Biafra: A journey towards independence

Thousands of people in what it used to be the Eastern Region, today part of Nigeria, have been calling for independence. These are the people whose parents and grandparents died during the Nigerian civil war, also called Biafran war, erupted after pro-separatists declared the independent Republic of Biafra, a separate state from 1967 till 1970, when it was re-annexed to modern day Nigeria. The civil war claimed one million lives and left open wounds that are still hurting today.

I have been speaking with activists as well as members of the current Nigerian government on the Biafran movement and the desire for independence. Article originally written for IBTimes UK

The Nigerian government does not consider a separatist pro-Biafran movement in the south of the country as a threat to the current leadership.

Hundreds of people from former Nigeria’s Eastern Region – renamed Republic of Biafra during a three-year-long independence between 1967 and 1970 – are calling for independence and are accusing President Muhammadu Buhari of trying to Islamise the southern part of Nigeria, mainly inhabited by Christians.

The accusation stems from reports alleging that some members of Nigerian terror group Boko Haram (originated in north-eastern Nigeria) have been relocated to the Ekwulobia Prison in the southern Anambra state.

Although the claim has been denied by the government, it prompted people to take to the streets and rally against the alleged relocation while they called for a second Biafra.

Before winning March’s presidential election,Buhari told clerics he would not impose Islam on any individual.

He was quoted as saying: “I am not a religious fanatic of any sort and I have never been. In all my life, I have never supported extremism of any kind, and nowhere in my record of service to this nation can this false toga political opponents have tried so hard to put on me, be substantiated.”

Government spokesperson Mike Omeri told IBTimes UK: “Buhari is a nationalist and it is not to be disputed that he wants a united Nigeria. Until today, he has not shown any intention to [adopt] a particular religious philosophy in this country.”

Omeri defined pro-Biafran protesters as an “insignificant number of frustrated people who are not a threat to the existence of Nigeria”.

He added: “Nigerians do not see this movement as a threat or a problem. In fact, I am not sure their voices are loud enough to attract attention. It is better that we do not celebrate that kind of view that is not really strong.”

In a previous interview with IBTimes UK,London-based Yahgozie Emmanuel, member of Ekwenche research institute and editor of Biafra24, explained that a so-called “amalgamation contract” was issued by Britain during the colonisation aimed at integrating people from the north and the south of Nigeria within 100 years since it was issued.

The contract, now at the National Archive of London, was created in 1914 by Frederick John Dealtry Lugard, the governor general of Nigeria at the time. The document, opposed by the political class and the media in Lagos, expired in 2014.

“This means that the component parts of what was Nigeria can now go their ways,” Emmanuel said. “Biafra was known as a provincial system which didn’t recognise any of the states created by Nigeria and its agents.

“In 1970, Nigeria divided the people to decentralise the unity of Biafrans. We believe that the 36 States and 774 Local Government structure imposed via decrees by officers from the occupational government of Nigeria render the people of Biafra an insignificant minority.”

Emmanuel said of Buhari, a former general believed by some to have conducted military operations that amounted to war crimes in Biafra, as: “A known sympathiser of the sharia whose role in the 1966-1970 genocidal campaigns against the peoples of Biafra remain starkly unaddressed and presents a grave concern to our peoples.”

Pro-Biafra movements

Movements that call for a secession are scattered across southern Nigeria. The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (Massob) fights for the independence of south-east and south regions of Nigeria.

The Nigerian government has accused Massob of violence and its leader, Ralph Uwazuruike, was arrested in 2005 on treason charges. He was released two years later.

The Biafra Zionist Movement, led by Barrister Benjamin Onwuka, was created in the early 2000s. It spun out of Massob, and advocates the legitimacy of Briafa.

BZM declared a new state of independence on 5 November 2012, at an event during which at least 100 peaceful protesters were arrested.

In 2014, BZM stormed a radio station announcing the rebirth of the Biafran Republic. In a statement released after the incident, the group explained it had lost faith in the country following years of neglect and continuous killing of Igbos.

“No amount of threats or arrests will stop us from pursuing our freedom – self-determination for Biafrans,” said Edeson Samuel, national chairman of BZM. “We were forced into this unholy marriage but we don’t have the same culture as the northerners. Our religion and culture are quite different from the northerners.”

Biafra history

The Eastern Region, a former federal division of Nigeria with capital Enugu, became a secessionist state called Republic of Biafra after gaining independence from Nigeria in 1967. It was re-annexed in 1970 following the Nigerian-Biafranwar that claimed one million lives.

After the end of the British rule in 1960, Nigeria consisted of territories that were not part of the nation before the colonisation, resulting in escalating tensions among the communities. People in the Eastern Region, mainly from the Igbo community, wanted to secede due to ethnic, religious and economic differences with other communities in Nigeria.

Biafra 1969 by Don Mccullin
Children suffering from malnutrition during the Biafran War(IBTimes AU)

The Eastern Region gained independence following two coup d’etats in 1966 and 1967. The fact that Nigeria’s oil was located in the south of the country played a major role in the eruption of the war, during which medicines and food shortage in Biafra led to the death of thousands of people.

Biafra has been commonly divided into four main “tribes”: the Ibos, the Ibibio-Efiks, the Ijaws and the Ogojas.

The modern-day states that made up Biafra from the eastern region and midwest are: Abia, Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Enugu, Ebonyi, ,Imo, Delta, Rivers and Cross River and Edo.

More on Biafra:







Burundi violence explained: Unconstitutional third term and fight for democracy

Article originally written for IBTimes UK. 

At least 20 people have been killed in violence that erupted in Burundi in late April after current President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in June’s election.  While riots against Nkurunziza’s decision continue and thousands of Tutsi are fleeing the country amid fear of genocide, IBTimes UK looks at the main factors behind the violence in the central African nation.

