Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Whale

This is such an incredibly beautiful story that I wanted to share it. It came at a moment when I was feeling overwhelmed. I was so touched by the beauty of the story that my heart was lifted! The source is the blog of Rev. William Sinkford, Senior Minister at First Unitarian Church in Portland.

Q When was the last time your heart was lifted?

Q what was the source of that great feeling and how can you create more opportunities?

Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

...The Whale...
If you read a recent front page story of the San Francisco Chronicle, you would have read about a female humpback whale who had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines.

She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, a line tugging in her mouth.

A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farallon Islands (outside the Golden Gate ) and radioed an environmental group for help. Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her. They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her.

When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, and nudged them, pushed them gently around as she was thanking them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives. The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth said her eyes were following him the whole time, and he will never be the same.

May you, and all those you love, be so blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by people who will help you get untangled from the things that are binding you. And, may you always know the joy of giving and receiving gratitude. I pass this on to you, my friends, in the same spirit.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Honor Killing in Pakistan

Nineteen years ago I attended the Global Women's Leadership Institute with women activists from around the world. Hina Jilani, a Pakistani lawyer was working with women to address some of the gender inequities in her country. Today she continues her much needed work. Below you can read about the heart breaking problem of honor killings in Pakistan.

Q. In what ways can you speak out and stand up for individuals subjected to injustices?
Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

Eight of the women who sought refuge in Hina Jilani's Lahore shelter died later at the hands of their families. In the second part of our investigation, the lawyer explains how authorities covered up.

"So far, I've lost eight women from my shelter," Hina Jilani says. "One went out for a job in town, she left our shelter, got on a bus – and was gunned down by her brother. Her name was Shagofta, she was in her late twenties. She had already married the man she loved but the parents had disapproved. Her brother got straight off the bus and went to the police station and gave himself up. But his father – Shagofta's father – 'forgave' him. So he was let off. And nothing happened."

Ms Jilani is a tough, brave lawyer with a harsh way of describing the "honour killing" – the murder – of young women. She has to be tough, given the death threats she's received from Pakistan's Islamists. She speaks with contempt for the families who murder their women – with even more contempt for the police and the judges who allow the killers to go free. Pakistan has the grotesque reputation of being one of the leading "honour-killing" countries in the world.

"Some of the women in our Dastak shelter in Lahore left us after assurances from their families that they would not be harmed," Ms Jilani says. "We always tell the women not to accept these assurances. In the Lahore High Court, I was sitting there when the judge was insisting that a women from our shelter should go back to her parents. The more the judge insisted, the more the woman resisted. He made her sit in his chambers and then in the court. And then, as she left the High Court gate, they shot her down. The judge said nothing."

Before he resigned in 2008, President Pervez Musharraf was asked why nothing had been done to alleviate the plight of women in Pakistan. There was no money available, the General said. But Pakistan had to spend money on nuclear and conventional weapons "in order to live honourably". National honour, it seemed, mattered more than the lives and honour of the women of Pakistan.

In Ms Jilani's office in Lahore, where fans whirl against the heat in small rooms crammed with legal files, faded documents and trilling telephones, an armed guard sits at the door. "The eight women from our shelter who were murdered – this has become a big scandal," Ms Jilani says, her voice rising as her anger rekindles itself. "There is a law in this country – it's always the family that conspires to kill, so if the father or brother kills, the family forgives him and there's no charge. The law says there can be a 'compromise' at any stage without any evidence coming into court. The trial simply stops if there is a compromise. The court has to give its permission for a compromise – but it always gives permission. This means an automatic acquittal. This means that there is no stain on the murderers."

Ms Jilani went to the police after Shagofta was killed by her brother on the Lahore bus. "We asked them what they were doing. They said the family had forgiven the brother. 'We have no power now to investigate,' they said. I sent this to the Commission on the Status of Women – and they took this case up with the Inspector General of Punjab. So far, there has been no response. I sent letters to the IG myself. Then he said that the 'investigation' was still going on. But there was no 'evidence' – of course not, because the girl was killed, as they say, 'in the heart of the family'."

Ms Jilani sighs, often. Sitting in the chair opposite her desk at the end of her office, listening to her furious indignation, I get the impression – indeed, I have the absolute conviction – that she faces a set of Islamist laws going back to the time of another dictator, Zia al-Haq, that are constantly undermining her lawyer's soul.

"There was a girl here and she wanted to marry against her parents' wishes. So her brother killed her husband-to-be. He went to jail after being sentenced to 14 years. He wanted to go after the girl, his sister. She sought shelter here with us. Her family blame her because her brother is in jail.

"To this day, we don't know what to do with the girl. She is now doing secretarial work here in our office. She has enough economic independence. But her fiancé's family have no sympathy with her because their son is dead. And her protection is the duty of the state – not mine. She's been here in the office for two years now. Our office guard brings her here and back to the shelter every day."

