Voices

This Is What Happens When You Suddenly Cancel Moscow's Electronic Music Bonanza

Global Voices Online - Wed, 2016/07/06 - 10:04pm

A glow-stick cocktail. Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

The first weekend of July was supposed to be a big one for Moscow's fans of electronic dance music (EDM). Roughly 10,000 people bought tickets to attend the “Outline Festival”—a bonanza featuring more than 50 of the top electronic music artists from Russia, the UK, Germany, and the US. The concert would be held at an old factory, which also featured art installations by urban artists from around the globe.

Ten hours before the festival was scheduled to kick off, however, organizers suddenly posted an update on Facebook announcing that the show had been called off. “Attention!” the notice read. “The festival is canceled due to the reasons beyond our control. Ticket costs will be refunded.” The reason remained unclear, but word quickly spread that Moscow city officials had decided unexpectedly to ban the event.

Yelena Rossokhina, a spokesperson for the Moscow district attorney, told reporters that the festival's organizers failed to get the proper permits to hold the event. Rossokhina highlighted public safety risks, specifically the threat of a fire. “It's not a ban—it's a preventive measure,” she explained.

Nobody likes canceling their plans, and the day Moscow banned this enormously popular music festival was the day Russian Facebook users transformed into apparent experts on event management.

Some Russians admittedly agreed with the district attorney, remembering a fatal incident from 2009 that occurred at a nightclub in Perm, where 156 people died in a fire. Facebook users shared a blurry, scanned document apparently showing that the Outline Festival's organizers were late to contact the Moscow prefect's office, and failed to address several fire-safety concerns. People claiming to be familiar with the situation have confirmed that the document is real, but many Internet users have gone ahead with an online petition demanding a more detailed explanation from the district attorney. (The petition attracted 773 signatures before it was closed and sent to officials.)

Others on Facebook stood by the concert's organizers, using the scandal as an opportunity to criticize Moscow's authorities. Anton Nossik, a media entrepreneur and popular blogger, drew some far-reaching conclusions, arguing that the festival's cancellation should be reason enough for Russians to emigrate. Nikolai Kononov, another figure in the Russian media, blamed the “urbanists” who he says have put their personal success before the interests of democracy, arguing these people ignored Russia's authoritarian creep and are now paying the price.

Yekaterina Dementieva, the chief editor of Afisha magazine, praised the festival's organizers, harshly criticizing the district attorney in an expressive Facebook post that she capped of with a quote from Bogdan Titomir’s 2010 song “Moskva Govno” (“Moscow Is Shit”).

Not everyone recognized the quote. Alexey Kikot, from the pro-Kremlin media outlet, wrote a wordy Facebook post criticizing Dementieva's abuse of Moscow, blaming the festival's organizers exclusively for the cancellation of the event. Soon thereafter, the DJ Dmitry Fomichev created an online petition, demanding that Russia's government censor, Roskomnadzor, fire Dementieva from Afisha for insulting Moscow. Fomichev found especially offensive Dementieva's speculation that the cancellation of the Outline Festival was a trial run for cancelling the 2018 FIFA World Cup, to test what kind of public backlash there might be in response to losing a popular event.

Fomichev's petition fizzled, however, failing to attract more than 130 supporters. Also, technically speaking, Roskomnadzor lacks the authority to remove chief editors from their jobs. Fominchev did succeed, however, in stirring up a new controversy, drawing accusations that he was repeating the kind of behavior that fueled the Stalinist Great Terror.

In other words, it was an ordinary weekend on the RuNet.

Categories: Global Voices

An Ivorian Professor Helps a Student Focus on Class by Carrying Her Baby on His Back

Global Voices Online - Wed, 2016/07/06 - 9:44pm

Honoré Kahi, a professor at Alassane Ouattara University in Bouaké, has become a social media celebrity after strapping the baby of one of his students to his back so that the mother could continue to focus on the class. Source: Site De Rencontre Des Etudiants De L'afrique

The Facebook page Site De Rencontre Des Etudiants De L'afrique (African Students Meeting Place) published a photo on June 29, 2016 showing professor Honoré Kahi giving a class at Alassane Ouattara University in Bouaké about entrepreneurship awareness — with a baby strapped to his back

This caused a storm on Côte d’Ivoire's social media. Below are his comments when contacted by French television:

C’est assez fréquent que des jeunes filles viennent avec leurs enfants en classe. Mais ce jour-là, le bébé de cette étudiante ne cessait de pleurer. Elle est sortie à trois reprises de la salle pour essayer de le calmer, en vain. Au bout d’une trentaine de minutes, je lui ai dit que c’était un cours très important pour son avenir et que pour moi, il fallait qu’elle soit bien concentrée. Je lui ai donc proposé mon aide.

