Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Genocide Studies Media File
March 18 - April 1, 2008

A compendium of news stories, features, and human rights reports pertaining to genocide and crimes against humanity. Compiled by Adam Jones. Please send links and feedback to adamj_jones@hotmail.com.

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"Babies of the Disappeared"
By Chris Bradley
New Statesman, 27 March 2008
"As a child, María Eugenia Sampallo Barragán had a fiery relationship with her mother, who chose unusual ways of showing affection. Outbursts such as 'If it wasn't for me you would have ended up in a ditch' and 'Badly educated brat -- only a child of a guerrilla could be so rebellious' were common, but would not be fully understood until years later. The truth was finally revealed in 2001 and María Eugenia, 30, is now demanding 25-year jail sentences for the couple who raised her, Osvaldo Rivas and María Cristina Gómez Pinto, and their associate Enrique José Berthier. The trio are accused of removing her from her parents, falsifying her birth certificate and erasing her true identity. The verdict is due in a Buenos Aires court on 4 April. María Eugenia was five when a family friend told her she had been adopted after her real parents died in a car crash. Strange, then, that Rivas and Gómez were listed as her biological parents on her birth certificate. Other versions of her origins soon emerged: that she was the daughter of a maid who had given her up for financial reasons; that she was the daughter of an air hostess from Europe, who came to Argentina and became pregnant through an extramarital affair. In 2001 María Eugenia became the 72nd grandchild recovered by the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, a group that works to find the children of their children, who were tortured and killed under the military dictatorship of 1976-83. They calculate that among the 30,000 'disappeared,' more than 400 were babies, either kidnapped along with their parents or born in captivity. Many were raised with new identities by the same military families that had had a hand in the fate of their biological parents. [...]"

"DNA Advances Set to ID 'Dirty War' Bones"
By Bill Cormier
Associated Press dispatch, 21 March 2008
"The 600 skeletons are packed into fruit cartons and stacked on shelves in the walk-in closet of a forensic lab, in the dim glow of a single bare light bulb. They are 'Skeleton No. 4' or 'Skeleton No. 21,' and nothing more. But a quarter-century after Argentina's dictatorship and 'dirty war' against its own citizens ended, DNA technology raises the possibility of finally learning the identities of these skeletons in the closet, collected from mostly unmarked graves across Argentina. Funded by U.S. taxpayers, anthropologists have launched an ambitious campaign, drawing on techniques pioneered in Bosnia and at New York's World Trade Center after 9/11. On television and radio, celebrities exhort relatives of 'the disappeared' to provide blood samples for a nationwide DNA database. A weekday call center advertises its toll-free number on banners at soccer games. 'If you have a family member who was a victim of a forced disappearance ... a simple blood sample can help identify them,' says a popular Argentine soccer sportscaster in a TV ad. The campaign began in November and is already paying off. 'We've received some 2,000 telephone calls,' said Luis Fondebrider of the independent Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, which was founded in 1984 to document the missing and has since applied its know-how in more than 40 countries, from El Salvador to Iraq to East Timor. It also led the identification through dental records of Cuban revolutionary Ernest 'Che' Guevara's remains, exhumed in the 1990s. The nonprofit group hopes soon to recruit a U.S. lab to cross-match the samples with DNA from all 600 skeletons in the closet, many of which have bullet holes in their skulls or signs of torture. Large-scale DNA sampling has become quicker and cheaper since it was pioneered in Bosnia, according to Mercedes Doretti, a founder of the group and a recipient of a 2007 MacArthur Foundation 'genius grant.' [...]"

"'Dirty War' Suspect Returns to Argentina"
Associated Press dispatch on CNN.com, 19 March 2008
"A former police officer suspected of taking part in 'dirty war' death squad killings was returned to his homeland in handcuffs Wednesday. Prosecutors say Rodolfo Eduardo Almiron Sena was a key aide to Jose Lopez Rega, alleged chief of the Triple A death squad, whose political killings in the mid-1970s were a grim precursor of Argentina's bloody 1976-1983 military dictatorship that killed thousands of dissidents. Spain's government announced in February that it would extradite Almiron to faces charges that include genocide. Prosecutors tie him to two specific deaths. The Argentine Anticommunist Alliance is blamed for killing hundreds of leftist students, labor activists and others between 1973 and 1975. The Argentine government news agency Telam said Almiron, now 71, was brought in economy class on a regular Aerolineas Argentinas flight escorted by Interpol agents. Arriving before dawn, Almiron was then whisked in handcuffs and a bullet-proof vest to a federal court complex. Authorities said Almiron fled to Europe in 1975 and lived there for decades outside scrutiny before he was found in December 2006."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]


"Aborigines 'Locked Out of the Real Economy'"
By Natasha Robinson
The Mercury (Tasmania), 1 April 2008 (from The Australian)
"Aboriginal people are condemned to poverty and treated as 'museum pieces' by governments whose education policies have locked a generation out of the real economy. Aboriginal leader Tracker Tilmouth has called for an urgent solution to the chronic underfunding of remote community schools, where up to 4000 indigenous children each year in the Northern Territory have no access to secondary education. The former director of the Central Land Council, a member of the Stolen Generations who was educated at a mission school, backed the idea of boarding schools for remote indigenous students as one solution to the crisis. Mr. Tilmouth, one of Australia's most successful indigenous leaders who now works as an adviser to the Northern Territory mining company Compass Resources, said government policies on education were driven by the belief that Aboriginal people should continue living traditional lives. This had resulted in a system that routinely produced students who could not read or write after sometimes more than 10 years of schooling. It was often left to mining companies who employed indigenous people to teach them to read or write, he said. 'There should be a royal commission into the state of education in the Northern Territory of Aboriginal children, because this is an act of genocide,' Mr. Tilmouth said. 'We've got to move away from this ridiculous socialist experiment of (treating) Aboriginal people as museum pieces, living museums. We want to be able to look after ourselves, we want the economic independence. We can't do that unless we have a very good basis of education.' Indigenous children in the NT who are schooled in communities or outstations classified as 'very remote' lag severely behind in literacy and numeracy. [...]"


