Archive for May 27th, 2009

Burma’s democracy leader and Nobel Peace prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been locked up on new trumped up charges, just days before her 13 years of detention was due to expire. She and thousands of fellow monks and students have been imprisoned for bravely challenging the brutal military regime with peaceful calls for democracy.

Risking danger to speak out for their jailed friends, Burmese activists are demanding the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners and calling on the world to help. We have six days to get a flood of petition signatures to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon calling on him to make their release a top priority he can make it a condition of any renewed international engagement. Follow the link to sign the petition, and forward this email on to friends to ensure Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners are freed.

On May 14th, Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested and sent to jail to charged in connection with an American man who allegedly sneaked uninvited into the compound where she is being held in Yangon. The charges are absurd it is the Burmese military, now charging her with breach of house arrest, that are responsible for the security of the compound. They area pretext to keep her detained until after elections which are set for 2010.

The Burmese regime is renown for its vicious repression of any threat to full military control thousands are in jail in inhumane conditions and denied any medical care, there are ongoing abuses of human rights, there is violent repression of ethnic groups, and over a million have been forced into refuge across the border.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s is the greatest threat to the junta’s hold on power. Her moral leadership of the democracy movement and the legacy of her landslide victory in 1990 elections means that she is the only figure who could face down the military in elections next year. She has been detained over and over again since 1988 under house arrest
and allowed no contact with the outside world. But this scandalous new detention in the notorious Insein Prison without medical care could be very dangerous because she is seriously ill.

Sources say that the military regime is fearful of this unified and massive online call to the UN over 160 Burma exile and solidarity groups in 24 countries are participating in the campaign. And the Secretary General and key regional players that are looking to re engage with the Burmese regime, can influence the fate of these prisoners. Last week Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said: ‘Aung San Suu Kyi and all those that have a contribution to make to the future
of their country must be free’. Let’s overwhelm him with a global call to urgently act on his words and stop the arrests and brutality:

As with the release of Nelson Mandela from years of prison in South Africa, the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi from years of unjust detention, will bring a new beginning to Burma and hope for democracy. This week could be that historical time for change let’s stand united behind Suu Kyi and these brave men and women and demand their release now!

With hope,
Alice, Brett, Ricken, Pascal, Graziela, Paula and the rest of the Avaaz team

For more about Aung San Suu Kyi visit:

For more about the Global Free Political Prisoners Campaign visit:

A Letter from former Presidents for the release of political prisoners:
from 112 Former Presidents and Prime Ministers to UN

For the West and Asian countries reactions to Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrest:

For the full statement from the UN Sectretary General on Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrest:


Amira Hass of Israel is Lifetime Achievement Award winner

A Belarusian journalist who is frequently detained and subjected to all-night interrogations by police, a Cameroonian radio journalist whose broadcasts on human rights and press freedom have put her life at risk and an Iranian journalist whose reports about sensitive social and political issues have led to multiple arrests are recipients of this year’s International Women’s Media Foundation’s Courage in Journalism Awards.

“These remarkable journalists have chosen to report the news in three countries where pursuit of the truth puts them at risk for arrest, physical attacks and even death,” said Judy Woodruff, chair of the IWMF Courage in Journalism Awards. “Still, they have consistently, for many years, chosen to risk their lives and livelihoods in pursuing stories that illuminate the lives of people in their countries and enlighten us all.”

Winners of the 2009 Courage in Journalism Awards are:

Iryna Khalip, 41, reporter and editor in the Minsk bureau of Novaya Gazeta. For more than 15 years, Khalip has been a journalist in Belarus, one of the most oppressive countries toward journalists in the world. After working at a succession of newspapers, only to see them closed by the government, she now works for Novaya Gazeta, one of the most independent newspapers in the former Soviet Union, and the newspaper of 2002 Courage Award winner Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered in 2006. Khalip has been arrested, subjected to all-night interrogations and beaten by police, who keep her under constant surveillance.

Agnes Taile, 29, reporter for Canal 2 International, radio and television, Cameroon. Taile reports on human rights and press freedom, including unflinching stories on the ineffectiveness and corruption of government officials. In 2006, while she was a reporter for Sweet FM, Taile received threats demanding that she stop her pursuit of government corruption. She ignored the threats. Not long afterward, she was abducted from her home at knife point by three hooded men, then beaten and left for dead in a ravine. Her show was cancelled after the attack. After recovering, Taile was determined to keep working as a journalist and landed a new job with Canal 2 covering the northern provinces of Cameroon.

