Saturday, 28 May 2011

In South Africa's black townships, being gay can be fatal

In South Africa's black townships, being gay can be fatal

Nigeria, archival historical footage..

From an era of idealism and optimism, a time when the future promised much. Looking back from the future as we are now able to do, even though much progress has been achieved and the country has held together as one political entity despite the diverse nature of her population, it is clear that realising her full potential, the dream of our forefathers, has been much harder to accomplish.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Côte d'Ivoire - The battle, from inside

Another masterpiece from Channel 4's Unreported World, a programme that has been described as a "vitally important programme in revealing a desperately needed glance into areas where people are left to fend for themselves."

On its website, Channel 4 describes the programme as a "Critically acclaimed foreign affairs series offering an insight into the lives of people in some of the most neglected parts of the planet" On my part, I think of it as an important programme that tells stories that would otherwise not be told.

This particular episode is about the recent conflict in Côte d'Ivoire, a conflict that was widely reported upon, but about which not much was reported on the actual situation on the ground for those caught up in the fighting who were were directly affected by it. Now this is what Unreported World does very well and its little wonder that this is most definitely one of my favourite programmes on television today. That the programme can be viewed internationally from the Channel 4 website is a plus.

Reporter Seyi Rhodes does a marvellous job in bravely reporting from a war-torn Abidjan.

Please click on this link to watch Inside the Battle for Ivory Coast.

Note: The film contains scenes that some viewers may find upsetting.

Monday, 23 May 2011

SA film wins Cannes prize..

Skoonheid, the first Afrikaans film selected to compete at the Cannes Film Festival, has won the Queer Palm. The unofficial award, not connected to the festival itself, is given to a film that addresses gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender issues, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

The second film by South African director Oliver Hermanus deals with a 40-something Bloemfontein family man who battles to suppress his sexual desires and develops an obsession with his friend's 23-year-old son.

"We were struck and marked by this film about self-hate, homophobia and racism. Skoonheid is a disturbing, radical film, real cinema," said jury president Elisabeth Quin.

The film was part of Cannes Official Selection and was screened in the Un Certain Regard section. See trailer..

I have read that the film's main character Francois lives a skillfully controlled, well managed life, in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Father of two daughters and a devoted husband, he is wholly unprepared when a chance encounter unravels his clean and ordered existence.

23-year-old Christian is the son of a long lost friend. By all accounts he is the personification of a handsome young man in the prime of his life. Francois is so disarmed by the young man that it instantly ignites within him an all consuming infatuation and misplaced lust. Despite his careful concealed disgust for himself, Francois pours out the lost emotions he has despised all his life in what becomes a desperate attempt at taking from the world that which he has always secretly wanted: Happiness.

Dean Lotz, who plays the lead role, was "ecstatic" about the win.

"It gives us wonderful recognition as a film and for South Africa's growing film industry," he is reported to have said.

"The critics that were there obviously saw something that they liked," he added.

Note: I have not seen the film save for the trailer above, but I shall be looking to see it when I can..

Saturday, 21 May 2011

I am slave..

I'm miffed that I missed this drama when TV's Channel 4 aired it in August last year, as part of their series on modern-day slavery and human trafficking. But I got another chance to see it on the Community Channel this evening and slapped myself when I discovered that it had been available on Channel 4 OD all along. Programmes on Channel 4 OD are geo-blocked, so you probably won't be able to see it on that site unless you're within the UK. This film is well worth searching for though, if you can find it elsewhere..

And although I'm somewhat late, I've been tripping on this totally amazing, albeit quietly disturbing drama that is based on a true story, starring the extremely talented British-Nigerian actor Wunmi Mosaku who plays Malia, a Sudanese princess from the Nuba Mountains. As a child she is abducted from her family and kept as a slave for six years in northern Africa, before she is sent to London where her misery continues.

And all this while, over a period of many years her devoted father (played by Ivorian actor Isaach de Bankole) from whose hands she was snatched by her abductors, searches tirelessly for her. The saga finally ends when after all her tribulations Malia manages to escape from her oppressors. Father and daughter eventually make contact, even if only tenuous contact by telephone. Some of the others in the cast are Nonso Anozie and Lubna Azabal.