"Cambodia: The High Cost of Closure"
By Susan Postlewaite
Business Week, 1 April 2008
"Dressed in a khaki shirt and slumped in his chair, eyes closed as the judges read the proceedings, the frail and white-haired 'Brother No. 2' doesn't look the part of a mastermind of the 1970s reign of terror in Cambodia. Arrested at home near the Thai border last September, 82-year-old Nuon Chea is the top-ranking Khmer Rouge official to face trial for his role in the Cambodian genocide. But with his health deteriorating, the court worries he may die before the trial's conclusion. So haste is of the essence. That's one factor that international aid donors must consider when deciding whether to foot the $170 million bill for the U.N.-sponsored trials of Nuon Chea and four other former Khmer Rouge officials. Trying them is proving far more costly than organizers had planned. The court's budget, originally $53 million for three years, has ballooned to $170 million for five years. And after a year and a half of operations, the hybrid court (run by both the U.N. and the Cambodian government) is running out of money. The Cambodian side has announced it runs out of funds in April. Nearly 30 years after the end of the 'killing fields' that left 2 million people dead, many Cambodians are wondering whether getting justice is worth the expense. Some think the trials in Cambodia are, as the former U.N. Secretary-General's representative in Cambodia Benny Widyono says, 'a little too late.' [...]"

"Dith Pran, 65; Helped Reveal 'Killing Fields'"
By Elaine Woo
The Los Angeles Times, 31 March 2008
"One day during the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime in the mid-1970s, American journalist Sydney Schanberg asked his Cambodian assistant, Dith Pran, a gnawing question. How would Dith respond to the American diplomat in Phnom Penh who had been publicly criticizing Cambodians for not rising up against the communist insurgents, who were killing innocent countrymen every day? Was it because, as the diplomat insinuated, Cambodians did not value human life as highly as Westerners did? The question hung in the air for long minutes until Dith found the words to respond. 'It's not true. You have seen for yourself the suffering,' he told Schanberg softly. 'The only difference, maybe, is that with Cambodians the grief leaves the face quickly, but it goes inside and stays there for a long time.' For slaughter on the scale inflicted by the Khmer Rouge -- an estimated 1.5 million died of starvation, executions, overwork and torture -- the grief could be immobilizing, but not for Dith. He saved Schanberg from death at rebel hands before facing it himself many times during the four years of the Khmer Rouge's bloody reign. When Schanberg won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for his Cambodia reporting at the New York Times, he shared the honor with Dith. How the scrappy Cambodian managed to survive was incomprehensible even to Dith. Yet he prevailed and with Schanberg's help began life anew in the United States as a staff photographer for the Times. Dith emerged as an eloquent spokesman for the victims of the Cambodian slaughter, a role he filled until his death from pancreatic cancer Sunday at a hospital in New Brunswick, N.J., Schanberg said. He was 65. 'A clear-eyed reporter who lived through horror and survived to tell his story in his own words, for 30 years Dith Pran ... played a key role in bringing the crimes of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime to world attention, especially in the United States,' said Ben Kiernan, founding director of the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University. [...]"

"'Killing Fields' Survivor Dith Pran Dies"
By Richard Pyle
Associated Press dispatch on Yahoo! News, 30 March 2008
"Dith Pran, the Cambodian-born journalist whose harrowing tale of enslavement and eventual escape from that country's murderous Khmer Rouge revolutionaries in 1979 became the subject of the award-winning film 'The Killing Fields,' died Sunday, his former colleague said. Dith, 65, died at a New Jersey hospital Sunday morning of pancreatic cancer, according to Sydney Schanberg, his former colleague at The New York Times. Dith had been diagnosed almost three months ago. Dith was working as an interpreter and assistant for Schanberg in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, when the Vietnam War reached its chaotic end in April 1975 and both countries were taken over by Communist forces. Schanberg helped Dith's family get out but was forced to leave his friend behind after the capital fell; they were not reunited until Dith escaped four and a half years later. Eventually, Dith resettled in the United States and went to work as a photographer for the Times. It was Dith himself who coined the term 'killing fields' for the horrifying clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered on his desperate journey to freedom. The regime of Pol Pot, bent on turning Cambodia back into a strictly agrarian society, and his Communist zealots were blamed for the deaths of nearly 2 million of Cambodia's 7 million people. 'That was the phrase he used from the very first day, during our wondrous reunion in the refugee camp,' Schanberg said later. With thousands being executed simply for manifesting signs of intellect or Western influence -- even wearing glasses or wristwatches -- Dith survived by masquerading as an uneducated peasant, toiling in the fields and subsisting on as little as a mouthful of rice a day, and whatever small animals he could catch. After Dith moved to the U.S., he became a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and founded the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, dedicated to educating people on the history of the Khmer Rouge regime. [...]"


"Dalai Lama Says 'Demographic Aggression' is Making Tibetans a Minority in Their Homeland"
By Ashok Sharma
Associated Press dispatch in The Oakland Press, 31 March 2008
"A Chinese government policy of 'demographic aggression' is threatening Tibetan culture as increasing numbers of non-Tibetan Chinese move into the region, the Dalai Lama said Saturday. He also told reporters that China risks instability because of its human rights record. In Lhasa, the region's ancient capital, there are now 100,000 Tibetans but twice as many outsiders, the Tibetan spiritual leader said. The majority of those are Han Chinese, the country's ethnic majority. 'There is evidence the Chinese people in Tibet are increasing month by month,' he told reporters, calling the population shift a 'form of cultural genocide.' He also said that a million more people are expected to be settled in Tibet after this summer's Olympics. He did not say how he received that information. The comments from the Dalai Lama, who has been based in India since fleeing his homeland decades ago, came as diplomats were preparing to leave the Tibetan capital after a quick overnight visit. The visit was the latest move by China to show it is in control of the region after deadly anti-government protests more than two weeks ago. Beijing blames the unrest on the Dalai Lama and his supporters. The Dalai Lama also warned that China risks instability because of its human rights record and he worried about his 'Middle Way' dialogue with Beijing, which calls for autonomy for Tibetans under Chinese rule. 'China looks stable, but underneath [there is] a lot of resentment,' he told reporters, calling Beijing a police state with a 'rule of terror.' The protests in Tibet and other regions with large Tibetan populations have brought immense unwanted attention to China and its human rights record ahead of the Beijing Olympics. [...]"