Jila Baniyaghoob, 38, freelance reporter and editor-in-chief of the website Kanoon Zanan Irani (Focus on Iranian Women), Iran. Baniyaghoob works in one of the most restrictive environments for both journalists and women in the world. Still, she has fearlessly reported on government and social oppression, particularly as they affect women. She has been fired from several jobs because she refuses to censor the subject matter of her reporting and several of her media outlets have been closed by the government. She has travelled throughout the Middle East, writing accounts of the lives of women and refugees during times of conflict. The topics of her reporting make her a target of the Iranian government. She has been beaten, arrested and imprisoned numerous times.

The IWMF also announced that it will present its Lifetime Achievement Award to Amira Hass, 52, a reporter and columnist for Ha’aretz Daily, a newspaper based in Tel Aviv. For almost 20 years Hass has written critically about both Israeli and Palestinian authorities. She has demonstrated her ability to defy boundaries of gender, ethnicity and religion in her pursuit of the truth in her reporting. In covering the Palestinian Occupied Territories, her goal has been to provide her readers with detailed information about Israeli policies and especially that of restrictions of the freedom of movement.” For many years, she made her home first in Gaza City and then in Ramallah. In 2002 the Los Angeles Times reported that Hass “is the only Israeli Jew known to be living under Palestinian rule and one of a handful of Jewish reporters who still cross enemy lines for the Israeli media.”

Created in 1990, the IWMF Courage in Journalism Awards honor women journalists who have shown extraordinary strength of character and integrity while reporting the news under dangerous or difficult circumstances. The Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes a woman journalist who has a pioneering spirit and whose determination has paved the way for women in the news media. Including this year’s award winners, 66 journalists have won Courage Awards and 18 journalists have been honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards. The 2009 awards will be presented at ceremonies in New York on October 20 and in Los Angeles on October 28.

Founded in 1990, the International Women’s Media Foundation is a vibrant global network dedicated to strengthening the role of women in the news media worldwide as a means to further freedom of the press. The IWMF network includes women and men in the media in more than 130 countries worldwide. For more information, visit

The condition of victims of forced labour worldwide may be unrecognised because many states and organisations see it only in the light of a fight against prostitution.

The relation between prostitution and trafficking was one of the most controversial subjects debated at an international conference on trafficking called by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Palermo, Italy May 21-22.

“When we talk about trafficking, we shouldn’t treat its different forms as separate issues,” Nerea Bilbatua, regional programme officer for Europe at the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women told participants. “The focus has been on trafficking for sexual exploitation, but we should also focus on trafficking outside the sex industry, because in many countries, national laws only deal with sexual exploitation.

“This means that, for instance, a victim of trafficking working in domestic service or a restaurant does not have access to the kind of assistance available to victims of sexual exploitation, and that is unjust,” Bilbatua told IPS.

Some justify the focus on prostitution on the basis of statistical evidence. “Official UN data has it that 75 percent of trafficking involves women and children being sexually exploited,” Marilyn La Tona, head of the delegation from the Vienna International Alliance of Women to the UN told IPS.

These statistics were energetically attacked by John Davis, research fellow at the Sussex Centre for Migration Research. “It’s corrupt data, these numbers are highly speculative and only help create moral panic,” he said in response to La Tona.

“There is research and evidence on vulnerability and migration, and none was taken into account for the convention. It has collapsed into anti- prostitution,” said Davis, who believes the anti-prostitution lobby has hijacked the issue of trafficking, and is profiting from it.

“Those doing the real work on forced labour are sitting in the back of the queue, and all the money is going to the sex issue,” Davis said.

“Many governments treat sexual exploitation differently from labour exploitation,” Bilbatua told IPS. “Statistics show mostly women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation, which reinforces the idea of trafficking as above all a problem of sexual exploitation and that this is the most important aspect of it, but this is because nobody goes to other places, like fields, to verify other forms of exploitation.”

Bilbatua agreed with Davis in that sexual trafficking statistics are not trustworthy. “You are never sure where these numbers come from, and from an academic point of view they are not very credible.”

Experts increasingly believe the number of people in non-sexual forced labour may be grossly underestimated, and that trafficking for sexual work is not as dominant in overall forced labour as previously believed.

Behind the debate lies a deep disagreement over the nature of prostitution and its legality. “I and other organisations consider that even when we speak of voluntary sexual work, behind there is always some criminal adjustments; this is why even states like Holland are starting to review their laws on freedom of sexual laws,” La Tona told IPS.

The activist defended the Swedish model, which punishes the client as the perpetrator of the crime. “You need to stop the request from the market, if demand is high you have more sexual slaves being brought in,” she said.

Hundreds of thousands of sexual workers are said to be lured into migrating with promises of decent work, marriage or through threats of violence or blackmail. Still, some believe that many of these women know they will become prostitutes, even if unaware of the exact conditions of their work.

