Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Balance is key in the Middle East

My article published on Australia's Online Opinion:

Going offline

I'm also currently in the process of changing ISP, which means that I will be offline for anything between two days to two weeks.

Hopefully, there aren't too many complications with the changeover.

In the meantime, please refer to my blog list and links for good sources on opinion on the Middle East.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Intolerant Saudi Arabia chief sponsor of UN Faith Forum

From Colum Lynch of the Washington Post:

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, the event's chief sponsor, opened the meeting with a call for greater understanding in the Middle East, saying that religious and cultural differences in the region have "engendered intolerance, causing devastating wars and considerable bloodshed."

Is this meant to be a joke?

The most intolerant, repressive regime in the world is calling for greater understanding?

It really baffles me how men of power can simply unleash such empty remarks.

Friday Lunch Club highlights Saudi Arabia's interfaith hypocrisy from an article featured in the Christian Science Monitor:

"...The lofty-sounding principle is, in fact, a cleverly coded way of granting religious leaders the right to criminalize speech and activities that they deem to insult religion. Instead of promoting harmony, however, this effort will exacerbate divisions and intensify religious repression....
Another stark irony hangs over the UN special session this week. Saudi Arabia is one of the world's worst abusers of religious freedom, a fact recognized by the Bush administration when it named it a "country of particular concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act in 2004. The king couldn't hold such a conference at home, where conservative clerics no doubt would purge the guest list of Jews from Israel, Baha'is, and Ahmadis.....
It also violates the rights of the large communities of Muslims who adhere to Islamic traditions other than the one deemed orthodox by Saudi clerics. In the past two years, dozens of Shiites have been detained for up to 30 days for holding small religious gatherings at home..."

And fancy the president of the other intolerant, repressive regime in Israel offering King Abdullah praise:

Israeli President Shimon Peres welcomed Saudi Arabia's interfaith initiative today.

"Your majesty, the king of Saudi Arabia, I was listening to your message. I wish that your voice will become the prevailing voice of the whole region, of all people," he said. "The initiative's portrayal of our region's future provides hope to the people and inspires confidence in nations."

Luckily, not everyone in the world was fooled by the UN puppet show display from two major perpetrators of human rights abuses, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Human rights groups, which maintain that Saudi Arabia is among the world's least tolerant countries, have voiced reservations about the interfaith initiative. European governments also expressed concern over recent attempts by Islamic governments to stifle criticism of Islam, even in the West. "Freedom of religion cannot be achieved without freedom of speech, even if it is sometimes used to express derision," said former French Prime Minister Alain Juppé, speaking on behalf of the European Union.

Obama's transition lobby rules

Obama has curtailed lobbyist efforts during the transition process, making true a promise in his campaign to crack down on federal lobbying.

But what does this mean for AIPAC, the most powerful lobby in the US?

The following NYT article explains the transition lobby rules:

Obama's Transition Team Restricts Lobbyists' Role

Helene Cooper and Jeff Zeleny
New York Times

Turning to campaign promises in which he pledged sweeping ethics restrictions, President-elect Barack Obama will bar lobbyists from helping to pay the costs of his transition to power or working for it in any area in which they have represented clients in the last year, his transition team said Tuesday.

Mr. Obama’s aides indicated that they expected the rules to apply to his inauguration as well as the transition, but said they had yet to make a final decision on how the inauguration would be paid for.

John D. Podesta, a co-chairman of the Obama transition, called the restraints “the strictest, the most far-reaching ethics rules of any transition team in history.”

“If someone has lobbied during the past 12 months, they’re prohibited from working in the fields of policy on which they lobbied and will have to cease all lobbying activities during their work on the transition,” Mr. Podesta said, speaking to reporters in the first official briefing by the transition team.

But the new rules do seem to leave some wiggle room. Aides to Mr. Obama, who declared during the campaign that lobbyists would not “find a job in my White House,” said the guidelines allowed for lobbyists to work on the transition in areas where they have not done any lobbying.

Further, the rules apply to lobbyists who must register with the federal government; many people who work for lobbying firms or in other areas of the influence business in Washington do not have to register, because they do not personally lobby federal officials on specific issues.

Mr. Podesta said he expected the transition to employ some 450 people and have a budget of about $12 million. Of that amount, $5.2 million will be paid by the government, with the remaining $6.8 million coming from private sources, he said. Contributions will be limited to $5,000, he said, and the transition will not accept money from political action committees.

During a presidential campaign in which he raised $650 million, Mr. Obama changed the rules of fund-raising, declining public financing and creating his own multimillion-member chain of donors. At least some of those contributors will be solicited for the transition.

As a candidate, Mr. Obama laid out more detailed and onerous ethics rules than any previous prospective president, pledging to bar appointees for two years from working on matters involving their former employers, to prohibit departing officials from lobbying his administration for its duration and to require all political appointees to disclose publicly every meeting with registered lobbyists.

The rules have led to some grumbling that at a time of immense challenges, an Obama administration could be excluding a pool of substantial talent by stopping people from working for the White House in the areas they know best.

“I’ve heard the complaint,” Mr. Podesta said, “which is we’re leaving all this expertise on the side, because we’re leaving all the people who know everything out in the cold. And so be it. This is a commitment that the American public expects, and it’s one that we intend to enforce during the transition.”

It remains unclear how the rules will affect the inauguration. President Bush raised more than $40 million for his second inauguration, mostly from companies and executives.

While aides to Mr. Obama say they are keenly aware that a lavish celebration might not be well received given the faltering economy, they indicate that the historic nature of Mr. Obama’s inauguration and the expectations of high turnout all but guarantee that the occasion, on Jan. 20, will be a huge one.

Yet in one early sign that the celebrations are likely to be somewhat scaled back, Mr. Obama canceled fireworks on election night in Grant Park in Chicago, telling his advisers that the times were too serious for that type of festivity.

“It’s going to be a balancing act,” one Obama aide said, “and I’m not sure how it’s going to be done.”

Rob Malley, anti-Israel?

Meanwhile, this right-wing blog explores Obama's contacts with Hamas via adviser Rob Malley:

In May 2008, TimesOnline reported that Barack Obama had "sacked" Robert Malley, his foreign policy adviser, who admitted to "regular contact" with Hamas, a U.S. State Department designated terrorist organization.

November 5, 2008 Middle East Newsline's Washington office quoted Obama aides saying that he had dispatched his "senior foreign policy adviser Robert Malley" to Egypt and Syria "over the last few weeks.

The aides said Malley, who served in the administration of President Bill Clinton, relayed a pledge from Obama that the United States would seek to enhance relations with Cairo as well as reconcile with Damascus. "The tenor of the messages was that the Obama administration would take into greater account Egyptian and Syrian interests," an aide said.

According to this right-wing blogger, Rob Malley's father, Simon Malley, was born to a Syrian family in Cairo and "loathed Israel".

Simon Malley was born to a Syrian family in Cairo and at an early age found his métier in political journalism. He participated in the wave of anti-imperialist and nationalist ideology that was sweeping the Third World. He wrote thousands of words in support of struggle against Western nations. In Paris, he founded the journal Afrique Asie; he and his magazine became advocates for "liberation" struggles throughout the world, particularly for the Palestinians.

Not so true, according to an interesting article on the formation of Obama's administration by The Magnes Zionist.

Rob Malley, the bugbear of rightwingers like Ed Laskey, not to mention some really slimey bloggers, has served in the past as an advisor to Barack Obama, and co-wrote the definitive analysis of the Camp David debacle in the New York Review of Books (The article isn't free). Malley is neither in nor out, according to my sources. Even though his name seems forever linked to Obama and Hamas, according to the rightwing rumor mongers, he did not contact Hamas recently on behalf of Obama campaign (the contacts, reported in Haaretz, were subsequently denied by Hamas) nor was he sent to Egypt and Syria on a mission from Obama, despite a bogus news release to that effect by the Middle East News Line. Apparently, the name "Malley" has become a synonym for "Haman" in some quarters; upon hearing it one mindlessly makes noise, no matter what the context or the truth of the story.

But Arab media reports that contacts between Hamas and Obama officials were ongoing:

Dr. Ahmad Yousef, a political adviser to the prime minister of the Hamas-led government, Ismail Haniyah, revealed Tuesday that prior to the US presidential elections, a secret meeting was held between senior officials from the Palestinian movement and President-elect Barack Obama's advisers in the Gaza Strip.

"We were in contact with a number of Obama's aides through the Internet, and later met with some of them in Gaza, but they advised us not to reveal this information as it may influence the elections or become manipulated by [Republican candidate John] McCain's campaign", Yousuf said in an interview with London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat, published Tuesday.

According to Yousuf, Hamas' contact with Obama's advisors was ongoing, adding that he personally had friendly relations with a few of Obama's advisers whom he had met when he lived in the US. "Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh will draft a congratulatory letter to Obama for his victory in the elections," added Yousef.

I don't see why talks with Hamas is controversial. One can't expect that this conflict will simply resolve itself without the parties speaking.