"In China, An Appeal for Change On Tibet"
By Jill Drew
The Washington Post, 23 March 2008 [Registration Required]
"A group of 30 Chinese intellectuals appealed to the Chinese government Saturday to admit that its policy of crushing dissent in Tibet and blaming the ensuing violence on the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was failing. 'The one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media is having the effect of stirring up inter-ethnic animosity and aggravating an already tense situation,' the group said in an open letter posted on Boxun.com, a Web site for overseas Chinese. It was the first time a Chinese group had publicly urged the country's leaders to rethink their response to two weeks of protests in Tibetan areas across western China. The government's response to the Tibetan protests is a highly sensitive topic in China, and few people are willing to be quoted questioning its actions. Many of the 30 people who signed the open letter are regular contributors to Web sites and blogs that provide alternative views of government policies. One other regular contributor, Hu Jia, went on trial this week on charges of incitement to subvert state power for posts he made on Boxun.com and comments in interviews with foreign media. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison. Dissident author Wang Lixiong is the first name on the petition. He and his wife, Tibetan poet and essayist Tsering Woeser, have been under house arrest in Beijing since the protests began, Wang told Radio Free Asia on Friday. The Chinese government-controlled media, after initial silence on the protests, has provided extensive coverage focusing on a March 14 riot in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. [...]"

"Witnesses to Tibet Violence Describe Scenes of Horror"
By Barbara Demick
The Los Angeles Times, 22 March 2008 [Registration Required]
"[...] Tibetans randomly beat and killed Chinese solely on the basis of their ethnicity: a young motorcyclist bludgeoned in the head with paving stones and probably killed; a teenage boy in school uniform being dragged by a mob. ... A young Chinese motorcyclist is struck by stones. Witmore utters a silent scream to the man, 'Keep moving!' but the motorcyclist stops, as if to reason with the mob. Soon his flashy gold helmet is off and the mob is pounding his head with stones and pipes. Witmore, who was watching from the lobby of her hotel, retreats into the courtyard in horror. Other tourists say later that they believe the man was killed. Balsiger [a foreign journalist] sees the crowd pull a Chinese-looking man off a bicycle. A teenage boy is bludgeoned on the head, but as he staggers, bleeding on the pavement, barely conscious, a tall foreign man steps in and pulls him to safety. Police flee, and by early afternoon the mobs have the run of the city. They go after Chinese shopkeepers, who these days dominate the commercial life of Lhasa. 'They thought we Han Chinese people were coming to steal from their rice bowls,' says the manager of Top of the World Hotel on Ramoche Street, near the temple. She cowers in her courtyard as the crowd sets fire to many of her neighbors' businesses. ... Riots spread to the Muslim quarter, targeting the Hui, Chinese Muslims who have been opening businesses in Tibet. Rioters smash holes through metal shop gates and pour in gasoline. A Muslim family later describes to Chinese journalists how they hid in a bathroom as flames spread around them. The main gate of the mosque is set on fire, but the mob doesn't get inside. [...]"

"Tibet: Try the Hong Kong Solution"
By Malcolm Rifkind
The Times, 21 March 2008
"It is easy to get depressed about the trauma of Tibet and the suppression of Tibetan cultural and political aspirations. It is, after all, almost half a century since the Dalai Lama fled his country. He has never been able to return and recent events make it highly unlikely that he will in the foreseeable future. Over that half century the Soviet Union has collapsed into 15 independent states, apartheid has been defeated in South Africa, colonial empires have disappeared, and the United States could be about to elect its first black president. But Tibet and the Tibetans remain under the iron hand of Beijing, denied not just self-government but also the free expression of their unique cultural and religious identity. Pessimism about the future may seem inevitable but it need not be. A solution is already available that would not only meet Tibetan aspirations but would do so in a way that should be acceptable to China. China is the country that invented the concept of two systems in one country. It did so in order to absorb Hong Kong back into the motherland without killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. It was the inspiration of Deng Xiaoping and it has been brilliantly successful. Instead of insisting that the Hong Kong Chinese had to accept a communist economic system combined with political uniformity, the people of Hong Kong have been able to continue to live as a Western, capitalist enclave within the Chinese body politic. Although there are clear limits to its freedom and democratic rights, Hong Kong enjoys real autonomy, a functioning rule of law and a liberal press and media that have no equivalent in most of China. Similar freedoms have been conceded to the former Portuguese colony of Macao. Nor is there any doubt that the Chinese Government would be delighted to conclude a similar arrangement with the Taiwanese if the latter could be persuaded to accept reunification with mainland China in the years to come. If China is, therefore, able to live with genuine autonomy and cultural freedom in Hong Kong and Macao, and if it would be only too happy to concede it to Taiwan, why can a similar offer not be made to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people? [...]"


"Colombian Troops Kill Farmers, Pass Off Bodies as Rebels"
By Juan Forero
The Washington Post, 30 March 2008 [Registration Required]
"All Cruz Elena González saw when the soldiers came past her house was a corpse, wrapped in a tarp and strapped to a mule. A guerrilla killed in combat, soldiers muttered, as they trudged past her meek home in this town in northwestern Colombia. She soon learned that the body belonged to her 16-year-old son, Robeiro Valencia, and that soldiers had classified him as a guerrilla killed in combat, a claim later discredited by the local government human rights ombudsman. 'Imagine what I felt when my other son told me it was Robeiro,' González said in recounting the August killing. 'He was my boy.' Funded in part by the Bush administration, a six-year military offensive has helped the government here wrest back territory once controlled by guerrillas and kill hundreds of rebels in recent months, including two top commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. But under intense pressure from Colombian military commanders to register combat kills, the army has in recent years also increasingly been killing poor farmers and passing them off as rebels slain in combat, government officials and human rights groups say. The tactic has touched off a fierce debate in the Defense Ministry between tradition-bound generals who favor an aggressive campaign that centers on body counts and reformers who say the army needs to develop other yardsticks to measure battlefield success. ... The victims are the marginalized in Colombia's highly stratified society. Most, like Robeiro Valencia, are subsistence farmers. Others are poor Colombians kidnapped off the streets of bustling Medellin, the capital of this state, Antioquia, which has registered the most killings. Amparo Bermudez Dávila said her son, Diego Castañeda, 27, disappeared from Medellin in January 2006. Two months later, authorities called to say he had been killed, another battlefield death. They showed her a photograph of his body, dressed in camouflage. [...]"
[n.b. Gendercide.]

