Human rights are the best weapon to combat hunger, report says


A report by civil society groups says it is impossible to tackle the causes of hunger if existing power relations remain untouched

MDG : Human rights and food security : A Indian youth eats food distributed by local charity, India

An Indian boy eats food distributed by a charity outside a temple in Delhi. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/AP

Human rights are the most powerful tool to ensure efforts against hungerand malnutrition tackle structural causes and are not reduced to short-term strategies, civil society groups said in a report published on Tuesday.

Who Decides About Global Food and Nutrition? – Strategies to Regain Control argues that it is impossible to combat the causes of hunger while keeping existing power relations untouched.

“Food and power are related. It is almost impossible to find one person among the powerful in society and politics worldwide who does not have enough to eat,” said Huguette Akplogan-Dossa, regional co-ordinator of the African Network on the Right to Food (ANoRF). “The tendency is for exclusion from economic and political decision-making to go hand in hand with incidences of hunger and malnutrition.”

The report expresses particular concern about the increasing influence and control of agribusinesses and financial companies over food and nutrition.

“Far too often, agribusinesses and nutrition companies use their weight and influence to increase their profit margins, and to manipulate the rules to their interests and convenience, without regard for the best interests of small-scale food producers and the survival of their communities – let alone the moral and legal requirements of the human right to food,” said Peter Prove, executive director of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

The report points to a faultline in how to deal with food security – access to safe and nutritious food. There is the “mainstream approach” favoured by governments and international organisations, such as Agra, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and backed by the Gates Foundation, which focuses on technocratic approaches – better seeds and technology – to boost productivity and access to markets. This week, Agra is holding a forum in Arusha, Tanzania, on plans for developing Africa’s agricultural sector.

However, the civil society groups behind the fifth annual report on the right to food and nutrition put the emphasis on a rights-based approach. They say an agricultural system that features large US and EU farm subsidies, along with a concentration of power among a few grain giants such as ADM, Cargill and Bunge (the main corporate beneficiaries of US food aid), contribute to food insecurity in poor countries.

“Allowing decision-making to be in the hands of a powerful but reduced group has led to a centralised model of food supply, which in many cases results in famines, political abuse, or infringement on the state’s basic obligations when it comes to human rights: to respect, protect and fulfil them,” the report says.

The report sees negative corporate influence at work in the Scaling Up Nutrition (Sun) initiative, involving a $2.9bn plan to promote good nutritional practices with $6.2bn on preventing and treating malnutrition with special foods. Backed by the UN, the scheme has the support ofGain, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. Gain’s partners include food giants such as PepsiCo, Kraft and Danone.

The UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, while welcoming the progress on Sun, has pointed out how the private sector tries to use technical solutions for what are fundamentally social problems. De Schutter has called on countries committed to scaling up nutrition to begin by regulating the marketing of commercial infant formula and other breast-milk substitutes. He has also noted the tension between a strategy that promotes processed foods, enriched with nutrients to the point that diets become “medicalised”, and one that promotes local and regional food systems, as well as a shift towards less heavily processed and more nutritious food.

A chapter in the report, written by Marcos Arana Cedeño and Xaviera Cabada, cites the vigorous promotion of soft drinks on school premises in Mexico by companies – endorsed by many school authorities, which provide space for sales and advertising in exchange for school supplies or financial benefits. They note the serious problems in Mexico’s regions with large indigenous populations, where obesity rates are growing faster within the poorest quintile.

“It is precisely in these indigenous regions where the most aggressive and unregulated marketing practices of sweetened soft drinks take place,” the authors write. These practices include a 35% price cut, promotion in Spanish and indigenous languages, and numerous sales outlets within and around schools.

Civil society groups are making themselves heard on the issues surrounding food security and hunger. After years of negotiations involving governments, international organisations and civil society groups under the UN’s Committee on World Food Security. The body officially endorsed the voluntary guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security.

The guidelines promote secure tenure rights and equitable access to land, fisheries and forests as a means of eradicating hunger and poverty, supporting sustainable development and enhancing the environment. They contain provisions to protect local communities, indigenous peoples and vulnerable groups from land speculation and land concentration.

“With the reform of the Committee on World Food Security, an innovative way of inclusive governance has been established. It has been a breakthrough for those civil society groups that traditionally have been excluded from decision-making processes on all levels,” said Flavio Valente, secretary general of advocacy group Fian Internationa

Circumcision is good? #WTFnews


 

NYT News Service Sep 2, 2012,

The American Academy of Pediatrics has shifted its stance on infant male circumcision , announcing this week that new research, including studies in Africa suggesting that the procedure may protect heterosexual men against HIV, indicated that the health benefits outweighed the risks. But it stopped short of recommending routine circumcision for all baby boys, saying the decision remains a family matter.

