Archive for category Country Reports

Stop the Genocide of the Rohingya People!

Rohingya Woman.

Rohingya Woman.

Wael Abdelgawad |

I can hardly believe that 8 years ago, in May 2009, I wrote:

“Please do what you can for Aung San Suu Kyi. Sign petitions, and make your voice heard. She is a modern day hero and represents the brightest possible future for her country.”

Then on November 14, 2010, I wrote:

“So glad that Aung San Suu Kyi has been freed, and I hope this is only the beginning for Burma.”

Yet today, with Aung San Suu Kyi in power as the 1st State Counselor in Myanmar/Burma, she remains deafeningly silent in the face of one of the worst crimes of this century – the ongoing genocide and brutalization of the Muslim Rohingya minority of Myanmar at the hands of Buddhist mobs, the army and the police.

The Rohingya people of Myanmar are suffering nothing less than systematic genocide. How can the world allow this to continue?

The U.N. recently condemned the “devastating” abuse of the Rohingya by the Buddhist majority.

Time Magazine has said that the Rohingya are “facing the final stages of genocide,” while the BBC News pleaded, “Who will help Myanmar’s Rogingya?”

Please press your local representatives to do something about the Rohingya crisis.

And please donate generously to help these suffering people.

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Massacres in Egypt reveal the interim military government for what it is

Wael Abdelgawad |

The massacre of over 2,000 protesters in Egypt today, and the return to a “state of emergency”, must be recognized as a turning point. Either all nations must expressly condemn this illegitimate military government and press for General Al-Sisi to immediately step down, or Egypt may follow Syria’s road into civil war. Sisi has revealed himself as a criminal and a murderer.

The American and European governments (with their tepid comments) have shown themselves to be hypocrites, supporting democracy only as long as they like the winner.

I shake my head at the young Egyptians who think this could be in any way good for Egypt. The security forces responsible for today’s massacres are the exact same murderers and torturers who have ruled Egypt for decades. They are the same ones who took people away during the night to be tortured and killed. Under them, Egypt had one of the worst human rights records in the world. And you trust these people to lead you?

Some say that the photos of pre-coup protests against Morsi were inflated or doctored. They say that the pro-Morsi demonstrations were much larger than reported. Who knows? What I do know is that democracy isn’t based on who has the larger protest. The only way to legitimately weigh the leanings of the people is through the ballot box. In a democracy, the ballot box is how we express or satisfaction or discontent. The ballot box is how we effect change.

Morsi is the only elected president Egypt has ever had. His opponents should have campaigned against him, organized and overthrown him legitimately at the next election. To remove him through military action was illegal. The youth who supported the coup are immature and naive. When you invite the wolf back in and give him control of the farm, this is what you get.

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Libya has an opportunity to become the first Arab Spring state to end torture

Prison guard in a prison in Libya

A prison guard stands near prisoners who are suspected of being fighters for Muammar Gaddafi at a post office, where they are being detained, in Joumaa market district in Tripoli August 30, 2011. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

By Wael Abdelgawad |

One of the things the people fought for in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya was to end torture and the government culture of impunity. The newly liberated people in these nations must not, cannot, continue the abuses that they fought so hard to overturn.

In Tunisia and Egypt, the revolutions are incomplete. Figures from the old regimes remain in power, and the cultures of government repression and police torture have not changed.

Libya may be a different story. The Libyan revolution was a hard and bitter fight compared to Tunisia and Egypt; but the upside of this may be that all regime figures have been swept away. Libya has an opportunity to build something new from the ground up.

One area in need of immediate attention is the justice system.

In new liberated Libya, more than 7,000 prisoners are being held in dozens of makeshift prisons. The men are packed into tiny, dingy cells where they remain without charges or trial, according to human rights groups and recent detainees. Some have been subjected to torture, according to reports.

I’m not saying that I don’t understand where this comes from. Libya is in a state of semi-chaos right now. The various prisons are being run by militias who fought for liberation. The militias are undisciplined and unregulated, while the prisoners they are guarding are former Gaddafi soldiers and mercenaries, many of whom committed atrocities. The militias’ anger is still fresh, and their desire for vengeance must run deep.

”Some of these [pro-Gaddafi] people raped, some killed. There was vandalism. They tortured us; they killed kids,” said Abdel Gader Abu Shaallah, who oversees two other makeshift prisons in Misrata.