J’ai donc attaché le bébé dans mon dos. Immédiatement, il s’est tu, bercé par les va-et-vient que je faisais pour continuer mon cours, et s’est même endormi ! J’ai pu continuer mon cours pendant une quarantaine de minutes sans aucun problème. Mon étudiante m’a dit qu’elle était très touchée par ce geste et qu’elle avait été très surprise car il y a généralement une certaine distance entre les étudiants et les professeurs.

Pour tout dire, je suis assez étonné de l’engouement autour de ce geste, car c’était vraiment spontané. Des étudiants ont pris des photos car ça les amusait : dans l’imaginaire collectif, on associe d’habitude ce type de porté du bébé à la “mama” africaine… C’est assez rare de voir un homme, qui plus est un enseignant faire ça. J’ai reçu des coups de fils de gens de France, de Côte d’Ivoire, du Mali qui me disent que l’image leur a fait du bien. Je crois que ce que fait un enseignant, pour créer du lien social avec ses étudiants, est aussi important que le contenu de ses cours.

It's quite common for young women to bring their children to class. But that day, this student's baby would not stop crying. She left the room three times to try to calm him, to no success. After half an hour, I told her that it was a very important class for her future and that, for me, she needed to give it her full attention. So I offered to help.

So, I strapped the child to my back. Immediately, he fell quiet, soothed by my movements back and forth across the room as I continued with my class. He even went to sleep! I was able to continue with my class for nearly three quarters of an hour without any interruption. My student told me that she was very touched by my gesture and that she was surprised because there is generally a certain distance between teachers and students.

I'm frankly surprised that this gesture has received so much attention, because it was really spontaneous. The students took photos because they found it funny: in our collective imagination, we associate carrying a baby on your back in this way with an African ‘Mama'… It's quite rare to see a man do that, let alone a teacher. I've had people from France, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali get in touch to tell me that the pictures have made them smile. I think that what a teacher does to create social links with their students is just as important as the content of their classes.

Categories: Global Voices

Tax Evasion or Political Journalism? Private Newspaper’s Battle With Zambian Government Continues

Global Voices Online - Wed, 2016/07/06 - 4:44pm

A screenshot of The Post newspaper headline announcing the shutter.

In a new twist following the seizure of assets belonging to the country's main independent newspaper on June 21 2016, Zambian police arrested and released on bond The Post's owner Freddy M'membe, winner of the 1995 CPJ International Press Freedom Award; his wife Mutinta Mazoka M'membe and its managing editor Joseph Mwenda, for allegedly attempting to make forced entry into the newspaper's premises. The officers allegedly beat them up before taking them to the police station.

The three went to The Post's offices to take possession of the instruments necessary to the running of their business, after the Tax Appeals Tribunal ordered the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) to allow the newspaper to resume operations — a ruling which the ZRA ignored. ZRA claims that The Post owes outstanding taxes estimated at K68 million (US$6.1 million), dating back to 2009. The newspaper disputes this amount and has been asking the authorities to reconcile their figures.

The Post is known for its investigative reporting and criticism against successive governments. Some netizens, local and international media organisations and donors have expressed their suspicion about the timing of the arrests and seizing of assets. The United States government released a statement saying that the closure of the newspaper only weeks before these important elections in Zambia is of deep concern. Come August 2016, Zambians will be going to the polls to vote in its general elections; the newspaper has been the main platform for the opposition candidates, as the public media is owned and controlled by the government.

Speaking on behalf of the police, Acting Spokesperson Ray Hamoonga denied reports that the M'membes and Mwenda were beaten up by the police, challenging critics to obtain medical reports from the hospital and, if incriminating, report the incident to any police station in the country. He added one caveat however, saying that the police are allowed to use minimum brutality on individuals who resist arrest.

But his statement has not inspired confidence. Many Zambians routinely question the professionalism and neutrality of the country's police, and often remind them that they are not a force but a service. Zambia's police used to be known as the Police Force, but to change the attitude of the public and foster better working relations, the name was changed to Police Service — therefore, the police fall under a public service entity.

