As Obama celebrates, Yemen is hit with a drone strike


by Avaaz Teamposted 09 November 2012 10:13

Americans protest the use of drones

Americans protest the use of drones (Getty)

Just hours after President Barack Obama celebrated his re-election early Wednesday morning, it appears he approved a drone strike in Yemen that killed three people and wounded two. Reports indicate that the strike, which hit less than 40km from Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, was targeted at three suspected members of al-Qaeda.

The US has been stepping up its drone attacks in Yemen as it backs the country’s forces struggling to fend-off al-Qaida militants who have succeeded in seizing large areas in the south of the country. But the US’s use of these deadly robot weapons in its “war on terror” efforts has attracted widespread condemnation, not least because the attacks have likely killed hundreds of innocent civilians and children in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

Also, studies have shown that drones are a useful recruitment tool for extremists, especially in Pakistan where anti-American sentiment is so high that it was the only country in the world to have expressed a preference for Mitt Romney over Obama in a BBC poll.

As Obama begins his second term, he must consider the message he is sending by using robots to kill defenceless citizens. Is this the kind of leadership the world was hoping for as they listened to his powerful acceptance speech earlier this week?

Learn more: See and hear the devastating cost of drone attacks for 800,000 Pakistanis, and learn about the dangerous precedent the US’s robot war sets for the rest of the world.

Sources: Times of India, Global Voices, Avaaz

#Yemen: Security Forces Raiding Aden Hospitals


Forcible Arrests of Alleged Militants Threaten Health Care
OCTOBER 20, 2012
  • Saleh Amhad Abdullah, 16, in intensive care at Aden‘s al-Nabiq Hospital, two days after being shot in the head on October 7, 2012, during an exchange of gunfire while he was selling fruit outside the medical center.
    © 2012 Letta Tayler/Human Rights Watch
Gunfights in hospitals put patients and medical workers at grave risk and threaten to shut down health care in Aden. Both security forces and their opponents are showing callous indifference to human life.
Letta Tayler, senior Yemen researcher

(Aden) ­– Yemeni state security forces are threatening health care in Aden by forcibly removing wounded alleged militants from hospitals, exchanging fire with gunmen seeking to block the arrests, and beating medical staff. One hospital in that southern port city has suspended operations as a result.

Aden security forces describe the patients they have sought to arrest as suspects in serious crimes, including attacks against state security forces or armed robbery. Sources link most if not all of the wounded patients to Herak (“Southern Movement”), a coalition of groups seeking greater autonomy or independence for former South Yemen. Gunmen supporting and protecting the alleged militants have fueled the violence by firing at state security forces on hospital grounds.

“Gunfights in hospitals put patients and medical workers at grave risk and threaten to shut down health care in Aden,” said Letta Tayler, senior Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Both security forces and their opponents are showing callous indifference to human life.”

Government security forces have entered two hospitals in Aden at least five times in 2012 to arrest alleged militants, without warrants and despite warnings from doctors that the patients required continued hospitalization.

On October 7, 2012, state paramilitary forces allegedly beat hospital guards and shot a 16-year-old fruit vendor in the head during an exchange of gunfire with gunmen trying to block the arrest of two alleged militants being treated for gunshot wounds at Aden’s al-Naqib hospital.

“He had no gun. He was only selling fruit,” one of the teenager’s relatives told Human Rights Watch at the hospital two days later. “He was shot as he ducked to escape the bullets.” The international humanitarian organization Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) indefinitely suspended operations at its Aden hospital after a similar gunfight on September 27.

The Central Security Forces (CSF), a state paramilitary unit, has played a prominent role in the hospital raids, which took place at al-Naqib and the MSF hospital. CSF is commanded by Yahya Saleh, the nephew of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who left office in February after a yearlong uprising. In the October 7 incident at al-Naqib, the CSF carted off a seriously wounded patient from the intensive care unit after pulling out his drainage tubes, two witnesses and a senior hospital official told Human Rights Watch.

For fear of similar attacks, medical officials told Human Rights Watch nearly all hospitals in Aden except al-Naqib now generally refuse to admit politically sensitive patients.