But the liberators are no longer rebels. Libya is free, and the government must act quickly to bring all institutions under state control, and to make sure that abuses are stopped. No matter what crimes the prisoners are accused of, if torture is allowed to take place, then the liberators become little better than the government they fought so hard to replace.

Amnesty International issued a report in early October saying Libya’s new rulers were in danger of repeating human rights abuses commonplace under Gaddafi. The NTC said it would look into the report.

Fortunately, the reports of torture seem to be isolated rather than systematic; and the resolve to end the abuses seems to be there. ”We joined the revolution to end such mistreatment, not to see it continue in any form,” Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril told Human Rights Watch.

Now what remains is to implement this ideal.

I call upon the Libyan government to act decisively to make their justice system fair and transparent; to clearly and strongly prohibit torture within their jails and prisons; and to punish (or at least remove from authority) anyone guilty of committing these abuses.

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Two Tortured Security Contractors May Sue – But It’s not Enough

Donald Rumsfeld

Under President George W Bush, Donald Rumsfeld was one of the architects of the war in Iraq

Donald Vance and Nathan Ertel were private security contractors working in Iraq. They were employed in 2005 and 2006 by a company called Shield Group Security. At some point they became aware that the company was bribing Iraqi officials, and was engaging in illegal arms trafficking and other illegal activity. So Donald and Nathan did what any conscientious American would do. They reported what they had discovered to American officials in Iraq.

The next thing they knew, they were detained by U.S. military personnel, stripped of their belongings, handcuffed and fingerprinted, strip-searched and locked in a cage.

The BBC news reports,

They were then taken to Camp Cropper near Baghdad International Airport, where they experienced a nightmarish scene in which they were detained incommunicado, in solitary confinement, and subjected to physical and psychological torture for the duration of their imprisonment – Vance for three months and Ertel for six weeks…

The men claim they were deprived of sleep, food and water, held in extremely cold cells without warm clothing, and threatened with beatings.

They were ultimately released at the Baghdad airport and were never charged or designated security risks.

The men later sued former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, claiming that he created the policies that allowed them to be detained and tortured. The government challenged the suit, claiming immunity.

On August 8, 2011, a federal appeals court ruled that former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld had no immunity in the case.

“Plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to show that Secretary Rumsfeld personally established the relevant policies that caused the alleged violations of their constitutional rights during detention,” the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Chicago, ruled in a 2-1 decision on Monday that upheld a decision by a lower US district court.

Not Enough

The court’s ruling is a welcome development, but it’s a miniscule step forward against a tide of violations of civil rights, torture and impunity. These two men are getting their day in court because they were American citizens and because their actions were noble. Therefore we look at the fact that they were tortured and we say, “How awful, they didn’t deserve that!”

But the truth is that no human being deserves to be tortured. Not an American accused of aiding the enemy, not an enemy combatant, no one. How many thousands of others have been tortured by American military forces, intelligence agencies and their clients? How many have been murdered in “extrajudicial killings”, how many have been quietly buried after dying in secret CIA-run prisons and other so-called “black sites”?

Are their lives worth less because they are not Americans? Is it acceptable to torture them because they are our political enemies?

Torture is inhuman. It has no place in this world. It must be ended, by all parties, under all circumstances, regardless of citizenship, regardless of circumstance.

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The Arab Spring

Meadow with purple and white flowers

By Wael Abdelgawad |

I know I’ve been quiet on the subject of the “Arab Spring” – the pro-democracy movement sweeping the Arab world. It’s not for lack of caring. Actually the Arabic satellite news plays in our house every day, we discuss the events daily, and I have written about them on other blogs.

These are heady, inspiring times. The Tunisian people’s revolution that kicked the whole thing off, demonstrated the power of mass peaceful protest. People who are unafraid, who say, “We won’t take this anymore” and are ready to back up that statement with their own lives, can do anything.

When Egypt followed suit, at first the analysts said, “Don’t get ahead of yourselves, the case of Egypt is different, the mukhabarat (secret police) are powerful.” But at the time I wrote on another blog,

I am sure that when the first youth went out in Tunisia to demonstrate against the dictator Ben Ali, their families said to them, “What? Are you crazy? You are just some kids, you will never get rid of Ben Ali, this is insanity.” And now look. The dictator has fled, political parties have been unbanned, the press is free, political prisoners have been freed, and all because of some youth with a dream who would not listen to those who told them, “No.”