One of the most savage of all the "honour" murders was committed in the very office in which we are sitting. A decade ago, it brought world publicity and caused international outrage – which had not the slightest effect. The killing of Samia Sarwar still haunts Ms Jalani. "She was shot where you are sitting," she said. "I saw the holes in her head. Her brains were on the wall behind you."

Most "honour" crimes are committed by the poor and deprived. But 29-year-old Samia was the daughter of Haj Ghulam Sarwar, a rich man and head of the Peshawar chamber of commerce in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Her mother was a doctor. Samia was married to her aunt's son. The couple had two children, the elder nine years old.

She claimed that her husband beat her constantly and wanted to leave home, and her father invited her to return to her family home – on the condition that she did not remarry. But Samia fell in love with an army officer, Nadir, told her parents about him and asked them to secure a divorce.

Mr Sarwar refused, on the grounds that this would split the family. Then Samia eloped with Nadir. Threatened by the father, she fled to Lahore – and to Ms Jilani's shelter. Under the rules of the Dastak shelter, Samia's mother was told her daughter was in Lahore.

"First an official came to see me from the North West Frontier Province," Ms Jilani recalls. "He was a scoundrel. He demanded that Samia return to her family. I said, 'That's her decision'. Her father came to Lahore. I told Samia that he wanted to see her. Her hands were trembling – like this." And here Ms Jalani shakes her hands over her desk. "She told me, 'Madam, they will kill me, they will kill me.' You learn to believe what these women say. I believed her. I always tell my colleagues: never think the woman is exaggerating her fears."

Samia's parents appointed one of Ms Jilani's legal colleagues to represent them to plead for a meeting with their daughter. Samia refused. Then her mother called by phone, offering to give her divorce papers so she could marry Nadir. Samia – fatally, as it turned out – trusted her mother's word. According to Ms Jilani, Samia told her: "I will see my mother – but she must come alone. I will only meet her in your presence." The meeting was set for mid-afternoon in the lawyer's office. The armed guard was told to ensure nobody arrived with a weapon.

"I was sitting here and she was sitting there, where you are. We were chatting about her case. The office staff were leaving – it was around 4pm – and suddenly the door opened and this woman entered with a man. I didn't recognise the man. Someone from my office brought them both. But there had been a security lapse as the office was closing. The woman said, 'This is my driver.' I looked up and said, 'You can send your driver away now – come and sit down.'

"Samia didn't apprehend any danger. She said 'Salaam aleikum' to her mother. And just as she said that, this man whipped out a pistol – in a split second, just as Samia was greeting her mother – and shot her. I was still sitting down and I felt the bullet go past my ear. He shot Samia in the head the first time, then in the stomach. I saw her fall down." Ms Jilani says she collapsed in shock but managed to press the security alarm.

"I could see Samia was dead – she had a hole in her head and her brains were coming out. Some of my staff came. But the mother, she just looked at her daughter. Then she turned round and walked out. She and the man with the pistol went to the door, and I shouted, 'Call the police.' The man was holding another of my lawyers at gunpoint. Then he shot at the office guard, who fired back. The gunman was carrying an ID card which said he was an official driver in the North West Frontier Province."

To this day, Ms Jilani is overwhelmed not just by the failure of security in her office – it was presumably the armed guard who let the uncle in – but the growing suspicion that the police were somehow involved. "When I called the Inspector General," she says, "he said he'd be here in a minute. Then after 10 minutes, the senior superintendent of police was here. The mother first went to a local hotel and then ran away to Peshawar. Within an hour, the police knew who she was – but they let her leave the city. The police must have known. In fact, the only police officer who tried to investigate this was transferred to another city."

Ms Jilani went to court – "an ideal case for prosecution," she thought – but discussions dragged on for two years. Samia's family even claimed that Ms Jilani had abducted the girl and had her killed. Then the police accepted that her mother was not present in the lawyer's office – a palpable untruth. Finally, the mother and father and the man who was still Samia's husband filed a "compromise" on behalf of all their children, forgiving the killing. The judge accepted the compromise.

The family later claimed Samia's body from the police station and took it to Peshawar for burial. Two days after her murder, the local Women's Action Group, said they would hold prayers for Samia, even without her body. "I asked Maulavi Farouq Mawdadi to say the prayers," Ms Jilani remembers, "and there were up to 300 women there, and Mawdadi conducted our prayers on the Lahore Mall. There were many police watching us – but then some of the policewomen and a few policemen joined in our prayers. This was a turning point.

"Then what happens? The court said there was a 'technical problem' with my appeal. I went right up to the Supreme Court but they said I was a pro formal complainant. They said, 'You are not an aggrieved party.' It became a burning issue. There was a resolution put before the Pakistan Senate condemning honour killings."

