Monthly Archives: August 2015

Global Response to People Fleeing Ravages of War: ‘Callous Indifference,’ Humanitarian Failure

Boat tragedy in Libya, corpses of refugees in truck in Austria reminders of human cost of war, lack of humanitarian responses

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-28-2015

A Syrian father carries his daughter on 8 August 2015 to Gevgelija train station in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia where they will register with the authorities before proceeding north towards Serbia. (Photo: Stephen Ryan / IFRC via flickr)

A Syrian father carries his daughter on 8 August 2015 to Gevgelija train station in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia where they will register with the authorities before proceeding north towards Serbia. (Photo: Stephen Ryan / IFRC via flickr)

It’s a crisis of record proportions that is being met with global “callous indifference” and failed, dehumanizing responses, human rights experts say.

The crisis, described as Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War Two, involves hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflict, many from Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, trying to reach safety in Europe.

For some, the journey reaches a fatal end. As the Associated Press notes, the deaths come “by land and sea.”

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Death of a peace process: martial law returns to Turkey

Turkey has placed the Kurds and their struggle for human rights within a state of exception – outside the protections of due process of law.

By the International State Crime Initiative. Published 8-29-2015 on openDemocracy

Kurdish women pleading with a Turkish soldier.

Kurdish women pleading with a Turkish soldier.

The Kurdish peace process is over and a huge wave of violence has started in Turkey’s south-east.  The violence follows the killing of 33 Kurds in the Suruc bombing and the subsequent murders of two policemen in nearby Viransehir. Many fear that what is happening in Kurdish region of Turkey now is a return to the 1990s which were marked by widespread violence and state crimes. In this period much of Turkey’s south-east became what Agamben has described as a state of exception: martial law became normalised during the 1990s and the Kurdish region experienced intensely high levels of state crime including village destruction, massacres, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, mass forced displacement and endemic torture.

 

It seems that the nature of the Turkish state in relation to its Kurdish minority has not changed since the dark days of the 1990s – the inherited fear of Kurdish separatism and the Kurds themselves remains. We prefer to call it Kurdophobia, given that for 15 years the leaders of the Kurdish movement have made clear their demands are not for a separate nation but instead for equal citizenship in a democratic state.

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Potential for ‘Guantánamo North’ Could Keep Indefinite Detention Alive

‘Detention without trial is an affront to justice wherever it takes place’

By Sarah Lazare, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-28-2015.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter,center, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Photo public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter,center, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Photo public domain via Wikimedia Commons

As the administration of President Barack Obama publicly floats the possibility of opening a “Guantánamo North” on U.S. soil, rights campaigners warn that a mere transfer of the men and boys to another prison across national borders will not rectify the grave human rights violations committed against them.

“The Obama administration has its priorities in the wrong place,” Omar Shakir, a Center for Constitutional Rights fellow and attorney who represents detainees, told Common Dreams.

“Out of the 116 men and boys in Guantánamo, nearly 100 have either been approved for transfer or are waiting for a periodic review board to review their status for clearance,” Shakir continued. “They need to be released or charged and afforded full due process rights in a U.S. federal court.” Continue reading

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Striking Fear Into Corporate Hearts, Labor Board Hands Big Win to Workers

‘Employers will no longer be able to shift responsibility for their workers and hide behind loopholes to prevent workers from organizing,’ say Teamsters

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-27-2015

Why is Thursday’s ruling bad news for McDonald’s? “If a fast-food brand or a hotel chain can be deemed a ‘joint employer’ along with the smaller company, it can be dragged into labor disputes and negotiations that it conveniently wouldn’t have to worry about otherwise,” one journalist explained. (Photo: Fibonacci Blue/flickr/cc)

In what is being described as “one of the biggest labor decisions of the Obama administration,” the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Thursday expanded its “joint-employer” standard, paving the way for unions to organize on a much broader scale—and striking fear into the hearts of corporations that have used previous labor laws to shift workplace responsibilities elsewhere.

While the ruling dealt specifically with a California waste-management company, observers said its implications could go much further. “McDonald’s, Burger King and every other company that relies on a franchise business model just suffered the legal setback they’ve been fearing for years,” wrote Huffington Post labor reporter Dave Jamieson on Thursday afternoon.