"Extrajudicial Slayings on Rise in Colombia"
By Chris Kraul
The Los Angeles Times, 21 March 2008 [Registration Required]
"Street vendor Israel Rodriguez went fishing last month and never came back. Two days later, his family found his body buried in a plastic bag, classified by the Colombian army as a guerrilla fighter killed in battle. Human rights activists say the Feb. 17 death is part of a deadly phenomenon called 'false positives' in which the armed forces allegedly kill civilians, usually peasants or unemployed youths, and brand them as leftist guerrillas. A macabre facet of a general increase in 'extrajudicial killings' by the military, 'false positives' are a result of intense pressure to show progress in Colombia's U.S.-funded war against leftist insurgents, the activists say. Rodriguez's sister Adelaida said he had served three years in the army and was neither a guerrilla nor a sympathizer. 'He never made any trouble for anyone,' she said, adding that she believed the army killed her brother to 'gain points.' Such killings have spread terror here in the central state of Meta. Last year the state led Colombia in documented cases of extrajudicial killings, with 287 civilians allegedly slain by the military, according to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, a human rights group. That's a 10% increase from the previous year Although there appear to be no official -- or unofficial -- tallies of 'false positives,' human rights activists say they believe such incidents are on the rise, along with the overall increase in killings by the military, based on their discussions with victims' families and analyses of circumstances surrounding individual cases. ... The killings have increased in recent years amid an emphasis on rebel death tolls as the leading indicator of military success, the human rights groups say. Even Colombian officials acknowledge that soldiers and their commanders have been given cash and promotions for upping their units' body counts. [...]"


"Merkel Pledges to Stand by Israel"
By Richard Boudreau
The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 March 2008
"In an emotional tribute to victims and survivors of the Holocaust, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the Nazi genocide 'fills us Germans with shame' and pledged to stand by Israel's side against any threat, particularly from Iran. 'This historic responsibility is part of my country's fundamental policy,' Dr. Merkel said in a speech delivered in German to a special session of the Israeli parliament. 'It means that for me, as a German chancellor, Israel's security is non-negotiable.' The address on Tuesday capped a three-day state visit in which the German leader marked the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding by formally upgrading an already warm relationship between the countries. Dr. Merkel's visit stirred traumatic memories. Six million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis during World War II, and about 250,000 elderly survivors live in Israel. It took 20 years after Germany's defeat in 1945 for the two countries to establish full diplomatic relations. Even today, many Israelis refuse to buy German-made goods or visit Germany. Seven of the 120 members of the Knesset boycotted the session, saying they could not bear to join in an event with a German official or hear the German language. 'This is the language my grandparents were murdered in,' said Arye Eldad, a right-wing politician. But the protest was overshadowed by a standing ovation for Dr Merkel by politicians and about 1000 guests, including Holocaust survivors and Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders. Politicians changed their rules to allow her to address them, even though she is not a head of state. [...]"


"Iraq's Christians Living Out the Passion This Easter"
By Peter Lamprecht
Crosswalk.com, 21 March 2008
"Days after the body of a kidnapped archbishop was found buried in northern Iraq, fresh kidnappings and murders continue to haunt the country's Christians this Passion Week. 'We have people threatened, people kidnapped, people killed -- this is Holy Week,' Kirkuk's Chaldean Archbishop Luis Sako said. Danger in Mosul may be great enough to effectively cancel Easter in the city this year, one clergyman said. 'We could close our churches in Mosul to protect ourselves and say to everyone that we don't accept the situation,' Dominican Father Najeeb Mikhail said. 'Or we can hold all the celebrations, and maybe we will receive some bombs or attacks.' Fr. Mikhail affirmed that Mosul's Christian denominations planned to remain in the city despite the attacks. His comments came yesterday, only hours before meeting with Mosul's Syrian Orthodox and Syrian Catholic bishops to decide how to help the city's now leaderless Chaldean flock. Chaldean Archbishop Paulus Faraj Rahho, kidnapped last month while leaving a Mosul church, was found dead last Thursday (March 13), buried in a shallow grave. The specifics of Rahho's death remain uncertain, but Mikhail said that, according to an autopsy, he had died five to seven days prior to his discovery. The archbishop had been in poor health and on several medications, none of which were with him when he was kidnapped on February 29. Rahho's funeral was held last Friday (March 14) at the Mar Addai church in the town of Karamlis, 20 miles east of Mosul. ... 'Christians in Mosul have made so many sacrifices for the freedom of the Iraqi people, and this kidnapping, God willing, will be the last disaster,' a representative of Mosul's mayor said at the funeral mass, according to Iraqi Christian website Ankawa.com. [...]"

"Iraq's Civilian Dead: Why US Won't Do the Maths"
By Jonathan Steele and Suzanne Goldenberg
The Sydney Morning Herald (from The Guardian), 21 March 2008
"[...] In the first survey [by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and published in the Lancet] in 2004, 990 randomly selected families in representative locations across Iraq were asked to produce the death certificates and list the names of members who died between January 1, 2002, and the start of the invasion, and those who died thereafter. Subtracting the former from the latter, this produced an 'excess' rate, used to calculate the deaths in excess of normal fatality rates in the country's total population. The first survey found at least 98,000 such deaths up to October 2004. The second survey, in the summer of 2006, interviewed a separate but also randomly chosen sample of 1849 households and found an excess of 655,000 deaths up to June 2006, of which 601,027 were said to be from violence rather than natural causes. This amounts to 2.5 per cent of Iraq's population, or more than 500 deaths a day since the invasion. The estimates were explosive and were widely reported around the world. They met instant dismissal from the White House and London. 'I don't consider it a credible report,' Mr. Bush said. Mr. Blair's spokesman said the study's result 'was not one we believe to be anywhere near accurate.' The editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, admits the figure 'seems crazy.' 'But the second study validated the first one. The pre-invasion mortality rate is the same in both, and the upward lines of the post-invasion rate are exactly the same.' He is particularly pleased by information unearthed last year by a freedom-of-information request by the BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones. This found that the chief scientific adviser to the British Ministry of Defence described the methods used by the second survey as 'close to best practice.' The adviser warned the Government to be 'cautious' about criticising the findings. ... More recent data suggests an even higher figure. The British polling firm Opinion Research Business asked 1720 Iraqi adults last summer if they had lost family members by violence since 2003; 16 per cent had lost one, and 5 per cent two. Using the 2005 census total of 4,050,597 households in Iraq, this suggests 1,220,580 deaths since the invasion."