Governor Waheed Rasheed of Aden, in an interview with Human Rights Watch, described the wounded patients as “dangerous militants.”

Local sources say the majority if not all of the patients sought by the authorities were members of Herak. Herak was formed in 2007to obtain more resources for South Yemen, an independent state until unification with the north in 1990. Herak includes many non-violent groups but also armed separatist factions. State security forces have repeatedly used excessive and often deadly force against largely peaceful Herak protests. Since the 2011 uprising and particularly since Saleh left office, armed Herak members have attacked state security forces and other government targets, Yemeni government authorities and independent political observers say.

The Yemeni government is responsible for ensuring the security of hospitals and other medical facilities. Consistent with the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, security forces acting in a law enforcement capacity “shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.” Whenever the use of force is unavoidable, security forces shall “[e]xercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved.”

Patients in hospitals are not immune from lawful arrest. However, they retain their right to health care as provided under international law. The forcible removal of seriously wounded patients from a hospital, placing their lives or health at risk, violates this right.

Human Rights Watch called on Yemeni authorities to take immediate measures to protect patients and medical workers from the excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests by security personnel. Governor Rasheed told Human Rights Watch that the government is committed to protecting patients and medical staff.

The armed men who try to prevent the security forces from making arrests in hospitals are also seriously risking the lives of patients and medical personnel, Human Rights Watch said.

“Whatever their agendas, gunmen should not turn hospitals into shooting galleries,” Tayler said. “At the same time, the government should minimize risks to patients and hospital staff and stop depriving alleged militants of their right to medical treatment.”

For more details on the attack, please see the below text.

Attacks on al-Naqib
At 5 a.m. on October 7, about 10 armed members of the Central Security Forces (CSF) stormed al-Naqib Hospital and forcibly removed two wounded alleged militants, hospital staff members who witnessed the incident told Human Rights Watch. The security forces told hospital officials that the two patients had attacked a local CSF post two days earlier. About 20 additional members of various security forces surrounded the hospital, the staff members said.

The CSF members beat two hospital guards with Kalashnikov assault rifles and a gurney, dislocating one guard’s shoulder, the staff members said. The CSF members grabbed cell phones from patients and hospital staff, tore out the telephone landlines when staff tried to call the hospital’s managers, and charged into rooms searching for the alleged militants, they said.

“We were terrified,” one hospital worker told Human Rights Watch. “They were shouting and cursing at us and pointing their Kalashnikovs at anyone in their path.”

Gunmen who were linked to the alleged militants opened fire on the CSF members from outside the hospital, starting a gunfight, hospital staff said. Two days later, hospital staff showed Human Rights Watch four bullet holes in the ground-floor pharmacy, one in the intensive-care unit and several in the front of the building that they said were from the shootout.

One bullet hit Salah Ahmad Abdullah, the 16-year-old who had been selling fruit outside the hospital. Medical staff said witnesses told them that a CSF member shot the boy as he ducked between his fruit stand and a passing van to avoid the gunfire. The bullet entered Abdullah’s skull and exited the back of his head.

Two days after the shooting, Human Rights Watch saw Abdullah in intensive care at the hospital, unable to speak. Doctors said the bullet removed some of his brain tissue.

The CSF members removed one alleged militant from al-Naqib’s intensive care unit, where he was recovering from surgery after being shot in the lungs, according to two hospital staff members who said they witnessed the incident. Ignoring repeated objections from medical staff, the CSF members pulled out the two tubes draining liquid from the patient’s lungs, then removed him in a government ambulance with no medical staff aboard.

CSF and other security forces have on several occasions forcibly removed wounded alleged militants and activists, including known Herak members, from al-Naqib hospital without arrest warrants and against doctors’ orders since 2007, including at least two other times in 2012, medical staff said. In February 2011, masked security forces stormed the hospital and detained a Herak leader, Hassan Baoum, and his son Fawaz. The former Yemeni government held the two men without charge for 10 months, half of that time incommunicado.

Shootings at MSF Hospital
On September 27, security forces and gunmen trying to stop the arrests of two alleged militants undergoing medical treatment engaged in a five-hour standoff that included two protracted exchanges of gunfire at the MSF hospital in Aden, two witnesses and a third source who investigated the incident told Human Rights Watch.