This look at modern-day slavery is directed by Gabriel Range. It is strikingly photographed and very well acted. I do however think that the story being told is sketchy and that since the subject is of such a serious nature, it would have worked better had there been more detail to the story. A clip can be seen on the BBC website here and Mosaku and the film's writer Jeremy Brock are interviewed.

The Telegraph offers a great review here. You could also see The Guardian newspaper here in an in-depth commentary on how domestic workers become slaves in the UK. It is believed that there are up to 5,000 people in the UK who are being kept as slaves.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Man's inhumanity..

Just one of numerous such grisly incidents that occurred during the Nigerian civil war between July 1967 and January 1970. The victim is a suspected soldier of Biafra, the secessionist state against which the Nigerian government fought the war. The perpetrators are members of the Nigerian armed forces.

Viewer discretion is strongly advised..

Sunday, 15 May 2011

This is for you, if your heart's ever been broken..

"Sometimes it lasts in love
But sometimes it hurts instead.."

Friday, 13 May 2011

Burundi, children behind bars..

Channel 4's programme Unreported World exposes the plight of hundreds of children in Burundi locked up for years without trial in adult prisons, among some of the most dangerous criminals in the country. (Click here to see it on the Channel 4 website). And they meet one man who has dedicated his life to freeing them; Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa is the only hope many of these children have.

(Note: The film is still available on the Channel 4oD website even now in 2013, but you will need to register if you're not already registered on the site and then navigate to the 2011 series. Use this link, its worth the trouble).

Burundi has no juvenile justice system and children above the age of 15 are tried as adults. By law any child under that age should not be imprisoned, but in a country recovering from civil war and where record keeping is scant, many under-age children are slipping through the net and are being locked up.

There is no legal aid, and there are only 106 lawyers for a population of over eight million people. This is one of the reasons why three quarters of children are being held for long periods without trial.

While wrongly imprisoned for two years, 62-year-old Pierre found the body of a child prisoner who had been murdered. The incident affected him deeply and he decided to spend the rest of his life defending victims of injustice.

Reporter Ramita Navai and director Wael Dabbous travel with Pierre to a prison in Ruyigi province, one of the poorest parts of the country. They find more than 20 children in the jail, several of whom look younger than 15.

Many of them say they have been locked up having been accused of minor offences, such as stealing a bag of rice. Nestor tells Navai he is 12 and has been there for two months. 'My family never liked me. That's why they sent me here. They've left me here to die,' he says.

Navai and Dabbous travel with Pierre to Mpimba prison, the country's most notorious jail, which houses some of the most dangerous criminals. It was built for 800 prisoners but there are now more than 3300. The team finds nearly 100 boys sleeping in one cell, nearly all of whom are being held without trial. There's no room to lie down or sit, so the boys are all forced to stand.

One of them, Claude, says he is 13 years old. He has been accused of rape but appears to be the victim of a dispute between families. Like other children, he may have been falsely accused of a crime in order to settle a score. He's been held for five months without trial and says older prisoners abuse the children. Pierre decides to investigate his case.

Claude Tangishaka, who stated that he was 13

The team travels with Pierre to Claude's home province of Bubanza, where he meets the magistrate in charge of the case. He reveals that hospital records showed Claude's alleged victims had in fact not been raped and that there was a feud between Claude's family and another family.

Claude doesn't have a birth certificate as he was born during the civil war, and Pierre needs to prove he is under 15 to get him out of jail. He travels to his home village, where Claude's mother tells him she thinks he is 14 and that he had actually been accused of inappropriately touching his neighbours' children.
Back in Mpimba prison, the team meets some of the 100 female prisoners locked in with the 3000 men. There are also 24 babies and toddlers living in the jail, nearly all of whom were born inside. One prisoner tells Navai that that some women are forced to have sex for money in order to survive, and become pregnant.

Burundi's Director of Prisons tells Unreported World that a lack of resources makes it impossible to hold women and children separately. He also admits that under-15s are being illegally imprisoned and blames corrupt magistrates and policemen and a lack of proper records.

Pierre is still negotiating with Claude's neighbours who are demanding compensation to allow Claude to return to the village. The magistrate says that Claude cannot be released if his mother does not pay the compensation, as his life will be in danger and the villagers may kill him. His mother has nothing to give. While there is no way of knowing how long Claude will be behind bars, Pierre is still fighting to get him released.

