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One size fits all – or else

6 Jan

Note of a conversation earlier today:

Me – ooh, the [UK Parliament’s] Joint Committee on Human Rights issued a report on the new Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill.

Friend – Anti-Social Policing? That’s surely not a good idea?

Me – No, there’s a comma after the crime. The Bill deals with anti-social behaviour, other crime, and police powers, all lumped into one.

Friend – What’s anti-social behaviour? Isn’t that just individualism?

What more can you say about the the current social and political climate in UK? One size fits all – or else.

If you’re interested in the Committee’s recommendations, you can find them here. They include quite reasonable ideas of having independent review and scrutiny of the exercise of police powers. Impressive that this still needs pointing out even today.

 

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Vacationing in Vienna: Mujica speaks for Morales and for Latin America

5 Jul

Are you tired of reading Anglophone media covering the issue of Evo Morales’ trip to Vienna in the light of the extreme statements issued by Bolivia’s Vice-president or the declarations of other extreme (whether we like them or not) leaders of South America? I am.

Personally I don’t agree with everything Morales has done, I certainly disrespect Maduro and the way he campaigned for his election and I am suspicious of some of Fernandez’ more extreme measures of capital control, despite her achievements in human rights protection in Argentina. But that is beside the point. Whether Morales and his friends are leftist or not shouldn’t really matter.

Most articles I’ve read only focus on the “bad facts” of the leftist presidents when reporting the UNASUR meeting called by Humala to discuss this situation, but I’ve also been surprised by the lack of reporting of this issue, though I probably shouldn’t be as this is usually the way it is when it comes to Latin American issues.

It has to be said: it’s not just the leftist countries who feel attacked in Latin America. The OAS has issued a statement condemning that four countries (France, Spain, Italy and Portugal) revoked flight permission while the presidential plane was taking Morales home. Also, besides the UNASUR and ALBA countries, Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, Nicaragua and Cuba have also condemned this act. Note the first two on the list are actually right wing governments. So it’s essentially  about a sense of regional humiliation and a right to demand, at least, an apology.

Was this legal? A question few media channels have cared to answer. BBC Mundo (Spanish version) consulted a professor of international law from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid who described the deviation of Morales’ presidential plane to Vienna as a “clearly doubtful act”:

This is not any plane, it is a presidential plane carrying on board a Head of State and as such, it enjoys full immunity and the same inviolability and freedoms it would have within its own nation. A measure of these characteristics, prohibiting the flyover, must be very justified: for example, that the president is being pursued for  an international crime. But when he isn’t, as in this case, it is very clearly an abuse of his sovereignty and highlights the impropriety of many governments.

A State may decide to close its airspace, but this has been done when a political leader is wanted for prosecution or linked to a measure of punishment, as in cases of international crimes, or to exert pressure to countries linked with these crimes. In this case it was a presidential plane, with a head of state on board, where there was no reason for a government to prevent him from transit and over flight of its space for peaceful behavior. What European countries did was based on a rumor that was not true. And clearly it is an action that is inconsistent with international law.

After a funny and detailed chain of tweets that President Fernandez wrote about her various phone calls with her fellow Heads of State during Morales’ “trip” to Vienna, the leaders of UNASUR decided to gather in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to define what actions they will take regarding these acts.

I just saw the video of José Mujica’s speech on this UNASUR meeting. I might be biased by the fact that I believe him to be one of the few good leaders we have on my continent, and definitely, the most consequent leader when it comes to living what you preach. If you don’t know much about Uruguay’s President, know at least that he was a political prisoner for 14 years, that he lives with his wife in a small shabby farm, refused to move to the presidential palace and gives 90% of his monthly salary to charity. You can read more about him here.

I translated his speech because I believe it to be authentic, and a true representation of what Latin Americans are feeling regarding  this issue. Watch the video if you speak Spanish as well.

First, it seems that there are world powers that want to apply a kind of ideological terrorism over the right to asylum, an institution that all fighters of the world’s history defend. In the name of those that have been persecuted and will continue to be persecuted, the right of asylum is sacred and it’s a principle that we must uphold for humanity.

