News (handpicked)

New guide aims to benefit millions displaced in Africa's Great Lakes region

GENEVA: Following the entry into force in June 2008 of the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in Africa’s Great Lakes region (the Great Lakes Pact), the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) today release The Great Lakes Pact and the Rights of Displaced People: A Guide for Civil Society. The Guide aims to help organisations use the Great Lakes Pact to promote the rights of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in the region.

The Great Lakes Pact represents a commitment by the eleven member states of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) to work to end the conflicts which have plagued their region, and to cooperate on security, governance, development, humanitarian and social issues. The Pact has been ratified by Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, The Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Angola, Sudan and Zambia have yet to finalise the ratification process.

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Is this 21st-century apartheid?

The segregation and abuse of the low-caste Dalit people is a stain on India's reputation, but a militant fightback is under way. Eight people were convicted on Monday of the murder of four members of a lower-caste Dalit family in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.  Dalit farmer's wife, daughter and two sons were lynched and beaten to death by an upper-caste mob in a land dispute in 2006. The women were also raped. hat is unusual about this case is that the perpetrators were successfully prosecuted. Normally, the killers of Dalits walk free.

One reason why the murderers have been bought to justice is the rising tide of Dalit militancy. There has been a wave of mass demonstrations by Dalit people demanding justice and equal treatment. Newly confident and organised, the Dalits are fighting back with strikes and boycotts. Shaken by this burgeoning protest movement, some Indian authorities are finally being pushed and pressured into action, albeit slowly and exceptionally.

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Deadly traditions in Pakistan

Five Pakistani women were beaten, shot and buried alive in the tribal region of Baluchistan on July 13 of this year. The subsequent defence of these ‘honour’ killings from certain members of the Pakistan Senate has shocked the world. Dr Farzana Bari is a university professor and a human rights activist from Islamabad who is leading the outcry against these crimes. She tells of her reaction to the events

It was the Asian Human Rights Commission website that first alerted me to the fact that five women had been buried alive as part of an honour killing in the tribal area of Baluchistan – an atrocity beyond imagination. Within days this tragedy had been reported in the Pakistan national press and almost immediately Baluchistan’s Senator Yasmeen Shah took the case to the senate.

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Pillay urges protection amid sharp rise in Afghan civilian deaths

The top United Nations human rights official has called for ensuring the protection of Afghan civilians, as new figures show an almost 40 per cent increase in conflict-related deaths in the first eight months of 2008 compared to the same period last year. The human rights unit of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded a total of 1,445 civilian casualties in the first eight months of this year, an increase of 39 per cent compared to the same period in 2007, when there were 1,040 deaths.

“I call on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, and to ensure every effort is made to avoid the killing of civilians,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay.

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Zimbabwe victims demand justice

As Zimbabwe's erstwhile political rivals and now comrades in government were signing a power-sharing deal in a luxury Harare hotel, many political activists and their families remain consumed by their grief. One opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) official, who I met as he showed me the burned huts of party sympathisers during the worst days of the violence, feels there is a strong sense of betrayal over what MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai did to become prime minister.

"I now know one thing - all my friends died for nothing. Betta, Solja, Tatenda, Gift - all of them died for nothing.

"The people who always talk about the heroic dead, like Mugabe, are very alive. Next time there is a war over voting or democracy, I want to be a hero but I want to stay alive."

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Medvedev: Russia to Pull Forces from Georgian Buffer Zone

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, listens to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, at the presidential residence, 08 Sep 2008

Russia has agreed to pull its troops from a buffer zone around the Georgian breakaway territory of South Ossetia.Russian President Dmitri Medvedev announced the agreement in a joint new conference in Moscow Monday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.  Mr. Medvedev said the withdrawal will begin as soon as international peacekeepers are in place.

Mr. Sarkozy told reporters all Russian forces will leave core Georgia within one month.Mr. Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, drew up last month's cease-fire agreement between Georgia and Russia.

Russia insists its remaining troops in and near the Georgian breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are functioning as peacekeepers who are complying with the cease-fire.  But Georgia accuses Moscow of violating the cease-fire by deploying additional troops to key checkpoints in Georgian territory.

Mr. Sarkozy travels to Tbilisi later today for talks with Georgian leaders.Russian forces pushed into Georgia last month after the Georgian military tried to retake control of South Ossetia. Russia has since recognized the  independence of both territories, drawing widespread international condemnation.  Nicaragua is the only other country besides Russia to recognize the regions.

Separately, the International Court of Justice in The Hague opened a hearing on Georgia's bid for emergency measures to halt what the Tbilisi government calls Russia's "ethnic cleansing" in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Human Rights Watch warns of backlash to rising Afghan deaths

KABUL (AFP) — Civilian deaths from international air strikes in Afghanistan nearly tripled between 2006 and 2007 with new deadly strikes fuelling a public backlash, Human Rights Watch said Monday. Insurgents were also guilty of causing civilian deaths by using ordinary people as "human shields" against troops, including by deploying into villages, the New York-based rights group said in a report.

But the international forces, and the US military in particular, needed to "end the mistakes that are killing so many civilians," Asia director Brad Adams warned in a statement accompanying the report. "Mistakes by the US and NATO have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans," he said. "Civilian deaths from air strikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan."

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Caught in the Cross-Fire

, are paying a deadly price in the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. America is fast losing the battle for hearts and minds, and unless the Pentagon comes up with a better strategy, the United States and its allies may well lose the war.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 540 Afghan civilians died in fighting related to the conflict in the first seven months of this year. It says the Taliban were responsible for 367 of those deaths; 119 Afghans died in United States and NATO airstrikes, while 54 died in other American and NATO attacks.

The group’s numbers for American and NATO-caused civilian deaths were much higher last year — 434 deaths, including 321 from airstrikes — but the 2008 figures are still unacceptably high. And they do not count an airstrike last month in which Afghan officials charge that 95 people died. Washington disputes that number, and there needs to be a credible investigation.

Afghans once looked on American troops as their liberators, but far too many have come to see them as enemies. Add to that the corruption and incompetence of the government of Afghanistan’s American-backed president, Hamid Karzai, and we fear Afghans are being driven back into the hands of the repressive Taliban.

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