Moses Munsaka wondered what minimum force entailed:

The men and women in Uniform should be challenged on the issue of using minimum force. How much is minimum? Can that be measured? No need for self defence (sic). If the people were emotionally and psychologically abused, what more do the men and women in uniforms require from the trio. Please act professionally and not politically. You are a service and not a force. Maintain professionalism. Just concerned.

Sylvester Chisanga observed:

Very funny but sad at the same time. Its not possible for the Zebras to report to the Lions about the brutal behaviour of Lions on the Zebras and expect to be positively assisted! The lions will simply be happy to use the Zebra's meat as ‘Colgate’ for cleaning their teeth with.

Charles Nalishebo complained:

which police are they going to report to coz zambia police is being controled (sic) by pf [the ruling Patriotic Front]. we no longer trust police coz they are de (the) most corupt people

Wrote Bwalya Katongo:

We are back to one party brutal state! And it will be too late for carders (sic) to realize this!

However, not everyone is on the side of The Post newspaper. Some netizens feel that M'membe is putting on a show to win public sympathy. Mike Mubanga said:

Only a fool would say that Mmembe was beaten by the police. Is that how a person who has been by the police looks like. He is just mocking that cadre who was beaten at woodlands police.

In Zambia, anyone who supports a particular political party is called a ‘cadre’ — especially those who are visibly active. Mubanga's Facebook comment highlights one example of the level of violence that the country has been experiencing in the lead-up to its August elections — and infers that the editor's claim that the police beat him undermined the stories of those who were actually beaten by the police for their political engagement.

Mubanga later responded to this comment, saying:

He has been advised to get a medical report and the report the assault to the police. If he was really beaten he was going to do that because he claims to be lawyer and he knows how to deal with an assault case.

Brian L. Kasoka attributed the entire saga to a miscalculation on the part of the newspaper's owners:

Mmember's Bitterness Has Gone Too Far Hence Taking Him To Police Custrd (custody) How I Wish He Was Listening To Othr People's Advise, The Post By Now Could Have Been Opened.

Among many, the feeling on the ground is that The Post should pay the money it owes. The ongoing struggle lies in making people aware of the importance of having sustainable independent media that can communicate an unbiased perspective — in this election year and beyond.

Categories: Global Voices

Australia Waits on Close Count as Election Backfires on ‘Fizza’ Prime Minister

Global Voices Online - Wed, 2016/07/06 - 10:34am

Malcolm Turnbull visits Indonesia November 2015. Courtesy Flickr user Australian Embassy Jakarta (CC BY 2.0)

Australia and its prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, may have a long wait to learn the result of the federal election held on 2 July 2016. Turnbull replaced the former prime minister, Tony Abbott, in September 2015 in a Liberal Party coup. His popularity at the time should have made him an easy winner at the next election.

However, the counting on Saturday night was inconclusive with neither the government nor the opposition confirmed as winning a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. The election of several minor party candidates and independents means that there may be a hung parliament, with neither side having a majority. Seventy-six of the 150 seats are needed to govern. The prime minister must have the confidence of the House, where governments are formed based on the Westminster system.

It was Turnbull who called early elections, but that decision seems to have backfired. The situation has caused a resurgence in references on social media to Turnbull as being a “fizza” — comparing him to a big red firecracker that only fizzes, failing to live up to its promise.

Considering Turnbull's form last night & during #ausvotes campaign, whoever came up with Fizza was prescient LMAO!

— Cranky Pants Noely (@YaThinkN) July 2, 2016

The count of votes has been complicated by a number of factors, some unique to Australia. Firstly, a candidate must gain more than 50% to win a House seat. A preferential system of voting is used, with electors required to give each candidate a vote in order of their preference. These are distributed if necessary until one candidate has an absolute majority (50% + 1 vote). Secondly, voting is compulsory. Electors who cannot get to a polling booth on election day may caste a pre-poll vote or a postal ballot.

The government is hoping that postal votes will favor them in the count of close contests. Not everyone is convinced:

Nothing's gone to plan this election still the LNP expects postal votes to continue favouring them #stilldelusional #ausvotes #auswaits

— Jeff Meyers (@rocket_speaks) July 5, 2016

The Liberal-National coalition ‘is a political alliance of centre-right parties’. Its main opponent is the Australian Labor Party, currently lead by Bill Shorten.

In the days before election day, most political commentators and the mainstream media had predicted a clear win for the Liberal-National parties’ coalition. Turnbull had appealed for stability after the UK's Brexit vote to leave the European Union.