Related reading:
Burundi: Children Behind Bars Suffer Abuse Human Rights Watch
Burundi: Children Behind Bars Suffer Abuse Stolen Childhood
Children behind bars suffer abuse in Burundi Save the Children

Burundi: Child soldiers living on the edges Stolen Childhood
Prisons in Africa: An evaluation from a human rights perspective

The Channel 4 reporter Ramita Navai writes:
'You're with Pierre, you'll be OK,' one of the prison directors told us, as we stepped into the sea of bodies swarming the courtyard in Mpimba prison. Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa is a human rights activist who works in Burundi's prisons, and Mpimba is the most notorious jail in the country. It was built for 800 inmates - there are now over 3300. There's barely room to sit.
Rapists and murderers are held alongside political dissidents and petty thieves - and they all stand aside to make way for Pierre. No other visitor is treated with the same reverence, for Pierre used to be one of them.
An ex-policeman, he was jailed for two years, wrongly accused of possessing an illegal firearm. It was in a tiny, black cell in solitary confinement when he decided that if he was ever released, he would dedicate the rest of his life to fighting injustice. But Pierre was not here to see these men, for among the heaving mass of prisoners are tiny, frightened figures in ragged clothes. Children in Burundi are kept in adult prisons and Pierre is fighting to get them out.
'Prison is not place for a child - just look around, these children live in fear,' said Pierre. At night, not even the armed guards dare enter the dark cells, bootleg alcohol fuelling the aggressive atmosphere. Outbreaks of violence are common. The criminal age of responsibility is 15, but many underage children end up in prison. Years of civil war means that birth certificates and public records are scarce, and that the justice system has been left shattered.
Almost hidden between the inmates, Pierre discovers Claude, who looks even younger than the 13 years he claims to be. Like many other boys here, he's been accused of rape. Pierre explains that most of the boys worked as household servants and were accused of rape by their employers. Pierre suspects it is a way to evade payment.
Sexual abuse is rife and there is not enough food. Nearly all of the children are being held without trial -some have been here for years.
But Pierre says she will never give up. He even gets death threats for his work, but undeterred, he continues to file his complaints and expose any corruption along the way. "Let them give me death threats, I'll never stop," he says in his gentle, calm voice. "I'm all these children have."

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Mad World..

The original of this song by the group Tears for Fears is from 1982. This version, which I prefer, is by Gary Jules. He recorded it with his friend Michael Andrews for the film Donnie Darko, a film I recommend that you see if you haven't already..

Saturday, 7 May 2011

And now Brazil too..

"The freedom to pursue one's own sexuality is part of an individual's freedom of expression"
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's Federal Supreme Court on Thursday legally recognized homosexual partnerships in a landmark case for gay rights in a country with the world's largest population of Roman Catholics.
Justices at the STF, as the country's top court is known, voted 10 to zero in favour of gay partnerships, setting a legal precedent in Latin America's largest country. One justice, Jose Antonio Dias Toffoli, refrained from voting, saying he had dealt previously with related cases.
The decision grants gay couples most of the rights enjoyed by heterosexual partners, including pension benefits, inheritance and, some lawyers say, possibly the right to adopt children. Lower courts had ruled both in favour of and against partnerships, which are not governed by a specific law.
"The freedom to pursue one's own sexuality is part of an individual's freedom of expression," said Justice Carlos Ayres Britto, the author of the ruling.
The ruling makes Brazil the second South American nation after Argentina to allow gay partnerships. The majority of judges argued that the Constitution did not explicitly rule out gay partnerships and that these were an expression of the right to privacy and equality before the law.
Gay activists celebrated the decision, saying the ruling shows the state is willing to defend the rights of citizens regardless of their sexual and race condition.
"The degree of civilization of a country can be measured by the way people in a nation treat their homosexual community," newspaper O Globo's website cited Claudio Nascimento, head of Rio de Janeiro state's Gay, Lesbian and Transsexuals Committee, as saying. "It's a historic day for Brazil."

