Campaigner killed for speaking out
The body of Iqbal Masih was left lying outside the Police Headquarters in Lahore for 16 hours following his murder, according to Ehsan Ullah Khan, President of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF).
Until 1993 Iqbal Masih had worked for 12 hours every day knotting carpets. He was one of six million child workers aged under 14 in Pakistan, half a million of whom work in carpet factories. Then he campaigned relentlessly to raise the awareness of the world to the plight of his fellow child-bonded labourers. He worked with the BLLF, which demands protection for workers and the full implementation of Pakistan’s Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1992. This has been largely ignored by loom owners and the so-called ‘carpet mafia’.
Initial reports suggested Iqbal had been murdered by a farm labourer, Mohammed Ashraf. Ashraf allegedly fired at Iqbal and killed him. However, following a post-mortem report, the Director of the International Forensic Programme of the US-based Physicians for Human Rights stated that ‘further investigation is clearly necessary to resolve the discrepancies between the pattern of injuries and the alleged circumstances of the attack’.
Since the death of Iqbal there has been increased intimidation of those who question the carpet industry. Zafar Yab Ahmed, a journalist investigating bonded labour for The News, and Ehsan Ullah Khan of BLLF have been arrested and charged with sedition and collusion with Indian intelligence agents, who are accused of setting up a ‘plan to exploit the murder of Iqbal Masih with a view to causing recurring financial loss to Pakistani business interests abroad’.
BLLF offices have been raided across Pakistan and four of their members arrested. Iqbal’s family has been constantly harassed and 13 of them have been arrested – including his mother and sister.
The BLLF Chairperson in Britain, Shahid Dastgir Khan, called for an impartial and independent inquiry into Iqbal’s murder and reiterated BLLF demands. To date, the Government of Benazir Bhutto seems unwilling to concede these demands, preferring instead to attempt to discredit those who seek to expose the inhumanity of the carpet industry in Pakistan.
Letters expressing concern regarding Iqbal Masih’s death and the treatment of the Bonded Labour Liberation Front should be addressed to Pakistan’s High Commissioner or Ambassador in your country.
Guatemalans are up in arms amid reports that their national archive has been looted by the wife of the collection’s director. Maria Elisa Rohrmoser de Gil was arrested in New York for selling documents allegedly stolen from the General Archive of Central America. Rohrmoser’s husband Julio Roberto Gil Aguilar was fired, though no charges have been filed against him. When his replacement, Mercedes Elizabeth Flores Garcia, tried to retrieve the inventory stored in the archive vault, she discovered that only Gil Aguilar, whereabouts unknown, has the combination.
Time, vol 146, no 2
In a seismic political shift that augurs trouble for General Suharto, the Commander-in-Chief of US Pacific forces has privately told Congressional officials that the time has come for Indonesia to get out of East Timor. Admiral Richard Macke has concluded that the East Timor occupation has become more trouble than it is worth. He said that Jakarta’s generals should cut their (and Washington’s) political losses, pull out their troops and allow the Timorese, with UN help, to hold a referendum to determine their own political future.
The Nation, vol 261 no 3
In south-eastern Brazil, São Leopoldo’s municipal government has approved sterilization as a means of birth control for low-income families with at least two children. The municipal council voted that both tubal ligations and vasectomies be funded by the city government. However, Brazilian law still calls sterilization a form of physical mutilation which is punishable by eight years in prison. Consequently, only three of São Leopoldo’s health-service doctors will perform the operations. According to news magazine Veja, sterilization is one of the most popular operations in Brazil and doctors do not want to legalize it because they can charge much more for an illegal procedure.
World Press Review, vol 42, no 7
A major survey has revealed that almost 25 per cent of multinationals ‘are now prepared to recognize same-sex partners’ when recruiting men and women for jobs in Europe. Covering nearly 200 companies active in 14 countries, Mobil Europe’s data-sharing study reveals a radical shift in corporate attitudes.
Nicola Cole, Gemini News Service
In response to growing inequality within the US the New York-based Council on International Affairs and the Boston-based Share the Wealth Project are launching a new periodical simply entitled Too Much. The first issue looks at what baseball might be like in an America with less inequality. ‘Believe me,’ says Chuck Collins, the group’s co-ordinator, ‘it would be a much better game’. Recent studies have shown that the most affluent one per cent of Americans owns 40 per cent of the nation’s wealth – more than is owned by the bottom 90 per cent of the population.
Share the Wealth, 37 Temple Place, 3rd Floor,Boston, MA. 02111
Two useful new ‘sites’ are available online. The Natural History Book Service (NHBS) offers free and easy access to a catalogue of over 40,000 books, CD-ROM’s, videos, reports and papers on the environment: http://www.nhbs.co.uk. Corporate Critic Online from the Ethical Consumer Research Association offers a database of information and criticisms of companies under 13 social and environmental criteria. A subscription fee is payable for this service: contact ECRA Publishing Ltd, 16 Nicholas Street, Manchester M1 4EJ, UK.
Blackcurrants could be a valuable source of energy – not in foods, but in power stations. A Swedish agriculturist reckons the bushes could be a good energy source. They grow extraordinarily well in the cold and new, high-yielding varieties have doubled wood production. Blackcurrant power may be one solution to the energy jam.