The unexpected results have triggered soul-searching within the Liberal Party and possible moves against Turnbull's leadership. Political journalists such as Eliza Borrello are already quoting anonymous sources about instability within the coalition:

I'm still confused by the definition of stability #auswaits

— Dave Cooper (@DCoopes) July 5, 2016

BREAKING from a conservative: If @TurnbullMalcolm does a deal selling us out for himself we can change him @1st party room meeting @abc news

— Eliza Borrello (@ElizaBorrello) July 4, 2016

Turnbull had called a double-dissolution, with all senators up for election rather than the normal half-Senate election. His strategy to get rid of minor parties and independents there also backfired. Anthony Cooke could see the funny side:

BREAKING: New Australian senate poses for first photo. #ausvotes #ausvotes2016 #auspol #bunchofclowns #senatecircus

— Anthony Cooke (@warmbloodedfish) July 2, 2016

While #auswaits for the final count and results, some are tired of the leaders after an unusually long eight-week campaign:

Both leaders probably don't need to be seen until there is a result. The nation will cope, I suspect.

— Greg Jericho (@GrogsGamut) July 5, 2016

It will be days, if not weeks. We'll keep you posted.

Categories: Global Voices

Swastikas and Porn or: How Russian Cops Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet Crackdown

Global Voices Online - Wed, 2016/07/06 - 9:38am

“The War Room” scene from the 1964 classic “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Image edited by Kevin Rothrock.

When the news website MediaZona reported in January 2016 that Russian police pad their solved-crime statistics by targeting young men who share pornography on social networks, it seemed like the quintessence of how Russia’s onerous new Internet regulations misallocate the country’s law-enforcement resources. But now this problem has a new perfect example, and it has to do with the Web’s other favorite obsession: Nazis.

Last month, a court in the Rostov region convicted a police officer of abusing his authority and forging evidence. According to his trial, Detective D. Eliseev reached out to a local man named A. Minaev on January 16, 2015, asking him to find someone in town who would agree to publish a swastika on their Vkontakte page, on the promise that the punishment would be the absolute minimum fine. (It’s unclear what monetary reward Eliseev offered in exchange.) Minaev had some experience in this sort of thing, having been fined twice the year before for sharing “extremist content” online, including images of swastikas.

Three days later, Eliseev asked Minaev to come to his office, where the detective told him that police were preparing to charge him with publishing a video online that allegedly violated Russia’s laws against extremism. Eliseev warned him that he would be jailed for at least 15 days, unless he accepted a strange deal: post another swastika online and accept a fine of 1,000 rubles ($15), which Eliseev promised to pay himself. When Minaev agreed, the detective took the man’s laptop, loaded his Vkontakte page, published a picture of a swastika, and then handed back the computer. Afterwards, Eliseev wrote up a police report and took a statement from Minaev, drafting the documents with the next day’s date.

Unbeknownst to the detective, however, Minaev recorded the whole exchange with a hidden microphone. A few days later, Minaev went to the district attorney’s office, which he learned wasn’t building any case against him. Prosecutors then convinced him to file charges against Detective Eliseev, and a new criminal investigation was underway.

Eliseev wasn’t out of tricks, though, and he soon persuaded Minaev to drop the charges, with the help of a little financial incentive. He even gave Minaev another microphone, asking him to record his next conversation with the prosecutors. Finishing this comedy of errors, Minaev then told the prosecutors about the microphone from Eliseev, and the district attorney outfitted him with yet another recording device (now the third one in Minaev’s arsenal), which he used to tape one last conversation with the detective.

According to the judge, Eliseev wanted to advance his career and win bonus pay by faking “time-consuming inspection work.” Nevertheless, he remains a free man. On June 17, 2016, a Rostov regional court sentenced Eliseev to two years and three months of probation, then granting him amnesty on the spot.

The human rights agency Sova, which tracks different kinds of hate crimes, says Detective Eliseev’s approach to policing extremism is typical in Russia. “Law enforcement officials on the ground are interested primarily in improving their quantitative measures,” the group writes.

Categories: Global Voices

#IAmNotAfraidToSayIt: Ukrainian Social Media Users Break the Silence on Sexual Violence

Global Voices Online - Wed, 2016/07/06 - 8:03am

Image from The Noun Project. Edited by Tetyana Lokot.

A new hashtag is trending in the Ukrainian segment of Facebook: ‪#‎ЯНеБоюсьСказати‬ (#IAmNotAfraidToSayIt). On the hashtag, Internet users have been sharing their stories and experiences of sexual harassment, sexual violence, and domestic violence.