Davis brought in his own experience to argue against La Tona and like- minded activists. “My mother was a prostitute when we were very poor. The only ones who gave her problems were policemen, never clients or pimps,” he told the conference.

The academic, who has carried out research amid alleged Albanian victims of trafficking, attacked the view of prostitutes as always gullible victims of manipulative traffickers.

“Working women exchange sex for money for all sorts of reasons,” Davis said. “People ending up in prison as traffickers are the Moldovan prostitutes who paid the train ticket for the other six fellow prostitutes travelling with them, so if this is about sending sex working women to prison for 18 years, I don’t want to have nothing to do with it.”

The Spanish government approved a plan Friday to ease its abortion law and allow the procedure without restrictions up to 14 weeks of pregnancy, pressing ahead with a sweeping social reform agenda that has irked conservatives and the Catholic church.

The proposal needs approval from Parliament, where Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero lacks a majority and has fallen out with several erstwhile allies, either over Spain’s economic woes or for other reasons.

The bill seeks to reform the law that legalized abortion in Spain in 1985. That legislation allowed the procedure in cases of rape up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, fetal malformation up to 22 weeks and at any point when a pregnant woman’s mental or physical health were deemed by doctors to be at risk if the pregnancy went to term.

This latter loophole has generally accounted for the vast majority of abortions carried out in Spain.

Under the new proposal, besides abortion with no questions asked up to 14 weeks, the procedure would be permitted up to 22 weeks of pregnancy if two doctors certify there is a serious threat to the health of the mother, or fetal malformation.

Beyond 22 weeks, it would be allowed only if a panel of doctors certified fetal malformation deemed incompatible with life or the fetus were diagnosed with an extremely serious or incurable disease.

The plan is based on recommendations from a government-appointed panel of doctors and lawyers that issued its opinions in March. The government has adopted them without change.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said Thursday the new bill is “in line with today’s Spanish reality” and similar to abortion laws in most European countries.

Under the current Spanish law, getting an abortion outside the terms set by the legislation is a crime, at least on paper, although arrests are extremely rare. The new law would erase abortion from the penal code altogether.

“The most important thing about this law, what it seeks, is to protect women’s dignity. That is its spirit, from beginning to end,” Fernandez de la Vega said Thursday after a Cabinet meeting at which the plan was approved.

Although the new bill eliminates the clause that allowed abortions at any point in a pregnancy — even after 22 weeks — by woman citing physical or mental distress, Spanish clinics say the vast majority of abortions are carried out in the first trimester.

The government has said it hopes to have a law passed by the end of the year. Since taking power in 2004 Zapatero has legalized gay marriage and made it easier for Spaniards to divorce — big changes in a country where most people call themselves Catholic, even if church attendance is down sharply from the days of Gen. Francisco Franco, the dictator who ruled in close alliance with the church from 1939 until his death in 1975.

This time Zapatero, who was re-elected in 2008, faces more of an uphill battle because of his lack of steady allies in Parliament. Basque and Catalan nationalists, for instance, who generally supported him in his first term, are angry over regional disputes and have warned their backing cannot be taken for granted.

The new reproductive health bill also includes a provision for the morning-after contraceptive pill to be made available in pharmacies without a prescription; currently some Spanish regions do require one. And women’s groups say the pill is hard to obtain in some conservative-run regions.

In a sign of the opposition Zapatero might face, the mayor of Madrid said Thursday the city will continue to require a prescription for the morning-after pill.

See: Spain to dispense morning-after pill in pharmacies

In the last 13 months, 12 of Mexico’s 32 states have approved amendments to their state constitutions defining a fertilised human egg as a person with a right to legal protection, and seven other state parliaments are taking steps in the same direction.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) say it is a massive conservative reaction to a law decriminalising abortion up to 12 weeks’ gestation that went into force in the Mexican capital in April 2007.

The law was upheld in August 2008 by the Supreme Court, which ruled that it did not violate the Mexican constitution.

Behind the wave of reforms of state constitutions, according to critics, is a pact between the hierarchy of the Mexican Catholic Church and the leadership of the most traditional political parties to curb social movements advocating the legalisation of abortion.

“I have no direct evidence, but we have repeatedly heard allegations” that such a pact exists, María Mejía, head of Catholics for the Right to Decide (CDD), told IPS.

According to María Luisa Sánchez, director of the Information Group on Reproductive Choice (GIRE), what is happening is a kind of “revenge” on the part of conservative groups. “These reforms are absurd and put women at risk,” she told IPS.

The states where constitutions have been reformed are governed by President Felipe Calderón’s conservative National Action Party (PAN) or by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for seven decades.