Consumer Currents, no 175
Exiles escape charges as prisoners die
One year after the genocide in Rwanda there is still no justice for the victims and their families, says a report by Médecins sans Frontières.* Since April 1994, only three people – two in Canada and one in Belgium – have been subject to judicial proceedings.
The vast majority of the military and militias responsible for the genocide have found refuge in Tanzania or Zaire, where they benefit from aid provided by the international community in the form of relief programmes for Rwandan refugees. The French Army, which controlled the south-west of Rwanda in mid-June 1994, took no measures to arrest them.
Meanwhile, inside Rwanda, one in eight of the inmates of Gitarama prison died between September 1994 and May. The prison was built for 400 but there are now over 7,000 prisoners awaiting judgement, the majority of them on charges of genocide. They have less than half a square metre of living space each. Many have no choice but to stand day and night.
Among the referrals to Kasbgayi hospital, 38 per cent are suffering from trauma wounds and 41 per cent from rotting feet caused by standing on the wet and dirty ground, often resulting in amputation. The surgical unit is so crowded that prisoners now have to share beds.
Kasbgayi medical co-ordinator Dr Arnaud Viesse says: ‘The conditions in the prison are so bad that we are seeing an increase in serious wounds and burst eardrums from beatings. If an epidemic breaks out there is no saying how many will die – too many are dying already. Gitarama prisoners must be transferred to new centres as soon as possible.’
As many as 47,000 people are locked up in prisons and detention centres throughout the country. The Rwandan Government has announced that seven more detention centres will be opened over the next few weeks, and is building an extension at Gitarama. It is vital that the extension is used to ease the overcrowding and not filled with new detainees.
Nikki van der Gaag
* Health status of the inmates of Gitarama Prison, July 1995.
Cars equal Asthma
High levels of pollution bring AIRWATCH demonstrators onto the streets of Islington, London. Islington has the highest level of asthma in the UK, according to statistics collected by Islington 2000, a local environmental group. This kind of local action against air pollution is burgeoning all over the world.
Riches to rags
Miskitu people improverished despite aid
‘The Atlantic Coast is like a millionaire begging for alms,’ says Mateo Collins, one of the leading intellectuals among Nicaragua’s Miskitu minority and former co-director of the Inter-Church Centre for Theological and Social Studies (CIEETS). The region is one of the richest in the world for natural resources – especially minerals, lumber and fish. ‘But we are poor,’ says Collins, ‘and we depend on development organizations even for food’.
Since 1990 the region has received large quantities of aid from the European Union, US AID, UNHCR and the Organization of American States. As one UNHCR official stated sardonically before the organization pulled out: ‘I have had more money in my office here than the Nicaraguan Government has in its Treasury.’
And yet, according to a recent study by CIEETS, 85 per cent of Nicaragua’s ethnic-minority population live in ‘extreme poverty without access to what is necessary for survival’. Around 95 per cent have to drink contaminated water. Malnutrition is common. According to the Nicaraguan Minister for Health, Ernesto Salmeron, as many as 60 per cent suffer from tuberculosis. Unemployment stands at 85 per cent and only 14 per cent of the population have access to secondary school.
Why has the injection of funds made no difference? One reason is that the cost of living is 300 per cent higher here than on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast – nearly everything has to be imported. Local fish stocks are rich but they have provided a fiesta for illegal Honduran and Colombian fishing pirates, taking advantage of the unpatrolled waters of the Atlantic Coast. Some estimates suggest that they are removing two million dollars’ worth of ‘red gold’ (lobster and shrimp) annually. In 1993 foreign industrial fishing took 63 per cent of the shrimp catch.
Although the region is inaccessible it is not so isolated as to escape exploitation by transnational corporations. The once-lush rainforest has been extensively logged. Gold mines were sold last year for five million dollars to the Hunt Exploration and Mining Company and further concessions have been offered by the Government during the past two years.
Many of the 70,000 Miskitu Indians, who make up the largest group on the eastern seaboard of Nicaragua, fought on the side of the US-backed Contras during the war. Some of them feel that they could gain a larger slice of the resource pie by developing some form of indigenous capitalism. Armstrong Wiggins, a Miskitu leader who works at the Indian Law Resource Center in Washington DC, sees one of his tasks as ‘facilitating the process by which indigenous people can have private property if they want it’. Steadman Fagoth, another Miskitu leader, advocates bringing in foreign companies to create employment.
Not all the inhabitants of the region are so blasé about the plunder of natural resources. In mid-1992 a shrimp trawler was sunk by Miskitu ex-combatants using an RPG-7 rocker-propelled grenade after it had fished without a licence. Four American fisherpeople were kidnapped by a group calling themselves the Armed Indigenous Militias.
Many Miskitu are disillusioned with their leaders, believing that they are only interested in their own political positions – and pockets. In the meantime, there seems to be no end to the poverty.
The Development Set
Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet –
The Development Set is bright and noble,
In Sheraton hotels in scattered nations,
We discuss malnutrition over steaks
We bring in consultants whose
The language of the Development Set,
Development Set homes are extremely chic,
Enough of these verses – on with the mission!
‘I don’t care how much of a Lama he is, he still needs his mother. The monks are
spoiling him rotten and he is turning into a little tyrant rather than a little Buddha.’
Maria Torres on her son Osel, whom Tibetan monks believe
is a reincarnation of the Lama.
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995
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