Why are people protesting? 

According to protesters, Nkurunziza is violating the Arusha Peace Agreement by seeking a third term as president. The document was signed in 2000 and intended to pave the way for democracy and end the civil war fought between ethnic Hutu and Tutsi, that has killed some 300,000 people since 1993.

According to the agreement, Burundi’s president can only run for two terms. However, Nkurunziza’s supporters argue that the president’s first term should not be counted, as he was chosen by the Parliament and not by people as is indicated in the agreement.

Uganda-based independent journalist Fulvio Beltrami told IBTimes UK the protest “has been violently repressed by the police, the Imbonerakure – the youth wing of Nkurunziza’s party National Council for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) – and Rwandan terrorists from the Hutu rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).”

Why are people fleeing Burundi?

Following the protest, reports emerged that thousands of people – mainly Tutsi – fled Burundi and found shelter in neighbouring countries fearing that a genocide might occur against them. Anestimated 20,000 Burundians are in Rwanda alone.

Beltrami explained that the CNDD-FDD has always supported an ideology that promoted Hutu supremacy. Following the assassination of the then president Melchior Ndadaye in 1993, the party allegedly tried to carry out a genocide against the Tutsi minority in the country.

In retaliation, the army, mainly composed of Tutsi, massacred thousands of Hutu and whoever was suspected of being a CNDD-FDD supporter. The murders triggered the country’s civil war.

Speaking about the ongoing situation, Beltrami said: ”Hundreds of Burundian Tutsi are crossing the Nyansa lake, on the border with Tanzania, and the Ruhwa and Ruzizi rivers, on the border with Rwanda and Ruzizi, fearing that a genocide against them could occur. They are sheltering in Tanzania, in southern Rwanda and the Congo.”

According to another source, who spoke to IBTimes UK under condition of anonymity, Burundians are fleeing because “Nkurunkiza has let in the country the Hutu militiamen responsible for the1994 Rwanda genocide and he uses them, together with the Inborenakures, to terrorise people in villages, where nobody sees what happens.”

The source added that tensions between Hutu and Tutsi no longer exist and the problem today is political.

“People are tired of Nkurunkiza because he did not do anything good in terms of social and economic development. Nkurunkiza is Hutu and he is the one who is trying to spread ethnic hate in order to gain the approval by the Hutu population. However, many Hutu are against his third mandate and statistics say that only 20% of the population support him.”

Nkurunziza’s reaction to the protest 

Nkurunziza confirmed he is seeking a third term even after some of the protesters were killed in escalating violence and demonstrators vowed to continue to rally until he agreed not to run for re-election.

A few days later, the country’s constitutional courtapproved Nkurunziza’s third-term bid. The decision was made one day after the constitutional court’s vice-president fled the country. Judges also admitted they were put under pressure and received “death threats” to rule in favour of Nkurunziza’s bid.

Fears of a second civil war spread 




International mafia behind human smuggling and trafficking

 Article originally written for IBTimes UK.

The world is still reeling after the latest Mediterranean tragedy, in which up to 900 people fleeing countries devastated by war, corruption, extremism and poverty died at sea as they tried to reach Europe.

The migrant crisis sheds light, once again, on illegal immigration and the problem of people smuggling. Latest estimates suggest that since the beginning of 2015, more than 31,500 migrants have reached Europe from north Africa. The majority of crossings were made between the gap of North Africa and the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Following the latest deaths at sea, the European Union held an emergency meeting in Brussels, which saw member states vow to step up efforts and resume operations to prevent further drownings and capture people smugglers.

As migrant survivors tell of the brutality of smugglers as well as the inhumane conditions of their journeys, an investigation by IBTimes UK looks at what lies behind illegal immigration and the complex organised crime that runs it.

According to mafia expert and author Corrado de Rosa, there is a strong link between immigration, human smuggling and the Italian mafia.

Speaking to IBTimes UK, he said: “Immigration is a gold mine for Italian mafia bosses who are behind human smuggling since the very moment the departure of migrants is arranged.”

De Rosa explained that the involvement of mafia is not limited to people smuggling, but also concerns human trafficking, meaning that migrants and asylum seekers are exploited even after they reach Italy.

“Mafia becomes a sort of ‘employment agency’ for migrants. Once they reach Italy, they are offered lousy salaries and inhumane accommodations. If they want to travel to other European countries, mafia – upon payment – organises their journey.”

Referring to a wiretapping operation that led to the arrest of some mafia members in Rome last year, De Rosa said: “The wiretapping showed beyond any doubt that the Sicilian mafia Cosa Nostra has been dealing with migration centres in Italy for a long time. Investigations showed that there was a relationship between Sicilian clans and people traffickers.”

The alleged involvement of the mafia in immigration centres was also claimed by the senator of Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement) party Mario Giarrusso, who said during an interview with TV programme Lo Schiaffo that millions of euros for immigration centres were given by the Ministry of Internal Affairs “without any control” to people and bodies “who smelled of mafia”.

Human smuggling arranged internationally via Skype and Whatsapp

“A few days ago, the public prosecutor office in Catania, Sicily, warned that there is an international criminal network with bases in central Africa, Libya, Sicily, Lazio and Lombardy,” De Rosa said.

“The Italian cells deal with receiving the migrants. Inside this net, people communicate rapidly via Skype or Whatsapp and use illegal systems to quickly transfer money.”

De Rosa also said that people smugglers are often part of a much bigger scenario and illegal immigration bosses live in countries such as Libya, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan and Turkey and are hard to catch.

Several anti-mafia NGOs have often warned that the organised crime behind immigration is composed by groups from all over the world.

