Archive for June 10, 2012


2011-09-06

The new session of the Algerian parliament will discuss opening the audiovisual sector to private broadcasters, El Watan reported on Monday (September 5th). “For the first time, we will have a legislation dealing with the opening of broadcast media,” Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said Sunday, noting that the proposed information code revision also contains no restrictions on press freedoms.

Source: Magharebia.
Link: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/newsbriefs/general/2011/09/06/newsbrief-05.

The Mauritanian military is looking to put previous abuses behind it and pay recompense to those who were wronged.

By Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 06/09/11

The Mauritanian defense ministry began implementing a program late last month to compensate past victims of human rights abuses committed by the army.

The move follows a decision by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to pay damages to black military personnel who were either abused or arbitrarily dismissed during the 1981-2004 timeframe.

The defense ministry pledged to compensate the families of missing personnel, adding that the measure would include nearly a thousand soldiers of various ranks. Authorities have budgeted 8.5 billion ouguiyas (21 million euros) for the program which began August 28th.

“These decisions come in the framework of final settlement with the aim of putting an end once and for all for this dark page of the history of human rights violations in Mauritania, where injustice was done to individuals and whole families in society,” said Thiam Ousman, a brother of a soldier who was killed on charges of taking part in a coup attempt in the early 1990s.

For his part, General Ahmed Ould Bekrin, defense ministry secretary-general, said in press statements that the compensation follows the creation of a list of dead and missing from various actions of the Mauritanian army.

“It includes all those who were affected by the events that took place in Mauritania in 1981, 1982, 1989, 1990, 1991, 2003 and 2004 in the army, gendarme and national guard,” the general said. “Through that, we’re trying to make a final and comprehensive settlement of the human heritage file on the level of military institution.”

Ould Bekrin added that authorities agreed with families of the missing and those who were dismissed on the terms of a settlement, saying that they aimed to form “a consensus and a final solution”.

For his part, retired colonel Niang Abdelaziz, head of the League of Mauritanian Army Retirees, said that he was “very happy that such a humanitarian demand, which has always been raised by benevolent people in the Mauritanian society before the families of victims themselves, has been met”.

“I congratulate all Mauritanians, especially President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, on this courageous collective decision that will put an end to this file once and for all,” he said.

Aisata Diallo, wife of a victim who disappeared in 1990, said that “it’s very difficult to compensate for the death of someone who is dear to our hearts, like a husband or a son, especially if this was the result of injustice.”

“However, today I’m feeling happy for the first time since the disappearance of my husband in ambiguous circumstances. Receiving a financial compensation makes me feel that the current government cares about our ordeal and tries to fix mistakes that were made in the past,” Diallo said.

Family members of other victims echoed her sense of relief. “This step is some sort of rehabilitation for those who disappeared in ambiguous circumstances although they didn’t do anything wrong,” said Amadou Sow, whose father was killed. “It’s the mistakes of former regime, but those who forgive are generous and forgetting is a grace from God.”

“The decision of the current government in revealing the victims’ graves and giving financial assistance to their children and wives, and for compensating those who were laid off, is a generous gesture that makes us feel that Mauritania is a country for all in spite of its different cultures and ethnicities,” he added.

But not everyone was pleased by the conciliatory steps. A group of black military personnel abused during the 1990s objected to what they said was a “discriminatory nature” in resolving the claims.

“The settlement that the Mauritanian government committed itself to included only 5-10% of the victims” from the 1987-91 period, according to protestor Mansour Ba. He added that he submitted a list of other victims but it was not properly acted on.

Source: Magharebia.
Link: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2011/09/06/feature-07.

Youth volunteer campaigns, women’s demonstrations and the first independent newspaper mark life in Libya’s liberated capital.

By Essam Mohamed for Magharebia in Tripoli – 06/09/11

As Tripoli emerges from the debris of war, a new sense of solidarity and empowerment is being born in the liberated capital.

The young and the old raise the independence flag and distribute derogatory photos of their fugitive leader. City walls are adorned with pictures and slogans praising the revolution. Youths launch volunteer campaigns to clean the capital and spread pamphlets and posters to raise awareness. Activists call for an end to firing gunshots in the air and urge fighters to hand in weapons and educate young people about politics, elections and civil society.

Months-long food and fuel shortages took a heavy toll on the city economy but ordinary citizens have joined hands to overcome the destructive effects. Residents who own water wells in their homes shared with others. Mosque tanks were filled with water as it was distributed to residents in glass bottles. Young people engaged in volunteer programs at hospitals, doling out potable water and food to the needy.

Some police stations, especially the ones patrolling traffic, resumed their work. Rebels took charge of most of the city gates after they were manned by volunteers in a bid to ensure organized movement and maintain order as well as search for weapons.