US talks with Hamas will not only entice the Islamic party to negotiate with Israel, but will help facilitate a rapprochement with Fatah, creating stability within the Palestinian territories and indeed for Israel.

The next step is for Obama to engage Hezbollah. Removing the Bush ban on dealing with Hezbollah ministers in the Lebanese Government will encourage Hezbollah to evolve further into a political entity. Heeding Hezbollah's demands for the return of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms will remove legitimacy for the Shia party to retain its weapons.

Active US diplomatic intervention in the region can only produce a win-win for all. Not only will it secure Israel's borders, but give opportunity to Palestinians and Lebanese to embark on a future free of war and oppression.

One can only hope that sense prevails over the destructive urges of power.

Has Obama's victory sparked a Jewish awakening?

The past 8 years of Bush's AIPAC-backed dubious policies seems to have spurred mainstream Jews into action. Moderate Jews in Western nations have become increasingly vocal against, what they see, as extremist right-wing elements of their community (i.e. AIPAC) pushing a destructive agenda that not only violates Arab human rights, but endangers Israel.

On my links, one will be able to access a number of Jewish bloggers and associations aimed at countering AIPAC's destructive influence on Middle Eastern affairs.

And it seems another has joined the party. Read the following Haaretz story:

Change has come ... to Jewish America

Natasha Mozgovaya

WASHINGTON - Will the "Obama effect" that enabled Democratic candidates to ride the party's presidential candidate into Congress also contribute toward changing the map of Jewish influence on Capitol Hill? J Street, the "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobbying group and Political Action Committee (PAC) formed just last April and seen as the left's answer to the veteran American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is counting on it.

Though only about six months old, J Street already managed to raise $570,000 for 41 Congressional candidates, most of them Democrats. Six of them lost their races, and three are still awaiting the final results.

Lobbyists on the right imply that the new group is a passing trend that merely hitched a ride on the "year of the Democrats." It has been accused of splitting the "Jewish vote," thereby damaging the message of unity and the effectiveness of pro-Israel lobbying.

For example, Morris Amitay, who was head of AIPAC from 1974-1980 and is currently founder and treasurer of the Washington Political Action Committee, wrote in his blog: "J Street was formed to give a political voice to the more established 'blame Israel first' groups, such as Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek V'Shalom and the somewhat less critical Israel Policy Forum. To no surprise, J Street's creation was heralded as a 'much needed, important new development' by American Arab lobbyist and fanatical Israel critic James Zogby of the Arab American Institute."

Amitay further noted: "A large number of J Street PAC-endorsed members of Congress have some of the poorest Israel/Middle East related voting records in the House. As a matter of policy, the Washington PAC has decided not to contribute to Members of Congress and candidates who accept endorsements by J Street PAC. We hope that truly pro-Israel political contributors will do likewise."

AIPAC declined to comment, but there, too, J Street's success is viewed as the result of a passing trend. In any event, when Barack Obama addressed AIPAC, he saw it as a milestone in his campaign.

Talking to Israel's worst enemies

The view from J Street, of course, is different, as Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami explained to Haaretz. "J Street is premised on our belief that we speak for the majority of American Jews when it comes to Israel. Our poll conducted this summer provides the basis for this belief."

According to the poll of 800 American Jews in early July, 76 percent support negotiating with Israel's worst enemies, 58 percent are for withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for full peace like the arrangements with Egypt and Jordan, and 59 percent are in favor of a withdrawal from most of the West Bank. In addition, 81 percent of respondents said they "will support any agreement the Israelis make with their Arab enemies."

"J Street will continue to grow and broaden its base of support because its views are in line with the majority of American Jews when it comes to Israel and the Middle East," Ben-Ami said. "Our support is based on the widely shared belief among American Jews that Israel's interests in the long-term are best served by ending its conflicts with its neighbors diplomatically and quickly."

Some people view you as a short-term phenomenon.

"Our rapid growth and success in the elections indicates that far from being a temporary phenomenon, we are filling a vacuum for a voice that represents the views of the majority of Jews on Israel and the Middle East," Ben-Ami said.

J Street is called "dovish," "leftist," etc. Would you use another term?

"We are pro-Israel. We are concerned with Israel's security and survival, and we're concerned with promoting the best interests of the United States in the Middle East. In agreement with the outgoing prime minister of Israel and with so many other of Israel's leading military and security figures, we believe that Israel's security and its future as a democratic, Jewish state are at risk if we don't resolve the country's conflicts with its neighbors now and set it's permanent borders."

Do you agree that an effort to "split" the Jewish influence might actually harm Israel? Do you feel this tension among the pro-Israel lobbying groups?

"There is no reason to avoid an open and vibrant discussion among American Jews about what is in Israel's best interests, when there is a vibrant debate in Israel on that very topic. For too long, the loudest voices from the Jewish community in Washington and in American politics have been far to the right of where the Jewish community actually is. For moderates and centrists in this country to find their political voice will actually strengthen the long-term U.S.-Israel relationship by ensuring that U.S. policies in the region have a broader base of support in the Jewish community," Ben-Ami said.

For now, the policies promised by Obama definitely seem to fit the principles proposed by J Street. But it can be assume that the organization's future will depend significantly on the American Jewish community's satisfaction with Obama's administration.

ADC urges action on Emanuel racism

This from the ADC:

The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee urges you to take immediate action by using the contact info below to express your disappointment to President-Elect Obama and Congressman Rahm Emmanuel for the detestable anti-Arab remarks Emmanuel’s father made this past week.

ADC wrote a letter to Congressman Emmauel and President-Elect Barack Obama asking the congressman to publicly repudiate the derogatory comments his father made. Benjamin Emmanuel was quoted by numerous Israeli and American publications as saying “Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”

There should be no place for such demeaning rhetoric and these comments are contrary to the very type change the President-Elect promised he would bring to America.

Contact President-Elect Obama by fax at 202.228.5417 or through this online contact form .

Contact Congressman Emmanuel by fax at 202.225.5603 or via E-mail at

Joshua Landis from SyriaComment has given a head start to complain:

The anti-Arab remark made by Rahm Emanuel’s father is not consistent with the spirit of change and ethnic equality that President Elect Obama promises to bring to the White House. Arab Americans have put great hope in his election. They believe that they have a part to play in building a new and more equal America.

A public statement by Rahm Emanuel explaining that he does not approve of his father’s remark would go a long way in reassuring us that the president elect and new administration value Arab Americans. We all hope to move beyond the divisiveness of the past to create a future of mutual respect. By distancing himself from his father’s remark, Rahm Emanuel will demonstrate that he does not share his father’s opinion of Arabs and will help the new administration act as an honest broker in the Middle East and at home.

[Antoun] I find it troubling that Mel Gibson's anti-Jewish remarks receive world headlines, yet anti-Arab statements by the terrorist father of a US Chief of Staff barely gets a mention. One could have assumed that a black president would have known better. Obviously not.

I implore fellow bloggers to circulate the ADC message.

And this from the Washington Post:

Obama's ambiguity

Ali Abunimah

Sons are not responsible for the racism of their fathers. But they do have a responsibility to let others know that they disagree vehemently with such sentiments. This is certainly the case for individuals in public service, particularly the man President-elect Barack Obama has chosen as White House chief of staff. Yet, Rep. Rahm Emanuel has not said a word regarding the troubling statement his father made to the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv.

In a recent interview, Dr. Benjamin Emanuel asserted that his son's appointment would be beneficial to Israel. "Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel," the elder Emanuel said, according to the Jerusalem Post. "Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."

The public has a right to expect Mr. Emanuel to reject such raw racism especially given the historic resonance of Mr. Obama's victory. It's especially important for Arab and Muslim Americans who came through the election campaign feeling they are the last group of Americans who can still be publicly denigrated.

Mr. Emanuel - whose father fought with the Irgun, the pre-state Jewish militia that carried out terrorist attacks on Palestinians and the British in the 1940s - has a hawkishly pro-Israel record. He has never publicly distanced himself from his father's contribution to the dispossession of more than 750,000 Palestinians, nor criticized Israel's frequent attacks on Palestinian communities that have killed and maimed thousands of civilians.

In June 2003, Mr. Emanuel signed a letter criticizing President Bush for being insufficiently supportive of Israel. "We were deeply dismayed to hear your criticism of Israel for fighting acts of terror," Mr. Emanuel, along with 33 other Democrats, wrote to Mr. Bush. The letter asserted that Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders "was clearly justified as an application of Israel's right to self-defense." Such killings violate the Geneva Conventions, and the State Department's human-rights report specified that there were more civilian bystanders killed in Israeli assassination attempts than actual targets in 2003.

For Palestinians, long experience suggests that no matter who occupies the White House, their rights and aspirations will always be a distant second to Israel's preferences. The U.S. role as an "honest broker" is in tatters, not just because of Mr. Bush's legacy, but also because the Clinton administration acted, during years of peace negotiations, as "Israel's lawyer," as Aaron David Miller, a former top State Department official, memorably admitted.