As I write this, plainclothes police and paid thugs are shooting at the Egyptian youth in Tahrir square. Some of you may be thinking, “This dream of freedom for Egypt is over.” You know what? Don’t count them out yet. The power of an idea cannot be underestimated. The power of one man, one woman, standing up and pursuing a dream of freedom against all odds, cannot be calculated. They are not giving up on their dream. We will see what tomorrow brings. I am praying for the people of Egypt tonight, praying for the youth, praying for justice, praying for freedom. My hands are trembling as I write this. But I’m not giving up on the power of a dream. There is no change and no power except by God!

Later, after Mubarak resigned, I wrote,

Mubarak the dictator is gone. But the January 25th revolution must continue until all the corrupt old guard are gone. The killers and torturers of Khaled Said and so many other innocents must be brought to justice. The voice of the people must be respected, and their freedom assured.

What has happened is a huge first step, a historic moment. It is a tremendous victory for the people and the youth. A new age has dawned on Egypt. Now ahead lies the journey.

Remembering the Fallen

A few months have gone by since I wrote that, and the Arab Spring continues to unfold. Protests continue in Yemen and Syria, with both governments acting brutally to repress the people. In Syria in particular, the government has treated its own citizens as enemies. And of course in Libya the terrible drama continues, with Gaddafi entrenched and making war on his people.

I want to take a moment to honor the sacrifices of the brave protesters in these nations. These people are painting a signpost to the future with their own blood. The Libyan officers who were murdered by Gaddafi when they refused to issue orders to fire on the people; the Egyptian youth who were arrested and disappeared in the early days of the protests; the many innocents gunned down in Syria; they are all heroes whose names may not be recorded in history books, but who are changing the world.


Recent events in Palestine are the latest twist. First, popular protests forced Fateh and Hamas to reconcile, to the fury of the Israelis. Then, on the anniversary of Al-Nakba (the Great Catastrophe – what the Palestinians call the creation of the state of Israel), unarmed Palestinians marched and approached various Israeli checkpoints. The Israelis responded with their usual cold hearted brutality, opening fire with live ammo, killing at least twelve protesters.

Now I wonder, does this herald a new direction for the Palestinian freedom movement? Not armed conflict, nor the endless futile attempts to negotiate with the intransigent Israelis, but continuous peaceful protest? If so, I think it could represent a powerful and dramatic change of direction.

Hopes for the Future

Last year – before the Arab Spring began – I wrote in a poem,

I want the Muslim people
to find their power, art,
science; and the quiet joy
of worship and God’s love.
Let them step into the century
free from tyranny, standing tall
with faith as hope and heart.
Let them drink from the bubbling spring
of the Quran.
Let them breathe.
Let them free themselves
and transform the world.

I have a dream for the Arab world, and the Muslim world in general. I have a dream of a Muslim world informed by faith, but in which all religions are free to practice without restriction. I have a dream of a Muslim world liberated from kings and military dictators. I have a dream of a Muslim world governed by the people, whether that takes the form of multi-party democracies, parliamentary systems, or Islamic-style shura systems. I have a dream of a Muslim world where everyone can speak freely without fear of being arrested and tortured.

I have a dream of a Muslim world that embraces science, education and technological development, in ways that are respectful of the environment. I have a dream of a Muslim world where people can find jobs, and where business and trade are encouraged and not limited by corruption and nepotism. I have a dream of a Muslim world that follows a path of development based on faith, fairness and respect for all living creatures; rather than the Western model of consumerism and corporate greed. I have a dream of a Muslim world with strong cultural and trade ties between nations, where the huge variety of cultures and races in the Ummah is seen as a blessing.

Can my dream ever become real? I don’t know, but if it can, then the events we are seeing today in the Arab world are the first step.

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Shocking Scenes of Poverty in North Korea

An elderly North Korean man

An elderly North Korean man sits on the deck of a boat in the port of Sinuiju July 8, 2006. China and North Korea are separated by the Yalu River, upon which Chinese tourists take pleaure cruises across the water to observe their less economically developed neighbors.

I was deeply shocked by the demeanor and appearance of the young North Korean woman in the video link below. She seems utterly defeated and on the edge of death from starvation. Of course I am aware that starvation is endemic in North Korea, but seeing this rare video footage really brings it home:

I don’t have a solution to the problem of North Korea, which continues to pursue an insane nuclear armaments program even as starvation and poverty are rife, and which has possibly the worst human rights record in the world.