Rosanna Paradiso, president of the Italy-based NGO Tampep which promotes the human and civil rights of migrants and migrant sex workers, said that the link between international mafia and people smuggling and trafficking is not a new phenomenon.

“At the beginning of 1990s, there were already reports speaking about cooperation among ‘border mafias’. That’s why when we speak about organised crime behind illegal immigration, we need to speak about European mafia, rather than Italian mafia,” she told IBTimes UK.

“The first migrants who were arriving in Italy from eastern Europe, spoke about a sort of ‘migration platform’ in Cyprus where migrants were gathered and then sent to other countries. Women from Moldavia told us that migrants were put in the hands of different mafia groups – from countries such as Albania, Bulgaria or Italy – depending on the borders they had to cross.”

Paradiso also explained that in the southern Italian region of Calabria, the arrivals of migrants by boat have doubled since 2014. According to investigation by the Ministry of Justice’s Direzione Nazionale Antimafia, this is due to a “strong bond” between Calabrian mafia ‘Ndrangheta and Turkish mafia, which smuggled Syrian, Pakistani, Bengali and Afghans migrants to Europe – not only by overcrowded boats, but luxurious yachts.

She added that investigations led also to the discovery that Sicilian mafia has a strong links with Colombian organised crime.

Paradiso also spoke about what she called the “invisible mafia” that results in the corruption of embassies. “It has been confirmed by investigations and also people and institutions that found the courage to speak out,” she said. “Some embassies often oppose legal migration and don’t provide accurate information about passports, visas and what people have to do to legally move to another country.”

Mafias are like a mutant virus

Salvatore Calleri, president of anti-mafia Antonino Caponnetto foundation, told IBTimes UK that some European countries are not dealing with the problem of international mafia.

“Human smuggling and trafficking occur all over Europe, however some countries are not used to dealing with organised crimes, with the exception of France, Serbia and San Marino that have made some steps towards tackling the problem,” he said. “Germany, Switzerland and Spain are also becoming more aware of the presence of this phenomenon in their countries.

“In order to tackle the problem, we must observe what happens and be a step ahead of the mafia. For example, while we focus on the problem of migrants who die in the Mediterranean, we must not forget that the majority of people are smuggled via ground vehicles. Another thing to consider is possible links between mafias and extremists in Libya, Syria and Iraq.

“Mafias are like a mutant virus and we must be hard with them because they bring us back to the medieval era. Human smuggling and trafficking are horrendous crimes that we cannot tolerate.”

According to Mirta Da Pra Pocchiesa, head of the prostitution and human smuggling project atGruppo Abele which strives to guarantee the recognition of social justice, illegal immigration can be tackled if people stop simplifying concepts.

“We cannot just accuse human smugglers, because they are simply puppets manipulated by people who wear suits and who are a big part of corruption. We must go beyond the simple human smuggler and start asking ourselves why migrants come here. Why are their countries so impoverished? Who is to blame?”

“The EU has created good directives that help countries deal with immigration, but I am disappointed with the way Italy implemented such directives,” she continued. “We are still missing important parts. I hope that following the latest migrant tragedy, the government will involve competent people.

“Lastly, I think we should focus on welcoming and integrating people as we cannot leave them alone. Their presence also represents a valuable resource for Italy, a country affected by the economic crisis.

“We have the tools, we only need politicians able to use them.”

Balochistan: Activists say ‘thousands are abducted and killed by Pakistani army’

Baloch activist and president of the BRP Germany Chapter Ashraf Sherjan during a protest to shed light on human rights abuses in Balochistan(CREDIT: Ashraf Sherjan)

Baloch activist and president of the BRP Germany Chapter Ashraf Sherjan during a protest to shed light on human rights abuses in Balochistan(CREDIT: Ashraf Sherjan)

 Article originally written for IBTimes UK.

Baloch activists are urging rights groups and the international community to pay attention to the situation of people living in the Balochistan province, western Pakistan.

According to some members of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) – a democratic and secular organisation that aims to repel Pakistani occupation and regain sovereignty in Balochistan –Balcoh people are persecuted, abducted and systematically killed by Pakistani security agencies and the Pakistani Army.

Ashraf Sherjan, president of the BRP Germany Chapter, has warned that Balochs are haunted by what he calls “Pakistani kill-and-dump-policy intelligence agencies and armed forces.”

Speaking to IBTimes UK, he said: “Since Balochistan was forcefully occupied by Pakistan, Baloch people have been living as guests of death.

“It has never been considered, even outside Pakistan, that Balochistan belongs to the Baloch people who are now haunted. Baloch leaders are being deliberately assassinated by the occupying state of Pakistan for demanding rights to their own land.”

Sherjan then cited the case of Baloch leader Shaheed Nawab Akbar Bugti, who was attacked and killed along with his tribesmen in 2006.

His murder prompted unrest in the area with thousands of students from Balochistan University and other locals rioting, sparking fears that the then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would be targeted with attacks in retaliation.

“It would take days to mention the names of the thousands of Baloch political activists, leaders and students who were killed,” Sherjan said.

Black month

Baloch activists refer to March as a “black month” for Balochistan history as in two separate occasions during the month, Balochistan was first invaded and then bombarded.

“On 27 March 1948 Pakistan invaded Balochistan and coerced the Baloch ruler to sign a so-called ‘accession treaty’ after the Baloch Parliament had rejected the offer to join Pakistan on the basis of shared religion,” Sherjan said.

“On 17 March 2005, Pakistani paramilitary forces bombarded the entire city of Dera Bugti. More than 70 people, the majority of whom were women and children, were killed and nearly 200 were injured.”

People abducted and killed

In 2011, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting rights abuses committed by the Pakistani government against people in Balochistan.