So what did happen? The resolution of Senator Syed Iqbal Haider, of the Pakistan People's Party, was supported by 19 of his colleagues. But the rest of the house opposed the resolution. Mr Haider was himself threatened and Ms Jilani received many death threats from Islamist groups.

Nadir, the man Samia wished to marry, was dismissed from the Pakistan army for "lowering morale". He is now married with two children and is believed to be living in Britain.

Ms Jilani has been told that Samia's mother has "gone mad with grief and guilt". When I visited Peshawar and asked to visit Samia's grave, I was told that its location was "unknown".

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Global Statistics on Violence Against Women

The World Health Organization has what I hope you will find to be alarming statistics on the frequency and nature of violence committed against women globally. As we prepare to close out 2010 and begin a new year let us commit to eliminating violence in the world beginning with that committed against women, children and the elderly.

Q What can you do to learn more about this issue and to cast your lot with those who are most vulnerable?

Q How can you educate your family and friends about the unacceptability of violence?
Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

Key facts:
Violence against women is a major public health problem and a violation of human rights.
Lack of access to education and opportunity, and low social status in communities are linked to violence against women.
Violence by an intimate partner is one of the most common forms of violence against women.
A wide range of physical, mental, sexual and reproductive, and maternal health problems can result from violence against women.
Many women do not seek help or report violence when it occurs.


The United Nations defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

There are many forms of violence against women, including sexual, physical, or emotional abuse by an intimate partner; physical or sexual abuse by family members or others; sexual harassment and abuse by authority figures (such as teachers, police officers or employers); trafficking for forced labour or sex; and such traditional practices as forced or child marriages, dowry-related violence; and honour killings, when women are murdered in the name of family honour. Systematic sexual abuse in conflict situations is another form of violence against women.

Scope of the problem
In a 10-country study on women's health and domestic violence conducted by WHO,
Between 15% and 71% of women reported physical or sexual violence by a husband or partner.
Many women said that their first sexual experience was not consensual. (24% in rural Peru, 28% in Tanzania, 30% in rural Bangladesh, and 40% in South Africa).
Between 4% and 12% of women reported being physically abused during pregnancy. More about the study
Every year, about 5,000 women are murdered by family members in the name of honour each year worldwide.
Trafficking of women and girls for forced labour and sex is widespread and often affects the most vulnerable.
Forced marriages and child marriages violate the human rights of women and girls, yet they are widely practiced in many countries in Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
Worldwide, up to one in five women and one in 10 men report experiencing sexual abuse as children. Children subjected to sexual abuse are much more likely to encounter other forms of abuse later in life.
Health effects
Health consequences can result directly from violent acts or from the long-term effects of violence.

Injuries: Physical and sexual abuse by a partner is closely associated with injuries. Violence by an intimate partner is the leading cause of non-fatal injuries to women in the USA.
Death: Deaths from violence against women include honour killings (by families for cultural reasons); suicide; female infanticide (murder of infant girls); and maternal death from unsafe abortion.
Sexual and reproductive health: Violence against women is associated with sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS, unintended pregnancies, gynaecological problems, induced abortions, and adverse pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage, low birth weight and fetal death.
Risky behaviours: Sexual abuse as a child is associated with higher rates of sexual risk-taking (such as first sex at an early age, multiple partners and unprotected sex), substance use, and additional victimization. Each of these behaviours increases risks of health problems.
Mental health: Violence and abuse increase risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep difficulties, eating disorders and emotional distress.
Physical health: Abuse can result in many health problems, including headaches, back pain, abdominal pain, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, limited mobility, and poor overall health.
Social and economic costs
The social and economic costs of violence against women are enormous and have ripple effects throughout society. Women may suffer isolation, inability to work, loss of wages, lack of participation in regular activities, and limited ability to care for themselves and their children.

Who is at risk?
Though risk factors vary, some characteristics seem to increase the likelihood of violence. The potential risk factors can be grouped into the following subsets.

Individual: Personal attributes associated with higher risk of violence include: limited education, a young age, lower socio-economic status, limited education, a history of abuse and substance use, and, for partner violence, the choice of partner. Partner traits that put women at risk include alcohol or drug use, low educational level, negative attitudes about women, and witnessing domestic violence against women or being abused as a child.
Family and relationship: Within families, risk of violence increases with marital conflicts, male dominance, economic stress and poor family functioning.
Community: Within communities, the risk is higher where there is gender inequality, and a lack of community cohesion or resources.
Societal: On a broader level, higher risk is found in societies with traditional gender norms or a lack of autonomy for women, and where there are restrictive laws on divorce and ownership and inheritance of property, or when there is social breakdown due to conflicts or disasters.
Prevention and response
Further evaluation is needed to assess the effectiveness of violence prevention measures. Interventions with promising results include increasing education and opportunities for women and girls, improving their self-esteem and negotiating skills, and reducing gender inequities in communities.