"Attacks in Kenya 'Meticulously' Organized, Rights Group Says"
By Stephanie McCrummen
The Washington Post, 18 March 2008 [Registration Required]
"Post-election attacks on villagers in Kenya's Rift Valley were often 'meticulously' organized by local opposition leaders who called for 'war' against people from President Mwai Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group, according to a detailed report released Monday by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch. The report also describes killings of hundreds of opposition supporters by Kenyan police, especially in the slums of Nairobi and the opposition stronghold of Kisumu in western Kenya. In other instances, it says, police failed to use adequate force to protect people who came under attack by militias and gangs. Based on 200 interviews with witnesses, police officers, politicians and others, the report also found evidence suggesting that senior government officials had been aware of planned reprisal attacks by Kikuyu gangs against opposition supporters in several western towns. 'This was not done by ordinary citizens, it was arranged by people with money,' said one young man who took part in the revenge attacks, according to the report. 'They brought the jobless like me.' Violence following Kenya's disputed Dec. 27 presidential election is estimated to have killed at least 1,000 people and displaced half a million, with most of the unrest taking place across the volatile Rift Valley, where successive Kenyan governments have failed to address long-standing grievances over land. Although Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga struck a power-sharing deal last month aimed at ending the crisis, sporadic attacks have continued across the Rift Valley. Dozens of white-tented camps remain full of displaced people. In many towns and villages, all the Kikuyus have been driven out, their farms and homes burned. Some local leaders have said that if the Kikuyus return, they will be attacked again. [...]"
[n.b. See the full text of the HRW report, "Ballots to Bullets: Organized Political Violence and Kenya’s Crisis of Governance."]


"The Troubled Birth of Kosovo"
By Charles Simic
The New York Review of Books, 3 April 2008
"The decision of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and a number of other countries to break with international law, which regards the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states as sacrosanct, and to permit Albanian separatists in Kosovo to declare independence from Serbia was an act so extraordinary in international relations that it had to take place outside the United Nations, where its illegality would have been hard to justify. The excuse given for this initiative is that the ethnic cleansing and humanitarian catastrophe caused by Serbia in 1999 exempted the countries that hurried to recognize Kosovo on February 17, 2008, from the rule stipulating that international borders can be changed only with the agreement of all parties. After congratulating the Kosovars on their independence, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained that this was to be 'a special case,' the sole exception ever to the rule of territorial integrity of nations under international law, and that separatists elsewhere ought not to look upon this act as a precedent. Spain, Portugal, Greece, Slovakia, Malta, Bulgaria, and Romania -- nearly a third of the member states of the European Union -- were unimpressed by her explanation and have so far refused to recognize Kosovo. They also doubt that the brutal treatment of Kosovars by former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevi´c is the only reason for the United States' decision. As is almost always the case when it comes to the Balkans, a local dispute has been used by the great powers to advance their own national interests, which have little to do with the desire to have justice done. [...]"
[n.b. The first time I have written "Kosovo/Serbia" atop a story, as opposed to "Serbia/Kosovo." Feels good.]

"U.N.: 'Rock-Solid' Proof of Serbia's Hand in Kosovo Violence"
By Andrew Wander
The Christian Science Monitor, 21 March 2008
"In the wake of this week's violence in Kosovo, the worst since it broke away from Serbia Feb. 17, the United Nations and the International Crisis Group (ICG) have accused Belgrade of actively undermining the newly declared state. While there have been rumors over the past month of Serbian provocation, these claims suggest a more concrete entrenchment of Belgrade against international efforts to enforce Kosovo's independence. On Wednesday, the UN accused Serbia of complicity in events leading up to riots earlier this week in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica. After Serb protesters took over a courthouse last week, UN peacekeepers stormed the building Monday, prompting fierce clashes that left an international policeman dead and hundreds of people wounded. During the violence that followed its return to UN control, several members of the Serbian Interior Ministry were arrested. ... Serbia has denied that it had any government representatives in the courthouse. ... But a report published this week by the Brussels-based ICG, a think tank that advocates broader international recognition of Kosovo's independence, says that Serbia 'is implementing a sophisticated policy to undermine Kosovo statehood.' To achieve that, the report says, Serbian institutions are being built up in Serb-dominated parts of Kosovo, and Serbs who may be inclined to work with the Kosovo government or the international community are being intimidated into suspending their cooperation. The ICG report also accuses Belgrade of 'facilitating violence' in February, when Serbs attacked customs and border posts in the north. Many Serbs believe that Belgrade should have control of Serbian areas of Kosovo, while Pristina insists it has jurisdiction over the entire territory. The report claims that Serbia is seeking to split Kosovo on ethnic lines, and concludes that Kosovo is in danger of slipping into a 'frozen conflict' unless the international community implements a clear plan to prevent Serbia from extending its influence in Kosovo. [...]"


"Rwanda's Kagame blasts Spanish Genocide Indictments"
By Arthur Asiimwe
Reuters AlertNet, 1 April 2008
"Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Tuesday angrily dismissed a Spanish judge's indictment of 40 Rwandan military and political leaders on charges they engaged in reprisal killings after the African country's 1994 genocide. In February, Judge Fernando Andreu of Spain's National Court set out his case accusing the officials of genocide, crimes against humanity and terrorism which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, including nine Spaniards. He said he also had evidence to implicate Kagame, but the Rwandan president had immunity. In his first reaction to the case, Kagame scoffed at the charges. 'Imagine the arrogance involved -- how can a Spanish judge sit in some town or village in Spain and sees it is his duty to indict the whole leadership of a nation,' Kagame told reporters in Kigali. 'This is part of perceived authority over us to decide how we live or not. He has no moral authority in doing that. ... If I met him, I would tell him to go to hell -- they have no jurisdiction over Rwanda, over me or over anybody.' Spain's high court has in the past prosecuted South American leaders, including former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, on human rights charges. Kagame said the Spanish judge's dossier was meant to undermine his ruling party, credited with stopping the 1994 murder of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu gangs. Most of the indicted officers belonged to the contingent that protected Kagame during a four year guerrilla war. They include Rwanda's chief of general staff and his deputy, as well as a Rwandan ambassador in India. The Rwandan government denies it had any role in reprisal killings."
[n.b. This is the full text of the dispatch. It looks like Mr. Kagame is in favour of universal jurisdiction when it suits him. This indictment may prove a watershed in taking the shine off Kagame and the undeniably atrocious actions of the RPF in the late stages of the Rwandan genocide, and thereafter.]