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Aid Groups to World Leaders: Time to Force Israel to Lift Blockade on Gaza

‘We urge you to take action to press for an end to these restrictions now, so that families are lifted out of the rubble and homes, schools, and hospitals can be built.’

By Sarah Lazare, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-26-2015

Children in Rafah collect water from one of the working public taps July 13, 2014. (Photo: Oxfam International/flickr/cc)

Over 150,000 people and dozens of humanitarian organizations say it is time for world leaders to force Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza and allow its residents to recover from last year’s 50-day military onslaught, in what the groups are saying is the largest global appeal of its kind.

Released Wednesday, the anniversary of the formal ceasefire, the call notes: “Not one of the 19,000 homes that were bombed and destroyed has been fully rebuilt.”

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Greece is for sale – and everything must go

Why does this matter? First because it makes no sense to sell off valuable assets in the middle of Europe’s worst depression in 70 years.

By Nick Dearden. Published 8-21-2015 at openDemocracy.

I’ve just had sight of the latest privatisation plan for Greece. It’s been issued by something called the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund – the vehicle supervised by the European institutions, which has been tasked with selling off an eye-watering €50 billion of Greece’s ‘valuable assets’.

The fund was a real sticking point because the European institutions wanted to move it to Luxembourg, where they could keep a better eye on it. Anyhow, it’s still in Athens, and this document, dated 30 July, details the goodies on sale to international investors who fancy buying up some of the country.

We’ve attached it to this blog to give a flavour of what’s up for grabs at the moment. Fourteen regional airports, flying into top tourist hubs, have already gone to a German company, but don’t panic because stock in Athens airport is still on the table, as well as Athens’ old airport which is up for a 99 year lease for redevelopment as a tourism and business centre.

Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports are up for sale – the former case has caused the chief executive to resign and industrial action has begun. A gas transmission system looks likely to be sold to the government of Azerbaijan, but there’s still a power and electricity company, the postal service, a  transport utility which allows trains and buses to run, the country’s main telecommunications company, a 648 km motorway, and a significant holding in the leading oil refiner, which covers approximately two-thirds of the country’s refining capacity.

Holdings in Thessaloniki and Athens water are both on sale – though public protest has ensured that 50% plus 1 share remains in state hands. Nonetheless, the sale will mean that market logic will dictate the future of these water and sewerage monopolies. Finally there are pockets of land, including tourist and sports developments, throughout Greece.

A second document, also attached, details the short-term work programme of various government ministers, detailing actions they must take in order to add value to these assets. This includes introducing toll booths on roads to licensing casino rights to declaring sites of archaeological interest. The document begs the question as to why government ministers are even needed, it would surely be easier to cut them out of the equation altogether and let EU institutions directly administer the country.

Why does this matter? First because it makes no sense to sell off valuable assets in the middle of Europe’s worst depression in 70 years. Those industries could generate revenues to help the Greek government rebuild the economy. In fact, the vast majority of the funds raised will go back to the creditors in debt repayments, and to the recapitalisation of Greek banks.

So the privatisations aren’t to do with helping Greece. The beneficiaries are corporations from around the world, though eyebrows are particularly being raised at the number of European companies – from German airport operators and phone companies to French railways – who are getting their hands on Greece’s economy. Not to mention the European investment banks and legal firms who are making a fast buck along the way. The self-interest of European governments in forcing these policies on Greece leaves a particularly unpleasant flavour.

Most important is the inequality this will entrench in Greek society for decades to come. Of course the fact that the state currently holds these assets is no guarantee of democracy. Clientelism is rife in Greece. But the answer is transparency and democracy, just as German citizens are currently trying to take back energy companies into collective ownership because they see this as a prerequisite for fair pricing and supporting renewable energy.

What won’t help is flogging off monopolies to private corporations who have no interest in Greece’s people. Workers will be sacked and their conditions made worse, while the elite of Europe profits. Greece’s government will have lost the ability to make its society function in the interests of ordinary people.

But then, I suspect that’s the point.

This article was originally published at globaljustice.org.uk

About the author

Nick Dearden is director of Global Justice Now.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

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Nuclear Waste Site Whistleblower ‘Vindicated’ With $4.1 Million Settlement

Walter Tamosaitis a ‘hero’ who helped stave off disaster, says Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge

Written by Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-14-15.