Most stores opened their doors, barricades blocking roads were taken down, and the highway linking the eastern and western parts of the capital re-opened. Domestic gas supplies were also resumed, which eased long lines for petrol.

On the diplomatic front, the field commander and head of the Tripoli military council called on foreign missions to return to Tripoli after life returned to normal.

Not only did the revolution engender heightened political consciousness but it also inspired journalists’ creativity.

Arous al-Bahr (“Sea Bride”) is the first post-revolutionary newspaper to be published in Tripoli. The first eight-page issue included caricatures of Kadhafi, a poem by Khadija Abu Bakr named “The fall of tyrant” and a story by Tajoura rebel and former prisoner Boushra Marwan.

“The youth revolution was not launched to change Kadhafi, but to topple the regime in full and to set up a new regime where there is no place for bribery, favoritism, and dependence on tribe or clan; a regime that treats its people as equals,” editor-in-chief Fathi Ben Issa wrote.

“We have seen the result of our passiveness, silence and abstention from political participation for 42 years, and what was that result?” he wondered. “Everyone knows it. He took us as idiots, we obeyed him, and in this way, he destroyed us and our country. Therefore, shall we understand the lesson and put it before our eyes that there is no place for another dictator under any slogans?!”

In another article, the managing editor called on the February 17th youth to protect public and private properties from looting and vandalism.

Meanwhile, Tripoli women this week staged a massive demonstration in the Martyrs’ Square, demanding the arrest of Moamer Kadhafi, his sons and warlords. The women also expressed their recognition of the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people.

In another sign of a return to normalcy, Libya’s national football team played its first match under the independence flag and the first since Tripoli was freed from Kadhafi’s control. Cheering crowds gathered in the capital’s Martyrs’ Square to watch Libya take on Mozambique in qualifiers for the 2012 African Cup of Nations. Hundreds of fans chanted the Beladi national anthem and waved the independence flag.

Libya defeated Mozambique 1-0 after Rabie el-Lafi scored the lone match goal in the 30th minute with a pass from teammate Mohamed Al-Mughrabi. With the win, Libya now top Group C with 11 points from three victories and two draws. Next up Libya face Zambia this October.

Source: Magharebia.
Link: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2011/09/06/feature-03.

Despite diplomatic setbacks, Sahrawis are optimistic that the long-simmering conflict will come to an end.

By Najib Daymani for Magharebia in Laâyoune – 06/09/11

Years of confrontation and inconclusive diplomacy have many Sahrawis wondering whether the dormant dispute will finally be resolved.

The latest round of informal Western Sahara talks ended a few weeks ago in Manhasset, New York, with plans to continue the diplomatic dialogue after the autumn session of the United Nations General Assembly.

“By the end of the meeting, each party continued to reject the proposal of the other as the sole basis for future negotiations, while reiterating their willingness to work together to reach a political solution in conformity with the pertinent resolutions of the United Nations Security Council,” said UN Western Sahara Envoy Christopher Ross.

Sahrawis, meanwhile, grow increasingly impatient with the stalled negotiations. While some have little hope for their success, others are more sanguine, pinning hopes on the Western Sahara autonomy plan. The initiative, proposed by King Mohammed VI, calls for granting broad autonomy to Western Sahara within the context of extended regionalisation.

Some Sahrawis believe that the autonomy plan will help reunite their community dispersed between the Tindouf camps in south-western Algeria and the cities of the region. Magharebia spoke to Laâyoune residents to get their perspectives.

Mohammed Lamine Ould Didi, a desert tribal sheikh, believes that the parties to the conflict need to take into consideration the humanitarian dimension of the issue.

“The disintegration of Sahrawi families can’t be accepted for long,” he said. “Therefore, the two parties have to take this matter into consideration in the next rounds of negotiations and give it priority, if they really want to move ahead in reaching an agreement on this issue.”

For political science student Mahmoud, the real problem is the lack of political will to achieve a mutually acceptable solution that earns international legitimacy.

Both sides need to conform to the UN Security Council resolutions about the need to activate serious and acceptable ideas for progressing towards the final solutions, he argued. Each party is still adhering to a position which it is sure that the other party will not accept, he added.

“Meanwhile, thousands of Sahrawis are waiting for the unknown,” Mahmoud said.

“The solution is in the Sahrawis sitting alone on a negotiations table under the auspices of international community, away from Moroccan and Algerian differences, where they can reach solutions satisfactory to them,” said former prisoner Sayyid Ahmed. “In this way, the strategic conflicts that can prevent the Maghreb peoples from realizing full integration can be avoided.”

In his turn, Yahdhih, a returnee from the Tindouf refugee camps, argued that a free and fair referendum conducted under the auspices of international community could resolve the conflict, provided that the constituency is restricted to Sahrawis living in the conflict area only.