The group urged Pakistan to end “widespread disappearances of suspected militants and activists by the military, intelligence agencies, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps in the south-western province of Balochistan”.

The report detailed 45 alleged cases of enforced disappearances – the majority occurred in 2009 and 2010 – and warned that some of the people who were abducted were also executed.

According to Sherjan, the policy of abducting and killing Baloch people still continues today.

“Many bodies have been found with amputated limbs in various areas across Balochistan and in Karachi. This inhumane practice continues to date and families of enforced-disappeared Balochs report that more than 20,000 Balochs have disappeared since current Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf took power in 1999,” he said.

“In January 2014 three mass graves were discovered in the Tootak area of Khuzdar district in Balochistan. The graves contained at least 169 bodies. Only three of the persons have been identified as previously abducted persons who were picked up from their homes by Pakistani paramilitary forces.

“The rest of the bodies could not be identified because they were mutilated beyond recognition. The military quickly cut off all access to the graves and took control of the remaining bodies so no further forensic identification work was possible.”

Sherjan also urged the Norway government and the international community to shed light on the fate of Ehsan Arjemandi, a Norway national allegedly abducted in 2009, while he was on his way to Karachi from Balochistan.

“He has not been heard from or seen in public since then. The Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, is believed to be responsible for the abduction. I urge the human rights organisation including the European Union and United Nations to take notice of Balochistan’s situation and play their moral role in ending human rights violations before it’s too late.”

Balochistan history 

Balochistan, a large area bordering with Afghanistan to the north and Iran and the Arabian Sea to the south, is inhabited mainly by Baloch, Pashtuns and Brahuis, and smaller communities and tribes such as Iranian Baloch, Hazaras, Marri and Bugti.

Balochistan was invaded by Britain in 1839. As a result of the invasion hundreds of people, along with the then Baloch ruler Mir Mehrab Khan, died.

Balochistan was then divided into three parts: Northern Balochistan and Western Balochistan were given to Persia and Afghanistan respectively, and Eastern Balochistan was under British rule until 1947.

After the British left, Balochistan was annexed to Pakistan. According to some, the then ruler Khan of Kalat was forced to sign accession documents despite a previous document recognising the independence of the Baloch people which had been signed by the British, Balochistan and the upcoming Pakistan administration.

Since then, separatist groups demanding independence have engaged in armed struggles with the Pakistani government.

During an armed struggle erupted in 2004, Balochistan’s leader Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed by the Pakistani government, which accused him of being a warlord and using the Balochistan Liberation Army as a facade to run his own militia.

Kidney disease epidemic: Thousands of sugar cane workers will die ‘if work conditions not improved’

Deaths due to kidney failure are attributed by the Nicaraguan and other governments in Central America to a high consumption of alcohol, diabetes or hypertension. However, studies  showed a connection between the disease and the work carried out by the victims.

Deaths due to kidney failure are attributed by the Nicaraguan and other governments in Central America to a high consumption of alcohol, diabetes or hypertension.
However, studies showed a connection between the disease and the work carried out by the victims.

Article originally written for IBTimes UK

At least 20,000 sugar cane workers in Nicaragua and El Salvador have died in the past two decades due to kidney failure, suggesting that there is a link between their jobs and the widespread Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).

Deaths due to kidney failure are attributed by the Nicaraguan and other governments in Central America to a high consumption of alcohol, diabetes or hypertension.

However, a February 2015 study by Boston University showed a connection between the disease and the work carried out by the victims.

The researchers analysed medical records from 284 Nicaraguan sugar cane workers and concluded that their kidney function declined during the six-month harvest season and varied by job category, and that workers with longer employment duration had worse kidney function.

Why are sugar cane workers so much at risk?

According to the international research and policy NGO La Isla Foundation (LIF), which aims to change the labour practices and policies that contribute to CKD, the disease mostly affects sugar cane workers in Central America, especially in Western Nicaragua.

“Our group, totally independently funded, carried out community-based studies with workers and found out that in some instances the disease is occupational,” LIF founder Jason Glaser toldIBTimes UK.

“In our preliminary research that we are preparing for publication, we demonstrated that kidney failure is so widespread among cane workers because it is driven by heat stress and dehydration, and when people are extremely weakened and dehydrated, exposure to toxins can also cause more damage.

“Nobody works harder than sugar cane workers. It is a vicious job, they are in uncovered sun all day with no access to water and only have a few breaks.”

Glaser explained that the rates of people affected by CKD is growing due to three factors.

Firstly the increase in surveillance of work conditions which contributed to make reports available.

Then the growth of the production of sugar cane, meaning more people are employed in sugar cane mills.

Thirdly, due to the industrialisation of sugar cane production, workers no longer work independently, as they used to in the past, but there are now oppressive bosses above them.

“They can no longer choose when to have a break. They do not have protection. They do not have money for basic assistance because of poverty and they spend up to 10 hours a day under the heat. They are getting paid by the piece which makes them work harder and faster,” Glaser said.

“The work alone is so brutal that is causing serious damage. In the past, nobody cared about how hard the work of sugar cane workers was and this is why I founded LIF.”

What employers say does not reflect the reality of sugar cane mills

LIF is working to improve the working conditions of sugar cane workers by, among other things, providing water, rest and shade stations.

“It’s not about how much people drink but when they drink,” Glaser said. “If workers do not have access to water during a hot day and they can only drink after they finish their shift of 10 hours, the damage has already happened. This is why we also demand for mandatory breaks every hour and 15 minutes for workers to have water.”

Photojournalists Ed Kashi and Jessey Dearing, aided by LIF, independently visited the Ingenio San Antonio (ISA) mill in Nicaragua, and found that what the Nicaragua sugar estate limited claimed was very different from the reality.