The hashtag—and the ensuing flashmob—was started by activist and journalist Nastya Melnychenko, who published a post explaining her desire to speak out on Facebook on July 5.

In her post, Melnychenko says she feels the need to talk about her very personal experiences of sexual violence because it's important for women who have faced such violence to speak about it and make it “visible.”

Я хочу, аби сьогодні говорили ми, жінки. Аби ми говорили про насильство, яке пережила більшість з нас. Я хочу, аби ми не оправдувалися “я йшла у спортивках серед дня, а мене все одно схопили”. Бо нам не треба оправдуватися. Ми не винні, винен ЗАВЖДИ насильник.
Я не боюсь говорити. І я не почуваюся винною.

I want us, women, to talk today. To talk about the violence that most of us have lived through. I want us to stop making excuses and saying “I was wearing gym clothes during the day, and still got pawed.” We don't need to make excuses. We're not to blame, those who violate us are ALWAYS to blame.
I am not afraid to speak out. And I do not feel guilty.

Melnychenko recounts several instances of sexual harassment and violence throughout her life, from the time she was a child of 6 and harassed by a distant male relative, to the time she was already an adult and an ex-boyfriend threatened to post a sex video of them made earlier online as revenge for the breakup.

Melnychenko's post and her call to share their stories resulted in multiple other Facebook users in Ukraine using the hashtag to post about their own experiences of sexual violence.

Some have replied in the comments to her post, while others posted separately. The initial post has been shared over 60 times and has over a hundred comments: some of them praising Melnychenko's bravery, others critical of her exposure, and some outright abusive.

Women have shared stories of being violated by strangers or friends; of indecent exposure by teachers, neighbors or relatives; of classmates harassing them; of colleagues and bosses who pressured them into sex; and dozens of other cases.

One user commented on how appalling it was to see the scale of the issue once the Facebook posts and comments started popping up.

Від цих історій волосся стає дибки і думаєш, яке щастя, що нічого такого не сталося з тобою. А потім починаєш пригадувати того сусідського хлопчика, який намагався переконати тебе зняти трусики, і того голого незнайомця в парку, і того іншого голого в сквері, і всі оті обмацування в метро, і ту смішну поїздку в потязі, коли п'яний сусід по купе серед ночі пробував на тебе залізти…
‪#‎яНеБоюсьСказати‬, але мені моторошно від того, наскільки повсякденним є такий досвід і скільки ще є таких нерозказаних історій.

These stories make you break out in goosebumps and you hair stand on end, and you think, how great that nothing like that has ever happened to me. And then you recall the neighborhood boy who tried to get you to take your panties off, and the naked stranger in the park, and another naked dude in another park, and all those pawing you on the subway, and the weird train ride when your drunk compartment neighbor tried to mount you in the middle of the night…
#IAmNotAfraidToSayIt, but it makes me nauseous how common and routine this kind of experience is and how many of these stories remain untold.

Nastya Melnychenko later edited her post to add that men were also welcome to share their stories. Ukrainian artist Eliash Strongowski responded to the call and recounted his own childhood experiences.

Коли у старших класах я волонтерив на телефоні довіри, таки х історій були десятки щодня. З крутішим ґрадусом – реґулярне зґвалтування батьком чи вітчимом, чи навіть студентом на практиці в школі, дехто і про аборти від такого розповідав; історії про “по кругу” в дитячих таборах, з або без вихователем; публічне приниження за відмову – з публічним же безкарним рукоприкладством. І все це з вимогою мовчати під страхом смерти. У мене кров стигла, а для них то була буденність.

When I worked the crisis phone helpline as a high school student, there were dozens of these stories every day. The worst would include being raped by a father or stepfather, or a college student interning at a school, some even mentioned getting abortions after this; stories about being “passed around” in summer camps, with or without the camp councelor's involvement; public humiliation for refusal to succumb—with public violence without consequence. And all of this with a promise to keep silent under threat of death. My blood would run cold, and for these people this was everyday life.

Strongowski also noted that peer pressure and social upbringing factored into why he himself had engaged in harassment as a teen, despite having experienced unwanted sexual advances before.

Що значить що нас так виховують. Дівчат – із комплексом жертви, хлопців – із комплексом насильника. Збоченців і хворих вистачає, але першопричина – у нас суспільство під це заточене.
Тому я фемініст. Тому мені не байдуже і тому про це треба говорити – голосно і без страху.