The autonomy proposal inspires hope, he said, because “it is an important concession on the part of Morocco in this issue after its intransigence about it”.

Source: Magharebia.
Link: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2011/09/06/feature-02.

by Fatima Sadiqi
06 September 2011

Fez, Morocco – The new reforms outlined in the June 2011 Moroccan constitution can be grouped in three major categories: separation of powers, independence of justice, and good governance. However there are other key reforms that have gotten less attention but will have a major impact on Moroccan society, including a recognition of Morocco’s multicultural roots, a greater recognition of gender equality and more freedom of speech.

While the new constitution provides much needed reform in these areas, the real work that needs to happen will be on the ground, in individual communities, translating these constitutional rights from rights on paper into rights in practice. Without a serious commitment to this work, these reforms will be void of meaning.

With these vast reforms, various groups who were previously overlooked or altogether ignored are now finding their issues at the forefront of the country’s politics. Take for example two once-marginalized groups: women and the Berber population (the indigenous peoples of North Africa). Their issues are now at the heart of the new Moroccan constitution.

The fate of women has been closely tied to the fate of the Berber population throughout Morocco’s history. Since the mid-1980s, activists have been increasingly demanding both the legal recognition of Berber as an official language and the legal rights of women.

These two demands are linked. Within Berber communities, women are the ones who preserve and transmit the language due to their family roles educating their children. As fewer women can read and write, they also preserve Berber’s oral tradition and are less likely to learn standard Arabic, the country’s official language.

The new reforms in the constitution institutionalize Berber as an official language (alongside Arabic) and reinforce the presence of this language in education and media. The constitution also institutionalizes gender equality by encouraging the creation of women’s rights organizations and giving women more legal rights – including the right to sue for divorce and to maintain custody over their children even if they remarry. All that is needed now is the political will to enact these gender and language reforms.

The slowness of the implementation of these reforms is largely due to a high rate of female illiteracy, poverty, and pervasive patriarchy, all of which constitute serious barriers to women’s position rising in society and their understanding of the reforms. Since the new Family Code was promulgated in 2004, the state has tried to overcome these barriers by facilitating access to justice by creating information centers for women, providing training sessions on women’s rights for lawyers and judges, creating family tribunals and hiring social workers to help women understand their rights.

The state’s current efforts are welcome but not sufficient. In order for women to be able to take advantage of these reforms, cultural attitudes about gender will have to shift.

Indeed the most important work is done by women’s non-governmental organizations and various feminist groups who not only make the government’s efforts viable but also create their own centers and training sessions for women.

For example, the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women and the Union for Feminine Action both aim to ensure the application of family code reforms by raising women’s own political awareness and alerting judges and lawyers about ways of dealing with culturally sensitive issues.

In the case of the Berber community, the Royal Institute for Amazigh [Berber] Culture (IRCAM) and other Berber NGOs have largely contributed to pushing the Berber issue in constitutional debates. However, the ministries of education and communication have been slow to respond.

In the long term, the implementation of gender and language reforms will need strong political will in the field of education and the media, because these are the two fields that shape individuals’ attitudes about gender and ethnic equality. Without changing attitudes, there will still be cultural resistance to equality. New measures such as providing schools with textbooks that promote gender equality and use both Berber and Arabic, alongside curricula that help foster these same ideals, will not only lead to a democratization of the Moroccan educational system, but also to a more realistic media system.

Additionally, more quality television programs in Berber are needed, as many Berber-speaking people are illiterate. The existing programs need to be augmented and the radio, television and newspaper outlets that have only have limited reach need to be given a wider audience.
If the state takes such measures, the recent reforms can have a real impact on the ground, where it matters.

Source: Common Ground.
Link: http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=30326.

June 09, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Bullets and shrapnel shells smashed into homes in the Syrian capital of Damascus overnight as troops battled rebels in the streets, a show of boldness for rebels taking their fight against President Bashar Assad to the center of his power.

For nearly 12 hours of fighting that lasted into the early hours Saturday, rebels armed mainly with assault rifles fought Syrian forces in the heaviest fighting in the Assad stronghold since the 15-month-old uprising began. U.N. observers said rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the local power plant, damaging parts of it and reducing six buses to charred shells, according to video the observers took of the scene.

Syrian forces showed the regime’s willingness to unleash such firepower in the capital: At least three tank shells slammed into residential areas in the central Damascus neighborhood of Qaboun, an activist said. Intense exchanges of assault-rifle fire marked the clash, according to residents and amateur video posted online.

At least 52 civilians were killed around the country outside Damascus on Saturday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based activist group. Among them were 20, including nine women and children, who died in heavy, pre-dawn shelling in the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. Six children were among 10 killed by a shell that exploded in a house they took cover in during fierce fighting in the coastal region of Latakia, the group said.