For example, ISA explained that the water consumption is supervised by staff. However, investigators found no water supervisors in some fields of the mill and workers said that water trucks do show up from time to time, thus men bring their own bottle of water which, sometimes, have to last them for the whole day.

ISA representatives also told investigators that a staffed mobile clinic, shade spots, mist tents and rest stations were protocol for all fields. However, investigators did not see workers use such facilities and many said they had never even heard of such services.

Some countries are willing to reduce the causes of CKD 

According to Glaser, come countries such as El Salvador, Brazil, Mexico and Costa Rica are working towards improving the work conditions of the workers and reduce the rates of the disease.

However, other countries such as Nicaragua and Guatemala refuse to acknowledge the issue. Companies there still link the deaths to a high consumption of alcohol. These companies have also threatened to fire people who participate in studies.

Glaser also explained that LIF struggles to get data from Honduras.

“Nobody knows what happens there, it’s a violent place and a very hard country to work. They say they don’t have a problem there, but we know that this is not true. However, we cannot go there to investigate.”

Glaser concluded by saying that LIF is not anti-business.

“We believe there is a level of professionalism that have to be guaranteed. Businessmen should not feel threatened by us, because we want to help them. However, some of them are liars and thugs and will do anything to protect their interests.

“Therefore, we have no choice but call them out.”

The article was updated on Friday (20th February) at 7:00am (GMT) as it contained an error. Community-based studies conducted by La Isla Foundation showed that in some instances the Chronic Kidney Disease is occupational, not artificial. 

Five worst human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia during reign of King Abdullah

Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records in the world

Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records in the world

Article originally published on IBTimes UK

Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records in the world as the country routinely imprisons and executes dozens of people labelled as “enemies of the kingdom”.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the reign of King Abdullah - who died on Friday (23 January) at the age of 90 - brought about “marginal advances for women, but failed to secure the fundamental rights of Saudi citizens to free expression, association, and assembly.”

The country often sparks worldwide outrage for its repression of basic freedoms and persecution of political opponents and human rights activists.


Thousands of people are protesting at Saudi embassies around the world, following the case of activist blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for advocating free speech on his blog.

Gerald Staberock, secretary general of the World Organisation Against Torture, told IBTimes UK: ”The problem in Saudi Arabia is that the judicial system is used as a tool against those who want more freedom. The case of Badawi is the most prominent at the moment, but it’s not the only one.

“In Saudi Arabia there is the so-called ‘religious police’, whose role is to find human rights advocates and freedom fighters and punish them.”

“And then there are high courts, which do not function like in Western countries: They are not in charge of guaranteeing protection of rights, but making sure that punishments are carried out,” he continued.

“There are also reports stating that many people who are imprisoned, often without being charged, are also tortured as the scope is to humiliate them and make them suffer. Inmates are also tortured because the Saudi Arabian legal system is based on confessions.

“This is a gross violation of international standards, considering the fact that Saudi Arabia voluntarily subscribed to the UN convention against torture.”

Freedom of expression

The case of Badawi is only the latest example of how the country persecutes people who simply advocate basic rights and express their opinions.

Last April, the kingdom introduced a new law expanding the concept of terrorism.

Critics say the new legislation – which uses a broad definition of “terrorism” to include any act intended to insult the reputation of the state, harm public order or destabilise the security of society – is a threat to freedom of speech and thought in the kingdom.

“The law allows people in power to crackdown on anyone,” Sara Hashash, Middle East and North Africa press officer at Amnesty International, told IBTimes UK. 

“The recent crackdown in the kingdom is targeting civil and political associations and human rights organisations,” Hashash continued. ”Lots of people are prisoners of conscience and they are detained forcefully for simply stating their opinions.”

Persecution of minorities, non-Muslims and Shias 

The law introduced last April allows authorities to also persecute people who are non-believers, who are treated as enemies of the state.

The legislation considers a terrorist anyone who ”calls for atheist thought in any form, or calls into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

“There is also a widespread discrimination against migrant workers, who are harassed and discriminated,” Hashash said.


Saudi Arabia recently made headlines worldwide for publicly beheading a Burmese woman convicted of the sexual abuse and murder of her seven-year-old step-daughter.

Public executions are common in the country,  where at least “76 people, from January 2014 to November 2014, have been killed by the authorities,” Hashash explained.

Saudis can be executed for murder, blasphemy, banditry, homosexuality acts and infidelity.

Middle East Eye, which often criticises Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, compared a set of legal punishments carried out by the Islamic State with the corresponding punishments in Saudi Arabia.

See: Crime and Punishment: Islamic State vs Saudi Arabia

Women’s rights 

There has been some progress in terms of women’s rights, as Saudi women can now work in certain shops.

Saudi Labor Ministry announced in 2014 it intended to appoint women at gold and jewellery shops in the country, in a bid to provide more job opportunities for female Saudis. The Ministry had already granted access to female workers to lingerie, costume and accessory shops in the past few years.

However, women are still forced to cover in public, they must be accompanied by a male guardian and are banned from driving.

“It’s undeniable that women are discriminated and don’t have equal rights in many sectors such as education, marriage and employment,” Hashash said.


Ethiopia 2014: Face to Face with Poverty and Love

Eyes impossible to forget - Ethiopia  2014

Eyes impossible to forget – Ethiopia 2014

I have always wanted to be a human rights journalist, so I could give voice to millions of untold stories that deserve our attention.

Over the years, however, I realised that writing alone was not enough to satisfy my need of helping others. Therefore, last summer, I decided to embark on a three-week-long volunteering experience with street children in Ethiopia….

And here I am on a plane heading to Addis Ababa. The buzzing atmosphere of this 3.4 million people-strong city envelopes me as soon as I touch the soil.