Sunrise at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington.  (Photo: Scott Butner/flickr/cc)

Sunrise at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington. (Photo: Scott Butner/flickr/cc)

Ending years of legal wrangling, a whistleblower who raised safety concerns regarding operations at the Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington has won a $4.1 million settlement, his lawyer announced Wednesday.

Walter Tamosaitis, an engineer, worked over four decades for Hanford subcontractor URS (now AECOM), a subcontractor to Bechtel. Tamosaitis, the LA Times explains,

had been leading a team of 100 scientists and engineers in designing a way to immobilize millions of gallons of highly toxic nuclear sludge as thick as peanut butter. The sludge, which could deliver a lethal dose of radiation to a nearby person within minutes, is stored in leaking underground tanks near the Columbia River in Washington state.

The radioactive waste at the site “is legacy of the Cold War, when the site housed nuclear reactors churning out radioactive plutonium for thousands of American atomic bombs,” the Center for Public Integrity explains. Now, the site is “the largest environmental cleanup project in the world.”

Tamosaitis’ problems erupted in 2010, when, as the Tri-City Herald reports, he

raised a concern that technical issues, including some related to keeping waste well-mixed within the plant, had not been resolved as Bechtel National was working to meet a deadline, according to court documents. At risk was an incentive payment of $6 million to be split between Bechtel and URS, with much of it dependent on resolving the mixing issue by the end of July 2010.

[…]

A few days after Tamosaitis discussed his concerns, he was removed from the project and escorted from vitrification plant offices, according to court documents.

Fifteen months later, he was fired.

“I was fired because I raised nuclear safety issues about the Hanford site,” Tamosaitis has said.

“We are very pleased that Walter can get on with his life after five years of litigation, and that he has been vindicated,” stated Jack Sheridan, the attorney representing Tamosaitis. “This settlement sends a message to whistleblowers everywhere that integrity and truth are worth fighting for, and that you can win if you don’t give up.”

Tom Carpenter, Director of Hanford Challenge, which advocates for safe cleanup of the site, said following the settlement that Tamosaitis is “a hero who staked his career to raise nuclear safety issues that could have resulted in a catastrophe down the road.”

“His concerns have led to the Department of Energy to abandon a dangerously defective design, and to call attention to the abysmal treatment of employees who bring forward safety issues,” Carpenter added. “The public owes Walt a debt of gratitude for his sacrifices.”

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From genocide to resistance: Yazidi women fight back

Having suffered a traumatic genocide, Yazidi women on Mount Sinjar mobilize their autonomous armed and political resistance with the PKK’s philosophy.

By Dilar Dirik. Published 8-23-2015 by ROAR Magazine.

Post image for From genocide to resistance: Yazidi women fight back

The old Kurdish saying “we have no friends but the mountains” became more relevant than ever when on August 3, 2014, the murderous Islamic State group launched what is referred to as the 73rd massacre on the Yazidis by attacking the city of Sinjar (or Shengal, in Kurdish), slaughtering thousands of people, and raping and kidnapping the women to sell them as sex slaves.

Some 10,000 Yazidis fled to the Shengal mountains in a death march in which many, especially children, died of hunger, thirst and exhaustion. This year on the same day, the Yazidis marched in the Shengal mountains again. But this time in a protest to vow that nothing will ever be the same again.

Last year, the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) promised the people to guarantee Shengal’s safety, but ran away without warning when IS attacked, not even leaving arms behind for people to defend themselves. Instead, it was the guerrilla of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as well as the the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) and its women’s brigade (YPJ) from Rojava, who — in spite of carrying just Kalashnikovs and being only a handful of fighters — opened a corridor to Rojava, rescuing 10,000 people.

For an entire year, the Yazidi women have been portrayed by the media as helpless rape victims. Countless interviews repeatedly asked them how often they were raped and sold, ruthlessly making them relive the trauma for the sake of sensationalist news reporting. Yazidi women were presented as the embodiment of the crying, passively surrendering woman, the ultimate victim of the Islamic State group, the female white flag to patriarchy. Furthermore, the wildest orientalist portrayals grotesquely reduced one of the oldest surviving religions in the world to a new exotic field yet to be explored.