But I know that something must be done, and soon.

Two things occur to me. Whether they are realistic or not I do not know:

1. Immediate and intensive air strikes against North Korean nuclear facilities, with the goal of eradicating their nuclear capability.

2. A reunification offer that the North Korean leader cannot refuse. How about offering him the position of first president of the reunified republic, along with a huge financial incentive. He’ll walk away from it wealthy for life, and will go down in history as the “reunification leader”. That should appeal to his sense of vanity.

Of course he will no longer have the power to order people’s torture and deaths, and will no longer be venerated as a god. Maybe that will be a sticking point.

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Hunger and Trauma in Gaza: a nation being strangled before our eyes

A frightened mother and children in Gaza.

A frightened mother and children in Gaza.


Over 40 years of Israeli military occupation have had a devastating effect on Gaza; airstrikes, artillery shelling, ground invasions, jet flybys and their sonic booms have all led to an epidemic of suffering among Gaza’s most vulnerable inhabitants.

Dr. Evan Kanter, UW school of medicine professor and the current president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, cited studies that revealed 62 % of Gaza’s inhabitants reported having a family member injured or killed, 67% saw injured or dead strangers and 83% had witnessed shootings.

In a study of high school aged children from southern refugee camps in Rafah and Kahn Younis, 69% of the children showed symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), 40% showed signs of moderate or severe depression, and a whopping 95% exhibited severe anxiety…


The U.N. reports that four out of five Gazans are dependent on international aid for food. The three-year Israeli blockade of Gaza has resulted in desperate shortages of food, medical supplies and fuel. Malnutrition is common, especially among children.

The amount of aid allowed through by Israel is vastly insufficient to meet the need of the people. The United Nations has continuously stated that only a fraction of the required aid is entering Gaza due to what it calls ‘the medieval siege’.

We are looking at an entire nation of people slowly being strangled and starved to death before the eyes of the world.

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Update: Petition against Israeli attack on aid ships


While Israel maintains that it has disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005, its attack on defenseless civilians in international water attests to Israel’s continued occupation of Gaza.

Further, Israel has exposed its commitment, or lack thereof, of peace and a viable solution for the Palestinian people. Too long have we placed faith in this elusive peace process which promises justice for the Palestinians.

It is time that our elected officials condemn this Gaza flotilla massacre, but withhold all military financing of Israel until Israel actually shows a commitment to non-violence and peace.

Take action and make your voices heard:

1. Sign the Petition:

2. Tell your family and friends to Sign the Petition

3. Contact President Barack Obama directly
Call: 202-456-1111

4. Your local elected representatives

*** has published a piece dispelling the disinformation that the Israeli PR machine is busy pumping out. See it here:

Gaza Freedom Flotilla Killings: FACT CHECK (Dispelling Myths as Israeli PR Moves into Full Swing)

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Criminal attack on Gaza aid fleet; and a bit of good news from China

Freedom Flotilla aid ship

Freedom Flotilla aid ship before Israeli attack

The attack by the Israelis on a flotilla of ships bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza is outrageous. The six Freedom Flotilla ships were in international waters, had cleared customs in four different nations, and were on a peaceful mission to bring desperately needed food and medical aid to the Gaza Palestinians, who have suffered under an Israeli blockade for three years now.

The casualty count is at least 20 civilian deaths and 50 injuries. Furthermore, the Israelis have arrested and incarcerated an unknown number of aid activists, taking them to a jail in the southern Israeli desert.

Reports indicate that the Israeli commandos came on board and opened fire. The aid activists attempted to defend themselves with wooden sticks. Reports by the Israelis that some of the aid activists had knives or rods, or even guns, have been flatly contradicted by observers on board the ships, and by the Israeli commando videos themselves.

International Responses:

Various international leaders have condemned the violence.

The Turkish Prime Minister described it as an act of state terror.

U.N. General Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he was “shocked” and demanded a full investigation.

German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said, “The German government is shocked by events in the international waters by Gaza…”.

Greek deputy foreign minister Dimitris Droutsas said, “There is no excuse. The level of violence cannot be excused … we condemn it and this is exactly the message I conveyed this morning to the Israeli ambassador.

Uri Avnery, an Israeli journalist, wrote: “This night a crime was perpetrated in the middle of the sea, by order of the government of Israel and the IDF Command A warlike attack against aid ships and deadly shooting at peace and humanitarian aid activists It is a crazy thing that only a government that crossed all red lines can do.” (Gush Shalom)

And Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg made the most important point of all: “This underlines that the blockade of Gaza should be ended as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg told reporters. “This type of military action is unacceptable. The shootings must be investigated and documented. It is clear that this is a use of force against civilians.”