Among the dozens of taxi drivers who look at me with curiosity, I spot Sister Maria Luisa, a Catholic nun who founded a mission in Ethiopia to promote education and women’s rights, and with whom I will spend three weeks.

After a quick shower, we head to the clinic of the Sisters of Mother Theresa, which houses hundreds of poor and ill people who cannot afford cures.

We always think we are prepared to face poverty, to cope with it, to accept it as an inseparable feature of humanity. After all, we see poor people in the news every day, we read about them, we see pictures of their lives.

The truth is, we are never fully prepared to see suffering, injustice, denial of basic human rights. And the moment we face such realities, an overwhelming rage devours our stomachs.

As soon as I enter the compound, some children run towards me; they stare at me for a few seconds and then, the most courageous ones, greet me with “Salam”.

Someone takes my hand while a very tiny boy grabs my leg and refuses to let it go until I decide to welcome him in my arms.

None of them understand English and I am not able to find out their names, but this does not stop us from interacting with each other.

While I play with them, I can’t help myself analysing them. That they are suffering, it is visible just by looking at their weak, slight bodies which have not been washed for a very long time, the white spots all over their skins, their rotten teeth, their rough hands.

But there is something which is more heart-breaking than their precarious health: it is their need of being loved.

I look at them and I see them fighting for whom can hold my hand, for the person who wins one of my leg to hug. They all look for my eyes, they all want attention. They are unwanted, abandoned, ill, hopeless children. They all need to be seen in a world where they are and will be invisible.

“If people don’t have money to pay for cures, the hospital kicks them out,” a doctor, who has been standing next to me for the whole time, says.  “Mother Theresa sisters welcome all the people who are ill and who cannot afford any cure and they give them a bed where they can die with dignity.”

I look at the doctor. “Are all these children ill?” I ask, but I don’t really want to know the answer.

The doctor shakes his head, “Some of them. The others are here with their mothers, who are ill or are so poor they cannot afford food.”

He points at a bunch of women sitting on the other side of the compound. They all have the same expression of boredom and resignation.

“Where are their husbands?” I ask.

The doctor smiles, but it’s a smile unable to disguise the man’s indignation. “They are alone, men rape them and then disappear.”

I swallow and I look again at those women. I walk towards them while the children follow me, scared that I will no longer pay attention to them.

I greet the women. Some of them smile, other hide their faces, embarrassed.

Even when I try to speak with them, I have the impression their minds are far away.  These girls, way too young to be mothers already, look like they are thinking about something else, constantly. They are never there with me.

Some of them can speak English, the doctor explains to me, so I try to make conversation. While I talk, one of the children leaves my leg and slowly walks towards a woman who I assume is his mother.

As soon as the toddler reaches the woman’s legs, she holds him in the air and then gives him back to me. “Take him,” she says. “Take him with you, out of Ethiopia.”

I stare at the woman, unable to answer. The more I look at her, the more the initial rage disappears, leaving place for an immense sense of desperation for a woman trapped in a society unable to look after its citizens. Then, desperation leaves room for love and the awareness that more has to be done to help these people.

Before I can even say something, I hear a bell ringing. It’s dinner time, the doctor says, I have to leave the compound for today.

Before crossing the gate I look, once again, at those girls and children who, slowly, head to the canteen.

Their faces will be eternally imprinted in my mind.

I realise this experience will change many things in my life, one of them is the way I do journalism: so far I have always written about numbers, but from now on I will write about faces, about real people.

For more pictures about my experience in Ethiopia, please click here.




Every Day Should be Human Rights Day

Human Rights

Human Rights

Articles originally written for IBTimes UK 

I wrote these two articles in occasion of Human Rights Day ( 10 December). However, these topics are always relevant as thousand of people worldwide constantly face persecution for being gay and hundreds of thousands are victims of extreme poverty and cannot free themselves from the chains of injustice.

Every day should be Human Rights Day as injustices are still too many and more efforts are required to achieve a just world, more equal and less barbaric.

Albina Du Boisrouvray is the  founder of FXBVillage - a sustainable and community-based programme which delivers lasting solutions to extreme poverty worldwide.

Albina Du Boisrouvray is the founder of FXBVillage – a sustainable and community-based programme which delivers lasting solutions to extreme poverty worldwide.

FXB Village Model Program

Human Rights Day 2014: Only holistic approach can eradicate poverty, says FXBVillage founder

According to the UN’s Eight Millennium Development Goals, by 2015 it is possible to reduce by half the amount of people who starve worldwide, achieve acceptable working conditions for everybody, reduce gender inequality, successfully combat diseases such as HIV and malaria, reduce child mortality, improve maternal conditions and ensure environmental sustainability.

However, although some countries have managed to tackle poverty and achieve some goals as the deadline is approaching, millions of people in the world are still in extreme poverty. Their conditions are, most of the time, worsened by conflicts and violent insurgences that halt the development of countries.

Albina Du Boisrouvray, founder of FXBVillage - a sustainable and community-based programme which delivers lasting solutions to extreme poverty worldwide – believes that poverty can be tackled in the long term only if aid is delivered using a holistic approach.

No one single intervention in isolation will ever be enough to target the diverse, but interconnected challenges that those suffering extreme poverty face – interventions have to be integrated,”  she told IBTimes UK.

“In 1986, following the death of my son Francois-Xavier Bagnoud in a helicopter crash, I pioneeredthe FXBVillage model to deliver what I saw as the five drivers of poverty eradication at the same time and in an integrated way: healthcare, housing, education, nutrition, and business,” Du Boisrouvray said.

“These drivers are all interconnected, each relying on the other four to help break the cycle of poverty for good. After all, there is no point building a clinic if once patients return home they have no clean drinking water; no point building schools if once children go home they have no food.”