The long-delayed policy update comes as sentiment against circumcision is gaining strength in the United States and parts of Europe . Circumcision rates in the United States declined to 54.5% in 2009 from 62.7% in 1999, according to one federal estimate.

In Europe, a government ethics committee in Germany last week overruled a court decision that removing a child’s foreskin was “grievous bodily harm” and therefore illegal. The country’s Professional Association of Pediatricians called the ethics committee ruling “a scandal.”

A provincial official in Austria has told state-run hospitals in the region to stop performing circumcisions , and the Danish authorities have commissioned a report to investigate whether medical doctors are present during religious circumcision rituals as required.

“We’re not pushing everybody to circumcise their babies,” Dr Douglas S. Diekema, a member of the academy’s task force on circumcision , said in an interview. “This is not really pro-circumcision . It falls in the middle. It’s pro-choice , for lack of a better word. Really, what we’re saying is, ‘This ought to be a choice that’s available to parents.”

But opponents of circumcision say no one has the right to make the decision to remove a healthy body part from another person .”The bottom line is it’s unethical ,” said Georganne Chapin, director of Intact America, a group that advocates against circumcision . “A normal foreskin on a normal baby boy is no more threatening than the hymen or labia on your daughter.”

 

Landmark Ruling in Nambia on HIV+ve Women Sterilized


 

Johannesburg– In a landmark judgment, the High Court in Windhoek found today that the Namibian government had coercively sterilised three HIV-positive women in violation of their basic rights.

“This decision is a significant victory for HIV positive women in Namibia,” said Nicole Fritz, the Executive Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC). “This ruling affirms not only the rights of HIV positive women but also of all women to access their sexual and reproductive rights.”

The case, H.N. and Others v Government of the Republic of Namibia involved three HIV-positive women who sought to access pre-natal services at public hospitals in Namibia. The three women ranged in age from mid-20s to mid-40s when they were sterilised. All three were sterilised without their informed consent while accessing such services.

Ruling in the women’s favour, the High Court held that obtaining consent from women when they were in severe pain or in labour did not constitute informed consent. The Court further found that failure to obtain the three women’s informed consent violated the women’s rights under common law.

The women will be awarded damages, although the amount is still to be decided.

“These three cases represent only the tip of the iceberg because numerous HIV positive women have come forward alleging they were similarly subjected to coerced sterilisation at public hospitals in Namibia,” said Fritz.

Dozens of other cases have been documented throughout Namibia of HIV positive women being subjected to coerced sterilisation. However, despite significant evidence of the widespread practice throughout Namibia, little action has been taken to address this problem.

“This decision is the first step in ensuring that no other women will be coercively sterilised in public hospitals in Namibia,” said Priti Patel, SALC Deputy Director. “Now the government must meaningfully investigate all the other cases to ensure justice for every woman who has been coercively sterilised.”

For more information

Nicole Fritz, +27 82 600 1028, nicolef@salc.org.za

Priti Patel, +1 347 526 0831, pritip@salc.org.za

Nyasha Chingore, +27 83 784 8496, nyashac@salc.org.za

 

Sudan using protests ‘to silence dissenters’, same as India


Rights group report urges Sudan to end the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters and journalists.

Last Modified: 27 Jun 2012 10:09

 

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, has said the protests against high prices is the work of “a few agitators” [AFP]

Security forces have arrested scores of protesters, opposition members, and journalists, beat people in detention, and used rubber bullets and live ammunition to break up protests that began on June 16, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday.

Sudan should end the crackdown on peaceful protesters, release people who have been detained, and allow journalists to report freely on the events, the report added.

“Sudan is using these protests as an excuse to use violence and intimidation to silence dissenters,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Authorities should call off their security forces and vigilantes, end the violence immediately, and respect the right of the people to protest peacefully.”

“Arresting all suspected opponents to stifle dissent is abusive and illegal,” Bekele said.

“Authorities need to charge or release these detainees immediately, allow people to voice their opinions peacefully, and let the media work freely.”

The protests began on June 16 at Khartoum University in response to government austerity measures and price increases, and they had spread to dozens of other locations in Khartoum, and other towns across Sudan, with protesters calling for the end of the current government.