The attack prompted MSF to evacuate all 24 patients and close the facility the following day. Since opening in April, the 40-bed MSF hospital had treated hundreds of patients, including Herak members, government forces, landmine victims, and residents wounded in nearby Abyan governorate, where the Yemeni government with United States support is fighting Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The security forces accused the two patients of crimes including armed robbery. One of the patients was recovering from abdominal surgery for bullet wounds and was under medical orders to remain hospitalized for at least 24 hours.

During the afternoon, personnel from the CSF, the Central Investigations Division, and General Security – the regular police force – entered the MSF hospital without arrest warrants, demanding that staff hand over one or both wounded suspects, the witnesses said. Some security force members beat and threatened two hospital guards, the witnesses said.

Around 6 p.m., another six CSF members entered the hospital to arrest the two patients, while four carloads of reinforcements waited outside. Soon after, gunmen supporting one or both alleged militants converged on the hospital and began shooting at the CSF forces that were then at the hospital door. The CSF members took cover inside the hospital and began returning fire. Three bullets entered the hospital ward and one hit the office manager’s office, the witnesses said.

“Gunfire was entering the building from two directions, and those of us inside the hospital were caught in the middle,” one witness told Human Rights Watch. “We took refuge in a corridor, hoping the bullets wouldn’t reach us.”

One CSF member was wounded during the shooting and was stabilized inside the hospital as the gunfight continued, the witnesses said.

After several hours of negotiations, the state security forces and gunmen withdrew and the Yemeni authorities removed the two wounded alleged militants. The Yemeni forces transferred the patient who had just undergone surgery by ambulance to the medical center at Aden’s General Security prison. On October 4, one week after MSF closed the hospital following the incident, CSF personnel showed up at the MSF office in Aden with the same patient, saying that his condition had deteriorated and that he needed emergency care but that no hospital would admit him.

“The security forces were asking, ‘Can’t you help him?’” a witness told Human Rights Watch. “The MSF members replied, ‘We can’t treat him because we had to close our hospital.’” Ultimately the authorities transferred the patient to another hospital.

On June 18, 2012, government security forces stormed the MSF hospital to arrest another alleged militant who was recovering from surgery for a bullet wound, prompting the hospital to suspend operations for three days. Tensions were running high because of numerous Herak protests in the preceding days and a suicide bombing in Aden earlier that day that had killed the Yemeni army commander for the southern region, Gen. Salem Ali Qatan. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for that bombing.

The security forces included CSF members, who terrified staff and patients as they demanded custody of the alleged militant, witnesses said. “They were heavily armed and acting crazed,” one witness told Human Rights Watch.

MSF eventually negotiated the transfer of the alleged militant to a state-run hospital in a government ambulance. En route, supporters of the patient ambushed the ambulance and escaped with the patient, sources told Human Rights Watch.

Street Sexual Harassment and power of Hard Evidence #VAW


August 7, 2012 by 

One day, during a typical 15-minute walk from her office to her apartment in the center of Brussels, 25-year-old graduate film student Sofie Peeters was harassed 11 times.

To channel her frustration with her inability to commute in peace, she produced a short documentary for her final school project called Femme de la Rue  (Woman of the Street). The undeniable display of street harassment in the film made it and her story go viral, drawing global attention to the problem.

Using a hidden camera, Peeters captured men saying, “sexy butt” and “naughty slut,” leering and making “pssst” sounds as she walked by. A few men marched alongside her, repeatedly asking for her phone number or a date and then calling her a slut or a whore when she politely refused. In the film, Peeters also interviewed women about their similar experiences.

While the documentary was filmed in Brussels, the behavior captured occurs in cities worldwide, as demonstrated by the stories women share on the Hollaback chapter blogs and websites such as Stop Street Harassment,HarassMap and Blank Noise. The 1998 documentary War Zone captures similar behavior in four major U.S. cities.

Supporting the stories and film footage, the few studies on the subject reveal that more than 80 percent of women experience street harassment in Canada, Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, Yemen and the U.S., and a recent poll found that four in 10 young women were street-harassed in London just last year.