Other efforts with positive outcomes include: work with teenagers to reduce dating violence; programmes that support children who have witnessed intimate partner violence; mass public education campaigns; and work with men and boys to change attitudes towards gender inequities and the acceptability of violence.

Advocacy for victims, better awareness of violence and its consequences among health workers, and wider knowledge of available resources for abused women (including legal assistance, housing and child care), can lessen the consequences of violence.

Georgia Prison Strike

"Prison is the everyday reality lived by a huge swath of the population (roughly one in one hundred, according to recent surveys) The impact of prison labor, however, leaves a hidden imprint on our economy as well."

Years ago I worked to reform prisons and to raise the awareness of the conditions of Georgia prisoners. Ironically, I am visiting family in Georgia this week during one of the largest organized and peaceful prison protests in this country. And yet there appears to be a media "black out" around the country concerning this historic action. Below you can read about the development of the strike and in coverage by an "alternative media" source.

Q when was the last time you opened your heart up to those behind bars?

Q Are you one of the millions of individuals in this country who has a loved one behind bars?

Q How can we reform our prison system while also sending a clear message that we are in this together and that the safety of our communities and the well being of all citizens is a priority.

Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

Published on Friday, December 17, 2010 by In These Times
Georgia Prison Strike: A Hidden Labor Force Resists
by Michelle Chen

Last week a diverse group of nonviolent protesters across Georgia stood up for their rights, calling for decent wages, better social services and respect for their civil liberties. It didn't take long for the government to crack down on the demonstrations, however: the protesters were already in prison.

Prison is the everyday reality lived by a huge swath of the population (roughly one in one hundred, according to recent surveys) The impact of prison labor, however, leaves a hidden imprint on our economy as well.The uprising of Georgia inmates on December 9 defied the stereotype of the chaotic "prison riot" in the public imagination. Yet neither did "Lockdown for Liberty" fit within the conventional model of civil disobedience or industrial action. But when the inmates in at least six different prisons refused to leave their cells to report to work and other activities that day, a strike began. And it effectively paralyzed a small chunk of the bureaucratic monstrosity of America's prison system.

The incarcerated have historically filled the dregs of the American workforce, an emblem of racial subjugation often invisible in the politics of labor and social policy. It was against this hidden legacy of exploitation that the Georgia inmates, with the support of the NAACP and other civil rights advocates, raised issues common to incarcerated people nationwide: abusive treatment, degrading living conditions, a lack of accountability in the administration and parole authorities, and a lack of basic educational and social services (see below).

Pointedly invoking the term "slave" to describe the circumstances under which they toiled, the strikers showed how historically entrenched racial divisions play out today in the black-white disparities throughout the criminal justice system. Still, Georgia protesters included Latinos and whites as well as blacks, in a joint effort to resist and challenge structural injustices.

Their demands were hardly radical, but rather, embodied mainstream standards for reasonable and humane treatment: protection from cruel and unusual punishment by officers, affordable medicine when they're sick, and above all, fair pay for their labor. According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, "state law forbids paying inmates except for one limited program."

Final Call quoted reports trickling out from inmates earlier this week:

One brother told me, ‘We will ride until the wheels fall off,' and that's been the sentiment amongst the men when they started this," said Elaine Brown, a spokesperson for the strike... Part of our purpose for doing this is that

Georgia is the only state that does not pay it's inmates at all. Some guys in here work seven days a week and they don't get a dime," said Dondito, one of the strikers, who requested anonymity.

You can almost hear the zero-tolerance conservatives in Washington now: how dare these criminals demand better treatment from the state? The official reaction was to immediately curtail what few resources the inmates possess. According to news reports, prison staff locked down four facilities, attempted to transfer out the leading troublemakers, cut off the hot water, and revoked cell phone privileges (yes, according to Facing South, "Cell phones are contraband in Georgia's prisons, but widely available for sale from correctional officers.")

The strike was called off after six days, following reports of violent crackdowns and rising fears that the situation would escalate. But by then, the inmates had made their mark with one of the largest prison protests in U.S. history. The decision to end the strike, moreover, seems like the beginning of another phase in the inmates' collective action, now that they've caught national political attention. The AJC reported:

an inmate at Smith State Prison in Glenville said in a telephone interview prisoners had agreed to end their "non-violent" protest to allow administrators time to focus on their concerns rather than operating the institutions without inmate labor.

"We've ended the protest," said Mike, a convicted armed robber who was one of the inmates who planned and coordinated the work stoppage. "We needed to come off lock down so we can go to the law library and start ... the paperwork for a [prison conditions] lawsuit.
The proactive militancy of the strike organizers underscores the the fact that the entire action not only proceeded largely without violence, but also spread rapidly through several institutions thanks to careful planning and clandestine technology--messages spread via cell, expanding the traditional jailhouse grapevine.