US condemnations

Meanwhile, the US have condemned the crackdown on Sudan protests,”Sudan’s economic crisis cannot be solved by arresting and mistreating protesters,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“There have been reports of protestors being beaten, imprisoned and severely mistreated while in government custody.

We call for the immediate release of those detained for peaceful protest,” she added in a statement.

The National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS) on Tuesday deported Salma El Wardany, an Egyptian female correspondent of Bloomberg News in Khartoum, and briefly detained prominent Sudanese blogger Maha El Sanousi.

“They ordered me to leave,”  Salma El Wardany, an Egyptian, told AFP by telephone as she awaited a flight from the Khartoum airport.

Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan gained independence last July, taking with it about 75 per cent of Sudanese crude production. The north has been left struggling for revenue, plagued by inflation, and with a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports.

The landlocked South depended on the north’s pipeline and port to export its crude, but Khartoum and Juba could not agree on how much South Sudan should pay to use the infrastructure.

Sudan’s already depleted oil revenues shrank by a further 20 per cent after its main Heglig oil field was damaged and shut down in fighting with invading South Sudanese troops in April, international economists have estimated.

Even before the easing of fuel subsidies, the cost of basic consumer goods had doubled over the past year.

Bashir, an army officer who seized power in 1989, called the protests small and not comparable to the “Arab Spring” uprisings against regional strongmen over the past year.

He blamed anti-government protests on the work of “a few agitators” in a speech late Sunday.

But a demonstrator told AFP the current unrest is unprecedented. “Right now, this is first time since 1989 we have these protests in most cities,” he said, asking not to be identified by name.

There have been calls on social networks for a mass nationwide protest on June 29.

 

Fake Drug Plague or Pharmaceutical Industry Attack on Generics?


by Pratap ChatterjeeCorpWatch Blog
June 13th, 2012

Are Africa and South East Asia just suffering from a deluge of fake medicines that is causing disease resistance to rise? Or are they also suffering from a deluge of poorly informed media articles, encouraged by the pharmaceutical industry that wants to make war on generic drugs?

A recent article published in the latest issue of the Lancet Infectious Diseases magazine examines a new study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health noting that a third of malaria drug samples examined from the two regions were found to be fake or substandard.

The magazine says that it is “simplified and neutral” to “use falsified as a synonym for counterfeit, devoid of considerations of intellectual property” and urges the use of tough measures to combat these fake drugs.

Similar articles on “fake” drugs appear regularly in the medical publications like the British Medical Journal as well as major business publications like the Financial Times, which suggest that the black market for fake drugs generated $75 billion in revenues in 2010.

Pfizer, a New York company, is particularly active in the campaign against “fake drugs.” There is good reason for Pfizer to be concerned: Viagra, Pfizer’s brand of sildenafil citrate, is one of the most popularly faked drugs. James Love, the executive director of Knowledge Ecology International, a Washington NGO, notes that “It is quite clear that theoverwhelming majority of counterfeit busts involve Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs.”

The data on drug busts is not that surprising given the fact Viagra is an expensive drug in high demand from people who are willing to buy it under the counter or online.

However, such “lifestyle” drugs – as they are often called – are quite different from cancer drugs which are not faked quite as often. Indeed the problem is far more complex: there is a wide range of so-called “fake” drugs such as spurious drugs, counterfeit drugs, falsely labeled drugs (wrong dates, missing ingredients etc.) and poor quality drugs which the Lancet proposes to lump together.

And by introducing the term “devoid of considerations of intellectual property” the Lancet is also including the trade in generic drugs.

It is these generic drugs that pharmaceutical industry lobbyists like the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, both major lobbyists in the U.S., want the media to attack, says Love.

Here’s where the problem arises: “For political reasons, PhRMA and the Chamber plays up the counterfeit angle quite a bit, to justify a very broad intellectual property right enforcement agenda, by mixing together the counterfeit, falsified, substandard or fake drug categories,” he writes.

Love says that the Lancet suggestion to use “simplified and neutral” language could well lead to problems for buyers in poor countries. He notes that “corporate intellectual property right holders … are lobbying governments for stronger IPR enforcement measures. These lobby groups present dangerous drugs as the core motivating factor for legislation that has little to do with solving the bulk of the substandard and dangerous drug problem, and they also seek to introduce measures the undermine the trade in high quality legitimate generic products.

“One risk is that the various anti-counterfeit drug initiatives will be used to further undermine legal parallel trade in branded drugs. Another is that surveillance of trade in unpatented and unbranded chemicals will be used to further expand monopoly power,” Love adds.