"Rwanda: Rusesabagina to Testify in UK Genocide Trials"
Rwanda News Agency dispatch on AllAfrica.com, 31 March 2008
"The 'Hotel Rwanda' film personality is scheduled to testify this week in the ongoing trail of Rwandan Genocide fugitives in Britain who are awaiting extradition to Rwanda, RNA reports. The four men are fighting their extradition to Rwanda on grounds that they may not have a fair trail [sic throughout]. Human rights campaigners have also called on the British legal system to carry out the trails. The men have been in detention since January last year. Among the men includes Mr. Vincent Bajinya, 47, a medical doctor who changed his names to Vincent Brown since securing asylum in Britain and worked for a refugee charity in there. Mr. Charles Munyaneza, 50, had been a local mayor in Rwanda and was alleged to have planned 'tens of thousands of killings' of Tutsi, but was working as a cleaner in Britain before his arrest. A third man, Celestin Ugirashebuja, 55, the former mayor of Kigoma in Kigali rural, 'organized roadblocks in the commune to prevent the escape of Tutsis and again is responsible for many thousands of Tutsi lives,' according to the legal team arguing for Rwanda. Another, Mr. Emmanuel Nteziryayo, a former local mayor, appeared at a separate hearing of the same court after being arrested in Manchester, in northwest England. Mr. Paul Rusesabagina will on Thursday tell Westminster magistrates in London that four accused men will not face a fair trial in Rwanda, The Independent reported yesterday. 'The evidence I will give will be about the human rights situation in Rwanda. There are men who have been held in prison for 14 years without trial. When you are in prison in Rwanda it is up to your family to look after you,' Rusesabagina told The Independent. 'In the name of genocide everything is possible, and the government is able to lock up its potential or actual political opponents.' [...]"


"Somalia's Government Teeters on Collapse"
By Jeffrey Gettleman
The New York Times, 29 March 2008 [Registration Required]
"[...] By its own admission, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia is on life support. When it took power here in the capital 15 months ago, backed by thousands of Ethiopian troops, it was widely hailed as the best chance in years to end Somalia’s ceaseless cycles of war and suffering. But now its leaders say that unless they get more help -- international peacekeepers, weapons, training and money to pay their soldiers, among other things -- this transitional government will fall just like the 13 governments that came before it. Less than a third of the promised African Union soldiers have arrived, the United Nations has shied away from sending peacekeepers and even the Ethiopians are taking a back seat, often leaving the government’s defense to teenage Somalis with clackety guns who are overwhelmed. The Islamists have been gaining recruits, overrunning towns and becoming bolder. The new prime minister, credited as the government’s best -- and possibly last -- hope, is reaching out to them, and some are receptive. But it is unclear whether he has the power within his own divided government to strike a meaningful peace deal before it is too late. The looming failure is making many people here and abroad question the strategy of installing the transitional government by force. In December 2006, Ethiopian troops, aided by American intelligence, ousted the Islamist administration that briefly controlled Mogadishu, bringing the transitional government to the city for the first time. The Bush administration said it was concerned about terrorists using Somalia as a sanctuary. The hunt for them continued with a recent American cruise missile strike aimed at a suspect in southern Somalia, but it missed, and wounded several civilians and promptly incited protests. Many Somalis, European diplomats and critics in Congress also question the State Department’s decision this month to label a Somali resistance group a terrorist organization, which many fear will only raise its profile among the increasingly disillusioned populace. [...]"
[n.b. I was scathing in my criticism of the U.S./Ethiopian "intervention" at the time, and apart from the thousands of people killed in the coup against a moderate Islamist government, the ensuing period has been one of total incompetence, corruption, and administrative breakdown. By far the best option, in my view, is for the Islamists to return to power, as bloodlessly as possible, and to begin re-establishing a Somali state structure. Let us just hope they have not been soured by their brutal repression at U.S. hands, and that they do not return with a desire for vengeance, as has so often been the case in the past (see "Cambodia," above).]


"'Dirty War' Suspect Ricardo Cavallo Extradited from Spain to Argentina"
By Bill Cormier
Associated Press dispatch in the Charleston Daily Mail, 1 April 2008
"Ricardo Cavallo, accused of torturing and illegally kidnapping dissidents under Argentina's last military dictatorship, was extradited from Spain on Monday. Cavallo is one of the most notorious alleged human rights violators from the crackdown on dissent that officially claimed nearly 13,000 lives from 1976 to 1983. He is accused of being a top interrogator at the Argentine dictatorship's main clandestine torture center, known as the Navy Mechanics' School. Cavallo arrived in Buenos Aires Monday in a bulletproof vest with his hands cuffed in front of him and was hustled past gawking tourists at the Ezeiza International Airport. He showed no emotion and made no statements as he was taken to the federal court complex. The government's official news agency, Telam, said he faced an initial hearing later Monday, in which his lawyer denied accusations against him. Cavallo faces charges of illegal kidnappings, torture and extortion. His apprehension is one of a series of prosecutions, including that of former naval Capt. Alfredo Astiz, known as the 'Angel of Death,' that represent steps in Argentina's treatement of its 'dirty war' past. After the junta leaders themselves, Cavallo was among a small group of high-profile figures tied to the Navy Mechanics' School, where thousands of prisoners were tortured or executed. Some 5,000 people are believed to have passed through the colonnaded, red-brick campus, most in chains. Many were made to 'disappear' -- killed without any word to relatives -- as part of a crackdown on leftist students, trade unionists, academics and other dissidents during the era of the military junta. Cavallo had been extradited to Spain in 2003 from Mexico, where he was living under an assumed identity while operating a motor vehicle registry -- until a former political prisoner spotted him. Cavallo had immunity under Argentina [sic] law at the time, and Spanish law allows courts to try cases of genocide even if committed overseas."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch. And this is big news. With other scholars and activists, I toured the torture chambers of the Navy Mechanics' School in Buenos Aires this past November. A powerful experience, and impressive to see Mr. Cavallo finally facing justice for his crimes.]