It may be a while before we see another prisoner strike going viral, as the potential for prison-based activism remains constrained by the criminal-justice power structure. But the Georgia inmates helped change the public face of Americans who've been caught up in the country's incarceration industry. Under the most oppressive of conditions, they used disciplined strike tactics to align their grievances with broader struggles for human rights.

It makes sense. Prison is the everyday reality lived by a huge swath of the population (roughly one in one hundred, according to recent surveys) Meanwhile, the impact of prison labor leaves a hidden imprint on our economy as well. Noah Zatz of UCLA Law School has estimated that:

well over 600,000, and probably close to a million, inmates are working full time in jails and prisons throughout the United States. Perhaps some of them built your desk chair: office furniture, especially in state universities and the federal government, is a major prison labor product. Inmates also take hotel reservations at corporate call centers, make body armor for the U.S. military, and manufacture prison chic fashion accessories, in addition to the iconic task of stamping license plates.

As a captive workforce and disenfranchised populace, the prison system reaches deep into American society, and the distance between the people on the inside and those on the outside is increasingly a matter of luck--whether you're unfortuate enough to have been born the wrong color or in the wrong neighborhood. If the movement launched by the Georgia inmates, and their demands for dignity, look surprisingly familiar, there's a good reason for that: they are us.

For more information, follow the Black Agenda Report's ongoing coverage of the Georgia prison activists.

Prisoner DemandsThe nine specific demands made by Georgia's striking prisoners in two press releases pointedly reflect many of the systemic failures of the U.S. regime of mass incarceration, and the utter disconnection of U.S. prisons from any notions of protecting or serving the public interest. The strikers' demands, which they continue to press with state officials, are as follows:

A LIVING WAGE FOR WORK: In violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, the DOC demands prisoners work for free.

EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES: For the great majority of prisoners, the DOC denies all opportunities for education beyond the GED, despite the benefit to both prisoners and society.

DECENT HEALTH CARE: In violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments, the DOC denies adequate medical care to prisoners, charges excessive fees for the most minimal care and is responsible for extraordinary pain and suffering. AN END TO CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENTS: In further violation of the Eighth Amendment, the DOC is responsible for cruel prisoner punishments for minor infractions of rules.

DECENT LIVING CONDITIONS: Georgia prisoners are confined in over-crowded, substandard conditions, with little heat in winter and oppressive heat in summer.

NUTRITIONAL MEALS: Vegetables and fruit are in short supply in DOC facilities while starches and fatty foods are plentiful.

VOCATIONAL AND SELF-IMPROVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES: The DOC has stripped its facilities of all opportunities for skills training, self-improvement and proper exercise.

ACCESS TO FAMILIES: The DOC has disconnected thousands of prisoners from their families by imposing excessive telephone charges and innumerable barriers to visitation.

JUST PAROLE DECISIONS: The Parole Board capriciously and regularly denies parole to the majority of prisoners despite evidence of eligibility.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Systemic Intimate Violence

Bonita Myersfeld, Esq. author of Domestic Violence and International Law

The Application of International Law to Systemic Intimate Violence by Bonita Meyersfeld, Esq.

The following essay was written by Bonita Meyersfeld and is based on her recently published book, Domestic Violence and International Law . Her argument for the application of international law expands the issue of domestic violence to the framework of international human rights law. While this conceptualization is not new her analysis is a more nuanced one that asserts that domestic violence is a violation of international human rights law based on the failure of the state to protect women, a vulnerable group of individuals from harm. She further argues in her book that international law is applicable whether the violence is perpetrated by the state or private "actors" and that in instances where such violence occurs the state has breached its obligation to protect victims of systemic intimate violence against human rights violations. Meyersfeld identifies five "co-existing elements" that constitute systemic intimate violence in her essay below.

Question: what would you say to an individual that is experiencing violence at the hand of their partner, parent, or caretaker? I invite you to locate the nearest domestic violence shelter and inquire about volunteer opportunities. The orientation alone will provide an invaluable understanding about this problem which impacts millions of individuals each year in this country and around the world. Remember, everyone deserves to live violence free!
Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

The application of international law to domestic violence raises both intuitive and intellectual questions. Is there a right to be free from domestic violence in international law? If there is such a right, what is its substance? And wherever there is a right, of course, we search for the corresponding legal obligation. How do we categorise that obligation in international law and to whom does this obligation apply? Finally, the most intuitive and human of all questions, how can the broad – and by definition – global network of international law possibly assist people in the most intimate and private contexts of their lives?
I address these problems in the book Domestic Violence and International Law. The book emanates from the tragic uniformity of domestic violence stories by women around the world. Equally disquieting is the uniformity of the state’s non-response. In the face of severe acts of domestic violence, including battering, breaking, burning, raping, hacking forced sexual encounters with third parties, threats of harm, verbal denigration and murder, the state is silent. The remedies that exist in the public world simply fail to permeate into the private sphere to attenuate intimate harm.