Let’s unpack that a bit. What’s the legal parallel trade in branded drugs? Well, drug manufacturers themselves often sell their drugs cheaper in countries with big public health systems or just because the population is too poor to pay for Western prices. These drugs are sometimes sold back legally to buyers in other countries. Technically this trade could be shut down. (See “Murky Medicines” for an interesting article on how the U.K. buys medicines abroad legally at cheaper prices)

What about unpatented and unbranded chemicals? Are they a good idea? Well, it turns out that even the major drug makers use unpatented and unbranded chemicals all the time. Drugs typically contain one or more active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). If these APIs are patented, the patent holder can make a lot of money. But a lot of drugs are made from cheap (and perfectly good) unpatented APIs that even the big companies buy to make their branded drugs.

When countries like Thailand or India allow generic manufacturers to make drugs (either because the license has expired or to deal with an urgent healthcare crisis), these manufacturers turn to the very same API producers. Where it gets complicated is that the API producers are in a tough spot because if they supply the generic manufacturers, the big boys have been known to cut them off. (Bristol-Myers Squibb used this strategy in Thailand to cut off production of the AIDS drug ddI)

Basically what Love is saying is that if we use a hammer to address the issue of drugs, all the problems of generic, spurious, counterfeit, falsified and poor quality drugs look like different kinds of nails, when in fact some of them may not even be nails at all. “If authors systematically see the problem in ways consistent with drug company lobbyists, they are not seeing the whole picture,” he concludes.

Stamp out spurious drugs by all means, check to make sure that expired drugs are not re-labeled, and test batches to make sure that low quality drugs are not slipped into the market, but be careful of stopping the sale of perfectly good generic drugs that can save lives at a dramatically cheaper price by making them illegal.

Maternal Deaths Halved in 20 Years, but Faster Progress Needed


Eritrean women

Eritrean women (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

UN News
The report “Trends in maternal mortality: 1990 to 2010”, shows that from 1990 to 2010, the annual number of maternal deaths dropped from more than 543,000 to 287,000 – a decline of 47 per cent. While substantial progress has been achieved in almost all regions, many countries particularly in sub-Saharan Africa will fail to reach the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of reducing maternal death by 75 per cent from 1990 to 2015.

Every two minutes, a woman dies of pregnancy-related complications, the four most common causes being: severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, and unsafe abortion. Ninety-nine per cent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries; most could have been prevented with proven interventions.

“We know exactly what to do to prevent maternal deaths: improve access to voluntary family planning, invest in health workers with midwifery skills, and ensure access to emergency obstetric care when complications arise. These interventions have proven to save lives and accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goal 5,” said Dr. Osotimehin.

Disparity exists within and across countries and regions. One third of all maternal deaths occur in just two countries – in 2010, almost 20 per cent of deaths (56,000) were in India and 14 per cent (40,000) were in Nigeria. Of the 40 countries with the world’s highest rates of maternal death, 36 are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Similarly, Eastern Asia, which made the greatest progress in preventing maternal deaths, has a contraceptive prevalence rate of 84 per cent as opposed to only 22 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has the highest rates of maternal death.

UN adopts historic ‘land grab’ guidelines


Man next to a pile of hay
In recent years large-scale acquisitions of farmland in developing countries have caused concern
11 May 2012 Last updated at 15:23 GMT,  BBC NEWS

The United Nations has adopted global guidelines for rich countries buying land in developing nations.

The voluntary rules call on governments to protect the rights of indigenous peoples who use the land.

It is estimated that 200m hectares, an area eight times the size of Britain, has been bought or leased over the past decade, much of it in Africa and Asia.

But aid agencies warn it will be very difficult to ensure the guidelines are implemented everywhere.

AFP quoted Clara Jamart from Oxfam as saying this was just a first step and urging caution.

“Governments have no obligation to apply these measures,” she said.

There has been growing concern about so-called land grabs, when foreign governments or companies buy large areas of land to farm.

In Africa countries such as Ethiopia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone have all signed major land deals with foreign investors.

Responsible investment

It is hoped this new agreement will secure access to land, fisheries and forests for millions of poor people who have historically used the land.

The document took three years to draw up and calls on governments to be transparent about land deals, consult local communities and defend women’s rights to own land.

It also emphasises the responsibility of businesses and multinational corporations to respect human rights when they move in to an area.

Problems can arise because in many parts of Africa local farmers, herders and gatherers do not have any formal documents for the land they use, which is often owned by the state.

Authorities often argue that big international deals bring investment and new technology to a region, benefiting local people.