It means we are brought up this way. Girls to have a victim complex, and boys to have a rapist complex. There are plenty of perverts and sick people, but the primary reason is that our society is honed to do this.
This is why I am a feminist. This is why I care and why we should talk about it—loudly and without fear.

Ukrainian Facebook users have already published dozens of posts with the hashtag, supporting the campaign and sharing their stories or reacting to others’. Civic activists with Campaign Against Discrimination said in a Facebook post that talking about these very personal issues (usually seen as taboo in Ukrainian society) is an important first step towards changing the status quo.

Говорити про дискримінацію, несправедливість, насильство – це перший крок до змін. Коли ми говоримо про такі речі, інші розуміють, що вони не самі, що треба захищати свої права і що жодна людина не має зазнавати утисків. Підритмуємо ‪#‎яНеБоюсьСказати‬

Speaking about discrimination, injustice, violence is the first step toward change. When we speak about these things, others understand that they are not alone, that they must protect their rights, and that no person should face such discrimination. We support #IAmNotAfraifToSayIt

Categories: Global Voices

A New Mexican Organization Is Trying to Put an End to Corruption

Global Voices Online - Wed, 2016/07/06 - 4:51am

Logo of Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity. Used with permission.

Mexico is a country mired in the dark depths of corruption. In the 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index from the NGO Transparency International, Mexico ranked 95 out of 167, alongside Armenia, Mali and the Philippines. Not surprisingly, Mexican lawmakers earlier this year watered down a package of reforms meant to promote transparency.

With a political class reticent to change the rules, who seem to be more interested in maintaining a status quo that benefits them, who can we trust to forge a better future? Perhaps civil organizations who are separate from the country's particracy.

With this in mind, we spoke with the co-founders of Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity, sociologist and researcher María Amparo Casar and lawyer and social activist Claudio X. González, to understand their perspective on the corruption crisis and their plans to combat it.

Below is an extract from an interview with María Amparo Casar.

Global Voices (GV): What is the magnitude of the corruption problem in Mexico? How serious is it and what are some of the consequences? 

María Amparo Casar (MAC): La corrupción es un problema crítico por la extensión del fenómeno, la frecuencia con que ocurre y las consecuencias que acarrea. A nivel nacional la población considera que las prácticas de corrupción son frecuentes o muy frecuentes y que el nivel de la corrupción actual comparado con el de los últimos años ha aumentado considerablemente. La corrupción ha ido escalando entre las inquietudes de la población hasta que hoy en día la mayoría de las encuestas la sitúan entre los problemas que más preocupan a los mexicanos.

María Amparo Casar (MAC): Corruption is a major problem because of how widespread the phenomenon is, how frequently it occurs and the consequences it carries. On a national level, people think that corruption is frequent or very frequent and that the current level of corruption has increased considerably over the last years. Worries about corruption have been on the rise among the general population and nowadays surveys show that it is the one of biggest concerns for Mexicans.

The organization based part of these observations on their study of Mexico's press. In recent times, numerous cases have caught the attention of print media.

MAC: Una de las mediciones que permite estudiar la frecuencia de actos de corrupción en México es el análisis de prensa. El aumento de menciones de corrupción en la prensa es impresionante: de 502 notas periodísticas y 27 titulares de periódicos que mencionaban la palabra en 1996 se pasó a 29,505 notas y 2,587 titulares en 2014. Este notable crecimiento no indica necesariamente el incremento de la corrupción en México. La transición democrática que vivió́ el país en el último tercio del siglo XX trajo aparejada mayor libertad de prensa y, a partir de 2002, un considerable incremento en el acceso a la información pública. Es posible que los actos de corrupción se hayan mantenido en niveles semejantes al pasado pero que dadas la mayor libertad, el mayor número y pluralidad de medios (sobre todo en la prensa y redes sociales), los recursos dedicados a la investigación periodística independiente y el interés de exhibirlos por parte de los medios de comunicación, el conocimiento de los mismos y la conciencia generalizada sobre este problema haya crecido exponencialmente.

En México, el problema de la corrupción se considera como de carácter sistémico, dicho de otra manera, que permea a casi la totalidad del cuerpo político, económico y social. En otras democracias que han avanzado en el control de la corrupción, ésta se presenta como una excepción o como un problema que se concentra sólo en algunos sectores o instituciones.