In this discussion, I will consider firstly whether there is an authoritative right in international law to be free from domestic violence and, if so, what the substance of that right should be. I then consider the corresponding state obligation. And finally I address the most intuitive question, namely, how can international law benefit victims and survivors of systemic intimate violence?
Assessing the existence of a right in international law is difficult. There is no central law-making authority. According to the statute of the International Court of Justice (art 38), there are four sources of international law, namely, treaties, customary international law, the law of (so-called) civilised nations and finally, the jurisprudence of courts and tribunals and the writings of respected scholars. In the book I analyse these sources of law and conclude that, on a strict, black letter legal analysis, it is not clear that there is an authoritative principle in international law that states have an obligation to prevent domestic violence; however, I argue that we are in the amorphous process of norm crystallisation. We are on an irreversible trajectory towards an obligation in international law on states to protect victims and survivors of domestic violence.
This is evident from the following developments in international law. The first is the work of the special rapporteur on torture, who categorises domestic violence as a form of torture, prohibited under the Torture Convention. The second is the landmark ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the ‘Cotton Field’ case, in which the Court held that Mexico was in breach of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and the Convention of Belem do Para for failing to investigate the disappearance and murder of women over a period of 15 years. Many of these deaths and mutilations were linked to domestic violence. There are also intense developments in Europe. In 2005 the Council of Europe Task Force to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence (EG-TFV) was established. This has led to developments regarding the adoption of a Europe-wide treaty regarding violence against women and domestic violence (the second draft of a CoE convention against violence against women has been distributed). The final important development is the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Opuz v Turkey (which has previously been discussed on this blog here), where the Court held that Turkey’s failure to respond to twelve years of domestic violence amounted to a violation of the right to life (art 2 of the European Convention); a violation of the right to be free from torture and ill-treatment (art 3 of the European Convention); and a violation of the right to non-discrimination on the basis of sex (art 14).
If we are to take steps to formalise an authoritative international law obligation on states to prevent and respond to domestic violence, it is important to specify the details of the right and the corresponding duty. As regards the right, I propose that not all forms of domestic violence should trigger the provisions of international law. Rather, it is a specific type of violence, what I refer to as systemic intimate violence, which warrants the application of international law. Systemic intimate violence consists of five co-existing elements. The first element is severity – the harm must be severe and can consist of both physical and non-physical violence. There are two important points to make here. I am not suggesting that severity of harm is a test for all forms of domestic violence. Rather it is severity of harm that is an element for systemic intimate violence under international law. This is uncomfortable but necessary. International law regularly distinguishes between degrees of harm (torture v ill-treatment; genocide v murder; mass rape v rape) and it is a form of prolonged, severe harm that triggers in global network of law. If domestic violence is attended to by the state, then in essence the right to protection has been fulfilled. What we examine in international law is where prolonged, severe harm is unaddressed. The test for severity in international law is an objective one (A v United Kingdom) and we ask whether the humiliation to the victim is so intense that a reasonable person would be outraged (Prosecutor v Aleksovski). The following stories of torture, compared to stories of domestic violence, are informative:

I was lying on the floor, two guards held my legs while another kicked me in the testicles. I would lose consciousness and come to, I lost consciousness four times. They hit me around the head, there was blood. They would beat me unconscious and wait until I came round: ‘He’s woken up, and they would come in and beat me [again].
-- Chechnyan survivor of torture by the Russian Army

From the moment Rodi Adalí Alvarado Peña married a Guatemalan army officer at the age of 16, she was subjected to intensive abuse, and all her efforts to get help were unsuccessful. Her husband raped her repeatedly, attempted to abort their second child by kicking her in the spine, dislocated her jaw, tried to cut off her hands with a machete, kicked her in the vagina and used her head to break windows.

-- Guatemalan Woman

[F]irst they would beat you and then you would have to lie down on the floor and crawl to them. You would have to say, “Request permission to crawl.” Me personally, they beat me on the knees, with clubs, and on the kidneys.

-- Chechnyan survivor of torture by the Russian Army

He was sittin’ on the bed. Had his .357 Magnum. He said, ‘June, you get down on this floor right now. You crawl to me.’ And when I got to his feet he took that pistol and hit me right alongside of the head. I thought I was gonna die. I still got the knot from it. He said, ‘if you even act like you’re gonna run I’ll blow your brains all over this wall.’