But this is not always the reality and human rights organisations have highlighted cases where tens of thousands of people have been forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands to make way for foreign investors.

Egypt women’s NGO takes pro-FGM Parliamentarian to court


 | 4 May 2012

Egypt MP Azza el-Garf publicly supports FGM, and is being sued by a local women’s org.

Egypt’s New Women Foundation said they are suing Islamist Parliament member Azza al-Garf over her pro-female genitals mutilation (FGM) statements. The women’s rights foundation sent a letter to the speaker of parliament Saad al-Katatny, informing him of legally going after Garf and asking for his permission to be allowed to take the MP to court.

The parliament needs to lift immunity for an MP in order for them to be held accountable in a court of law.

Garf was reported saying that FGM is an Islamic practice and that the anti-FGM laws should be amended. Garf is a Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) member, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

“We are on our way to sue Garf to preserve our rights and the gains of Egyptian women,” said the open letter to the speaker.

“We are suing her for going against Egyptian laws that criminalize sexual harassment and FGM, practices that goes against women rights and human rights.

“We completely refuse Garf’s statements and announce that she does not represent us.”

Garf gave similar statements on her Twitter account last month, calling for lifting the laws that criminalize FGM. The statements stirred criticism, which led to the FJP to announce that Garf has no account on Twitter and no comments were made by Garf herself.

Rights surveys in the country put the number of women who go through FGM to be around 86 percent. Current Egyptian law bans the practice and gives prison sentences to any medical staff who performs the surgery. However, many families go to underground clinics to get their daughters the procedure, risking permanent scares or even death.

In 2010, a 13-year-old girl died after a local doctor in the Nile Delta region’s Menoufiya governorate failed in the operation.

Local media said the doctor was arrested soon after when an unknown good Samaritan phoned a hotline service set up to report on female genital mutilation incidents.

The doctor, whose name was not revealed in local media reports of the incident, is to stand trial for the illegal operation that led to the girl’s death.

In June 2007, 12-year-old Badour Shakour died as a result of a circumcision operation. The death sparked a battle within the country over the use of the controversial medical procedure. Her death galvanized women and children’s rights groups to action, where they pushed for more stringent penalties against those who carry out female genital mutilation.

The tweets Garf made supporting FGM.

Shakour’s cause of death was an overdose of anesthetic, but her memory was the cause of an awakening that reached to the upper echelons of government.

In summer 2008, Egypt’s Parliament passed a law that ostensibly bans the controversial procedure. Not that it should have needed to legislate against FGM – it was already officially banned in the country during the mid-nineties – but with doctors continuing to perform the procedure on girls as young as five, Parliament felt it was necessary to intercede.

The new law stipulates a fine of 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($185) to 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($900) and a prison term of anywhere between three months and two years if caught performing FGM.

A doctor also could lose their medical license. In the case of Shakour, the doctor who performed the procedure languishes in prison after being convicted of manslaughter.

BM

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.

Pakistani human rights activist asks govt to reveal identities of Indian Prisoners of War


, TNN | Apr 23, 2012, 07.03PM IST

AMRITSAR: Pakistan’s former Federal Minister for Human Rights, Ansar Burney has asked Pakistan to reveal the identities of Indian Prisoners of War (PoW) who had died in its custody.

The Human Rights Activist has argued that Pakistan should make the disclosures, based on the ashes of the prisoners kept in jail. Burney said that this would make information available to relatives of the PoW, thereby ending their agonizing wait.

”Not only Pakistan but the Indian government should also provide accurate information of Pakistani PoW”, said Burney. He added that mutual exchange of crucial information could facilitate cordial equations between the two nations.

Burney, who was on the forefront of negotiations with Somalian Pirates, to secure the release of crew members aboard MV Suez, suggested that both India and Pakistan should step up maritime rescue efforts. MV Suez was hijacked by the sea bandits on August 2, 2010.

Let the world see how India and Pakistan can jointly fight to save their nationals” said Burney.

Burney, who has also been actively campaigning to save the life of Sarabhjit Singh facing death penalty in Pakistan, has sought commutation of Sarabhjit’s death sentence. “I will not let Sarabjit hang in Pakistan,” said Burney, challenging Singh’s death row. He has also sought leniency for Kirpal Singh, another convict, who has been on death row since 1992 in Pakistan.

Burney also expressed hope for Pakistani doctor Khalil Chisty of returning to Pakistan. Chisty, 80, who was sentenced to imprisonment in a jail in Ajmer for involvement in a clash that lead to the death of one person in 1992, was recently released on bail.

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