Business training and prevention are key

Du Boisrouvray believes that the most successful way to tackle poverty permanently is to provide business training for poor people in order to make them independent from external aid.

“We don’t want to create a population of people who rely permanently on aid, but instead enable people to stand on their own two feet,” she said.

“The key driver to breaking the cycle of poverty in the long term is the extra all-important link of business training to create income generating activities.”

Du Boisrouvray also explained that a common obstacle to achieving long-lasting poverty eradication is the lack of attention on preventive action.

“Prevention suffers from a perceived lack of urgency and funding is all too often dedicated to fire-fighting, moving the international community’s attention from one crisis (famine, war, pandemic) to the next, with no long-term view.

“Preventative action can save governments millions of pounds spent addressing large-scale problems that have reached crisis point.

“Governments and international efforts therefore need to move their focus away from short-term costly interventions when problems strike, and instead invest more time and resources in addressing the root of these problems on the ground in developing countries.”

A success story

The FXBVillage model provides assistance to about 80 to 100 families in impoverished areas over a three-year period, and has been doing so for the last 25 years. It provides people with training in several fields, ranging from healthcare to business. The aim is to foster a culture of self-sufficiency.

One example of how the FXBVillage model has achieved this is the case of Nite, a widow from Uganda who had been left to care for 11 children on her own after her husband was killed in the Ugandan civil war.

“After her late husband’s family took her home from her, Nite moved back to her birthplace to start a new life, but found that she was totally unable to support herself or her children,” Du Boisrouvray said.

“In 1994, Nite was accepted onto an FXBVillage programme; she was given a cow and her children were enrolled in school and given school supplies. After 10 years she had three cows, two pigs and some chickens, as well as land on which she was growing pineapples and coffee and a plot that she used to build a house for her eldest son.

“This had provided enough income to put all her children through school, two of whom went on to university, and one who got a job abroad.”


Human Rights Day 2014: Gay Ugandans ‘need a global response, not sanctions’

A person holds an umbrella bearing the colors of the rainbow flag as others wave flags during the the first gay pride rally since the overturning of a tough anti-homosexuality law, which authorities have appealed, in Entebbe, on August 9, 2014.  The overturned law, condemned as "abominable" by rights groups but popular among many Ugandans, called for proven homosexuals to be jailed for life.   AFP PHOTO/ ISAAC KASAMANI

A person holds an umbrella bearing the colors of the rainbow flag as others wave flags during the the first gay pride rally since the overturning of a tough anti-homosexuality law, which authorities have appealed, in Entebbe, on August 9, 2014. The overturned law, condemned as “abominable” by rights groups but popular among many Ugandans, called for proven homosexuals to be jailed for life.

The Ugandan government is trying to implement a new anti-gay bill, months after the previous onewas annulled by the constitutional court.

As Ugandan parliamentarians ensured the bill will be most certainly passed in December, to give a “Christmas present to people”, gay rights activists have been warning that, if turned into law, the proposal would allow the persecution not only of homosexuals, but also of anyone suspected of supporting homosexuality.

Homosexuality is already a crime in Uganda. However the new proposed law criminalises:

Members of the LGBT community who will risk seven years’ imprisonment and the exclusion from employment due to the criminalisation of those who ‘aid and abet’ the promotion of homosexuality.

People who own property in which “unnatural sexual practices” occur.

Activists and advocates in the LGBTI community who will be also banned from publishing, broadcasting and distributing of information “intended to facilitate” homosexuality or providing funding that is viewed as promoting homosexuality.

According to 2014 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Frank Mugisha, who is executive director of Uganda’s umbrella organisation Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), politicians from western countries should engage in constructive talks with Ugandan leaders to prevent a crackdown on homosexuals.

“The international community should engage with our politicians,” he told IBTimes UK. “When my colleague and friend David Kato was killed in 2012 for his advocacy work, many politicians worldwide condemned the murder. This means that leaders want to help defeat homophobia in certain countries.”

However, Mugisha believes that applying sanctions to help tackle homophobia in Uganda, as the US threatened to do, is not the right approach to defeat the problem.

“The international community should engage diplomatically and respond in positive ways; if they really want to put sanctions, they should only expose and target politicians and religious leaders who promote homophobia. They cannot target a whole country.”

Uganda’s anti-gay bill

The anti-gay bill was first put forward in 2009 by MP David Bahati. It originally proposed a death sentence for homosexuals.

The proposed legislation, which was later amended and condemned gay Ugandans to life imprisonment, was dropped two years later, after the murder of David Kato sparked international outcry.

It was only in August 2014 that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill into law prompting many countries to condemn its decision to criminalise homosexuality.

Shortly after, however, the law was annulled by the country’s constitutional court on the grounds that the parliament had passed it without the required quorum.

Religious propaganda and misinformation

Mugisha explained that the main cause of thewidespread homophobia in Uganda is religious propaganda and misinformation.

“The church in Uganda is very homophobic and we need other churches to come and engage in constructive talks and teach our religious leaders to preach the good gospel,” he said.

“Misinformation is another problem; many Ugandans fear homosexuals because they think we want to recruit children and make them become homosexuals. Thus, Ugandans want to protect their culture, and this protective behaviour has been enhanced by the media, which been very active in promoting homophobia.

“Furthermore, many leaders keep claiming that homophobia is not part of the African history. But African presidents are out of touch with reality, because there is homosexuality in our history and leaders claim that gays are ‘un-African’ only to gain popularity and votes.”

Thousands of gays will be ‘homeless and jobless’

Mugisha also warned that the proposed legislation would also punish anyone suspected of promoting homosexuality, including landlords in whose properties “unnatural sexual practices” occur. 