Friday, 6 May 2011

Rights, Protections of Ugandans precarious - IGLHRC

The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission has expressed shock at the possible passage of Uganda's Anti Homosexuality Bill:

IGLHRC Shocked at Possible Passage of Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill
Rights Protections for All Ugandans Precarious
For Immediate Release
Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director, IGLHRC (New York)
Tel: (347) 515 0330; Email:
(New York, 6 May 2011) The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned at reports that the now infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda may be passed by that country's Parliament. The Bill, first introduced in October 2009, was ostensibly "shelved" by Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni following an international outcry. However, public hearings on the Bill took place today in the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. The remaining stages of the legislative process – namely second and third readings of the bill and presidential adoption – could be completed within the remaining week of the current parliamentary session.
"We are shocked that after more than 2 years of engagement with the government of Uganda about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, this heinous piece of legislation may still become law," said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC Executive Director. "Governments, world religious and political leaders, and HIV prevention experts have all appealed to Ugandan parliamentarians to put their distaste and fear of LGBT people aside and use their better judgment for the good of the country."
The Bill reaffirms existing penalties for consensual same-sex relationships, and criminalizes the "promotion of homosexuality" and failure to report homosexual activity. The Parliamentary Committee itself has said that the provisions of the Bill are redundant and unnecessary. Most controversially, the Bill would punish "aggravated homosexuality" – including activity by "serial offenders" or those who are HIV positive – with the death penalty. To IGLHRC's knowledge, the provisions related to the death penalty remain part of the Bill, despite statements by the Bill's author that these would be removed. The Bill not only violates multiple protections guaranteed by the Constitution of Uganda, but also contravenes the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ICCPR), and other international human rights treaties to which Uganda is a party.
"There can be no reason to pass this Bill other than to take the attention of Ugandans – and the rest of the world – away from the fact that Uganda is slipping into political chaos," stated Johnson. "Clearly the issue of homosexuality is being used to deflect attention from the crackdown on democracy and freedom of speech that has led to at least 5 deaths, more than 100 injuries, and hundreds of arrests in the last month. IGLHRC stands firm with all the people of Uganda as they struggle to maintain their freedom and dignity."

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Why I am voting YES

There is a referendum today in the UK on whether to change the voting system by which Members of Parliament are elected from the first-past-the-post system currently in use, to the Alternative Vote (AV) system.

My understanding of the situation is this:

With the current system, theoretically a candidate with even only 30% of the vote in a constituency would be declared winner if none of the other candidates have individually been able to amass up to 30% of the constituency's vote. What this in effect means is that although 70% of voters have voted against him, the candidate with 30% of the vote is declared the winner and the voices of 70% of his constituency, although spread out among the various other candidates, are unheard.

With the AV system however, voters are given the opportunity to vote for all of the candidates in the election by order of preference. At the first count the candidate with the most first preference votes, if he carried up to 50% of the vote is declared winner. If however he doesn't carry up to 50%, the candidate with the least number of first preference votes is eliminated and his votes distributed among the other candidates by order of preference. The elimination of the candidate with the least number of votes continues, until the object of achieving 50% of the vote by the leading candidate is arrived at, such that there is a guarantee that every Member of Parliament under AV would have the support and be the favoured candidate of at least 50% of the voters in his constituency.

This seems to me like a much fairer system than the current first-past-the-post system. Also, scare tactics aside, the arguments that have been advanced by the 'NO' campaign have been weak and unconvincing, especially since I know that in all of the elections at which I have voted under the current system, my vote has never counted.

Moreover, under AV, politicians will be made to work harder for votes, rather than relying mostly on their core supporters' votes as they currently do. They would need voters who would not ordinarily vote for them, to consider voting them as second preference etc. And it can only be a good thing if canvassers from all parties had to come knocking on my door one after the other to canvass for my vote and and try to persuade me by giving me the reasons why I should vote for their party's candidate. AV empowers the electorate in a way that first-past-the-post never could do.

So YES it is for me..