Second, the worst, to be benevolent, they screwed up. They were wrong. I think they ate a screw! I suppose that the intelligence services that sent them to ruins are probably sitting down folding little papers in a dungeon. I suppose so, because this is very embarrassing for the Old Countries, so called Mother countries.

But the worse is that now, they treat us like toddlers. Instead of assuming, with republican humility, that they made a mistake, no one says anything! It seems that Evo was vacationing in Vienna! No one denied him a right, no one did anything. I mean, the answer is almost an infantilism, and I think we, Latin Americans, have a right not to be treated as toddlers.

We are not their sons anymore, we aren’t colonies anymore, we are what we are, we try, and we deserve respect. And when a country, a leader, is abused, we all feel abused in Latin America. So, we ask them, in name of civilization: dignity, dignity and decency.

Being wrong is part of life. Making mistakes is inevitable. When you do, you have to show your face, assume responsibility and say so to the international community. Not take us for idiots. Thank you.

So at the end it isn’t about left and right, it’s about which countries you can bully and which are treated with respect. Do you wonder if this would have been done to a European leader, or a country that could pose a threat to international peace in response to what Bolivia considers an “act of aggression”? Do you wonder if this would have been covered more seriously by the media if that was the case? If Spain, Portugal, France or Italy would be issuing apologies? I do.

Let’s all cry for da poor widdle rapists

22 Mar

This week in the little town of Steubenville, Ohio, two man-boy-monsters were convicted of rape. Ma’lik Richmond, 16, and Trent Mays, 17, were found “delinquent” (juvi court code for “guilty”) after prosecutors presented copious evidence proving that they had digitally raped a 16 year-old girl while she was virtually unconscious (blacked out from booze, though recent allegations indicate she may have been roofied). This evidence wasn’t hard to come by, seein’ as how the man-boy-monsters photographed the victim’s limp, urine-soaked body, texted/Tweeted the pictures for everyone to see, and posted a 12-minute video to YouTube bragging about their conquests. (Can one be charged with “idiocy” in addition to rape? And is that an aggravating or mitigating factor?) For a detailed and gut-churning account of the more than 350,000 text messages from the 17+ phones confiscated for evidence during the investigation, read this article from Yahoo Sports. (And can I just say, I’m fucking embarrassed that I just linked to Yahoo Sports as a thorough journalistic source. Do your job, mass media outlets.)

Because they are minors, the perps received relatively short sentences — a minimum of one year in juvenile detention for Richmond, two years for Mays (added time for distributing photos of a naked minor), with the possibility of remaining in juvi until they are 21, at which time the case will be reassessed.

Both teens will also have to register with the sexual offenders registry, meaning that they will always and forever be linked with this rape.  From now until the day they die (or until Congress ends the registry, whichever comes first), their neighbors, colleagues, employers, prospective mates, and future children will always be able to trace them to this heinous crime. (For the record, I absolutely despise the sex offender registry, though I understand and am sympathetic to its origin and purpose.)

Everything about this tale is tragic. That said, let us remember that the tragedy stems from the actions of the rapists and centers around the effects on the victim.

Apparently CNN missed that memo. The network is currently taking a beating for its sympathetic (to the rapists!) coverage of the sentencing hearing. Nothing like two semi-handsome budding football stars crying in open court to make middle America feel twangs of sympathy. Reporter Poppy Harlow told anchorwoman Candy Crowley (yes, those are real names; I can’t make shit like that up): “I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional — incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their life fell apart.”

Needless to say, other news outlets and the general public wasted no time in condemning Poppy, Candy and the rest of the Lollypop Kids for their failure to recognize that (a) the rapists brought this shitstorm on themselves, and (b) the victim — remember her, the little girl who was raped? —  is picking up the pieces of her life after it actually fell apart.

Many are comparing CNN’s coverage to a two-year-old story by the Onion, a satirical website that has been prescient in much of its coverage recently. Life imitating art?