“If the bill is signed to law, many landlords will fear prosecution and will refuse to give a house to anyone suspected of being homosexual, with a result that gay people will not be able to rent and will end up being homeless,” said Mugisha.

“Gay Ugandans will also have difficulties in finding a job as the bill criminalises people suspected of ‘aiding and abetting’ the promotion of homosexuality,” he said.

“Therefore, employers will likely refuse to hire LGBT people who express their identity openly, in order to avoid prosecution.”

Not only a Ugandan problem

Mugisha said that the problem of homophobic laws does not just affect Uganda. In fact, homosexuality is illegal in at least 20 African countries.

The latest on the list is Nigeria, which last year introduced the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, imposing prison sentences of up to 14 years on those found guilty of involvement in gay organisations. Gays who publicly demonstrate their sexuality can be jailed for 10 years.

According to Human Rights Watch, Cameroon brings more cases against suspected gays than any other African country. 

“This is not just a Ugandan problem,” Mugisha concluded. “Homosexual laws have been recently passed in Gambia and Nigeria while Kenya is proposing an anti-gay law.

“We need a global response for a global problem.”




Sadia Khan: a Human Rights Blogger Whose Life is still in Danger

Sadia Khan is a Pakistani human rights blogger who has been living in hiding for a long time. Too long.

Fearing for her life due to her investigative work, Sadia, along with her 10-year-old sister Amala and their mother, fled to Sri Lanka in January 2012, after the ISI, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, allegedly tried to kill her.

When Sadia left Pakistan, she hoped she could find a better life in the neighboring country Sri Lanka.

However, this did not happen.

I first wrote about Sadia and her sad story in May 2014, hoping that the Sri Lankan government could grant her and her family refugee status and therefore special protection in the country.

Since we last spoke, the Sri Lankan government expelled hundreds of asylum seekers from the country and Sadia is being neglected  basic human rights.

This is what she told me:

“We are going through a horror. Sri Lankan Governement has ordered the deportation of all asylum seekers, they say whoever doesn’t have Sri Lankan visa would be deported.

Our resettlement case is stuck in Canadian embassy.

They want me to go through a medical check-up which includes an identification process and it is very risky for me to be identified by the Sri Lankan authorities.

The Canadian embassy has taken out loads of refugees from Sri Lanka ignoring my extremely dangerous situation.

We remain in hiding more scared then we were before.

I requested the Canadian embassy to allow me to go on with my medical examination without being identified by the Sri lankan staff. I asked them if they can send some embassy staff with me to the hospital, so I can do my medical examination with an anonymous name. I also told them that I am ready to pay all my bills myself but they refused.

Now my life is in extreme danger: Sri Lankan police is looking everywhere for Pakistanis. In this situation we can be very easily caught and deported the next day.

I wrote against the Caliphate: a common goal for Islamic terrorists and now my own life is in extreme danger; I am wanted not only by Pakistan but by all those who want the Caliphate. I am being followed on internet by members of ISIS.

Please write about my help-less situation once more and also please write to Canadian embassy or some other embassies in Sri Lanka to save my life.

Please also ask some of your friends to support us by writing to the embassies or in some other way.”

You can contact the Sri Lankan government and the High Commission of Canada Colombo to enquiry about the asylum seekers situation in the country.

Let’s spread Sadia’s story, let’s help her obtain the recognition she deserves.


Ferguson Shooting: What has Changed for Black Americans Since 1964 Race Riots?

micheal brown 2

Article originally written for IBTimes UK 

Fifty years ago several cities in the US witnessed an uprising by the black community in protest at police brutality and social inequalities.

New York, Rochester and north Philadelphia were just some of the places rocked by violent clashes between black people and the police in the summer of 1964.

Now, fifty years on from the riots – and 51 years after Martin Luther King’s memorable I have a Dream speech, aimed at promoting black people’s rights – tensions have once again escalated between police and the black community.

This time the protests centred on 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown, shot dead by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, on 9 August.

An audio recording examined by the FBI alleged that officer Darren Wilson fired 11 shots. Brown, who was unarmed, was hit by six bullets, two of which penetrated his skull.

Police brutality in the US

Brown’s shooting sparked international outrage, with many calling for greater efforts to eliminate racial inequality, black poverty and police brutality against African-Americans in the US.

The teenager’s death is just the latest of a list of homicides and beatings of black civilians by police in the States.

In 2009, unarmed 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot dead in California by a police officer who claimed he mistook his gun for his taser. The officer was charged with involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison.

In the same year, 43-year-old Eric Garner, suspected of illegally selling cigarettes in Staten Island, suffocated after a police officer put him in a chokehold. In footage of the incident, Garner, who was asthmatic, repeatedly said to the officer “I can’t breathe”. He died shortly afterwards.

According to professor and author Marc Lamont Hill, a black civilian in the US is shot by a police officer every 28 hours.

A 2013 study from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which promotes African-Americans’ rights, found that at least 313 black people were killed by police officers, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes in 2012.

Police brutality not the only example of race inequality 

Brown’s homicide is the latest event to bring to the surface the issue of racial inequality in the US. In the debate, some have tried to justify police brutality due to the high crime rate present in black communities.

However, police brutality is not the only example of race inequality.

According to recent reports, black people are six times more likely to be incarcerated in the US.

Texas death row inmate Ray Jasper highlighted the problem of racism against black people in his last letter before execution, saying that places still remain in the US where “a black person would not be welcomed.”

Others have argued that in the same cities where black minorities rallied in 1964, black poverty, segregation and violence against African-Americans are still prevalent.

As long as police brutality against black people is only partly condemned, or justified as a consequence of alleged crime rates, the crisis may never be addressed and more may lose their lives.