Street harassment negatively impacts women’s lives. A recent survey for Gallup conducted in 143 countries shows that significantly more women than men feel unsafe walking alone at night, and street harassment is undoubtedly a large reason why. In the film, women that Peeters interviewed shared how, because of street harassment, they avoid eye contact with men, change how they dress, alter their routes, stay off public transportation at night and listen to iPods. One woman said street harassment led her to move neighborhoods.

While the documentation of street harassment and its impact is growing, we know less about why it happens. What little we know mostly comes from women such as War Zone producer Maggie Hadleigh-West who interview their harassers. Showing off for friends, “Just saying hi,” and, “I don’t know” (because it’s so culturally ingrained), are examples of responses she received.

Peeters asked the men in her neighborhood, “Why do you do that?” One admitted that 99 percent of the time his tactics “never succeed” in helping him meet women, but, “There’s time to be filled. It’s great to fill it like that.”

Sexual frustrations and being inundated by media and advertising images of women in sexually suggestive poses were other reasons men gave for their sexually aggressive behavior.

A few told Peeters that the only way women can avoid harassment is to have a man with them or to wear a wedding ring and say they are married. When Peeters asked if there was nothing else she could do, one man said, “You just need to remain silent. [His friends laugh.] If you respond, then they will consider you someone asking for it. Put earphones on, like all the other girls. And let them talk.”

The men in Peeters’ film are primarily Arab (several of the women she interviewed are, too) and she faces criticisms of racism. She responded by saying only a small portion of foreign men are harassers, and her film is a testament to the social situation of some immigrants: There are a lot of foreign men with little more to do than sit in cafes and in parks and bother women.

Given how universal street harassment is, I wonder if the actuality is that Peeters’ film only looks at one area of Brussels, and as cities are often at least loosely segregated by nationality or race or socioeconomic status, a similar film produced in other neighborhoods of the city would pinpoint different kinds of harassers. Street harassment, after all, is a symptom of and contributor to patriarchy, and most modern cultures, not just Islamic ones, are patriarchal.

Whatever its limitations, the documentary is having an impact.

Joëlle Milquet, Belgian interior minister, saw the film in late July and reaffirmed her plans to introduce a bill before Parliament next month that will legally define sexism, including street harassment, and attach penalties for committing it. A fine of €250 is one possibility. It is unclear how legislators plan to enforce the law, and some activists fear it may have a disproportionate impact on immigrants.

Even if a well-written law against sexism passes, it is the discussions about street harassment that will do the most to stop it since they raise people’s awareness and can change mindsets.

In this sense, the film is having a great impact, too. Its coverage in international news and social media is sparking conversations globally. In France, for example, one man on Twitter thought Peeters’ experience was unusual until scores of women in France responded with their stories using the hashtag #harcelementderue.

For Peeters, just by talking to men in her neighborhood for the film made them think about their behavior and Peeters differently. She said the men respect her now. If her film can inspire initiatives and conversations that will increase men’s respect for women, that may be its most important contribution.

Still from Sofie Peeters’ documentary Femme De La Rue.

Female circumcision anger aired in India #FGM


By Rupam Jain Nair | AFP – Tue, Apr 24, 2012  AFP
  • A Muslim woman from the Bohra community ise seen outside a mosque in Mumbai. Over 1,600 Bohra Muslim women have signed an online petition calling for an end to the practice of female circumcision in the communityA Muslim woman from the Bohra community …
  • Ashgar Ali Engineer, a Bohra Muslim and expert on Islamic jurisprudence, poses for a photograph at his office in Mumbai. Ashgar has authored over 40 books proposing changes, particularly around the status of women in the community, in which female circumcision is commonAshgar Ali Engineer, a Bohra Muslim …

Eleven years ago, Farida Bano was circumcised by an aunt on a bunk bed in her family home at the end of her 10th birthday party.

The mutilation occurred not in Africa, where the practice is most prevalent, but in India where a small Muslim sub-sect known as theDawoodi Bohra continues to believe that the removal of the clitoris is the will of God.

“We claim to be modern and different from other Muslim sects. We are different but not modern,” Bano, a 21-year-old law graduate who is angry about what was done to her, told AFP in New Delhi.