The amendments of the state constitutions have not, so far, been accompanied by changes to the regional criminal codes, which for the most part allow abortion in the case of rape or danger to the mother’s life.

But the possibility remains that the criminal codes will be brought into line with the constitutional reforms, Mejía said.

Mexico is a federal nation in which each state has its own constitution and criminal code, although these cannot run counter to the national constitution and criminal code.

In this country of over 107 million people, an estimated 880,000 abortions are carried out annually, according to a study presented in 2008 by the Colegio de México, the Mexico office of the Population Council and the Guttmacher Institute in the United States.

The study found that an average of 33 abortions a year are performed for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. This figure is higher than the average reported for developing countries, which is 29 abortions a year per 1,000 women of reproductive age.

Most abortions are performed clandestinely, even in cases where they are legal, because the authorities and public health centres put up such barriers that the right to therapeutic abortion under certain circumstances becomes non-existent.

A PAN lawmaker for the central state of Querétaro, Fernando Urbiola, told IPS that the recent reforms of the state constitutions “are simply due to the need to be consistent with the principle of defending human life, which begins at conception.”

In Querétaro, which is governed by the PAN, Urbiola chairs the Commission on the Family in the state parliament, and is promoting a modification of the state constitution so that it will protect the fertilised egg from the time of conception. The change could be approved before the end of the year.

Urbiola argues that “unborn children” urgently need legal protection, on a par with any other person, until death. In his view, the wave of reforms will also close the door to euthanasia and recognise men’s right to keep alive the eggs they fertilise.

GIRE’s Sánchez said that her group is coordinating a series of demonstrations with women’s movements in the various states, to urge the Supreme Court to rule on the wave of constitutional changes in the states.

“We hope that the Supreme Court will take up the issue again and give more weight to the right of women to decide about their lives and bodies. The Court must hold another debate and ratify its earlier ruling,” said Sánchez.

In the August 2008 ruling, in response to a lawsuit arguing that the decriminalisation of abortion in the capital, governed by the leftwing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled that the law did not violate the constitution.

The Supreme Court verdict was repudiated by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and other conservative sectors.

However, the Calderón administration accepted the decision, although it had previously demanded, through the Attorney-General’s Office, that the Mexico City law be repealed.

Now GIRE is asking the Attorney-General’s Office to take up the issue again, this time to bring a suit before the Supreme Court alleging the unconstitutionality of the reforms against abortion approved by the states.

According to Mexican law, the Supreme Court deals with cases at the request of the Attorney-General’s Office or the state National Human Rights Commission, or on its own initiative.

Mejía, of Catholics for the Right to Decide, also wants the Supreme Court to deal with the issue, but she recognised that this is very unlikely to happen in the short or medium term.

Since April 2007, when abortion in the first three months of pregnancy was decriminalised in Mexico City, just over 20,000 women have exercised this right in public health centres. Nearly 80 percent of them were from the capital.

According to official statistics, 47 percent of the women who requested an abortion in Mexico City were between the ages of 18 and 24, and 21 percent were aged 25 to 29. Nearly seven percent were under 18, and the remainder were over 30.

The great majority of the women who had abortions said they were Catholic, like 90 percent of Mexicans.

Mejía and Sánchez both said that it is illogical for only some women in Mexico to have the right to an abortion, and called for the same rights to be available for all women.

Furthermore, they both said that abortion should be removed from the criminal codes and should be dealt with instead as a public health issue.

No woman is happy to make the decision to have an abortion and no woman seeks an abortion for pleasure, which is “something conservatives just don’t understand,” and that is why they close the doors to women and their rights, and even worse, threaten them with imprisonment, Mejía said.

The state criminal codes lay down different penalties for women who have abortions, except for victims of rape or when the mother’s life is endangered. In some cases, foetal malformation is also accepted as a legal reason for abortion.

In the state of Veracruz, for example, abortion carries a prison sentence of six months to four years; in Jalisco it is four months to one year, in Guanajuato from six months to three years, and in Baja California Sur from two months to two years.

Studies indicate that clandestine abortions are the fourth or fifth cause of death among Mexican women, and that obtaining permission for an abortion is complicated and, in many cases, impossible.

After the August 2008 Supreme Court resolution, GIRE legal adviser Pedro Morales called on state legislators to move from “prohibitive and punitive regimes on abortion to permissive laws compatible with the fundamental rights of women.”

Instead, 12 states moved in the opposite direction and made it even more difficult to get a legal abortion, and another seven states may soon follow suit.

Also, fewer think abortion should be legal “under any circumstances”

A new Gallup Poll, conducted May 7-10, finds 51% of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion and 42% “pro-choice.” This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.