Previously, Mr. Obama was more open to hearing different viewpoints and expressed understanding for the plight of Palestinians under Israeli military occupation. Many still remember his statement in Iowa: "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people." He later hedged, however, asserting it was the Palestinians' own leadership, rather than Israel's, at fault. Such ambiguity has fueled wild speculation about Mr. Obama's pro-Israel bona fides.

Picking Mr. Emanuel may be intended to shore up those credentials, but is hardly Mr. Obama's first indication that he will embrace hawkish supporters of Israel. His speech to AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, just after he won his party's presidential nomination in June, angered people across the Arab world for embracing Israel's exclusive claims to Jerusalem and for its one-sided criticism of Palestinians.

On a highly symbolic visit in July, Mr. Obama spent almost all his time meeting Israelis and less than an hour with Palestinians. Palestinians were further dismayed by Mr. Obama's support for Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Obama's recent outlook would be less worrying if it included efforts to hear the widest range of views. But responding to criticism he was insufficiently pro-Israel, Mr. Obama distanced himself from establishment figures holding independent views like former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and Robert Malley, a more even-handed figure in President Clinton's Middle East team. And when Sen. John McCain attacked Mr. Obama for associating with a mainstream Palestinian-American Columbia University professor, Mr. Obama failed to defend his right to consult with whomever he pleases on a critical, if divisive, issue.

Palestinians watching these developments are concerned that Mr. Obama will surround himself with pro-Israel veterans - such as Dennis Ross, who long headed the peace process for President Clinton - who will push for the familiar one-sided policies that allowed Israel to expand its settlements and wall Palestinians off in impoverished, isolated ghettos.

The fundamental change that Mr. Obama promised would mean viewing Israelis and Palestinians as equally deserving of rights and security, something the U.S. has never done in practice.

Brent Scowcroft, former national security advisor, stressed recently on CNN the importance of getting started early on Israeli-Palestinian peace. Mr. Scowcroft noted that "we have removed ... with this election a lot of that sense of injustice in this country. We ought to try to do it in the Middle East." He's right.

But with Mr. Obama tapping Mr. Emanuel to be his gatekeeper, injustice in the Middle East seems more apt to go unaddressed than it did election night.

Say goodbye to gaydar

My article on Australia's internet censorship fiasco that appeared in Melbourne's gay and lesbian weekly, MCV.

Say goodbye to gaydar

The Government’s mandatory internet filtering scheme poses a clear threat to the gay online community and should be stopped at all costs, warns Antoun Issa.

Any ‘gay’ websites could be banned under a new mandatory internet filtering scheme proposed by the Federal Government. The scheme, revealed by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, is designed to censor “illegal” and “inappropriate” material on the internet. So far the concept has received a whipping, with many fearing an infringement on their civil liberties.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam is one who shares such concerns: “I’m really concerned about a radical expansion of filtering of the internet, which has always been a free-wheeling place,” he told MCV.

Ludlam echoes fears that should an ill-defined mandatory filtering system be put in place, civil liberties could be infringed upon. “It absolutely could infringe on civil liberties,” he says. “We don’t have constitutional freedom of speech in Australia, we don’t have a bill of rights.”

The mandatory internet censorship is set to cover two layers. The first will filter out content that is perceived as harmful to children, while the second layer will target “illegal material”, and that’s where the blur comes in.

Ludlam has accused the government of being vague about its internet censorship scheme, and has referred to a potential expansion of the blacklist as an ambiguous “grey list”.

“I came out of the exchange with Minister Conroy knowing less about what they’re up to then when I went in. Some of the statements before and since the election have been quite contradictory to what they’ve been proposing.”

The Electronic Frontiers Association (EFA), an online civil liberty group, has been an outspoken critic of the internet filtering scheme. Apart from being an infringement on civil liberties, the industry lobby group has highlighted serious technological flaws in the implementation of such a dynamic internet filtering scheme.

EFA spokesman Colin Jacobs referred MCV to the six tests already conducted by the Federal Government. They show a substantial slowdown of the internet as a result of the filter: “From a network point of view, the best performing only caused a slowdown of 2 per cent, but that was the least accurate filter,” he explains. “The rest of the filters performed better in terms of accuracy, but their speed hit was much greater, so up to 80 per cent accurate, but a 30 per cent slowdown.”

Claims by Anh Nguyen of the Australian Family Association (AFA) on the ABC that the network test caused “only 2 per cent network degradation”, but “was [still] capable of blocking 94 per cent of illegal material” are rebuffed by Jacobs.

“To say that slowdown can be as little as 2 per cent is perhaps true, but misleading, because the level of accuracy is not going to be acceptable to Australian internet users,” Jacobs says.

According to the EFA, the more accurate the filtering, the slower the internet and vice-versa. The association claims Anh Nguyen and the AFA have misused such statistics to incorrectly portray the network filtering system as efficient. In addition to flawed accuracy and network slowdown, Jacobs says any filter won’t truly prevent users from viewing illegal content.

“Even if the government wound back their position to banning child protection as determined by the Australian Federal Police, this sort of filter won’t actually prevent access to that type of illegal material. It’s very trivial to circumvent, if you know what you’re doing.”

The EFA have also hit back at claims by Conroy that similar mandatory internet filtering schemes exist in Europe and New Zealand: “No, that’s completely inaccurate,” Jacobs says. “None of these countries have a government-mandated censorship scheme, they’re voluntarily usually organised by ISPs and have little scope.

“This sort of scheme only exists in a club of countries that the minister would want to draw attention away from, such as Iran and China.”

Any attempt to block pornography and fetishes, as demanded by Family First and the AFA, could have a significant impact on gay and sexual health-related websites. The EFA warns that technology isn’t able to distinguish between pornographic content and sexuality-related issues.

Jacobs: “If they put in a dynamic filtering scheme, these [gay sites] are the sites that would be over blocked the most, because the software is not good enough to reliably distinguish between sexuality and pornography, the technology just isn’t there yet. Sites with sexual health or other issues of sexuality could certainly be blocked.”

Senator Ludlam has similar fears, and places gay websites in the top three category of sites that would be targeted under a massive mandatory internet filtering system.

“Our concern is it would take a blacklist with 800 or 900 sites on it at the moment and create a vast grey list of tens of millions of web pages, which will inadvertently block out material you’re supposed to get such as gay and lesbian health-related information or breast cancer,” he says.

The EFA believe a better, cost-effective and technologically sound alternative could be a PC-based filter that can be tailored to the family need. According to Colin Jacobs, a PC-based filter is free and accessible for families who wish to restrict viewing access to sites.

“That is clearly a better alternative than forcing it on everybody’s throats, and it gives parents control to set boundaries that are appropriate for their children than having the government decide what they are,” he says.

The Greens would prefer the $44 million be better spent on real law enforcement, Ludlam says. “We should be supporting mainstream law enforcement, including the high-tech crimes unit, the AFP to be going after children that are at risk, and we should be supporting education so that parents can take advantage of the tools that are available.”

The Senator says censoring disagreeable views is not the answer: “We shouldn’t be engaging in censorship of people who we disagree with, we should just feel free to disagree with them.”

The supportive stance of the anti-gay Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), Family First and AFA has been significant. The three have been campaigning for a mandatory filtering scheme, and there is no doubt that homosexuality-related sites would be high on their hit list.

“There are people out there who believe homosexuality should be outlawed and [gay websites] are exactly the kind of material they’re going to try to get taken offline,” Ludlam continues.

Colin Jacobs has also taken notice of the active participation of the Christian-right lobby in support of the scheme. “The Christian/Family lobby are the only people that are active in the media pushing for this scheme to go ahead,” he says.

As Labor’s mandatory internet filtering scheme is set out to remove illegal content from our computer screens, where does this place gay marriage, which remains illegal in Australia? Ludlam uses gay marriage as a key example to demonstrate the vagueness of Conroy’s internet censorship scheme.

“Gay marriage is the most interesting example because it’s unlawful in Australia, regrettably at the moment, so that’s the kind of material they’re going to be trying to take offline because it’s illegal,” he says.

The GLBTI community should feel threatened by yet another Christian-right attempt to curtail our liberties. Despite 2007 polls indicating the majority of Australians support granting full equal rights to homosexuals, this minority of radicals is hell-bent on ensuring homosexuals remain the second-class citizens of the country.

The mere fact that the Federal Government is prepared to entertain the idea of implementing an internet censorship scheme that could target gay websites is a clear demonstration that Howard-like conservatism has yet to leave the halls of power.

But the Greens have vowed to protect civil liberties: “If they are trying for mass online censorship of tens of millions of webpages by a filter that no one really wants, then we’re very opposed to it,” Ludlam says.

The EFA has plans for “ramping up the activism” in the coming months, depending the government’s reaction.

“Right now they are digging their heels, so we have a bit of a campaign ahead of us,” Jacobs says.

The internet censorship scheme has drawn criticism from all angles, whether it be from a civil liberty, gay rights, political or technological perspective. For all concerned, Jacobs best sums up the Labor scheme.

“This policy is a real turkey.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Congo: The full story

A long and exceptional article written by Roxanne Stasyszyn of Dissident Voice.

It is worth reading it in full, so I've posted it in full. It dives into the controversial details many of us would dare admit.