In a three-way tie for “Most Shitastic Coverage of the Steubenville Rape,” CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC all aired the first name of the victim on live television. Really? You don’t think bleeping out the victim’s name would have been a wise use of the seven-second delay? Or is that only reserved for when Bono drops an F-bomb during his Golden Globes acceptance speech?

I find the Steubenville rape deeply disturbing at a very personal level. There have been a few times in my life that I have witnessed or been the victim of sexual harassment or (I now realize) rape. I was in my late teens or early twenties, so older than these kids, but I was a special kind of naive. I had no idea that what I was witnessing or experiencing “counted” as anything criminal. All I knew is that it made me feel icky — the kind of icky that is impervious to hot showers and heavy drinking.

So what made me not tell someone on the French train that an employee had tried to molest me while I was alone in a sleeper car? What made me not call the cops when I, in bed with a girlfriend sleeping off a bender at a close friend’s house, awoke to find a friend — who had been sleeping on the couch in the living room — dry humping me in his tighty-whities with his hand down my pants? (Although I did tell my brother a few days later and he, much to his credit, never once said “well, at least you learned a lesson”. Instead he called the dude and calmly threatened to kill him if he ever came near me again. So there’s that.) Why didn’t I intervene when a situation eerily similar to the Steubenville rapes unfolded before me at a small house party, except the rapists (and yes, now I realize they were rapists) wielded a VHS camcorder instead of cell phones and had no social media website to upload the video to?

Why did I stay silent? Because of the victim-blaming assholes that came out in droves following the sentencing of Richmond and Mays. “Public Shaming“, a Tumblr blog devoted to calling out social media douchebags, features three pages of posts to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other forums espousing the “slut was asking for it”/”she shares responsibility” mentality. Public Shaming came across such gems as:

image

and

image

Then you have “Why don’t we have a Dumb Fucking Whore Registry? Now that would be justice” by the aptly named Judgy Bitch. Charming. She argues that the unconscious girl (who was dragged from party to party, finger repeatedly, urinated on, and left naked on a stranger’s couch) was not actually raped. Rather, it was a case of “boys being boys” and “stupid whores being stupid whores.”  (Did I mention there’s a 12 minute video of the boys bragging about “how hard she got raped”? So by THEIR definition, let alone that of the Ohio criminal code, she was raped.)

And you wonder why I, like so many scared teens, stayed silent.

In my mid-twenties, a bit older and a bit wiser, I began to fight back. One incredibly strange night, a large man began beating his teeny-tiny girlfriend outside my friend’s apartment while we were having a party. (We didn’t know either of them.) He dragged her across the lawn by her hair while she kicked and screamed, pulled her between two buildings, pinned her down across his lap like a small child, and repeatedly punched her face while she wailed. After all the guys at the party refused to help her, I ran up, grabbed the woman, and kept running with her until I got behind a closed door. Cops were called, statements taken, and the biggest asshole at the party (now a US Marshall) yelled at me for butting into the business of others. I was shamed for, uh, I still don’t know — my action highlighting his inaction? (I realize this was not actually a rape incident. Still, you get the idea.)

In Steubenville: this is rape culture’s Abu Grhaib [warning: graphic (though pixilated) photo included], Laurie Penny from the NewStatesmen is able to articulate the importance of the Steubenville rape far better than I:

The pictures from Steubenville don’t just show a girl being raped. They show that rape being condoned, encouraged, celebrated. What type of culture could possibly produce such pictures? Only one in which women’s autonomy and right to safety counts for so little that these rapists, and those who held the cameras, felt themselves ‘perfectly justified’… The Steubenville rapists claim that, when they drove a passed-out girl from party to party, slinging her into and out-of cars like a deflated sex-dolly and sticking their fingers inside her, they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong. That’s plausible, although it’s no defence. It’s plausible if, and only if, you have internalised the assumption that women are not real human beings, just bodies to be manipulated with or without consent, pieces of wet and willing meat there for you to use for your pleasure. There’s a word for what happens when one group of people sees another as less than human and insists on its right to hurt and humiliate them for fun. It’s an everyday word that is often misused to refer to something outside of ourselves. The word is ‘evil’… Anyone can be outspoken about Steubenville after the fact. The question is: who will stand up when the next Jane Doe is attacked, without expectation of thanks or acclaim, at risk of derision and ostracism or worse, and speak out about all the other Steubenvilles that are still taking place, and will continue to until enough people say ‘stop’?