She vividly remembers the moment in the party when the aunt pounced with a razor blade and a pack of cotton wool.

The Bohra brand of Islam is followed by 1.2 million people worldwide and is a sect of Shia Islam that originated in Yemen.

While the sect bars other Muslims from its mosques, it sees itself as more liberal, treating men and women equally in matters of education and marriage.

The community’s insistence on “Khatna” (the excision of the clitoris) also sets it apart from others on the subcontinent.

“If other Muslims are not doing it then why are we following it?” Bano says.

For generations, few women in the tightly-knit community have spoken out in opposition, fearing that to air their grievances would be seen as an act of revolt frowned upon by their elders.

But an online campaign is now encouraging them to join hands to bury the custom.

The anti-Khatna movement gained momentum after Tasneem, a Bohra woman who goes by one name, posted an online petition at the social action platform Change.org in November last year.

She requested their religious leader, the 101-year-old Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, ban female genital mutilation, the consequences of which afflict 140 million women worldwide according to theWorld Health Organisation.

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin is the 52nd Dai-al Mutalaq (absolute missionary) of the community and has sole authority to decide on all spiritual and temporal matters.

Every member of the sect takes an oath of allegiance to the leader, who lives in western city of Mumbai.

When contacted by AFP, Burhanuddin’s spokesman, Qureshi Raghib, ruled out any change and said he had no interest in talking about the issue.

“I have heard about the online campaign but Bohra women should understand that our religion advocates the procedure and they should follow it without any argument,” he said.

But over 1,600 Bohra Muslim women have since signed the online petition.

Many describe the pain they experienced after the procedure and urge their leader to impose a ban.

“The main motive behind Khatna is that women should never enjoy sexual intercourse. We are supposed to be like dolls for men,” 34-year-old Tabassum Murtaza, who lives in the western city of Surat, told AFP by telephone.

The World Health Organisation has campaigned against the practice, saying it exposes millions of girls to dangers ranging from infections, hemorrhaging, complicated child-birth, or hepatitis from unsterilised tools.

In the Middle East, it is still practised in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan and Syria.

“It is an atrocity committed under the cloak of religion,” says Murtaza, who along with her husband was asked to leave their family home when they refused to get their daughter circumcised.

“My mother-in-law said there was no room for religious disobedience and we should move out if we cannot respect the custom,” she explained. “It is better to live on the street than humiliate your daughter’s body.”

Asghar Ali Engineer, a Bohra Muslim and expert on Islamic jurisprudence, has known the dangers of fighting for reform.

He has authored over 40 books proposing changes, particularly around the status of women, and has been attacked by hardliners inside a mosque in Egypt and had his house trashed by opponents.

While both France and the United States have laws enabling the prosecution of immigrants who perform female circumcisions, the practice remains legal in India and Engineer expects this to remain the case.

“Female circumcision is clearly a violation of human rights, the Indian government refuses to recognise it as a crime because the practice has full-fledged religious backing,” he said.

“No government has the courage to touch a religious issue in India even if the practice is a crime against humanity.”

He says many fathers are simply unaware of the damage they are doing by following the custom.

“I prevented my wife from getting our daughters circumcised but in many cases even fathers are not aware of the pain their daughters experience,” he says.

Too Young to Wed


Stephanie Sinclair, for the Pulitzer Center

Every year, throughout the world, millions of young girls are forced into marriage. Child marriage is outlawed in many countries and international agreements forbid the practice yet this tradition still spans continents, language, religion and caste.

Over an eight-year period, photographer Stephanie Sinclair has investigated the phenomenon of child marriage in India, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nepal and Ethiopia. Her multimedia presentation, produced in association with National Geographic, synthesizes this body of work into a call to action.

In a related post Stephanie Sinclair shares the difficult experiences child brides face. She discusses the need for their voices to be heard and the challenges she faced as a journalist who witnessed their struggles and abuse.

Stephanie Sinclair’s images are featured in a story on child marriage in the June 2011 issue of National Geographic magazine.

How to help: National Geographic has compiled a list of organizations that encourage families to delay marriage and give girls an opportunity to reach their full potential.