Ignored is the fact that Yazidi women armed themselves and now mobilize ideologically, socially, politically and militarily with the framework laid out by Abdullah Öcalan, leader of the PKK. In January, the Shengal Founding Council was established by Yazidi delegates from both the mountain and the refugee camps, demanding a system of autonomy independent of the central Iraqi government or the KRG.

Several committees for education, culture, health, defense, women, youth, and economy organize everyday issues. The council is based on democratic autonomy, as articulated by Öcalan, and has met with harsh opposition by the KDP, the same party which fled Shengal without a fight. The newly-founded YBŞ (Shengal Resistance Units), the all-women’s army YPJ-Shengal and the PKK are building the front-line against the Islamic State group here, without receiving any share of the weapons provided to the peshmerga by international coalition forces. Several YBŞ and council members were even arrested in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Photo by Dilar Dirik.

On July 29, women of all ages made history by founding the autonomous Shengal Women’s Council, promising that “the organization of Yazidi women will be the revenge for all massacres.” The women decided that families must not intervene when girls want to participate in any part of the struggle and committed to internally democratizing and transforming their own community. They do not want to simply “buy back” the kidnapped women, but liberate them through active mobilization by establishing not only a physical, but also a philosophical self-defense against all forms of violence.

The international system insidiously depoliticizes people affected by war, especially refugees, by framing a discourse to render them without will, knowledge, consciousness and politics. Yet the Yazidi refugees on the mountain and in the Newroz camp in Dêrîk (al-Malikiyah), which was created in Rojava immediately after the massacre, insist on their agency. Though some international organizations provide limited aid now, almost no aid was able to cross to Rojava for years as a result of the KRG-imposed embargo.

The people at Newroz Camp told me that in spite of attempts by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to model the camp and its educational system according to its top-down vision, the camp’s assembly resisted, forcing one of the biggest international institutions to respect its own autonomous system. Now, education in literacy, art, theater, culture, language, history and ideology are taught across ages, while commune-like units organize daily needs and issues in Dêrîk and Shengal.

“With all these councils, protests and meetings, the resistance may seem normal. But all of this emerged within a year only, and for Shengal. This is a revolution,” one Yazidi PKK fighter said. “The atmosphere of Rojava has reached Shengal.”

Hedar Reşît, a PKK commander from Rojava who teaches the sociology of Shengal before and after the latest genocide, was among the seven people who fought the Islamic State group at the beginning of the massacre and was wounded opening the corridor to Rojava. The presence of women like her from four parts of Kurdistan enormously impacts the Shengal society.

“For the first time in our history we take up arms, because with the last massacre we understood that nobody will protect us; we must do it ourselves,” I was told by a young YPJ-Shengal fighter, who renamed herself after Arîn Mîrkan, a martyred heroine of the resistance of Kobane.

She explained how girls like herself never dared to have dreams and only sat at home until they got married. But like her, hundreds have now joined the struggle, like the young woman who cut off her hair, hung the braid on her martyred husband’s grave, and joined the resistance.

Photo by Dilar Dirik.

The physical genocide may be over, but the women are conscious of a “white” or bloodless genocide, as EU governments — especially Germany — try to lure Yazidi women abroad, uprooting them from their sacred homes and instrumentalizing them for their own agendas.

Mother Xensê, member of the women’s council, kisses her granddaughter and explains: “We receive armed training, but ideological education is far more important for us to understand why the massacre happened and what calculations people make at our expense. That is our real self-defense. Now we know that we were so vulnerable because we were not organized. But Shengal will never be the same again. Thanks to Apo [Abdullah Öcalan].”

A Yazidi woman herself, Sozdar Avesta, a presidency council member of the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) and a PKK commander, elaborates:

It is not a coincidence that the Islamic State group attacked one of the oldest communities in the world. Their aim is to destroy all ethical values and cultures of the Middle East. In attacking the Yazidis, they tried to wipe out history. The Islamic State group explicitly organizes against Öcalan’s philosophy, against women’s liberation, against the unity of all communities. Thus, defeating the group requires the right sociology and history-reading. Beyond physically destroying them, we must also remove IS’ ideology mentally, which also persists in the current world order.