The new results, obtained from Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey, represent a significant shift from a year ago, when 50% were pro-choice and 44% pro-life. Prior to now, the highest percentage identifying as pro-life was 46%, in both August 2001 and May 2002.

The May 2009 survey documents comparable changes in public views about the legality of abortion. In answer to a question providing three options for the extent to which abortion should be legal, about as many Americans now say the procedure should be illegal in all circumstances (23%) as say it should be legal under any circumstances (22%). This contrasts with the last four years, when Gallup found a strong tilt of public attitudes in favor of unrestricted abortion.

Gallup also found public preferences for the extreme views on abortion about even — as they are today — in 2005 and 2002, as well as during much of the first decade of polling on this question from 1975 to 1985. Still, the dominant position on this question remains the middle option, as it has continuously since 1975: 53% currently say abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances.

When the views of this middle group are probed further — asking these respondents whether they believe abortion should be legal in most or only a few circumstances — Gallup finds the following breakdown in opinion.

Americans’ recent shift toward the pro-life position is confirmed in two other surveys. The same three abortion questions asked on the Gallup Values and Beliefs survey were included in Gallup Poll Daily tracking from May 12-13, with nearly identical results, including a 50% to 43% pro-life versus pro-choice split on the self-identification question.

Additionally, a recent national survey by the Pew Research Center recorded an eight percentage-point decline since last August in those saying abortion should be legal in all or most cases, from 54% to 46%. The percentage saying abortion should be legal in only a few or no cases increased from 41% to 44% over the same period. As a result, support for the two broad positions is now about even, sharply different from most polling on this question since 1995, when the majority has typically favored legality.

The source of the shift in abortion views is clear in the Gallup Values and Beliefs survey. The percentage of Republicans (including independents who lean Republican) calling themselves “pro-life” rose by 10 points over the past year, from 60% to 70%, while there has been essentially no change in the views of Democrats and Democratic leaners.

Similarly, by ideology, all of the increase in pro-life sentiment is seen among self-identified conservatives and moderates; the abortion views of political liberals have not changed.

One of the more prominent news stories touching on the abortion issue in recent months involves President Barack Obama’s commencement speech and the bestowal of an honorary doctorate degree on him at the University of Notre Dame — a Roman Catholic institution — on Sunday. The invitation has drawn criticism from conservative Catholics and the church hierarchy because of Obama’s policies in favor of legalizing and funding abortion, and the controversy might have been expected to strengthen the pro-life leanings of rank-and-file Catholics.

Nevertheless, the swelling of the pro-life position since last year is seen across Christian religious affiliations, including an eight-point gain among Protestants and a seven-point gain among Catholics.

A year ago, Gallup found more women calling themselves pro-choice than pro-life, by 50% to 43%, while men were more closely divided: 49% pro-choice, 46% pro-life. Now, because of heightened pro-life sentiment among both groups, women as well as men are more likely to be pro-life.

Men and women have been evenly divided on the issue in previous years; however, this is the first time in nine years of Gallup Values surveys that significantly more men and women are pro-life than pro-choice.

With the first pro-choice president in eight years already making changes to the nation’s policies on funding abortion overseas, expressing his support for the Freedom of Choice Act, and moving toward rescinding federal job protections for medical workers who refuse to participate in abortion procedures, Americans — and, in particular, Republicans — seem to be taking a step back from the pro-choice position. However, the retreat is evident among political moderates as well as conservatives.

It is possible that, through his abortion policies, Obama has pushed the public’s understanding of what it means to be “pro-choice” slightly to the left, politically. While Democrats may support that, as they generally support everything Obama is doing as president, it may be driving others in the opposite direction.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,015 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 7-10, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Gallup Poll Daily results are based on telephone interviews with 971 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 12-13, 2009, as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

To see graphs illustrating these responses go to

The Los Angeles City Council voted Monday to approve funds to test the city’s enormous backlog of untested rape kits. Once the mayor approves the budget that authorizes these funds, up to 26 additional employees could be hired to process the kits and some testing could be outsourced to private labs, according to Human Rights Watch.

A Human Rights Watch report released in March found that there are at least 12,669 untested rape kits in Los Angeles County, the largest known backlog of its kind in the US. Of these, 499 kits are past the statute of limitations in California rape law and at least 1,218 are from unsolved cases where the attacker was a stranger. It is estimated that thousands more kits have been destroyed in LA County untested. A September 2008 LA city controller’s audit showed a backlog of approximately 7,000 kits.

Sarah Tofte, who authored the Human Rights Watch report responded to the vote: “The thousands of rape victims who went through the ordeal of providing the evidence, and then found out it was sitting in a freezer, will finally have a chance to see justice…. While the new money is a critical step toward eliminating the backlog of rape kits, it is certainly not the last step. We urge the City Council to use its oversight function to ensure that these funds translate into results, and monitor the speedy elimination of this problem.”