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Africa's LGBT Rights Movement

In 2004, leading African gay rights activist Fannyann Eddy was brutally murdered while she worked alone in the office of the gay rights organization she founded in Sierra Leone. She was a courageous crusader for the rights of Africa's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Years after Fannyann's death, the state of LGBT rights in Africa may at first blush seem woefully bleak, but in fact now is a time for cautious hope.
African NGOs and community groups championing the rights of Africa's sexual minorities are publicly condemning institutionalized homophobia, filing lawsuits arguing for the recognition of LGBT rights, and taking their grievances directly to government officials -- collective action that was exceedingly rare at the time of Fannyann Eddy's death.
In spite of ongoing discrimination against Africa's sexual minorities, fearless advocates fighting for LGBT rights continue to win small but significant victories. As the law school human rights program I lead grew, I remembered Fannyann and looked for opportunities to collaborate with some of those brave protest voices.
My program began working with a Malawian human rights NGO on a project crafting constitutional and international legal arguments against Malawi's anti-sodomy law, which criminalizes sex between men. While working on the project, we were shocked when in January the Malawi government passed a new discriminatory law also criminalizing sex between women.
One could certainly argue that Malawi's recent criminalization of lesbian sex is yet another example of rampant institutionalized homophobia on the continent. But, refreshingly, over 40 African NGOs quickly condemned the new law as an affront to human rights in a strongly worded public letter of protest. Africa's mushrooming indigenous LGBT rights movement created the political space for this swift and strong civil society condemnation. Public rebukes of homophobia in what is essentially a "closeted" continent are deeply important -- when marginalized groups refuse to silently swallow the bitterness of their suffering, true social movements can blossom.
There was a similar strong public denunciation of the recent homophobic and shameful action of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, the continent's leading quasi-judicial human rights body. In 2010, the Commission, tasked with promoting and protecting human rights on the continent, refused to grant observer status to an African lesbian rights NGO, despite the fact that the group had fulfilled all of the Commission's administrative requirements. African civil society organizations publicly condemned the Commission's disgraceful and discriminatory decision, flooding the Commission with letters of protest, bringing media attention to the injustice, and demanding that the Commission live up to its human rights mandate and reverse its decision.
In addition to public condemnation of institutionalized acts of homophobia, African gay rights activists have begun to take their righteous grievances to court. In a landmark case for gay rights in Africa, in January the Ugandan High Court held that it is unconstitutional for Ugandan media companies to out alleged homosexuals in their publications. Most importantly, the court affirmed the rights of LGBT people to privacy and dignity.
One of the main plaintiffs in the lawsuit was David Kato, a leading Ugandan gay rights activist who sued a Ugandan newspaper after it ran a cover story with his picture above the title "Hang Them." Weeks after winning the lawsuit, Kato was murdered. The successful lawsuit was one of his last acts of courage before his death, and it will serve as persuasive and powerful legal precedent for future lawsuits on the continent challenging attacks on LGBT rights.
In April, human rights defenders in Botswana filed a landmark case in the country's High Court, suing the government in an attempt to decriminalize homosexuality. And gay rights activists in South Africa are soon expected to file a lawsuit in South Africa's Constitutional Court challenging the government's failure to sign on to a United Nations statement condemning human rights violations against LGBT people, despite the fact that gay rights are recognized in the South African constitution.
Activists have also been taking their grievances straight to the halls of government. A small group of South African lesbian activists rallying against 'corrective rape,' a hate crime in which men rape lesbian women in order to 'turn' them straight, recently led a bold international petition drive, obtained tens of thousands of signatures from 163 countries condemning the practice, and presented it directly to the South African Parliament. Due to their activism, South African government officials have vowed to develop a national action plan to confront 'corrective rape.'
These are but a few examples of the overlooked victories and defiant determination that mark the burgeoning African LGBT rights movement. Throughout the continent, organizations and activists bravely championing LGBT rights, echoing the spirit of Fannyann Eddy, refuse to be silent in the face of discrimination. It is with this spirit of optimism and fierce determination that those of us dedicated to the rights of LGBT people everywhere must, in solidarity, approach the struggle for LGBT rights in Africa.
Cross posted from here.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

"True Faith"..George Michael's new single, which when he released he made the decision to donate all proceeds to Comic Relief. The single was arranged and produced by George himself, but 'True Faith' was a hit for the group 'New Order' in 1987 and was written by Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris, Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Hague. The writers are following George's lead and are donating their proceeds too to Comic Relief along with the publishers' mechanical royalties.