The speakers were never meant to live and tell their stories

February 25, 2013

Mukhtar Mai, the woman who was sentenced by a Pakistani village court to be gang raped for her brother’s supposed “immodesty”

 

* Tom Gross: Mauritania, an Islamic republic where imams often use their interpretations of Sharia law to justify forcing the darker-skinned black African Haratine minority to serve as slaves and sex-slaves to the Arabic Moor population, is today appointed by the UN Human Rights Council (of Goldstone Report notoriety) to help preside over worldwide human rights for the next 12 months. There are an estimated 800,000 slaves in the country.

* Nowhere is slavery still so systematically practiced as in Mauritania. “Slaves are their masters’ property, often from birth. Women slaves are allowed to be sexually abused whenever their masters want. The masters can buy or sell slaves or loan out parts of their bodies for use — arms, legs, vaginas, mouths. The slaves must obey. This is Islamic law as it exists in Mauritania today,” escaped slave Abidine Merzough told the Geneva Summit.

* Tom Gross: “The contrast could hardly be greater. I watched the UN ambassadors arrive in chauffeur-driven Mercedes, and then congratulate themselves while ignoring human-rights abuses throughout the world… When Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and other dignitaries assemble in Geneva to open the annual session of the UN Human Rights Council today, they might want to ask why these dissidents were not invited to address them. And they might want to ask why Mauritania, instead of being held to account, has been appointed the organization’s vice-chair.”

* Daniel Schwammenthal: “As the Iranian activist Marina Nemat put it: ‘Your silence is a weapon of mass destruction.’ Arrested in 1982 at the age of 16 for demonstrating against the mullahs, and tortured in Iran’s notorious Evin prison for over two years, Nemat knows ‘mass destruction’ from up close and personal. In times when allegedly progressive politicians, such as Germany’s Green Party leader Claudia Roth, exchange enthusiastic high-fives with Iranian ambassadors, Nemat’s tale is particularly worth retelling.”


I attach an article of mine from today’s National Post, the leading nationwide paper in Canada, followed by a piece on the same subject by Daniel Schwammenthal from the British online publication The Commentator. We both attended the same human rights summit – though lamentably few other journalists bothered to show up.


Tom Gross, left, moderates a panel at the 2013 Geneva Summit.


THE UN PROMOTES A MODERN-DAY SLAVE-OWNING NATION THE WORLD CARES LITTLE ABOUT

The UN’s willful ignorance of modern-day slavery
By Tom Gross
National Post, Canada (and also in America, at The Huffington Post)
Feb 25, 2013

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/02/25/tom-gross-the-uns-willful-ignorance-of-modern-day-slavery/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-gross/mauritania-un-human-rights-council_b_2758719.html

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) begins its annual session in Geneva today by once again disgracing itself through the appointment of the West African country of Mauritania as its vice-president for the next year.

The UNHRC is the organization that, in the past, has cozied up to the Gaddafi and Assad regimes in Libya and Syria; that praised Sri Lanka’s human-rights record shortly after that country’s military killed more than 40,000 Tamil civilians in 2009; and that still exhibits at the entrance to its meeting hall, two pieces of art, one donated by Egypt’s Mubarak regime, the other with a plaque that reads, “A statue of Nemesis, Goddess of justice, donated by the Syrian government.”

It also appointed Alfred De Zayas as one of its leading advisors last December, despite the fact that his books on the Second World War portray Germans as victims and the Allies as perpetrators of “genocide.” De Zayas, while not denying the Holocaust himself, has nonetheless become a hero to many Holocaust deniers, and his sayings are featured on many of their websites. He has called for Israel to be expelled from the UN, while defending the ruthless Iranian regime.

And now Mauritania has been chosen by the UNHRC to help preside over worldwide human rights for the next 12 months. Mauritania, although all-but ignored by mainstream human-rights groups, is a country that allows 20% of its citizens, about 800,000 people, some as young as 10, to live as slaves.

An estimated 27 million people worldwide still live in conditions of forced bondage, and every year at least 700,000 people are trafficked across borders and into slavery, according to figures compiled by the U.S. State Department, the International Organization for Migration and other reliable sources.