Calls for government to ban RapeLay, a computer game where players can earn points for raping schoolgirls Japan has come under renewed pressure to clamp down on its huge market in child pornography following the launch of a campaign to ban a video game in which players earn points by raping schoolgirls and forcing them to have abortions.

Equality Now, a New York-based human rights group, called on Japan’s government to immediately ban RapeLay, a virtual game that can be played on Windows PCs, and to honor its international commitments to end the sexual exploitation of children.

Amazon, the online retailer, removed RapeLay from its UK and US sites earlier this year after it was discussed at a UN conference on the sexual exploitation of children in Rio de Janeiro last November. Amazon Japan recently followed suit, but the game is widely available on other online shopping sites.

Jacqui Hunt, the director of Equality Now’s office in London, said the game was “extremely problematic at many levels”.

“The suggestion that the gamer has transformed the violent crime of rape into an act of sex indicates all too well the danger of objectifying and dehumanizing women and normalizing violence against them,” she said.

Equality Now has urged its 30,000 members to write to the prime minister, Taro Aso, demanding that Japan fulfill its obligations as a signatory to the UN convention against all forms of discrimination against women.

Though Japan is a lucrative market for games depicting sexual violence, RapeLay was spotlighted as a particularly depraved example of the genre.

The games, featuring high-resolution graphics and virtual interaction, are often set in schools or train carriages, with players awarded points for committing acts of sexual violence until the victims start to “enjoy” the experience. The victims are usually dressed in school uniforms, although their age is deliberately kept ambiguous.

The hentai [pervert] theme is common in Japanese comics, animated films and video games, many of which tap into the popular subculture of Lolicon, a Japanese rendering of Lolita complex.

Japanese law bans the production and sale of sexually explicit images of children under 18, but it exempts animated and computer-generated images.

Illusion, the software firm that produces RapeLay, has so far resisted calls to withdraw the game, saying it complies with Japanese child pornography laws. “The game is not intended for sale overseas, so we can’t comment further,” an Illusion spokesman told the Guardian.

But campaigners challenged the firm’s claim that it was targeting only the Japanese market, where such games are considered “acceptable”.

“The age of the internet means it’s impossible to confine anything to a specific market,” said Hiromasa Nakai, a spokesman for Unicef Japan.

“People in Japan have to realize that what might be acceptable in one culture or context might not be acceptable in another. In any case, many Japanese people have no idea what’s on sale on their own doorstep, and RapeLay is only the tip of the iceberg.”

The game is just one of tens of thousands of video games containing explicit sexual content that can be bought online or at stores in Tokyo’s geek district of Akihabara.

Pressure to tighten the law comes amid an alarming increase in demand for child pornography. In 2007, just over 300 children under 18 were identified as victims, according to Japanese police, up more than 20% from 2006 and the highest total since records began in 1999.

While police prosecuted 25 child pornography cases in 1999, the figure had risen to 585 cases by 2006.

Women’s organizations and the Rabbinical Courts Administration squared off in the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women yesterday over a bill to expand the rabbinical courts’ authority.

The proposal has not yet been formally submitted to the Knesset as a bill, since Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman is still studying it. However, the committee discussed the draft bill the courts administration submitted to Ne’eman for consideration. Advertisement

“The proposal raised by the rabbinical courts is not a minor matter; it’s an earthquake,” said Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari of Bar-Ilan University. “For years, we have witnessed an ongoing, deliberate offensive by the rabbinical courts in an effort to obtain blatantly civil powers for themselves. If this proposal is accepted, it will deal a mortal blow to women’s rights in Israel. The rabbinical courts have no authority to discuss property issues, which are clearly civil issues, unless they are part of a divorce suit.”

Attorney Hosea Gottlieb, an aide to Ne’eman, said that “the justice minister inherited this issue from the previous government. Before he formulates his opinion, the minister will hold meetings with all the parties concerned, including women’s organizations.”

Attorney Shimon Yaacobi, the rabbinical courts’ legal advisor, noted that the proposal was drafted in response to a High Court of Justice ruling depriving these courts of the right to rule on disputes arising from a divorce once the divorce had been granted.

“If a dispute arises after the divorce, the court ruled that this is [something] new, unrelated to the divorce, and therefore the rabbinical court has no ongoing authority,” he said. “This can give rise to claims of a get [bill of divorce] issued in error,” and hence raise questions about the validity of the divorce, the parties’ right to remarry and the legal status of any future children.