MAC: One of the methods that allows the frequency of corrupt acts to be studied is a press analysis. The rise in references to corruption in the press is striking: From 502 reports and 27 newspaper headlines which mentioned the word in 1996 to 29,505 reports and 2,587 headlines in 2014. This sizable increase doesn't necessarily indicate corruption is on the rise in Mexico. The democratic transition which the country went through in the last part of the 20th century brought with it greater freedom for the press and, since 2002, a considerable rise in access to public information. It's possible that corruption levels have remained the same as compared to the past, only that more freedom, a greater number and variety of media sources (above all in the press and social media sites), more resources dedicated to independent journalistic research and interest on the part of media outlets to publish, have lead to the exponential growth in knowledge and general awareness about this issue. The corruption problem is considered a systemic issue in Mexico. In other words, it permeates almost the entirety of the political, economic and social sphere. In other democracies, where there have been advances in controlling corruption, it is only an exception to the rule or a problem which is concentrated in a few sectors or institutions.

The cost of this problem is also very high.

MAC: La corrupción tiene altos costos sociales, económicos y políticos. En el ámbito económico, la corrupción da como resultado menor competencia, pérdida de competitividad y productividad, disminución de la inversión, menor tasa de eficiencia en la recaudación y el desvío del gasto público hacia fines privados.

MAC: Corruption has high social, economic and political costs. In the economic sphere corruption lowers the ability to compete, resulting in a loss of competitiveness and productivity, loss of investment, lower rates of earning efficiency and the diversion of public money towards private purposes.

In addition, Amparo Casar mentioned other consequences of corruption that also contribute to the seriousness of the situation:

MAC: En el espacio social, [la corrupción] contribuye a la desigualdad en el ingreso, promueve el clientelismo, disminuye la equidad de oportunidades y provoca el desvío de recursos dedicados a los programas sociales; erosiona la confianza entre individuos y el tejido social. Adicionalmente, profundiza la desigualdad en el acceso a la justicia e incentiva la violencia.

MAC: In the social arena, [corruption] contributes to income inequality, promotes cronyism, diminishes equal opportunities and provokes the diversion of funds dedicated to social programs. This erodes trust between individuals and the social fabric. Additionally, it deepens inequality in terms of access to justice and promotes violence.

Full logo for the organization. Image used with permission.

GV: What is Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity trying to do to deal with this problem?

MAC: Nos hemos propuesto generar las condiciones normativas, institucionales y culturales necesarias para que los ciudadanos, funcionarios públicos y el sector privado eviten, rechacen y denuncien la corrupción, en todas sus formas. Por ello, Mexicanos contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad se compromete a:

  • Estudiar, medir y exhibir las causas, costos, impactos y consecuencias de la corrupción.
  • Proponer ordenamientos jurídicos y políticas públicas tendientes a cerrar las ventanas de oportunidad que generan los actos y redes de corrupción, así como la impunidad que los acompaña.
  • Investigar, denunciar y perseguir casos y redes de corrupción frente a los que las autoridades permanecen impasibles.
  • Traducir, encauzar y conducir la indignación ciudadana en acciones conducentes a combatir la corrupción a través de la cultura de la denuncia y la participación social.

Esto implica una acción integral, no sólo para denunciar, sino para exigir sanciones y proponer acciones ante actos de corrupción, que involucren y empoderen a los ciudadanos.

MAC: We have proposed the creation of necessary institutional and cultural regulatory conditions so that citizens, public servants and the private sector avoid, reject and report corruption, in all of its forms. Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity therefore commits itself to:

  • Study, measure and expose the causes, costs, impact and consequences of corruption.
  • Propose judicial and political laws aimed at closing opportunities for corrupt acts and corruption networks, as well as the impunity that goes along with them.
  • Investigate, report and pursue cases and corruption networks that authorities have been indifferent towards.
  • Transmit, channel and direct the people's indignation into actions which battle corruption through a culture of citizen reporting and social participation.

This means integrated action, not only to report [corruption], but also to demand sanctions and propose actions meant to deal with corrupt acts. This will involve and empower the people.

GV: How to you plan on involving citizens? What response do you expect to receive? 

MAC: Queremos ser el referente en el tema de corrupción e impunidad y difundiremos reportajes, trabajos de investigación aplicada y litigio estratégico que desarrolle la organización.

Además, buscaremos brindar espacio a información de distintas fuentes, que refleje la pluralidad de las voces que se pronuncian sobre el tema en el país.

El objetivo es crear una comunidad interesada en su entorno y cómo contribuir a combatir la corrupción.