Could the horror inflicted upon Jane Doe be a catalyst for change? Maybe. A Change.org petition calling on CNN to apologize for its coverage has over 200,000 signatures. Internet terrorists/hacktivists (depending on your point of view) Anonymous (@YourAnonNews) has steadfastly refused to let the rape go gentle into that good night. It continues to build a case against the “rape crew”, compiling and releasing additional information implicating a huge number of people. Some argue that Anonymous has gone too far — that most people involved in the case, including the victim, just want the mess to go away. But isn’t victim shaming and rape culture part of the reason they want everything to go away?

From the ashes of this soul-destroying story rises one anecdote that gives me hope for humanity. The aforementioned Yahoo Sports article highlights what seems to be the only teen in the greater Steubenville Metro Area with morals. Sean McGhee, Richmond’s cousin and Mays’ best friend, was at one of the parties attended by Jane Doe. He saw her stumbling and slurring and knew she was shitcanned. So that night, when rumors (and photos) began to surface of Mays and Richmond abusing her, he confronted his best friend and his cousin via text: “…you are dead wrong. I am going to choke the [redacted] out of you for that. You could go to jail for life for that. What the [redacted].”

Maybe there’s hope after all.

[To get a full breakdown of the photos, video, and timeline of events, see So you’re tired of hearing about rape culture? Warning, graphic. Because, you know, a girl was raped. And that shit is horrible.]

Speaking of abortion

24 Sep


Well, maybe we weren’t…But have you heard about the one about the right to an abortion in the UK?

I know, I know, abortions are permitted in the UK under the Abortion Act 1967 – I know. Although the Act might have been considered liberal at the time it was introduced, the law on abortion in the UK is starting to look a little shabby around the edges now. First point to note, the Abortion Act doesn’t apply to the whole of the UK. Abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland. Case law has recognised the exception to allow an abortion where necessary to protect the mother’s life or to prevent real and serious adverse effect to her physical and mental health. But otherwise it’s a criminal offence. Sentiments on this still run high, as noted by recent comments from the politician next in line for the post ofhealth minister that women who suffer a sexual assault must not be exempt from the strict laws banning abortion in Northern Ireland.

So, in England, Wales and Scotland then, under the Abortion Act before 24 weeks women do not have a “right” to an abortion. An abortion is permitted, but not a right, where continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family. Also, not one, but two registered medical practitioners have to sign off on. Extremely bureaucratically restrictive, as well as substantively restricting the right. As well, it’s different again in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

As this isn’t a right, acts outside this restrictive perimeter would be against the law and therefore illegal. And there’s a group of crimes on the statute book that you could be charged if you do try to end your pregnancy, such as sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Persons Act or the Infant Life (Preservation) 1929. These crimes are not a relic of statute long forgotten and never used. Granted, they aren’t used often, but when they are oh how they show what a cracked and warped regime it is. Last week, one woman was jailed for 8 years under section 58 of the OAPA. Eight years for taking drugs at 39 weeks pregnant to induce early labour. There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the judgement, not least the remarks of the judge, which are available here, as well as the extensive prison sentence handed down. Shan’t repeat them here, you can read them yourself. But do read them if you have the chance. His remarks do highlight the problems with the UK law as it stands: that by having an incomplete and qualified right to abortion under UK law and not reforming the criminal law so it is archaic with no recognition of the social and mental issues so clearly at play, women will be the subject of these out-dated and inappropriate views where they do not have a place. I’m still flabbergasted myself.

Although pregnant women in the UK cannot choose to subject their own bodies to a specific treatment in this respect, they do have the right to refuse treatment, recognised strongly in St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust v S [1998] 3 All ER 673 (CA):

Although human, and protected by the law in a number of different ways … an unborn child is not a separate person from its mother. Its need for medical assistance does not prevail over her rights. She is entitled not to be forced to submit to an invasion of her body against her will, whether her own life or that of her unborn child depends on it. Her right is not reduced or diminished merely because her decision to exercise it may appear morally repugnant.”