This concern arises because under Jewish law, both parties must consent freely to a divorce. Hence if a civil court subsequently interpreted a financial or custody agreement differently than the rabbinical court had, either spouse could claim that he or she would never have agreed to the divorce had they realized the outcome, and hence the get was not freely given.

“Thus the rabbinical courts’ view is that if the couple reaches an agreement before the divorce, and disputes arise about it afterward, the case should continue to be heard in the rabbinical court,” Yaacobi continued.

Similarly, the threat of women filing damage suits against men who refuse to divorce them could lead to claims that the men did not consent freely, invalidating the get, he said. As a result, the Rabbinical Court of Appeals has ordered all rabbinical courts not to grant divorces if such a threat exists.

But Attorney Suzanne Weiss of the Center for Women’s Justice retorted that “damage suits are suits of desperation. [Some] women obtain a get after filing damage suits, but in practice, this is not a forced get, because some men prefer to pay rather than grant the divorce.”

A report prepared by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in an attempt to tackle the increasing rate of ’honor crimes’ across Europe says the problem has worsened in Europe and cooperation among countries is needed to deny safe harbor to guilty individuals

As rates of “honor crimes” are on the rise throughout Europe, a new initiative has been submitted to the Council of Europe in an aim to bring the disturbing reality of such offenses to the forefront of the human rights agenda.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or PACE, recently published a report prepared by John Austin from the United Kingdom Socialist group condemning what the report calls “honor crimes” and highlighting the urgent need to combat them.

“I do not want to single out any one country as such crimes are committed throughout Europe; however, as we are in Turkey I would like to draw attention to the fact that these numbers are also on the rise in this country,’’ Austin said in Istanbul yesterday.

The report confirms that the problem, far from diminishing, has worsened, including in Europe. In the report, PACE denounces the crimes and dismisses any form of excuse for them. The report states, “No tradition or culture can invoke any kind of honor to violate women’s fundamental rights.”

Speaking at a press conference organized by PACE at the Istanbul Sofa Hotel last month, Austin highlighted that 231 “honor crimes” took place in Turkey in 2007; in the past five years, 167 honor crimes in Istanbul and 144 in Ankara were recorded.

Austin criticized that in many countries honor crimes are considered a mitigating factor whereas they should be an aggravating factor. Austin said countries need to draw up and put into effect national action plans to combat violence against women, including violence in the so-called name of honor. Many “honor crimes” are covered up and attributed to suicide.

Through his report, Austin has urged governments to carry out extensive investigations into these cases and crack down on murders that have been carried out as honor crimes. Moreover, Austin proposes that governments introduce either a complete database or statistics that take account of the different types of honor crimes so that the problem can be more thoroughly understood.

According to Austin, raising awareness in societies toward such crimes will play a big part in decreasing their numbers. The report calls for awareness-raising campaigns to change outlooks and behavior. When asked if documentaries broadcast on television were an effective method of raising awareness, Austin answered, “I believe they are, as they explicitly depict the reality that so many are unaware of.”

In reference to a documentary broadcast on Britain’s Channel Four, “Dispatches “Killing for Honor,” Austin was asked whether people in Britain were aware that honor crimes take place in their own country as such documentaries that are broadcast on British television often account only for honor crimes in countries such as Bangladesh and Turkey.

In response, Austin told the Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review that awareness schemes are being implemented in the United Kingdom, and when a case does occur in the UK, it takes full media coverage.

“This is a phenomenon in the whole of Europe, and therefore it is crucial that all the countries involved cooperate to combat this issue all together,” Austin said, adding that every guilty individual needs to be charged, and should any of them travel abroad, they should be subject to extradition requests.

Domestic violence was grossly denied and under-reported five years ago, Austin said, adding that this is the current situation with so-called honor crimes and countries have to work together to bring them to the fore and combat them accordingly.

PACE will have a meeting of the Network of Contact Parliamentarians involved in combating violence against women. Turkish State Minister for Women and Family Affairs Selma Aliye Kavaf and Yakin Ertürk, United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, will attend. The discussions will cover the preparation of a future Council of Europe convention and European parliaments’ contribution to the campaign by the United Nations Secretary General.

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Fiji, a multi-racial, multi-cultural country of 300 islands in the South Pacific, has undergone another coup – the fourth in 22 years. The women of Fiji want their voices to be heard as they work on ways to bring peace back to their country, and they are asking for the United Nations to support their efforts.

Fiji is the preferred destination for myriads of sun-loving tourists worldwide. It is in many respects a tropical paradise with almost all of its land protected in perpetuity for its indigenous peoples. Hotels lease the land from the relevant ‘mataqali’ (tribe) and provide jobs for the mataqali lease-owners.