MAC: We want to be an example for the corruption and impunity issue. We are disseminating reports, research and strategic litigation which the organization is working on.

We are also creating space for information from different sources which reflect the variety of voices that are talking about this issue in our country.

The objective is to create a community that is interested in their surroundings and to contribute ways to battle corruption.

Amparo Casar pointed to social networking sites, in particular, as a way to reach out:

MAC: A través de Twitter nuestro público es más especializado; provienen de la academia y de medios de comunicación, quienes a su vez poseen un público muy enfocado en esos sectores, por lo que buscamos colocar temas en la agenda prioritarios en la lucha contra la corrupción.

En Facebook el público es más doméstico y variado. Aglutina ciudadanos “de a pie” principalmente, quienes acostumbran informarse a través de las redes sociales, y en esta red buscamos generar un debate entre la ciudadanía y especialistas.

MAC: Through our Twitter account we reach a more specialized public; people from academia and media outlets, people who in turn have a very specialized public focused in those sectors. For this reason we post pressing agenda issues about the fight against corruption.

On Facebook our public is less specialized and more varied. It is mostly made of up of ordinary citizens who are used to keeping themselves informed with social networks; on this site we try to generate a debate between citizens and specialists.

GV: Could you point to a country where corruption has decreased as a result of citizen participation, as an example for Mexico to follow?  

MAC: México no está condenado a ser un país caracterizado por la corrupción y la impunidad. En esta transformación, el compromiso de los ciudadanos y la presión de la sociedad civil son esenciales: ningún país que haya sido exitoso en reducir significativamente la corrupción lo ha hecho sin que la sociedad desempeñe un papel protagónico en ese esfuerzo.

Sólo desde la sociedad civil puede surgir la acción coordinada necesaria para romper las redes de complicidad que sostienen a la corrupción. Además, es en la sociedad en donde los valores, actitudes y conductas se pueden transformar para establecer nuevos patrones de socialización, en los que la ilegalidad no tenga cabida.

Se requiere el compromiso y la acción de todos los integrantes de la sociedad –ciudadanos, gobierno y sector privado– sobre una base normativa legítima y eficaz y al amparo de un sistema de justicia capaz de hacer valer la ley de manera irrestricta. La sociedad necesita posicionar un frente común que, de manera permanente, rechace y denuncie la ilegalidad, que exhiba a quienes se corrompen y que renuncie a ser un eslabón más en la cadena.

Existen varios países en donde la presión ciudadana ha obligado a cambios institucionales para combatir la corrupción. Recientemente, el Primer Ministro de Islandia presentó su renuncia después de que más de 10 mil ciudadanos se manifestaran exigiendo respuestas sobre su vinculación con el escándalo denominado Panama Papers. En democracias consolidadas, la pérdida de credibilidad y legitimidad es suficiente para que los políticos rindan cuentas a los ciudadanos, con acciones que pueden llegar, incluso, a la renuncia, sin que haya un juicio político o investigaciones formales de por medio. Ese es el tipo de relación entre ciudadanos y gobierno al que debemos aspirar.

MAC: Mexico is not condemned to be a country defined by corruption and impunity. In this transformation, citizen commitment and pressure from civil society is crucial. No country has been able to successfully reduce corruption in a significant way without society taking a lead role in the effort.

It is only from civil society that the coordinated action needed to break these networks of complicity that support corruption can come about. It is also from within society that values, attitudes and conduct can transform to establish new social patterns where illegal activities have no place.

This requires commitment and action on all levels of society – citizens, government and the private sector – built on a legitimate and effective normative foundation and the protection of a judicial system capable of enforcing the law without exception. Society needs to come together in a common front which permanently rejects and reports illegal activities, exposes corrupt individuals and refuses to be another cog in the wheel.

There are a number of countries where citizen pressure has forced institutional change and combated corruption. Recently, the prime minister of Iceland gave his resignation after more than 10,000 citizens protested and demanded answers regarding his connection to the Panama Papers scandal. In strong democracies, the loss of credibility and legitimacy is enough for politicians to be held accountable by citizens, even leading to resignation without the need of impeachment or formal investigations. This is the type of citizen-government relationship that we aspire to.

María Amparo Casar. Photo used with permission.

María Amparo Casar is the executive president of Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity. She is editorialist for the newspaper Excélsior and she has also worked as anti-corruption director for the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness. You can follow her on her Twitter account @AmparoCasar.

Categories: Global Voices
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