-- American Woman

The theme of severity of harm that is so intense that it would outrage the reasonable person, is evident.
The second element is that the violence usually operates on a continuum. The exigency of harm may not be in individual incident but in prolonged frequency of events. This is particularly important in domestic violence where violence is cyclical and individual acts seem benign but actually occur along a continuum of control and impotence. The notion of a continuum of harmful incidences was confirmed by the ICTY, noting that it was “sufficient to show that an act took place in the context of an accumulation of acts of violence which, individually, may vary greatly in nature and gravity”(Prosecutor v Kunarac). This element also featured in the Opuz decision: “Although there were intervals between the impugned events… the overall violence to which the applicant and her mother were subjected over a long period of time cannot be seen as individual and separate episodes and must therefore be considered together as a chain of connected events.”
The third element of systemic intimate violence is that intimacy. This is an important element for several reasons. The intimacy of helps to ‘disappear’ the violence, preventing the abused from reporting it and the authorities from recognising it. The reality, however, is that the highest rate of violence against women occurs in private relationships. Privacy presents an additional problem: the constitutional right to privacy traditionally is understood as a negative obligation to refrain from interfering with one’s private affairs. However, the ECtHR (Bevacqua and S v Bulgaria and Opuz v Turkey) and the CEDAW Committee (Yildirim v Austria; Goekce v Austria) have recognised that the right to privacy is also a positive obligation to secure the private realm so that individuals may flourish. Privacy cannot be understood merely as a right to be left alone; it is linked affirmatively to the right to liberty, the right to autonomy and self-determination.
The fourth element is group vulnerability. This is not to say that women have some essentialized element of vulnerability and weakness but rather that the legal system, to which women look for assistance, often is inert. Women as a group are affected by domestic violence more than any other group (such as children, the elderly, the disabled, men and non-human animals) and the greatest cause of death and disability among women aged 15-44 worldwide – more than HIV, TB and malaria – is domestic violence.
The final element is that of state failure. In the face of extreme or continued violence, in the private realm, occurring repeatedly against a particular social group, the state is unable or unwilling to respond. This is evidenced by the sad cases of Kontrova v Slovakia and Opuz v Turkey, where the claimants in both cases suffered years of severe physical and non-physical violence, resulting in the death of their children and mother, respectively.
These are the elements of systemic intimate violence.
The next step is to identify the principles of state responsibility in international law and how they might apply in the context of systemic intimate violence. The principles of state responsibility are codified in the International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts. In order to determine whether a state has committed an international wrongful act, there must be (i) conduct and (ii) wrongfulness. A state can be responsible for both positive acts and for omissions or a failure to act. In the Corfu Channel case, the ICJ held that Albania had known that there were mines in its territorial waters and had failed to notify third parties about this danger. As a result, Albania had committed an internationally wrong act, not because it had laid the mines but because it has failed to warn third parties about their presence.
If the state fails to act where it has an international legal obligation to do so, the wrongfulness test asks us to consider what steps a state ought to have taken to fulfill this legal duty. The approach adopted in international law is the so-called due diligence standard. The principle, originally enunciated in the case of Velasquez Rodriguez v Honduras and fortified by the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, holds that an illegal act, committed by a private person, can lead to international responsibility of a state, not because of the act itself, but because of the lack of due diligence to prevent the violation or respond to the harm.
How does this apply to cases of systemic intimate violence? The test can be summarised as follows: (i) did the authorities know, or ought they to have known, at the time of the existence of a real and immediate risk to the life or well-being of an identified individual from the criminal acts of a third party; and, if so (ii) did the state fail to take measures within the scope of its powers, which, judged reasonably, might have been expected to avoid that risk. This test can be answered in the affirmative in the Kontrova case, where the state knew about the history of violence against the complainant when the complainant reported that her estranged husband had taken their children. The state refused to act until the passage of 48 hours. During this time the complainant’s estranged husband shot and killed their two children and then himself.
The final question is how there can be any benefit in international law for people who experience systemic intimate violence. I propose a theory of non-coercive compliance, which, based on the work of Professors Koh and Reisman, focuses on the impact of international law through norm infiltration. International law is a standard-setting spectrum, to which states can aspire and on which individuals can rely. Fuelled by international actors, NGOs, international bodies and trans-national organisations, international law can effect global change in intimate settings. Specifically, international law human rights law has two functions. The first is an expressive value: international law gives a name to harm that previously fell outside established legal principles and draws a conceptual boundary around such conduct, prohibiting it. Secondly, international law has an implementing capacity, compelling state to modify their laws in accordance with the international standards.
These values of international law are best evidenced in respect of enforced disappearances. Traditionally, the legal remedies of habeas corpus and extra-judicial killings were not available to the families of the kidnapped political dissidents because the state denied involvement. It was only with the development of the concept of enforced disappearances and the lobbying at the international level, that the nuanced nature of this harm was properly understood and an appropriate legal response fashioned. Today the UN working group on enforced disappearances has clarified roughly 1,763 cases.
These benefits are also evident in respect of systemic intimate violence. An analysis of the CEDAW Committee’s reports from 1984 to present day reveals an interesting pattern. Prior to 1992 domestic violence is rarely mentioned in states’ reports to CEDAW or in the CEDAW committee’s responses. After 1992, however, domestic violence becomes the key feature of states’ reports and of the committee’s response. What happened in 1992? This period saw the greatest global call at the time regarding violence against women and the responsibility of states to prevent domestic violence. It culminated in the General Assembly Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
I analysed three states’ reports to CEDAW before and after 1992, namely, Nicaragua, Sweden and Mexico. In respect of each state the same pattern applies. Prior to 1992 there is no mention of domestic violence. After 1992 the states begin the process of describing law reform, policy creation and the allocation of funding to the problem of domestic violence. So international law not only facilitated a dialogue regarding domestic violence against women at international law but it led to significant legal changes at the national and municipal level.
This is not to overstate international law. Rather it demonstrates that international law works best when viewed as a forum for the creation of norms and standards that, through a process of norm creation and infiltration, can alleviate harm in the most intimate part of one’s life