From 1962 to 1972, the Fiji YWCA helped to establish programmes for women and young people in job training, early childhood education, and rural and community development.

During this time, the YWCA became involved in Fiji’s independence struggle and the fight against nuclear testing in Mururoa, French Polynesia, joining forces with other community groups, and with students from the newly established University of the South Pacific.

With a broad-based constituency that represented all races and cultures, all religions and generations, the women and young people of Fiji were encouraged to speak for themselves and to make themselves heard. A space was provided for emerging leaders, and for many years there seemed to be no limit to what Fiji could achieve as a multi-cultural, multi-racial example to other emerging democracies across the Pacific region.

This optimism was shattered in 1987 when the soldiers of the Fiji Military Force (FMF), under Corporal Sitiveni Rabuka, stormed Parliament House and took over the government of Timoci Bavadra, Fiji’s democratically elected Prime Minister who headed Fiji’s first truly multi-racial government.

Fiji YWCA’s former General Secretary, Amelia Rokotuivuna, was Campaign Director for Bavadra’s political party. She had played a major role in the Bavadra government’s rise to power one month earlier, and was overjoyed to see a multiracial democracy taking place in Fiji. The military coup destroyed this optimism and hope.

Fiji experienced 3 more “coups,” in 2000, in 2006, and most recently on 10 April 2009 – when the country’s Supreme Court deemed the current administration of Col. Frank Bainimarama illegal, prompting Fiji’s President Ratu Josefa Iloilo to dismiss the members of the judiciary, to abrogate the 1997 Constitution, and to reinstate the 2006 coup instigator and military chief, Bainimarama as Prime Minister for the next 5 years.

A generation of young people has grown up in Fiji never knowing anything but a “coup culture” and the power of the gun in taking over the government. Fiji’s women, who played such an important early role in the development of Fiji’s democracy, have been sidelined and ignored.

In fact, this “coup culture” has weakened and demoralised much of Fiji’s once-vibrant and optimistic peace and justice community. However, the defiant and powerful work of groups such as femLINK Pacific, a community media group led by Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, has kept the dream of a peaceful, equitable and visionary Fiji alive.

FemLINK Pacific focuses its work on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 and constantly calls on the government to make women part of the peace mediation process.

Initially, the world’s media blamed racial struggles for the many coups in Fiji, inferring that the Fiji-Indian population, brought in as indentured labourers by the British in the 19th and 20th century to work the sugar cane plantations, and who represented more than 50 percent of the population at the time of the first coup, had caused the indigenous Fijian population to rise up against them.

Events that have unfolded since have shown this to be only a minor cause of Fiji’s unrest. Power struggles have involved an ever-growing and mighty military having disagreements with the government, business men wrangling over government permits, chiefs not wanting commoners to have power, and a host of other causes.

Regardless, each coup has served to stifle voices calling for a Nuclear Free Pacific.

Fiji has suffered dramatically as skilled and experienced professionals have left the country to make their lives elsewhere. Many of these have been Fiji- Indians whose families had lived and worked in Fiji for generations.

The women of Fiji have shown enormous courage and resilience through all these years of coups and unrest. Groups such as the Fiji YWCA, femLINK Pacific, Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and more have stayed active and outspoken. Yet, they have little say in negotiations and are largely ignored by people in power – currently the military. In fact their activities have been severely curtailed and they are under constant intimidation.

International Women’s Tribune Centre (IWTC), headquartered in New York, took an active role in each of the four U.N. World Conferences on Women from 1975 to 1995 and in all subsequent Special Sessions and meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) of ECOSOC, including the lobbying to get Security Council Resolution 1325 endorsed in October 2000.

IWTC believes that, as recommended in resolution 1325, the U.N. should demand that women in Fiji be given a role as peace mediators, peace builders and peace keepers as Fiji works its way out of a military dictatorship and back to being a respected and stable democracy.

Resolutions such as 1325 are of no use whatsoever if the U.N. member states take no actions to implement them. 1325 is the most important resolution for women ever passed by the Security Council, according to IWTC.

Women caught in violent and exploitative conflict situations in every corner of the world deserve to know their rights so that their voices can be heard in decision making on their behalf. Unfortunately, at this time, Fiji is one of those countries.

The women of Fiji need the support of the U.N. and the world in recovering their once-peaceful and democratic country. According to IWTC, the U.N. could help by ceasing to build up the Fiji Military Forces as contracted “peacekeepers.” These same soldiers are simultaneously being used to overturn the rule of law in their own country, they say.

U.N. peacekeeping funds have been paid to Fiji for more than 30 years and have made it possible for Fiji’s soldiers to be amongst the best equipped and trained in the world. Fiji meanwhile is not at war with any of its neighbours.