A World Playground: Congolese People Sacrificed for International Games and Profits

Roxanne Stasyszyn
Dissident Voice

She wore a light blue headscarf, like most of the women at this camp for internally displaced people (IDPs). They were given out to the Congolese people, along with baseball caps for the men, during the presidential elections of 2006. On it is pictures of president Kabila and the slogan: bonne gouvernance—“good governance”— in French.

Yet all Venansia Habimana, a displaced woman in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), had to say was that she wished her government would create peace. She said it was promised to them during that campaign, and she wanted to return to her home.

“To be here is to miss what you do, but we all need to be safe,” Habimana said to a single white journalist in a square wood frame no larger than a port-a-potty, covered with blue and white United Nations tarps. Habimana spoke to the journalist in 2007, before the recent wave of fighting forced additional hundreds of thousands of people to flee.

Homeless and income-less, people at the camps lived uncomfortably. There was little space, diets were unbalanced, and there was no way to work or occupy them each day. IDPs are unwelcome in surrounding communities where they try to rebuild a life. They are ostracized for fear they will take the few jobs available and, most depressing to them, they are forced to pay extortionate fees to bury friends and family that die at the camp.

Given the heightened hostilities—and the permanent state of war that has devastated millions of Congolese lives over the past two years alone—Habimana is probably now listed among the unnamed and soon-to-be-forgotten dead.

Safari Majune was an IDP representative elected by the others. He said that while people longed to return to their own land, the biggest problem was that there is not enough food for everyone at the camp. Famine and malnutrition, coupled with malaria and tuberculosis, means high death rates. More than 1000 people have daily died in Eastern Congo for over a decade now and there have been over 1,000,000 IDPs in the North Kivu region alone, for years.

Majune is one of many who, in 2007, had been at the IDP camp for over a year, and another human being likely to become a meaningless statistic in the long, bloody war in Congo.

This camp was in Rutshuru, just outside the “safety zone” designated by the United Nations Observers Mission in Congo (MONUC). There were over 4,250 children, men and women at the one camp in 2007. They lived in banana leaf domes that look like small, brown, camping tents.

With IDPs crowded and scratching at the UN tarps to see the white “mazungu,” hoping to talk to her or to get some food or money, Habimana told her story. It is an all too familiar story for IDP women all over Eastern Congo. A week earlier she had been walking on foot to her village near the border of Uganda, about 24 kilometers (11 miles) away.

“I have been looking for food and I met some soldiers and they took me,” she said. “They were four, but only two raped me.”

Habimana claimed her attackers were government troops, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, called FARDC. After some time, she said, she regained enough strength and walked to the road where people found her and helped her back to the camp. Once she arrived, others helped her find enough money to pay for a motorcycle taxi to the hospital. There they gave her medication and instructions to return once the medication was done to test for infections, like HIV/AIDS. She was still taking the medication when she spoke and said she worried that the soldiers who raped her were infected.

The camp in Rutshuru was one of three in a 15 km radius according to Bruno Matsundo, director of the non-profit Centre of Intervention, Social Promotion and Partner Participation (CIPSOPA), a non-government organization (NGO) that was coordinating the three camps.

Everyone in the Rutshuru area and in the main border town with Rwanda, called Goma, speaks about the rights to home, land and—more than anything—a stable country to live in.

Latest reports say the insecurity has reached unproportional heights. Most of the villagers and IDPs from this Rutshuru region have recently flooded into Goma—walking on foot, carrying what they can. Meanwhile the former “safety zone” demarcated by MONUC has disintegrated.

The Indian UN forces within Goma are doing little to prevent murders and pillages now happening in the city. Rwandan rebel rockets destroyed two MONUC armored vehicles on October 26, wounding several peacekeepers. There have been talks of MONUC abandoning the region completely and a recently appointed MONUC commander— Lieutenant General Vicente Diaz de Villegas y Herreria of Spain—resigned after only three weeks of duty.

Hell on Earth

For people not already living there, Eastern Congo is a place almost unreachable and, according to many, even less desirable to arrive in. Most international news reporters describe Goma as “Hell on earth.”

The people who do reach Goma tend to fit into four main categories.

First, there are rich businesspersons and the aid organization types who circulate to and from Europe and America, back and forth between the big business offices in capital cities like Kinshasa (DRC), Nairobi (Kenya), Kampala (Uganda) and Kigali (Rwanda). The businesspersons are involved in minerals, aviation, timber, petroleum, weaponry and other international commerce.

Then there are the poor, displaced people who walk the dangerous and dense forests from Uganda, Burundi or Rwanda, fleeing one unsafe and impoverished situation for another.

Third come the passport-stamp seeking Western tourists that brag at cafes and Traveler’s Lodges in Kigali and Kampala about how they crossed the border and spent an afternoon in the “Heart of Darkness.”

Last are the journalists and human rights activists who chat with local people and try to find the most bloated belly for a photo opportunity.

Goma is the eastern “capital” of the DRC and is a drastic change from Rwanda’s border resort town, Gisenyi. After the volcanic eruption in 2002 the city is black and dirty, and everywhere is covered in volcanic rock—except for the big hotels, restaurants and expatriate houses on the shore of Lake Kivu. Most buildings in town were incinerated. Some were salvaged but the original second floor is now the first, sitting on the black charred-rock ground where hot lava flowed through the house.

Goma is in the province of North Kivu and is highly patrolled by MONUC forces in Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and jeeps mounted with machine-guns. An old colonial building stands in the centre of town as MONUC’s hospital. Walking past the hospital is a part of daily life for most people in the town. They see the high walls, laced with barbed wire and sand bag lookouts on top of each corner. A gun barrel pokes out from the stacks of sandbags and a camouflage hat pokes out from above; only MONUC personnel are allowed in.

United Nations tanks patrol Goma today due to the recent military thrust where Rwandan-backed rebels threatened to take the city. The locals are unhappy with the United Nations forces—and aware of the minimal protection offered by the MONUC peacekeepers—and have repeatedly protested by hurling rocks at APCs and secure UN compounds.

Because of geography and economics, the eastern border provinces of North Kivu, Orientale and South Kivu have direct influence over all the DRC. They are full of militia, minerals, AID workers and wildlife conservation professionals, and starving refugees.

Whomever you ask, the main problem for the DRC is the same: too many influences from too many exterior countries. They all have big guns and little care for the people trying to live there. While all agree on the problem, everyone blames someone else and no one takes responsibility. The highly paid foreign professionals won’t say anything on the record, but they all admit to the obvious contradictions.

The main players are Rwanda, Uganda, MONUC and the United Nations (with countless international partners), and North American and European humanitarian organizations. But it isn’t as simple as pointing to one of these. They are all intertwined with the ethnically fueled militia groups and big business from the USA, Europe and China.

Vital Katembo is a Congolese socialite and conservation professional who lived for years in Goma and has worked for the United Nations Development Program and, until recently, for the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN). Katembo knows whom you need to know if you want to push through the constant conspiracy mill, and, most importantly, if you want to keep yourself alive. He points to Rwanda and humanitarian aid organizations for the continuing strife of the DRC, especially in the mineral-rich east.

“I have seen massive humanitarian interventions. I will not say that they have done much or are doing much. It is difficult to define who is deciding their agenda,” Katembo argues. Katembo has seen many of the biggest humanitarian, human rights and relief groups come and go from the DRC, and the former Zaire, through many political transitions, always working with each new man in power.

He points out that many organizations have been here over 15 years now, and he questions their efficiency, if nothing else, asking how they can still be dealing with an emergency. For him, the reasoning seems pure logic, “having the chaos also allows them to have the jobs, and they [humanitarian aid organizations] will do whatever they can to keep it going. They are the masters of the chaos. I have never seen an assessment of what is achieved,” he summarizes.

Vital Katembo offered this insight in Goma in 2007 but soon afterwards he was fired from ICCN, threatened, forced to run for his life and go into hiding after openly denouncing international humanitarian organizations operating in Eastern Congo.

Humanitarian aid in the eastern Congo provinces is an octopus whose tentacles reach far and wide. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) serves to “mobilize and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors.” This is according to their mission statement, which hangs opposite a wall of cubbyhole mailboxes in the front office in Goma.

Nestor Yombo-Djema, Senior Liaison Officer with OCHA, explained that OCHA coordinates 126 organizations, including 10 United Nations agencies and 50 international NGOs, and scores of donor, state and national NGOs. OCHA also works with Congolese governmental officials and donors.

Even with all of this AID infrastructure, poverty, malnutrition and human rights abuses run rampant—not to mention the permanent state of war and millions of internally displaced people, half of which are in North Kivu, according to OCHA’s 2007 Humanitarian Action Plan. And that was produced before the waves of fighting that displaced an additional 143,000 people in October 2007, and the additional hundreds of thousands displaced in 2008.

By mid-October 2007, some 500,000 to 1.2 million people were internally displaced in Eastern Congo; with 33,000 newly displaced Congolese people fleeing North Kivu on October 25. Ugandan military had forcibly occupied parts of Orientale Province, while a militia highly suspected of being supported by Rwanda was fighting FARDC troops in North Kivu. On October 25 last year, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement of “deep concern” citing “surging sexual violence and a hike in the number of civilians uprooted due to fighting.”