But nowhere is slavery still so systematically practiced as in Mauritania, an Islamic republic where imams often use their interpretations of Sharia law to justify forcing the darker-skinned black African Haratine minority to serve as slaves to the Arabic Moor population.

“The situation is every bit as bad as it was in apartheid South Africa, and in many ways it is worse,” Abidine Merzough, the European coordinator for the anti-slavery NGO Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania, told the fifth annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy last week.

“Officially, the Mauritanian authorities have abolished slavery on five separate occasions. But in reality, it exists exactly as before, backed up by imams and other clergy who write laws and issue fatwas justifying slavery,” said Merzough, who was born to slaves in Mauritania but is a rare example of someone who managed to escape and now lives in Germany.

“Slaves are their masters’ property, often from birth. Women slaves are allowed to be sexually abused whenever their masters want. The masters can buy or sell slaves or loan out parts of their bodies for use — arms, legs, vaginas, mouths. The slaves must obey. This is Islamic law as it exists in Mauritania today,” Merzough told the Geneva Summit, which (to their credit) was this year attended by a small number of UNHRC ambassadors from democratic countries (including Canada, but not by Britain and France).

Last year I attended both the Geneva Summit and the opening session of the UN Human Rights Council. The contrast could hardly be greater. I watched the UN ambassadors arrive in chauffeur-driven Mercedes, and then congratulate themselves while ignoring human-rights abuses throughout the world. The Geneva Summit, by comparison, is put together on a very modest budget by 20 NGOs, headed by UN Watch, an organization that does such good work for human-rights issues that the UNHRC should hang its head in shame.

At this year’s Geneva Summit, I moderated a panel that included Mukhtar Mai, an extraordinarily brave woman who was gang raped on the order of a tribal court in Pakistan after it was alleged (wrongly) that her brother had acted immodestly. And after the rape, instead of committing suicide (which is common after such experiences in Pakistan), she has fought a 10 year legal battle in an effort to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Other speakers at this year’s Geneva summit included dissidents, torture survivors and witnesses from Congo, Iran, Tibet, Syria, North Korea and elsewhere — as well as Pyotr Verzilov, the husband of the jailed lead singer of the Russian band Pussy Riot.

When Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and other dignitaries assemble in Geneva to open the annual session of the UNHRC today, they might want to ask why these dissidents were not invited to address them. And they might want to ask why Mauritania, instead of being held to account, has been appointed the organization’s vice-chair.

(Tom Gross is a former foreign correspondent of the London Sunday Telegraph.)

 

Note: thank you to all the people who wrote to me about this article.

It was also highlighted as one of the five best articles of the day by The Atlantic magazine, and on Real Clear World and Daily Alert (bottom left corner), among other places.

For my article on the 2012 Geneva summit, please click here: The most remarkably brave people

 

EXPOSING THE UN’S DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS

Exposing the UN’s dirty little secrets
By Daniel Schwammenthal
The Commentator
February 24, 2013

The speakers were never meant to live and tell their stories. Their torturers expected them to either submit or die. But somehow these men and women managed to escape from their dungeons and concentration camps to gather at the seat of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

They came to bear witness to the crimes committed by some of the very members of this esteemed UN body. Naturally, at the Palace of the Nations, where over 80 international officials, including Foreign Secretary William Hague, will over the coming days address the Council, there will be no space for these brave freedom fighters.

This is why UN Watch, together with over 20 other NGOs, organized the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy last week. Now in its fifth year, the annual summit does the sort of work the UN shies away from. It gives the victims, not the perpetrators, of state terror a podium.

While the international dignitaries will speak under the auspices of Council Vice President Mauritania, the Geneva Summit participants heard from a former subject of the North African country—Abidine Merzough, a man born as a slave to slave parents.

As unfathomable as it may sound, some 20 percent of Mauritanians, about 800,000 people, are still slaves. Mauritania uses Sharia to justify a racist system where Arabs exploit the country’s black African population and which “runs counter to Islam’s humanist principles,” Merzough explained:

“From early on, people are taught in religious schools that slaves are the masters’ properties, who are passed along as inheritance and where the condition of slavery is transmitted from parent to child, where women slaves must submit their bodies to their masters.”