Friday, December 3, 2010

Walking may just be the wonder drug of old age.

Speakers and Presenters featured at the General Assembly, 2010 held in Minneapolis, MN. See any familiar faces?

A big part of my ministry is teaching, research and writing about social justice issues, individuals and movements that have made a contribution to societal development. A secondary benefit is that these activities also stimulate my brain, improve your memory and promote efficient thinking and stave off mental deterioration. Something as simple as walking is the key to a balanced lifestyle.

When was the last time you had a stimulating walk and experienced the pure joy of simply being alive?
Blessings! Rev. Qiyamah

Take a Brisk Walk -- It's Good for the Brain - Improve Your Memory and Think Faster
You can train your brain to stay sharp and fit. A daily dose of 30 minutes of brisk walking is good for your heart, lungs, muscles, blood pressure and bones.

Now we find out it's also good for your brain.

A study released last month by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh shows that walking a few miles per week can stave off the progress of Alzheimer's disease. According to the BBC, the study proves that "people who walk at least [5 miles] a week have bigger brains, better memories and improved mental ability compared to those who are more sedentary."

This follows an earlier study released in August. Led by Dr. Arthur F. Kramer, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have shown that walking not only builds up your muscles, but also builds up the connectivity between brain circuits. This is important because as we age, the connectivity between those circuits diminishes and affects how well we do every day tasks, such as driving. But aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, helps revive those flagging brain circuits. "Almost nothing in the brain gets done by one area -- it's more of a circuit," Kramer explained to ScienceDaily. "These networks can become more or less connected. In general, as we get older, they become less connected, so we were interested in the effects of fitness on connectivity of brain networks that show the most dysfunction with age."

Neuroscientists have identified several distinct brain circuits, and one of the most intriguing is the default mode network (or DMN), which dominates brain activity when a person is least engaged with the outside world -- either passively observing something or simply daydreaming. Previous studies found that a loss of coordination in the DMN is a common symptom of aging and in extreme cases can be a marker of disease.

The study: For one year, Kramer's team followed 70 adults who ranged in age from 60 to over 80 years old. All of them were sedentary before the study began. The participants were divided into two groups. One did aerobic walking, while the others served as a control group that did toning, stretching and strengthening exercises.

Brain function was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain networks and determine whether aerobic activity increased connectivity in the DMN or other brain networks. The researchers measured participants' brain connectivity and performance on cognitive tasks at the beginning of the study, at six months and after a year of either walking or toning and stretching. A group of young adults, ages 20 to 30, was also tested for brain function for comparison.

The results: Those who walked briskly reaped the biggest benefits -- and not just physically, Kramer writes in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. As the older people became more fit, the aerobic exercise actually improved their memory, attention and several other cognitive processes. In fact, the coherence among different regions in the brain networks increased so much, it actually mimicked that of the 20-somethings.

Specifically, at the end of the year, DMN connectivity was significantly improved in the brains of the older walkers, but not in the stretching and toning group. The walkers also had increased connectivity in parts of another brain circuit called the fronto-executive network, which aids in the performance of complex tasks, and they did significantly better on cognitive tests than did their toning and stretching peers.

Kramer says even moderate aerobic exercise will enhance the function of specific brain structures and improve the coordination of important brain networks. But it must be aerobic to work. Toning and stretching aren't enough to reap the benefits.

"The higher the connectivity, the better the performance on some of these cognitive tasks, especially the ones we call executive control tasks -- things like planning, scheduling, dealing with ambiguity, working memory and multitasking," Kramer said. These are the very skills that tend to decline with aging, he said.

The gotcha: It doesn't happen overnight. It took a full year of walking for the results to be seen. Even the six-month test results showed no significant brain changes. The group that did the stretching exercises saw no cognitive benefit.

This isn't the first study to reach this conclusion. Recent research from the Harvard School of Public Health tracked more than 18,000 women ages 70 to 81 and concluded that the more active we are, the better our cognition. Specifically, walking one-and-a-half hours a week at a pace of one mile in 16-20 minutes gives the full cognitive benefits.