One year and hundreds of thousands of dead people later—things have only gotten worse.

The 2007 OCHA budget, alone, was $US 686,591,107, “roughly the same level as in 2006,” with an additional $40,000,000 infusion announced by MONUC in October 2007. The final 2008 budget for the World Food Program in DRC was $426,878,043, with 56% of all food resources designated for North Kivu.

Developing Inefficiency

Kisangani is a town just north west of Goma in the province of Orientale. It is where Jean Dupont (name changed to protect his career as an international consultant) worked from 2003 to 2005. For 11 months of that time, he worked for Chemonics International Inc, an American company that helps donors define and implement programs; the biggest Chemonics client, when he was with them, was USAID.

Dupont talks about his experience with Chemonics as a reality check to what humanitarian work really is. “Before going, you think: people give $100 and that one hundred dollars goes to someone, somewhere, to make them happy. And that’s not the way it happens.”

Dupont sheds some light on why so many humanitarian organizations in DRC—and it is the same in most of Africa—develop nothing much more than inefficiency, waste and a small profit.

He sympathizes with the fact that Africa may be poor, but it is not cheap. Workers and companies expect to be paid well if they are to perform well. The constant reality of people—local and expatriate—putting money in their own pockets is also an element.

But in many situations, where money isn’t a heavy constraint, like with the wealthy USAID, the biggest difficulty is ineffective and inappropriate programming.

Humanitarian work has put itself in a trap, Dupont explains. “We were forced to do crappy projects to show we were spending money,” he says. Spending money to get more money, funding allocations in general, and underlying politics are the problems Dupont experienced and witnessed with the humanitarian sector in the DRC.

He mentions one large project with USAID in October of 2004. The idea was to rehabilitate some student housing in Kisangani and it was assigned by USAID after student uprisings and politically motivated protests. It was one political party using students to pressure another, as Dupont puts it. He says, building decent housing for the students was USAID’s way of intervening in political actions.

“My colleagues and I were trying to point out…it wasn’t the best way…to buy students,” Dupont recounts. “What USAID proposed was not good but we had to say yes, because it is their money in the end.”

The plans for construction ran as proposed. Dupont still thinks about why the students would agree to be instruments of the party, but the answer to questions like these are never that uplifting. “If I only knew, it would have been possible to do something about it,” he exhales. That would be true humanitarian work.

“Still, there is some good stuff,” Dupont attempts to reassure. “It’s not all bad.”

He mentions a railway project he worked on with USAID and many other organizations, including the UN, in 2004. Dupont explains it was a fabulous local project to rehabilitate 137 kms of railway and infrastructure through the jungle between two major cities.

Dupont says that when the international organizations got involved, people who had been working without pay for many years were happy to be rebuilding transportation and taking home a salary.

“People were really working to develop something,” but Dupont’s enthusiasm stays curt when admitting the project was still very political. He recounts how the governor of the area and the Belgian Ambassador made a ceremonious launch of the new railway; days later the real participants cut the ribbon without a camera crew.

The railway rehabilitation was one of 26 projects Dupont did with Chemonics and was part of very few that he felt okay about doing. For the most part he says, “the projects were not what I want to do as a humanitarian professional.”

The President of the North Kivu Civil Society, Thomas d’Aquin Muiti, laughed when recounting a list of international initiatives that were inefficient, to say the least.

“There are NGOs that come here with preconceived projects that don’t meet the problems here. One NGO came and built houses for pygmies and the pygmies would not enter the houses. They slept against the walls outside,” chuckles Muiti. “They [NGOs] bring bicycles and they [Congolese] sell them straight away because it does not meet their needs.”

Muiti also stresses that international NGOs do not build things to last: they come, implement a project, and leave. Accountable to no one, “capacity building” is the latest catch phrase most organizations use to sell proposals and win grants.

Local NGOs have problems too, he assures. Either they lack the finances or are unable to manage them. Many projects and organizations are developed after the cheque arrives and little happens except the opening, and draining, of a bank account.

HEAL Africa is an example of humanitarian aide actually working. HEAL Africa was developed by Jo and Lynn Lucy, a Congolese orthopedic surgeon and a British project manager who have been living in the DRC for 36 years.

Beginning as “DOCS,” a medical and surgical training initiative in 1995, HEAL Africa soon expanded and engaged in social and community health as well as physical.

One of its biggest projects is fistula surgery, a restoration procedure for women that repairs tears and holes in the vaginal wall, bladder or uterus. Symptoms are mainly the inability to prevent leaking of urine or bile—conditions that led to ostracization from the community.

The cause of such damage is usually only one of two things: childbirth in poor conditions, or a traumatic and violent sexual encounter, mainly rape. When the surgery first became a specialty of the expanding HEAL Africa mission, 80% of the cases were a result of rape, and most of these are due to the many militaries operating in Eastern Congo.

Either way, the women have been ousted from their communities and, fortunately, they have made it to a HEAL Africa facility. Over 1000 of these surgeries were completed by 2003 and in 2007, there were over 120 women still waiting for their turn. The main hospital compound in Goma is overflowing. Emergency, makeshift UNHCR tents are bursting with women. Across the street is a whole other compound with two, single floor buildings packed with women who have had the surgery and are recovering or waiting for a second attempt on the damage that is just too severe.

As well, there is an apartment compound outside of town full with women, post-surgery, who are unable to return to their communities for fear of social stigma or insecurity.

The fistula surgeries performed at HEAL Africa are such a success, not because of pure numbers alone, but also because of the well-rounded approach taken. Women are given counselling, job training and a small amount of economic support before leaving.

HEAL Africa is one of few triumphs in an overflowing pool of unsuccessful and inefficient humanitarian aid.

You Are A Rwandan Now

More people complain about the huge, international non-government organizations (NGOs) perpetuating the naivety of rushed, unstudied and ill-developed programs than they do about the smaller NGOs who generally have fewer resources to work with. Because the scale is larger, the consequences are much more severe.

Along the lakeside in Goma is the compound for the UN initiative for Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation, Reinstallation and Reinsertion (DDRRR). It is set up exactly like an army base with toweled soldiers walking around, shaving their chins. Directly on the right, through the security gates, is a group of tents where everything happens. The DDRRR has been a massive project to disarm and reintegrate soldiers.

“This is a transit hotel,” explains Ramone, the official in charge who requested his full name not be used. “We’re basically just a taxi here, in a difficult area; in a politically sensitive atmosphere.”

He says the calls usually come at night or on a market day when it is easiest for soldiers to escape. A small team jumps in an armored vehicle and picks up whoever has run away from their militia group. The project responds to the high rate of kidnapping of men and boys for forced labour and combat with rebel groups; they deal mostly with child soldiers.

“All the raping, killing, stealing, burning houses, that’s what we deal with. You know that movie Blood Diamond, the part where they get the boy near the end?” Ramone asks. “That’s what I do.”

Every Tuesday and Friday, all the deserters and escapees are driven to the Rwandan side of the border for 6-8 weeks of training, “where all these ‘rebels’ become officially Rwandese again,” mocks Ramone.

He speaks bluntly and honestly about the promotional propaganda for Rwanda and the UN that the DDRRR is committed to through leaflets, filmed interviews and the United Nation’s radio network, Radio Okapi.

But Ramone jokes about the main concern. Many times these ‘rebels’ that are put through DDRRR training and receive Rwandan citizenship certificates were recruited or kidnapped at young ages and from places outside Rwanda. Many by forces like the Democratic Forces of the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the group reportedly containing original members of the Interahamwe militia who are continually accused of perpetrating genocide in Rwanda in 1994. It is widely confirmed that FDLR cooperate with both Rwandan rebels and FARDC forces in the plunder of Congo’s resources.

When put back into Rwanda, Ramone says, these escapees are assured safety by the Rwandese government but are not welcomed back into the country socially.

Forced repatriation contradicts international law and invites gross human rights abuses. Further violating international law, in this case, forced returnees were sometimes never Rwandan patriots to begin with.

Eighteen year-old Emmanuel Sebuhinja was taken by force after living for five years as an orphan in the North Kivu town of Walikale. He spent a year hauling baggage, cooking and fetching water for the Mai Mai militia, a long-standing Congolese militia that fights against foreign influences and soldiers in Congo. The Mai Mai consider Rwanda to be their main problem.

Each time Sebuhinja tried to escape he was beaten. After one such attempt, he and four others were beat so badly three died; he and the other survivor were sentenced. When the soldiers left to fight, shortly after, he escaped into the forest and eventually made it back to Walikale.

Picking up money from a friend, he moved on, walking alone and only at night to Karuba, in the next province. It was here he thought he could finally carry on with his life. Instead, he encountered soldiers of another militia, General Laurent Nkunda’s men.

“They took my money and clothes and everything I had,” Sebuhinja says. “After that, UNHCR took me here.”