"Call For UN To Confront Sudan Over Alleged War Criminals"
Agence France-Presse dispatch on Nasdaq.com, 31 March 2008
"The letter, distributed by U.K. charity The Aegis Trust -- which campaigns against genocide worldwide -- called on members of the Security Council to 'visit Khartoum at the earliest possible opportunity to demand that the suspects are handed to the ICC (International Criminal Court).' Among the signatories are Carla del Ponte and Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutors for the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda respectively, former U.K. justice minister Charles Falconer and former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler. They called on the council to freeze the personal assets of Sudanese government officials harboring the two suspects -- Ahmed Haroun and Ali Koshieb -- and any others suspected of committed war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region. 'The government of Sudan has no serious intention to investigate past or ongoing crimes in Darfur,' the letter read. Haroun, Sudan's secretary of state for humanitarian affairs, and pro-government Janjaweed militia leader Koshieb have both been issued arrest warrants for war crimes by the ICC. More than 2 million people have fled their homes and at least 200,000 have died from the combined effects of famine and conflict since Khartoum enlisted militia allies to put down a local revolt in Darfur in 2003, according to the U.N."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch, and the link is so long and ugly that I won't include it.]

"US Wants 3,600 New Troops in Darfur Soon"
By Edith M. Lederer
Associated Press dispatch on Yahoo! News, 1 April 2008
"The United States has urged the United Nations to get 3,600 new peacekeepers on the ground in conflict-wracked Darfur by June, according to a letter obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Ambassador Richard Williamson, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, told Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the letter that additional troops are the best hope of increasing security in the Sudanese region. A joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force took over in January from a beleaguered AU force to try to stem the violence. But it only has about 9,000 troops and police on the ground, out of a total of 26,000 that have been authorized. 'We believe that the deployment of 3,600 new African troops by June -- a target number based on the U.N.'s planning schedule -- will bring increased security and stability to the people of Darfur,' Williamson wrote. 'At this crucial moment, the deployment of new troops as quickly as possible is our best hope to change the course of this tragedy.' The U.N. believes that far more than 200,000 people have been killed in the conflict. Fighting has raged in Darfur since 2003, when ethnic African tribesman took up arms, complaining of decades of neglect and discrimination by the Sudanese Arab-dominated government. Khartoum has been accused of unleashing janjaweed militia forces to commit atrocities against ethnic African communities in the fight with rebel groups. Williamson said the United States has committed $100 million to train and equip African peacekeepers pledged to deploy as part of the AU-U.N. force, 'and we will work to assist troop contributing countries in meeting the U.N. deployment schedule.' [...]"
[n.b. I'm all in favour of that $100 million from the US. I also note that it amounts to two-and-a-half days' spending on the Iraq war ($12 billion a month).]

"Peacekeeping in Darfur Hits More Obstacles"
By Lydia Polgreen
The New York Times, 24 March 2008 [Registration Required]
"[...] A week spent this month with the peacekeeping troops based here at the headquarters of Sector West, a wind-blown outpost at the heart of the recent violence, revealed a force struggling mightily to do better than its much-maligned predecessor, but with little new manpower or equipment. Despite this, the force is managing to project a greater sense of security for the tens of thousands of vulnerable civilians in the vast territory it covers, mounting night patrols in displaced people's camps and sending long-range patrols to the areas hardest hit by fighting. But these small gains are fragile, and if more troops do not arrive soon, the force will be written off as being as ineffective and compromised as the one before. ... The deployment of the biggest peacekeeping force in modern history in one of the most remote, hostile and forbidding corners of the globe was bound to be a logistical nightmare. Darfur is landlocked, water is scarce, the roads are rutted tracks crossed by the mud and sand traps of dry riverbeds. But those problems pale in comparison with the diplomatic and political struggles the mission faces. When previous large missions were organized in Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the central governments in those countries had collapsed or were so weak that they had little choice but to accept peacekeepers. The government of Sudan agreed to accept United Nations-led peacekeepers in Darfur only after a long diplomatic tussle and under a great deal of pressure. The progress to get the mission in place has been slow, and much of the blame for this has been placed at the feet of the Sudanese government. [...]"

"China's Genocide Games"
By Eric Reeves
The Boston Globe, 22 March 2008
"In preparing to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, China has engaged in a massive campaign to dissemble its role in the Darfur genocide in western Sudan, now entering its sixth year. Such a task was unexpected by Beijing. The regime knew it would encounter strenuous protests over the continuing destruction of Tibet, although the recent violent crackdown in Lhasa suggests Beijing hadn't anticipated how deeply Tibetan anger runs. China's leaders also knew they would draw fierce protests over their callous support of the brutal Burmese junta. Condemnation of Beijing's own gross domestic human rights abuses was equally predictable. But the effectiveness of Darfur advocacy in highlighting China's role in Sudan took Beijing by surprise. Steven Spielberg's resignation as an artistic director for the Games -- a decision of conscience stressing China's role in Darfur -- sharply intensified China's dismay. Thus Beijing has pulled out all the stops to counter advocacy success in emphasizing China's longstanding diplomatic protection and economic support for the Islamist regime in Khartoum. Though Khartoum's genocidal counterinsurgency campaign against Darfur's African tribes has been authoritatively documented for years, Beijing seeks to obscure this grim reality through distortion, half-truths, and outright mendacity. In turn, nothing encourages Khartoum more than China's refusal to speak honestly about violent human destruction in Darfur, where growing insecurity has brought the world's largest humanitarian operation to the brink of collapse. [...]"