The group’s figures could not be independently confirmed. In a Daraa mosque, a father stood over his son killed in the shelling, swaddled in a blanket in a hooded sweater, amateur video showed. “I will become a suicide bomber!” the father shouted in grief.

Another video showed tens of thousands of Daraa residents burying their slain victims later Saturday — singing, dancing and parading the dead in coffins around a large square and giving the mass funeral the appearance of a mass wedding party.

The Damascus violence was a dramatic shift; the capital has been relatively quiet compared with other Syrian cities throughout the uprising. Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, the country’s largest, are under the firm grip of security forces.

The rebels’ brazenness in the Damascus districts underscored deep-seated Sunni anger against the regime, with residents risking their safety — and potentially their lives — to shelter the fighters. Residents burned tires to block the advance of Syrian troops, sending plumes of smoke into the air, amateur video showed.

Urban Sunni Syrians had once mostly stayed at arms’ length from their mostly rural compatriots leading the uprising, fearing the instability that their leaderless, chaotic movement would bring. But it appears a series of massacres of mainly Sunni peasants over the past few weeks have tipped some of their urban brethren in favor of the uprising. One rebel supporter in Qaboun said the recent mass killings made people see rebel fighters more as protectors against Assad’s forces.

“The regime has forced the rebels into the city. When they commit attacks, or massacres, or arrests, they come in to defend residents,” he said. The most recent mass killing was on Wednesday in central Syria, where activists say up to 78 people were hacked, burned and stabbed in the farming village of Mazraat al-Qubair. The opposition and regime have traded blame over the slayings.

“The heart of this revolt is the poor, jobless youth in the countryside. But that is gathering strength in other places, in Aleppo, in Damascus and even the Kurdish regions,” said Syria expert Joshua Landis.

“The psychological state of the people, after watching these massacres, is so far advanced. People are ready to do whatever it takes. They are frightened; it could come next to them.” The fighting began in two neighborhoods, Qaboun and Barzeh, during the day Friday, when troops opened fire on anti-Assad opposition gatherings and rebels responded, witnesses said. Blasts shook the districts until about 1:30 a.m. on Saturday. In the fringe neighborhood of Kfar Souseh, fighting began after rebels attacked a Syrian forces checkpoint.

At least five people were killed in Qaboun, according to an activist video that showed the bodies. Also Saturday, troops shelled parts of the central city of Homs, one of the main battlegrounds of the uprising, and stormed into the city’s posh neighborhood of Ghouta, conducting raids.

The latest escalations are another blow to international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, which aims to end the country’s bloodletting. Annan brokered a cease-fire that went into effect on April 12 but has since been violated nearly every day since.

Thousands have been killed since the crisis began in March last year. The U.N.’s latest estimate is 9,000 dead, but that is from April and it has been unable to update it. Syrian activists put the toll at more than 13,000.

Also Saturday, the foreign minister of Assad’s ally Russia said Moscow would continue to oppose the outside use of force, despite its growing concerns about the Syria conflict. Sergey Lavrov called for an international conference to galvanize commitment behind Annan’s plan.

Efforts by Western and Arab nations to help the opposition have been hampered by fragmentation amid the movement. The main opposition movement, the Syrian National Council, has been plagued by infighting.

The council was gathering Saturday in Turkey to elect a new leader nearly three weeks after its Paris-based president Burhan Ghalioun offered to step down over mounting criticism of his leadership. The vote had been expected late Saturday, but was postponed to Sunday with no immediate explanation.

The frontrunner to replace him was Abdulbaset Sieda, a member of Syria’s minority Kurd community, SNC spokeswoman Basma Kodmani told Associated Press Television. His elevation to the post could be part of an attempt to appeal to Syria’s significant Kurdish minority, which has largely stayed on the sidelines of the uprising. The community is deeply suspicious that Sunni Arabs who dominate the opposition will be no more likely to provide them greater rights than Assad’s regime has.

Also Saturday, U.N. observers in Syria to monitor the cease-fire issued the first independent video images from the scene of the reported massacre in Mazraat al-Qubair. The video, taken in the U.N. visit a day earlier, showed blood splashed on a wall pockmarked with bullet holes and soaking a nearby mattress. A shell punched through one wall of a house. Another home was burnt on the inside with dried blood was splashed on floors.

One man wearing a red-and-white checked scarf to cover his face, pointed at a 2008 calendar adorning a wall, bearing the photo of a lightly-bearded, handsome man. “This is the martyr,” the resident, sobbing. He sat on the floor, amid strewn colorful blankets, heaving with tears.

It was not immediately clear if he was a resident of the village or related to the man in the photograph. “They killed children,” said another unidentified resident. “My brother, his wife and their seven children, the oldest was in the sixth grade. They burnt down his house.”

Associated Press writer Selcan Hacaoglu contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.