Sebuhinja says he is Rwandan but fled to the Congo, in 1994, when he was 13 years old. He considers that he grew up in Congo and while he says he does want to go to Rwanda, he doesn’t know anyone there, and all of his family has died or was killed.

“I am afraid of going there because I don’t know what will happen there. I have no family. I don’t know how I shall be living in Rwanda,” Sebuhinja says rationally. His voice quickens and raises when he adds that he was never a soldier, he never fought or shot a gun, but the UNHCR wrote that he did on their list when they picked him up, despite his objections.

“UNHCR told me even if I just touched a gun for a second, I am a soldier,” he cried. “If in Rwanda they think I was a soldier before, it will be dangerous for me.”

Another escapee was from General Laurent Nkunda’s group. He was the only boy who refused to say anything and even denied his affiliation to General Nkunda.

Nkunda is one of the key men in the DRC right now. He is affiliated with everything that is causing any disturbance: he is the leader of a militia that rebelled against the Congo government’s FARDC, later agreeing to create a half mixed brigade with them, causing only more confusion and conflict. As if by design, it wasn’t long before the mixed brigades dissolved completely.

Most people believe Rwanda backs him and, behind them, many international actors including powerful groups from the United States. It is said that Nkunda even boasts the born-again Christian patch he wears on his fatigues as a badge of solidarity with President Bush and many other American Christians.

Even Human Rights Watch—historically biased in favor of the current Rwanda government—has reported that General Nkunda is backed by Rwanda. Nkunda also recruits soldiers, both children and adults, from Rwanda. These recruits also turn up later amongst the many Nkunda deserters.

Though Nkunda’s Rwandan affiliation has yet to be officially admitted it is drawn on tribal lines. He is a Congolese Tutsi, known widely as Banyamulenge (in South Kivu) or Rwandaphones (people who speak KinyaRwanda). His sympathizers, mainly Congolese or Rwandan Tutsi, recite the narrative of his only wish to bring his parents from a hard life in refugee camps to a secure plot of land in Congo; a supposed promise from President Kabila.

Nkunda is seen as the main threat by MONUC and the main cause of insecurity in eastern DRC, but MONUC has made no effort to drive out the Nkunda insurgency. He is also situated in and around the most potent mines and mineral deposits in the country.

Rebel troops led by Nkunda took the town of Rutshuru on October 28, 2008, and by October 29, 2008, Nkunda’s forces had stopped their military advance just short of Goma, where Nkunda announced a unilateral ceasefire. The rebels announced they would take Goma in the next few days. Goma is home to more than 500,000 people, including scores of thousands of people displaced by earlier fighting.

With the massive atrocities committed during the advances of Nkunda’s army, hundreds of thousands of people are newly displaced, inside Congo and out, to Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.

The Thinner the Nose, the Smarter the Man

In Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, Ignatius Rwiyemaho Kabagambe was the Managing Director of The New Times in 2007, the only English speaking and daily newspaper in the country, owned and run by the state. He is also a first cousin with President Paul Kagame.

The oppression that Rwandaphones face in Congo from Congolese citizens and organized groups like the Mai Mai is very real and well known; Kabagambe admits that they would be treated differently in Rwanda than other nationals.

“They are brothers and we feel for them. We would accept them as Congolese with Rwandese origin,” he explains, pointing out their physical and cultural likeness. He talked around the details of his cousin; President Paul Kagame’s support for Nkunda, admitting only that moral support is extended from his country, Rwanda.

The region of Eastern Congo is a perfect example of colonial lines being drawn arbitrarily through ancient ethnographic zones. Tribes were divided by colonial powers into what are now Eastern Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. All the while assigning foreign law and deciding rights, colonizers continued to move these lines according to papers signed in Europe.

Dieudonne Amani is a 24 year-old Rwandaphone who has felt the lasting consequences of arbitrary colonial rule. The problem, he explains, is that Rwandaphones are not accepted as true Congolese and are ostracized within the DRC because they are the same tribe and culture as those congregated mainly in Rwanda. Yet Rwanda, he claims, also rejects them. They are people without a homeland, claims Amani, who are systemically persecuted by the Congolese government, by militia groups and by Rwanda.

“There are people sent by the authorities to investigate people’s origin,” he says. “Rwandaphones are a minority, non-Rwandaphones are majority. They wish to please the majority.”

The reason why other tribes do not like Rwandaphones, Amani claims, is a mixture of sculpted modern political mind and envy.

“I think Hutus are not as educated as Tutsi. If Hutus are not educated it is not the fault of Tutsi or anyone else, it is because they are stupid,” Amani says boldly. “For 34 years they had control of their country (Rwanda), what were they doing? Tutsi refugee’s sent their children to be educated. People say Tutsi are just as intelligent as the white man,” Amani pontificated with his index finger jutting into the air.

These claims are extreme and, in parts, ignorant of colonial leaderships’ structuring of education and employment systems along tribal lines, favouring Tutsis. Unfortunately, this argument of Tutsi being better managerially with money, government and development is heard often, repeated even by international expatriates. It is an explanation used commonly to justify and explain Rwanda’s post-1994 transformation to an international business port of Africa, and it ignores important facts, like Rwanda’s militarism and exploitation of Congo.

Modeste Makabuza Ngoga is a very powerful man in Goma. Officially, he is the director general of Jambo Safari, a company that claims to take white foreigners gorilla trekking. Complete with airport access, Jambo Safari looks like a cover-up for Makabuza’s minerals dealings in Eastern DRC—perhaps the most volatile and rich mineral trade arena in the world.

Makabuza is also a Rwandaphone who shares Mr. Amani’s arguments about persecution. Both stand in strong support of Laurent Nkunda, claiming him as good representation for their kind and cause. Also like Amani, Makabuza preaches ancient and historical tribal and colonial history to explain divine-like rights and tribal division. As well, his argument gets politically dense the closer it comes to the present situation. Claims like President Kabila having agreements with the French government to arm and support the Interahamwe and the Forces for the Democratic Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), to sustain them and keep them killing Tutsis. He claims that Kabila was elected by the white man and is the bad guy in the situation for not withholding his promise to Nkunda of bringing Nkunda’s family to Congo.

The General and His Labyrinthe

“Kabila asked Nkunda to help him with war. Nkunda made the deal so his parents in refugee camps in Rwanda could come live in the hills. Kabila broke his promise,” Makabuza retells. “All Nkunda wants is his family to stop starving in refugee camps and come here. I am happy Nkunda is there with the same face [as me] but I am not alright with everything he is doing.”

The reason Makabuza withholds support for everything Nkunda does is because it is bad for business.

Nkunda has control over vast mining territories in North Kivu, including the Lueshe mine, just outside of Rutshuru, which he uses as a rear base for his soldiers. Powerful officials in the surrounding area reinforce Nkunda’s control. For example, Nkunda occupies the main area in Masisi province, just south of the mine, and his cronies run the town of Rutshuru. Soloman Nkujima, chief of the town Kiwanja—just outside the mine—was with Nkunda before settling there and is still a senior manager of Nkunda’s party, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP).

In 2007 Makabuza assured the Lueshe mine was not working. It’s pyrochlore and ferro-niobium cannot be refined in Africa due to lack of adequate technology, he insists. But even if it was possible, he argues that he cannot sell it, thanks to the western nickname of blood mineral.

“It’s called blood minerals because governments say when rebel soldiers are on the hill [Lueshe mine], it means you are financing them,” Makabuza details his business woes while drawing his fingers across the wooden top of his office desk. “When they produce pyrochlore they want to sell it in the international market but no one will buy it because it is called blood minerals.”

“Minerals are all over the world and all over the world people put guns to other peoples’ heads for those minerals, but only in Africa do they nickname them blood minerals,” claims Makabuza.

His final shot goes to the ‘white man’ and the inequality he claims he, as an African, will always face in the international market no matter what mineral he has in his hand. He says calling something a ‘blood mineral’ only worsens the problem because it prevents Africans from making money equally. Instead, it is taken under the table by the white man who then reaps the profits.

Makabuza is right when he says mineral sales are dependant on the international market. Nowhere in Africa are the products of such minerals enjoyed: MRI machines, home and leisure electronics like cell phones, DVD players, stereos, video games, mP3 players, eye glasses, heat resistant materials, jet engines, stainless steel, some medicines, aerospace and defense products, nanotechnology, communications, and biotechnological applications. It is an understatement to say that the minerals of North and South Kivu—niobium, tantalum, ferro-niobium, cassiterite and coltan—are in high demand internationally. Whoever controls the Kivu provinces controls the potential of more money and influence than some of the wealthiest countries, combined.

The company that controls the Lueshe niobium mines is the Mineral Society of Kivu (SOMIKIVU), a company formed in 1982 between the German company GfE Nuremberg (Gesellschaft fuer Elektrometallurgie GmbH) and the former Republic of Zaire (former name of the DRC). Since then, names have been changed and the agreement redrafted. GfE Nuremberg owns 70% of SOMIKIVU, but ownership is disputed because the company was not drafted with the current DRC government.