"United Nations: Sudan Carried Out Mass-Rapes in Darfur"
By David Byers
The Times, 20 March 2008
"The United Nations today accused the Sudanese government of being directly involved in the mass-rape of girls and women in the crisis-hit region of Darfur -- a damning indictment of the part played by the country's Islamist dictatorship in the humanitarian catastrophe. A report by the UN high commissioner for human rights says it has evidence that the Sudanese Army was involved alongside Arab militia in looting at least three towns, raping girls and women and killing at least 115 people. The attacks on Sirba, Sileia and Abu Suruj on February 8 by helicopter gunships and aircraft caused 30,000 to flee their homes, Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in her report. The study is the latest authoritative UN report, based on eye-witness testimonies and evidence from aid workers, suggesting that President Omar al-Bashir's administration is providing help and support to the brutal Arab janjaweed militia, who have reportedly robbed villages and murdered, raped or displaced their residents. Last year, a UN report produced photographic evidence that the Sudanese government was carrying out secret bombing raids by disguising its jets as United Nations aid planes. Sudan denies the claims. The UN says that the crisis afflicting the wartorn Darfur region has so far killed up to 400,000 people, and displaced a further 2.3 million, and campaigners have called on governments worldwide to isolate Mr al-Bashir's regime for its involvement. 'The scale of destruction suggests that the damage was a deliberate and integral part of a military strategy,' the nine-page report on the rapes said. [...]"


"The Tall Tale of Tuzla"
By Christopher Hitchens
Slate.com, 31 March 2008
"[...] I remember disembarking at the Sarajevo airport in the summer of 1992 after an agonizing flight on a U.N. relief plane that had had to 'corkscrew' its downward approach in order to avoid Serbian flak and ground fire. As I hunched over to scuttle the distance to the terminal, a mortar shell fell as close to me as I ever want any mortar shell to fall. The vicious noise it made is with me still. And so is the shock I felt at seeing a civilized and multicultural European city bombarded round the clock by an ethno-religious militia under the command of fascistic barbarians. I didn't like the Clinton candidacy even then, but I have to report that many Bosnians were enthused by Bill Clinton's pledge, during that ghastly summer, to abandon the hypocritical and sordid neutrality of the George H.W. Bush/James Baker regime and to come to the defense of the victims of ethnic cleansing. I am recalling these two things for a reason. First ... I can tell you for an absolute certainty that it would be quite impossible to imagine that one had undergone that experience at the airport if one actually had not. Yet Sen. Clinton, given repeated chances to modify her absurd claim to have operated under fire while in the company of her then-16-year-old daughter and a USO entertainment troupe, kept up a stone-faced and self-loving insistence that, yes, she had exposed herself to sniper fire in the cause of gaining moral credit and, perhaps to be banked for the future, national-security 'experience.' This must mean either a) that she lies without conscience or reflection; or b) that she is subject to fantasies of an illusory past; or c) both of the above. Any of the foregoing would constitute a disqualification for the presidency of the United States. ... But here is the historical rather than personal aspect, which is what you should keep your eye on. Note the date of Sen. Clinton's visit to Tuzla. She went there in March 1996. By that time, the critical and tragic phase of the Bosnia war was effectively over, as was the greater part of her husband's first term. What had happened in the interim? In particular, what had happened to the 1992 promise, four years earlier, that genocide in Bosnia would be opposed by a Clinton administration? [...]"
[n.b. Hitchens's answer to that closing query is well worth reading, and adds an extra dimension to the controversy over Clinton's preposterous and offensive claims to have landed in Tuzla under fire.]


"India's Debt-Ridden Farmers Committing Suicide"
By Jason Motlagh
San Francisco Chronicle, 22 March 2008
"On a recent afternoon, Seetabai Atthre heard a faint cry from the edge of a vineyard that her family has cultivated for more than 40 years. Through the furrows, she found her husband, Vishal, smoldering on the ground next to an empty can of kerosene. He had lit himself on fire and died three days later in a local hospital. Atthre attributes her husband's suicide to a $5,600 debt. The farm located on the arid plains of northern Maharashtra state near the town of Nashik had not turned a profit in more than two years, and 65-year-old Vishal could no longer secure a bank loan to pay off interest on the debt. 'This is wrong, and it's killing us,' Sanjay Gangode said at a gathering of debt-ridden grape farmers in the region. 'There is no future here.' While India's economy surges forward on the crest of globalization, thousands of farmers are taking their own lives every year to escape mounting debt and an uncertain future. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, at least 87,567 farmers committed suicide between 2002 and 2006. In Maharashtra state, there were 4,453 suicides in 2006, the last year for which statistics were made available, an increase of 527 compared with 2005. Sharp increases have also been reported in Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh states. Last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged more than $930 million in relief to bail out struggling Maharashtra farmers and 'relieve the misery.' Analysts cite several factors for the suicides, including crop failure due to agrochemicals and climate change, lower prices due to U.S. farm subsidies, state restrictions on export trade, and the dumping of surplus crops in an oversaturated domestic market. [...]"


"One Man's Personal Mission To End Slavery in Mauritania"
By Nora Boustany
The Washington Post, 23 March 2008 [Registration Required]
"Boubacar Messaoud remembered strolling from the flatlands of Mauritania toward the southern town of Rosso, a watermelon poised on his head. Beyond a riverbank, he could see a row of children in a yard. Messaoud, then 7, stopped to find out what was going on, with the pure curiosity of a child. He found out that the children were being signed up for school. Messaoud, the son of slaves who toiled in the fields of landowners, recalled that he was still unaware of the privations separating him from others. Among a knot of parents, Messaoud noticed the cousin of his family's owner and asked him to help him enroll, too. 'I can't,' the man replied. 'What will your master say?' Messaoud put down his watermelon and cried. The ancient tradition of slavery endures in Mauritania, although it was officially abolished in the 1980s. There are roughly half a million slaves among the country's population of 3.3 million, and at least 80 percent do not have access to a formal education, Messaoud said. Many remain illiterate. Messaoud was in Washington this month to speak at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and to lobby legislators on the issue, with assistance from the Open Society Institute, which promotes civil society and democratic institutions, and London-based Anti-Slavery International. Messaoud, who founded the anti-slavery group SOS Slaves in 1995, has waged many battles on behalf of slaves since that day more than 50 years ago when he faced his first obstacle to breaking the shackles. ... Slavery has been perpetuated in Mauritania by the persistence of tradition, distorted notions of religious obligation and a reluctance by some law enforcement agents to apply the law, especially in rural areas. Slaves are unaware that they are entitled to equal rights and don't know how to seek justice, so their bondage continues, Messaoud said. [...]"

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