Even if the Israelis had not intended to allow the Freedom Flotilla to dock, they could have found other ways of stopping it. They could have entangled the propellers (as has been previously done in similar operations), or surrounded and blockaded the fleet. These would still have been criminal actions, but that has never stopped Israel in the past, and at least there would have been no loss of life.

This action by Israel is a crime, plain and simple. Those who sanctioned it and those who perpetrated it have committed murder on the high seas.


Inmates in a Chinese jail

Inmates in a Chinese jail

China Declares that Evidence Obtained by Torture is Inadmissible

Now, for a bit of good news. The Chinese government has declared that confessions obtained by means of torture can no longer be used in Chinese courts to prove guilt. This came about as a result of the case of Zhao Zuohai, who spent 11 years in jail for a murder that never happened. He says he was beaten by police until he confessed. Eleven years later, his “victim” was found to be still living. The Chinese government freed Zhao and paid him $96,000 in compensation. Two of the policemen who beat him have been arrested.

In fact laws banning torture are already in place in China, but are widely disregarded by the authorities. Convictions in Chinese courts depend heavily on confessions rather than the investigation and evidence-based systems found in the West, so Chinese police feel pressure to beat suspects into confessing.

I’m not naive enough to think that this will end torture in China, or will instantly end the routine beating of suspects. Nor does it ameliorate China’s abominable human rights record, with its oppression of human rights activists, use of secret prisons, and suppression of ethnic minorities.

But simply acknowledging the existence of one serious problem and declaring it to be unacceptable is a significant step in the right direction.

“Big Progress”

The Chinese government issued two new sets of procedures in the use of evidence – the first covers cases subject to the death penalty, and the second rules on evidence obtained under duress in all criminal cases.

For people appealing against the death penalty, testimony given under duress and evidence from unnamed sources is now to be excluded.

Death-penalty defendants have also been given the right to ask for an investigation into whether their testimony was obtained illegally.

Legal expert Zhao Bingzhi told the state-run China Daily that it was the first time a “systematic and clear regulation” had been given on the issue.

“Previously we could only infer from abstract laws that illegal evidence is not allowed. But in reality, in many cases, such evidence was considered valid,” he said. “This is big progress, both for the legal system and for better protection of human rights. It will help reduce the number of executions.”

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Should Vladimir Putin be Respected as a Judo Practitioner?

Vladimir Putin doing JudoMany people don’t know that Russia’s President Putin has been a long time practitioner of the sport of Judo. In sixth grade he took up the Russian grappling sport of Sambo, and then Judo. He eventually graduated to the high rank of 5th Dan in Judo, authored a Judo book, and a few years ago put out a DVD titled, “Let’s Learn Judo With Vladimir Putin.”

I also practice and teach martial arts, and I subscribe to the blogs of some well known martial artists. One extremely skilled martial artist, and someone who I have the greatest respect for, recently wrote a post expressing pleasure that Putin’s practice of Judo has helped to popularize martial arts.

Certainly it’s good to see a well-known figure publicizing martial arts. However, I’d be happier if it weren’t someone who is essentially a war criminal. Under Putin’s watch, hundreds to thousands of civilians have been kidnapped, tortured or “disappeared” in Chechnya.

Russian police in Russia itself are notorious for torture. And within the military, humiliation and torture of recruits is common. Journalists and human rights activists who try to speak out about these matters take their lives into their hands.

Consider the murders of opposition figures and journalists such as Anna Politkskaya, Yuri Schekochikhin, Galina Starovoitova, Sergei Yushenkov, as well as imprisonments of human rights defenders, scientists, and journalists like Trepashkin, Igor Sutyagin, and Valentin Danilov.

Some might say, “Well, we are speaking of him as a sportsman, not a politician.” I know that’s the argument of those who are against politicizing the Olympics, for example.

But why should we legitimize him in that way? If an ordinary citizen committed such crimes he would be a terrorist. Why should someone be allowed to hide behind the veil of presidential authority and therefore excused from responsibility from terrible crimes?

As a human rights blogger, I condemn Putin’s human rights record. As a martial artist, I still condemn him. Being able to throw someone to the mat does not excuse murder.

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