Lueshe mine is one of only three niobium mines in the world—in Brazil, Canada and DRC (Lueshe)—and it is intentionally kept closed to artificially induce “scarcity.” All three niobium deposits are controlled by a company named Arraxa, owned by the U.S. company Metallurg Inc. of New York: GfE Nuremberg is a 100% subsidiary. Metallurg Inc. is itself a subsidiary of Mettalurg Holdings of Pennsylvania—one of many companies in the investment portfolio of Safeguard International Investment Fund of Philadelphia (PA), Frankfurt and Paris.

“It is a very big mine, the potential of it is huge,” said David Bensusan, a European and Rwandan based minerals trader and past C.E.O. of Eurotrade International, in a 2007 interview. Bensusan refuted the idea that the Germans are keeping Lueshe closed to control the prices. “It is closed because there is an argument of who owns it and it’s in an area where the fighting is taking place. The issue is security.”

Professor Kisangani, the vice governor of North Kivu, explains eastern Congo’s mineral trafficking situation through the analogy of an unhappy child. He expresses that Congolese nationals were historically upset and began illegitimate international trade (mostly with weaponry and minerals). A ‘window’ or ‘open door’ into the country and it’s minerals was completely broken off with these unhappy children of the DRC and the Congolese wars, from 1996 to present, involving Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Libya, Tanzania, Burundi, South Africa and Angola, at least, with Western powers allied with or behind these.

“It’s mostly hearsay, nobody can give a truthful account of what happened,” David Bensusan looks back to what is considered the actual time of war, despite the fact it has continued on. The Congo was obviously raped of its raw materials, he adds. That element took Bensusan to a much lower note as he warned of the volatile state Eastern DRC was in. “It’s sliding back into a major war. It needs to be developed. I think the way is through minerals, but it needs to be done properly.”

The suggestion that no one can give a truthful account of what happened mirrors the western media’s perpetual obfuscation of the realities in Congo: while the people involved are easily named, and while many remain active in plundering Congo today, the decades of exploitation (1960-1996) prior to the current era of perpetual warfare are always dismissed with the invocation of a single word: Mobutu. The suggestion of full sovereignty and control of the mineral wealth of the DRC is one that many share, however. Mainly Congolese people, including Vital Katembo.

Professor Kisangani’s analogy of unhappy children soon turns into “mafia” and rebel militias who are still climbing in the open doors and windows. “And those people are supported by other people in the world, who can give them guns to trouble our country,” Kisangani says.

Diplomatic relations is the answer, he urges, mentioning that the DRC is trying to control the traffic of its minerals and make money off them. The problem he says, is that slipping through the window and door is easier.

Vice Governor Kisangani is confidant that if the government had the means, the situation could be controlled. “They are hungry and not strong enough,” he says of the DRC military forces and government. “Rich countries are supporting guys in the forest [militias], but they could intervene and tell armies and MONUC to leave.”

There are over 100,000 FARDC soldiers that need paychecks and too many managers and generals who loot. He says there is no way to pay them all, and therefore command them all.

And yet the Democratic Republic of Congo has the world’s purest and largest deposits of strategic minerals, including gold, coltan, niobium, cobalt, heterogenite, columbite (columbium-tantalite or coltan), copper and iron. Heterogenite exports coming out of Congo are alone valued at between $260 million (at $20/lb.) and $408 million (at $30/lb.) every month. That’s between 3.1 and 4.9 billion dollars a year. Diamonds account for another billion dollars annually. Oil has been pumping off the Atlantic Coast for decades, but now oil and gas deposits are being exploited from the great lakes border region—Lake Kivu (methane gas) and Lake Albert (oil)—and deep in the province of Equateur. And then there are the dark rainforest woods that sell by the thousands monthly for around $6000 to $12000 per log.

Without getting paid—unless looting and raping can be considered a paycheck, which they are—FARDC soldiers are still extremely patriotic. The Congolese soldiers—quick to be blamed by international experts, NGOs and western media—are also the victims of a rapacious international commerce that has descended on Congo.

“I love my country. I must protect my country, from all forces that can aggress my country,” said Major Chicko Tshitambue of FARDC’s “Charlie Brigade.”

“The fighting here in the East is just to protect the leadership in Rwanda,” said Chicko. “I think Nkunda is told by Rwanda. But Nkunda is a small man, he can’t do anything. He’s afraid of Major Chicko.”

Chicko ended his monologue of national pride, hubris and international intimidation by resting his pumping fists and writing his email address and, beneath this, the words: “Mercenary/Private Military => contact.” Chicko wants to be a mercenary and he imagined the white journalist he was talking to could make it all happen. (Nothing of the whereabouts or status of Major Chicko has been heard since the journalist departed Congo.)

The sad part is that Major Chicko would be better off fighting for a private militia company, meaning he would make more money at the very least. Mercenaries in Africa and especially the DRC are the most successful and efficient international organizations running. According to Vital Katembo, MONUC is one of the least efficient.

“They are a part of the whole game: no chaos equals no jobs. They have all the military skills but some have been advising those in the bush; they are helping Nkunda,” Katembo says.

While these allegations have not been proven, MONUC’s track record does not sit well with the Congolese people.

M’Hande Ladjouzi was once the chief of office for MONUC in North Kivu. Two members of the Civil Society, including president Thomas d’Aquin Muiti and a current employee of MONUC (who wishes to remain unnamed) who was already working there while Ladjouzi was, confirmed the rumours.

“It was at the level of conflict with Rwanda and the FDLR,” began Muiti. It is said Ladjouzi had a Rwandan girlfriend. Whether he actually had a girlfriend of Rwandese origin is unimportant. The term is slang: Rwandan interests were reportedly bribing Ladjouzi.

When the Civil Society approached MONUC with reports and testimony of Rwandese soldiers committing atrocities on Congolese people, Ladjouzi turned them away and sent reports to headquarters in Kinshasa that the allegations were untrue. After much lobbying by the North Kivu Civil Society, the UN eventually moved Ladjouzi to Kinshasa.

MONUC’s record continues to be stained. “We have met one soldier of MONUC that violated a young girl,” says Muiti. The Civil Society asked to take him to court in France and, according to Muiti, they did. But there are numerous other allegations that MONUC officials, both civilians and soldiers, have raped Congolese women.

MONUC’s media relations office also released press clippings reporting scandal from the Pakistani battalion of MONUC in the Orientale province. It reports soldiers trading guns for gold with militia leaders.

In May 2007 angry villagers in Kanyola, South Kivu, attacked UN officials and MONUC troops who arrived after at least 18 villagers were massacred. “There were barricades on the roads. There were angry crowds. Kids were throwing stones. They had to make a U-turn,” said one U.N. official, who asked not to be identified.

On October 2008, civilians in Goma and other places attacked MONUC troops and UN compounds; there are credible reports that MONUC troops shot and killed some civilians. Many civilian protests against the MONUC mission, and the MONUC retaliations, occur out of sight and without any media reporting.

Most every Congolese citizen will agree that the reason for the instability in Congo is the international influence within their borders. Some point their finger at mineral trafficking. Some point to tribal and historical ‘facts’. Others, like Vital Katembo, claim it is obvious that people are doing harm when they are not achieving what they claim to work for—speaking of the humanitarian aid and conservation sectors—especially when they have the needed resources to accomplish their missions.

No matter where you point your finger or for what reason, the DRC is an international playground filled with extremely dangerous toys and irresponsible playmates. Many times, knowing where to point is simply based on how dangerous it is to point that way.

The Israeli connection?

And this from Marcy Newman @ Body on the Line:

Before his assassination on January 16, 2001, Laurent Desire Kabila—the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—made a deal with the Gertler gang that would play out in favor of the current President Joseph Kabila and, it seems, be a central factor in relation to both Congo’s ongoing war and the bloody warlord’s battle in Kinshasa in March 2007.

Back in 2000, former Congolese president Laurent Kabila offered a monopoly on Congolese diamonds, and 88% of the proceeds, to Gertler’s International Diamond Industries (IDI) in exchange for Israeli military assistance to his new government. Top Congolese military officials apparently flew to Israel in 2000 to negotiate the deal. Gertler pledged military assistance to President Laurent Kabila through top Israeli officials.

The original Gertler-Kabila deal fell through after Laurent Kabila was assassinated for not cooperating with the Great White Fathers of industry (January 2001), but Gertler and Leibovitch and their disciples formed another company, Dan Gertler International, and advanced their Congo plan. By 2002 Gertler’s company was the leading exporter of Congolese gems, controlling a diamond mining franchise worth about $US 1 billion annually.

In 2003, the mighty Congolese diamond parastatal Societe Miniere De Bakwanga (MIBA)—which has been forever controlled by the Great White Fathers in Belgium, Israel and America—signed an exclusive contract with Gertler’s startup company, Emaxon Finance International. The deal involved Israeli’s Foreign Defense Assistance and Defense Export Organization (SIBAT), and high-level Israeli defense and intelligence officials. Gertler and his buddies reportedly bribed Congolese officials and Angolan generals who, on and off, have commanded Angolan Army troops protecting Kinshasa, Congo’s capital.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Weekend ponderings

News from the weekend worth highlighting:

Amnesty bemused by Australia's double standard on death penalty

Amnesty International has warned that the Australian Government's silence on the executions of the three Bali bombers will put Australians on death row abroad at risk.