It’s also interesting to compare this to Sweden. There, women have a right to an abortion up to 18 weeks in the pregnancy, unless it would be a danger to the mother’s life. After 18 weeks, abortion is allowed only if permitted by Socialstyrelsen (the National Board of Health and Welfare). It can only be permitted if there are very strong reasons for an abortion and can’t if there is reason to believe the foetus could survive on its own. Socialstyrelsen guidance on this points to 22 weeks, but this is limit is not specified in the legislation. Before the end of the 18 weeks, if a doctor decides that an abortion would be a danger to the mother’s health, this decision must immediately be subjected to a decision by Socialstyrelsen. In practice, this mean the doctor doesn’t have the power to deny the woman’s right on their own; that decision is subject to a further decision by Socialstyrelsen which must be in agreement to deny the woman the right. At any time, if there is a serious danger to woman’s life and health, Socialstyrelsen can give permission regardless of how many weeks into the pregnancy. According to a government inquiry in 2005, a woman who has an illegal abortion cannot be criminally punished.

We could go on forever discussing the differences and best ways to legislate a woman’s right to an abortion. But really, is criminalising the mother the best way to deal with the fact that she resorted to such methods on her own physical person to end her pregnancy? Surely someone can see the gap here! But the very depressing thing is that with the state of UK politics at the moment, the law we have is probably the best we’ll see in a long time – the risk of trying to change it risks abandoning any right at all.

If you didn’t hear the one about abortion in the UK, it makes a mockery of women’s rights.

Media on trial or trial by media

7 Sep

As an ex-pat, the differences between your home country’s culture and your adopted country’s culture can be blatant and subtle alike, but whenever they do arise, their revelation usually makes you have a little pause and think “huh”. The same is true for similarities you weren’t expecting. I had a little pause this week listening to a radio programme on the role of the media in the Thomas Quick case.

Full details on the case can be found in an excellent documentary (by Hannes Råstam) first aired on Swedish Television in 2008, but in brief, Quick (who has since changed his name to Sture Bergwall) confessed to around 30 unsolved murders during compulsory psychiatric therapy he was undergoing after being convicted of armed robbery in 1990. He was convicted for eight of these murders between 1994 and 2001. The convictions were based almost entirely on his confession evidence and there has been a lot of criticism of the trials: three convictions were overturned, retrials were ordered for two of the remaining convictions, and applications for retrial submitted for other three.

This was all brought to the public fore again by a recent book also by Hannes Råstam and has resulted in a storm of media coverage (including a recent entry) and opinions on the case, including the opinion of one Supreme Court Justice who, in his role as Chancellor of Justice, decided there was no need to review the case in 2006.

In the midst of all this, I was struck by Erik Hedtjärn’s question during a debate about why these issues weren’t covered in the media at the time of the trials. Why didn’t the media ask obvious and critical questions at the time? Why didn’t the media fulfill its role in highlighting the issues with the evidence in the reports then?

Now, I wasn’t in Sweden at the time so have don’t know if they did or didn’t, but the thing that struck me with this statement was the perceived role of the media in criminal trials. Hailing from Old Blighty where the role of the press in all its glory is currently under scrutiny by the Leveson Inquiry, I really did think “huh”. Back home, criticisms of the overly-involved role of the media in criminal trials and investigations has been raised in many high profile cases – and perhaps never more so than the phone hacking scandal.

In Sweden, the criticism was that the media had failed to sufficiently cover the problems in the trial and played their part in the process properly. Much like the criticisms of trial by media in the UK, the criticism ultimately points to the content of the reports in the press (criticisms in the UK have focused a lot on the individual’s right to privacy and affect of media reports on the right to a fair trail, compared with the public interest in knowing).

But the really important point for both the inquiry in the UK and the criticism in the Quick case in Sweden is that the press has a very important role in reporting on criminal trials and investigations. A very important role.

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