One year ago, the world watched the unforgettable genocide of the Yazidis. Today, the same people who — while everyone else ran away — rescued the Yazidis, are now being bombed by the the IS-supporting Turkish state, with the approval of NATO. When the states that contributed to the rise of IS promise to defeat it and destroy the social fabric of the Middle East along the way, the only survival option is to establish autonomous self-defense and grassroots democracy.

As one drives through the Shengal Mountains, the most beautiful indicator of the change that hit this wounded place within a year are the children on the streets, who whenever heval — “the comrades” — drive by chant: “Long live Shengal’s resistance! Long live the PKK! Long live Apo!”

Thanks to democratic autonomy, the children who once opened their tiny hands and asked for money when peshmerga fighters drove by now raise the same hands to fists and victory signs.

Dilar Dirik is part of the Kurdish women’s movement. She is a writer and PhD student at the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge.

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Campaign Zero: A ‘Blueprint for Ending Police Violence’

Activists launch website outlining federal, state, and local policies to crisis of police brutality and racism

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-21-2015

‘We must end police violence so we can live and feel safe in this country,’ Campaign Zero states on its website. (Photo: Basil-Malik/flickr/cc)

On Friday, activists with the country’s growing racial justice movement unveiled a new campaign to end police violence, bridging protester demands with data and policy to create structural solutions to the crisis that has gripped national attention for more than a year.

Launched as an online manifesto with an interactive website, Campaign Zero proposes new federal, state, and local laws that would address police violence and reform the criminal justice system—including demilitarizing law enforcement, increasing community oversight, limiting use-of-force, and requiring independent investigation and prosecution of police violence cases.

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Sensing Keystone XL Rejection, TransCanada Scopes NAFTA Lawsuit

Provisions in trade pact may provide legal basis for suing U.S. over tar sands pipeline

Written by Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-10-15.

A tar sands site in Alberta, Canada. (Photo: kris krüg/flickr/cc)

A tar sands site in Alberta, Canada. (Photo: kris krüg/flickr/cc)

TransCanada Corporation, the company behind the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, is furtively planning its next steps—including suing the U.S. government—if U.S. President Barack Obama rejects the permits which would allow construction of the project to move forward, the Canadian Press reported on Monday.

While the company has publicly maintained hope that Obama will grant it permission to build the pipeline, those close to the project say TransCanada expects a rejection and is quietly considering suing the government under the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), using articles in the pact that protect companies from discrimination, unfair or arbitrary treatment, and expropriation.

NAFTA also includes a mechanism known as the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which allows corporations to sue a country for damages based on projected “lost profits” and “expected future profits.” As Common Dreams has previously reported, there are no monetary caps to the potential award.

Experts have warned that TransCanada could bring a NAFTA challenge over Keystone XL. Natural Resources Defense Council international program director Jake Schmidt told Politico in February that such a case was “definitely a possibility.”

Derek Burney, former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. and chief negotiator on the trade deal, as well as its U.S.-Canada predecessor, told Politico at the time, “If the pipeline is actually vetoed on so-called environmental grounds, I think there is a very strong case for a NAFTA challenge.”

But would suing the government under NAFTA work? It’s unlikely.

The Canadian Press continues:

The U.S. government has a 13-0 record in NAFTA cases. A suit would likely fail, cost the company a few million dollars, and possibly antagonize the U.S. government, said David Gantz, who was been a panelist on NAFTA cases and who teaches trade law at the University of Arizona.

….But another expert said the company might as well try. She said a recent decision against the Canadian government in the Bilcon case involving a Nova Scotia quarry could give TransCanada some hope.

“Why not? And see where it goes,” said Debra Steger[.]

Another option on TransCanada’s radar is immediately filing another permit application with the U.S. State Department ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a corporate-friendly agreement between the U.S. and 12 Pacific Rim nations which has been described as “NAFTA on steroids,” have cautioned against including an ISDS mechanism in the still-pending deal.

“Given NAFTA’s record of damage, it is equal parts disgusting and infuriating that now President Barack Obama has joined the corporate Pinocchios who lied about NAFTA in recycling similar claims to try to sell the [TPP],” Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said in February.

Whenever the announcement comes, the source on the project told the Canadian Press, TransCanada will “let it cool for a while. And then we’d have this more vigorous discussion.”

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