Merzough’s father, a modern-day Spartacus, rebelled against his status and led slave uprisings. This is why Merzough, the son of illiterate slaves, was able to attend school and study in Germany, where he works as an engineer.

The fact that so few people are even aware that slavery still exists is in itself a scandal. As the Iranian activist Marina Nemat put it: “Your silence is a weapon of mass destruction.” Arrested in 1982 at the age of 16 for demonstrating against the mullahs, and tortured in Iran’s notorious Evin prison for over two years, Nemat knows “mass destruction” from up close and personal.

In times when allegedly progressive politicians, such as Germany’s Green Party leader Claudia Roth, exchange enthusiastic high-fives with Iranian ambassadors, (nine seconds into the video), Nemat’s tale is particularly worth retelling.

The adult handcuffs her guards tried to use were so big, they slid off, she recounted. “So they put both of my hands in one cuff and pressed hard. I heard a crack, the sound of my wrist breaking. And the torture hadn’t even begun.”

The real torture began when the guards tied her face-down on a bed and whipped her soles until they swelled up to “grotesque red balloons” and then forced her to walk on these bloodied pieces of raw flesh.

The purpose of the torture was not to get information. “I would have signed any document to make the beatings stop. The purpose of the torture was to break the human soul.” As those who had the privilege to watch her feisty presentation could attest, her torturers utterly failed.

Sentenced to execution, she was “rescued” by a prison guard who forced her, a Christian, to convert to Islam and marry him. “You will be here forever; the world does not give a damn. Become my wife or if not I will arrest your family,” she recounted her jailor’s words. This time her previously calm voice was trembling a little. “And so I was raped over and over again under the name of marriage in a prison cell by my interrogator.”

Nemat was eventually released and managed to escape to Canada in 1991. But the past is never far from her. “I carry with me the memories of every single girl that stood in line in Evin prison. Many of them are buried in mass graves.” And as bad as the situation was when she was incarcerated, it is perhaps even worse today, she warned.

So what can the world do? Nemat has some advice about what the world should definitely not do: Giving the regime a free pass, such as when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is invited to soft-ball interviews on CNN or allowed to address Columbia University.

“I believe in freedom of speech, even for my enemy, but next time you give Ahmadinejad a microphone on an international stage I would really like to see a torture victim given the same amount of time on the same stage,” she said.

It is impossible to do justice to all the heroic dissidents who spoke at this conference within the space of a short article. There was the imposing figure of Mukhtar Mai, who was sentenced to gang rape by a Pakistani tribal council to restore the neighboring clan’s “honor” for an alleged offense committed by somebody else.

Instead of choosing suicide, as so many other Pakistani women do in her situation, she went to the police despite threats and opposition even from her own family. While her attackers were eventually acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, she remained unfazed and opened the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization. Pakistan, meanwhile, was just elected to the Human Rights Council.

Or take Kang Chol-Hwan, who at the age of nine was arrested with his entire family and spent 10 years in Yodok, a North Korean concentration camp. If there is a hierarchy of horror it can only be surpassed by the ordeal of his fellow countryman Shin Dong-Hyuk, who was actually born and raised in “Political Prison Camp No. 14.”

He is the only person known to have escaped the “total control zone” of a North Korean concentration camp, where, as he explained, the guards told him he would have to perform slave labor until his death. Some 200,000 people, including entire families, are still held in these North Korean gulags.

Over the next few days, the Palace of the Nations will hear a series of lofty speeches ostensibly in support of human rights—many, though, from the world’s worst human rights violators. Tomorrow, for example, it will be the turn of H.E. Mr. Mohamed Bushara Dousa, Sudan’s Minister of Justice, an oxymoron if there ever was one.

Sudan is currently involved in its third genocidal campaign since the 1980s. And the International Criminal Court is seeking the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

The dysfunctionality of allowing the worst human rights violators into the club is built into the system. All too often these torture regimes thus manage to shield each other from international scrutiny and even get rewarded plum positions, such as the Council’s Vice Presidency.

Here’s a thought for Minister Hague and his Western colleagues: if they absolutely have to attend the Human Rights Council, make sure to also stop by at the next Geneva Summit. This way they will hear from some real human rights advocates.

(Mr. Schwammenthal is the director of the AJC Transatlantic Institute in Brussels)

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.