Australia regularly intervenes in foreign cases to save its citizens from death row in South East Asian countries where capital punishment is accepted. Three Australians are currently on death row in Indonesia for drug smuggling, the country which carried out the executions of the Bali bombers on the weekend.

I have always considered capital punishment to be an abhorrent form of justice. Capital punishment is an admission of failure by state and society. It gives credence to the argument that humans are inherently evil and incapable of rehabilitation and redemption. Ignorance led the three Bali bombers to commit an atrocious massacre. Ignorance breeds hate, but it is a symptom of a failed society.

The three Islamists, Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra, go to their graves proud and honoured of their committed crime. They leave this life unaware of the severity of their crime, unaware that it was wrong. Indonesia, Australia and the entire world would have achieved much more if they were able to show these three men, through education and rehabilitation, that their actions were completely immoral and inhumane. Such an achievement would have been a significant victory against terrorism.

The death penalty invokes revenge, not justice.

Terrorists are not incapable of redemption. To admit that, as has been done by these executions, is a sad reflection on humanity.

Australia votes against Israel at UN

Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has risked an angry backlash from the country's pro-Israel Jewish lobby after voting against Israel at the UN General Assembly.

Sydney Morning Herald:

'The move signals to the incoming Obama administration that the Rudd Government plans to take a different approach to the Howard government on the international stage.

In the weekend vote in New York, Australia supported a resolution calling on Israel to stop establishing settlements in the Palestinian territories and a resolution calling for the Geneva Conventions to apply in the Palestinian territories.

The resolutions on the Middle East peace process are held annually and the [previous] Howard government had backed both from 1996 to 2002 but in 2003 began to vote against or abstain. It was a move that aligned Australia with only the US, Israel, the US Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Micronesia and put the country at odds with Britain, Canada, New Zealand and France.

Australian officials told the UN the Government had changed its position because it supported a two-state resolution of the conflict to deliver a secure Israel living beside a viable Palestinian state and that Australia believed both sides should abide by their obligations under the Road Map for Peace.

Australia said it was concerned activity in the disputed settlements undermined confidence in the negotiations. It was among 161 countries that supported both resolutions, with two abstaining and six against.'

[Antoun] The move will not only increase pressure on Israel to co-operate on peace talks with the Arabs, but will push Obama to begin taking a tougher stance on the Jewish state.

Australia's decision to abandon the unpopular position at the United Nations leaves the US as the only Western nation to back Israel in the UN vote.

Israel is losing friends in its stubborn fight to retain Apartheid policies in Palestine. Israel's hawkish policies have gone hand-in-hand with the deeply despised Bush administration. If Israel wishes to escape the negativity and resentment surrounding Bush's Middle Eastern policies, it must start co-operating on peace. Regardless of the might of AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbies in Western capitals, I doubt that Western public opinion will stomach another 20 or 50 years of Middle Eastern conflict.

As it stands, the world views Israel as the obstacle to peace in the Middle East. The longer Israel remains stubbornly opposed to a fair peace - that includes a Palestinian state with either a shared or divided Jersualem, economic integration, removal of settlements on the West Bank, the right for Palestinian refugees to return, and the free movement of Israelis and Palestinians within the Holy Land - the more friends it will lose.

AIPAC is simply holding back the impatience felt in world capitals towards Israel's policies. It can't hold it back forever.

However, Kevin Rudd didn't go the full mile as Australia continued to back Israel on six other UN resolutions, including one criticising the Jewish state on Palestinian human rights.

Nevertheless, two votes are better than none.

Obama refuses to commit to controversial missile plan

The refusal came amid a public misunderstanding between the US president-elect and Polish president Lech Kaczynski.

Obama spokesman Denis McDonough stated:

"President Kaczynski raised missile defense but President-elect Obama made no commitment on it. His position is as it was throughout the campaign — that he supports deploying a missile-defense system when the technology is proved to be workable."

The Washington Times reports:

'Mr. Obama was skeptical of the missile shield during the campaign, saying it would require much more rigorous testing to ensure it would work and justify its cost.

Defense Department analysts say more interceptor testing is required, which could delay the program for years.'

[Antoun] Meanwhile, the Russian president is set to meet Obama in the coming days.

Any permanent delay of the missile plan will be welcomed by Western Europe, particularly France and Germany, which seek to soothe frosty relations with energy rich Russia.

Whether it will be a win for Russia is dependent on which direction Russia is heading in. Recent US belligerence towards Russia (Central Asia, Kosovo, missile system, Georgia, Ukraine) has given Moscow valid reason to respond with similar belligerence. It has validated Russia's energy bullying of Europe, and its invasion of Georgia, all the while boosting Putin's ratings at home as he portrays Russia as under siege by the evil Americans. Removing the Eastern European missile shield will perhaps remove Putin's incentive to retain a nationalistic, hardline stance.

The Poles and Czechs are deluding themselves if they believe a US missile system will protect them from Russia. To the contrary, it is only endangering them. Refusing the proposed shield and encouraging US-Russia and Europe-Russia co-operation will create an atmosphere of partnership, help include Russia (instead of excluding it) into the Western fold, and ultimately ensuring the security of Poland and Czech Republic.

But Obama needs to be delicate with this. Scrapping the missile system entirely will be seen, at home and abroad, as a victory for Moscow in face of a cowarding America, and will incite Russia to test the US even further. A 'long-term delay', however, might be the diplomatic escape Obama might use to unweave the US out of a horror policy, whilst keeping face.

Rebels committing war crimes in Congo says UN

From the Telegraph:

'The rebel forces of Laurent Nkunda, the renegade Tutsi general, went from house to house in the eastern town of Kiwanja, killing as many as 200 people, according to a Red Cross estimate. The UN counted 11 gravesites containing 26 people, but added that witnesses said there were many more.

Yesterday David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said British forces would not be sent to boost peacekeeping efforts, a decision which is likely to anger aid agencies who cannot deliver food or medicine to tens of thousands of civilians who have fled a surge in fighting between the rebels and the national army.'

[Antoun] Time after time, Africa descends into the same spiral of bloodshed. Time after time, the world sits on the sidelines.

Britain has traditionally backed the Tutsis, while the Hutus have been favoured by the French.

In a previous article on this blog, I commented on the Rwandan report that implicated late French President Mitterand in the Rwandan Genocide of Tutsis. One of the main concerns, which led to France facilitating the genocide, was that the French feared the Tutsis would take Rwanda into the 'Anglophone sphere of Africa'.

So it comes as no surprise that Britain this weekend refused to send troops to Congo, as it will more and less involve combating the Tutsi rebel militia it backs, led by the notorious Laurent Nkunda.

Another case is Australia's increasing role in Africa, as an accomplice to mother Britain. In the Australian, British and New Zealand press, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been a notable feature for some years now. It is true that he has destroyed Zimbabwe, committed atrocities, and ruined its economy. But that isn't the reason why he is so prominent in our media, for if news in Australia was truly based upon human rights, then our entire news bulletin would be covered with atrocities in Africa.

His defection from 'British Africa', his treason to the 'Anglophone sphere of Africa' is what has infuriated the British and Australians. Little do we hear of Paul Kagame, the Tutsi president of Rwanda, who has committed countless atrocities against Hutus in Rwanda and Congo, where his forces still play a leading role in the support of Nkunda's rebels. The French, however, are aware of this man, whom they tried to have pinned for human rights abuses in the Rwandan war.

It's funny how selective we are when it comes to Africa. When they don't serve our interests, we begin waving the human rights stick.

Of course, the support is never genuine. The French arm one side, the British arm the other, Africans kill each other with the promise of power, but the gold still ends up in Paris and London.

Anyone who thought the Western exploited Tutsi-Hutu conflict ended with the horrors of Rwanda in the 1990s were fooling themselves. The world powers will continue playing death chess with Africa until not a single ounce of its natural resources remains.

I wonder what difference an African American president in the White House will make to this never-ending exploitation of Africa.

Will Obama save the day for Africa? Will he restrain the British and French? Will he send troops to Congo? Will he equip the African Union and bolster it to take decisive action?

Will Britain be complicit in its current support for the Tutsi rebels in Congo, just as the French were publicly ashamed for their supportive role of Hutus in Rwanda?

Will Miliband and Brown stand trial alongside Nkunda at The Hague a decade from now when the French push the UN to launch a war crime tribunal for Congo?

Christians brawl at Jerusalem Holy Sepulchre

Armenian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox clergymen entered the ring (again) over the weekend during an annual ceremony at the traditional site of Jesus' crucifixion.

Such brawls happen regularly between the six various Christian sects who manage different quarters of Christian holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

The fighting stems from the belief by each church that they are the one and only true church on earth, and all others are false believers.

Whatever the reason, the constant bickering is becoming boring and repetitive. My proposal would be to evict all sects from the Christian holy sites, and place it under UN control until they begin to demonstrate some actual representation of Christianity. It appears all six sects have conveniently skipped the Biblical line "love thy neighbour".