We are the mothers, victims of the raids

Tengo miedo: Drawing by a child held in Dilley

Susana Arévalo Hernández and her two children have left the South Texas Family Residential Center, that special hell the United States paid Texas to build in Dilley. Arévalo was one of a number of women and children picked up in raids in early January, picked up, thrown around, and dumped into cages like so much trash. Since her imprisonment, Arévalo has suffered seven epileptic seizures. Her six-year-old son lives with a learning disability. What happened to Susana Arévalo Hernández is the ordinary torture of women who seek asylum.

Susana Arévalo Hernández fled gang violence in El Salvador to run straight into State violence in the United States. According to various reports, ICE agents lied to gain access to her home, and herself and her children. Doctors report that her condition in detention imperils her health and life. Lawyers report that every day in prison is a further violation of her and her children’s human rights and rights to due process. None of this matters. While Arévalo walked, other women and children remain in Dilley detention.

Here’s what should matter: “Every time I have a seizure, I think I’m not coming back. I don’t want my children to see that.” A mother’s concern for her children should matter. It doesn’t.

Susana Arévalo Hernández was one of seven women who wrote a letter to President Obama, which reads, in part: “We are the mothers, victims of the raids … We would like to ask you for our freedom from this unjust detention … We complied with everything that was asked of us, but the system that failed us, just because we came to this country to seek protection, because we couldn’t go back to our countries of origin due to being exposed to so much violence and threats against us and our children. That’s why we came to this country to request asylum … We are not criminals who you have to keep locked up. We have not committed any crime and it is unjust that our children, at such an early age, know what it’s like to be in a jail under guard 24 hours, when at this moment they should be in school living life with dignity like every child deserves to … We need to be free as human beings to be able to fight our cases outside with dignity.”

Ana Silvia Orellana, Dominga Rivas, Elsy Monge López, Gloria Díaz Rivas, Isamar Sanchez Chicas, Marta María Hernández and Susana Arévalo Hernández signed that letter. They represented 12 families imprisoned in Dilley and Berks County, in Pennsylvania. The twelve families add up to 33 women and children. This is the arithmetics of asylum in the United States today: lies, violence, indignity, criminalization, and more intense violence. Why must a Central American woman be on death’s door to get a hearing? Why must Central American children and their mothers live in an atmosphere of fear and a reign of terror? What sort of democracy is that?

Dear President Obama … We are the mothers

 

(Image Credit 1: The Scoop Blog Dallas News) (Image Credit 2: El Pais)

What happened to Sarah Reed? The routine torture of Black women in prison

Sarah Reed

On January 11, Sarah Reed, 32 years old, Black, living with mental health issues and drug addiction, the victim of a famous police brutality case, was “found dead” in her cell at Holloway Prison, north of London. Her death went relatively unreported for almost a month, until the family managed to contact Black activist, Lee Jasper, and so now the reports of “failings” begin. There was no failure. The State got what it wanted: Sarah Reed is dead.

In 2012, Sarah Reed was viciously attacked by a Metropolitan Police officer. The attack was caught on camera, and, in 2014, the officer was dismissed from the force.

In October 2014, Sarah Reed was in a mental health hospital when she allegedly attacked someone. Her family says she wrote to them saying she had acted in self-defense. On January 4, Sarah Reed was shipped over to Holloway Prison, to await trial. While there, according to her family, she received no mental health treatment.

Prison authorities have claimed that Sarah Reed “strangled herself” while in her bed. Her family doubts that narrative. Further, they say they were called to the prison to identify Sarah Reed and then were prevented from seeing her body and were treated “in a hostile and aggressive manner.”

None of this is new, and none of it is surprising. Holloway Prison, the largest women’s prison in western Europe, is slated to be closed, precisely because it is unfit for human habitation. As outgoing Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, noted, “Holloway has a fearsome reputation.” When Holloway’s imminent closure was announced, some hoped that the closure would begin a “prison revolution”, but they had forgotten that Holloway had already undergone its revolution. From 1971 to 1985, it had been “completely rebuilt”, and yet it remained a fearsome, loathsome place.

That’s where the State sent Sarah Reed. There was no failure. The State wanted Sarah Reed dead, and Sarah Reed is dead. What happened to Sarah Reed happened to Sandra Bland happened to Natasha McKenna happened to Kindra Chapman happens. Rebuilding the prison never ends, or even diminishes, State torture of Black women. Shut it down.

 

(Photo Credit: Lee Jasper / Vice)

Australia is proud of its routine torture of women and children asylum seekers

Yesterday, Australia’s high court ruled that `offshore’ detention of asylum seekers, including new born infants and children, is fine. Australia is no longer `shocked’ at the routine torture of women and children asylum seekers. Instead, Australia is now fine with the routine torture of women and children asylum seekers, from sea to shining sea and beyond. Australia routinely throws asylum seekers into prisons, mostly in remote areas or, even better, on islands, “an enforcement archipelago of detention … an archipelago of exclusion.” Australia has proudly refashioned the gulag archipelago for modern times, that is, for asylum seekers and refugees. Australia was once “shocked” by reports that children represent the greatest percentage of self-harm and suicidal behavior. Then Australia was “shocked” but not ashamed to find that sexual violence against women asylum seekers and refugees occurs regularly. The days of shock are over, and now it’s glory times of pride in State torture. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says he’s ready to ship 162 adults, 33 babies and 72 children to Nauru. The Australian archipelago of exclusion produces its own Voyage of the Damned.

The case involved a Bangladeshi woman, known as M68, who claimed that her incarceration at Nauru violated Australian law. In the past year, since that case was filed, Australia has performed all sorts of shenanigans, including passing retroactive laws, to avoid any dilution of its sovereign right to torture those who come seeking asylum or help of any sort. Whatever the high court decided, Australia’s actions are indefensible.

More significant than any violation of law is the reign of terror. M68’s real plea was that, having lived on Nauru, she was terrified to return, terrified for herself and for her one-year-old child. Another woman facing deportation to Nauru explained, “It’s like dying. It’s waiting for dying.” A woman known as Durga added, “I am too scared to go back to that place, my life will not be safe. If I am sent back to Nauru, I will commit suicide.”

The State response to expressions of terror, death-in-life, and suicidal despair is succinct: Good. This is democracy in the current world order. To ask for help is to give up citizenship. If you are a woman and you ask for help, you give up your humanity. The gulag archipelago never left. It became the democratically elected global archipelago of exclusion and erasure, and now, thanks to Australia’s high court, we know it’s perfectly legal.

 

(Drawing credit: abc.net.au)

In France, Christiane Taubira steps up by stepping down

Wednesday January 27th, instead of going to Parliament to defend reforms to the Constitution, France’s Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, tendered her resignation to President Francois Hollande. She was immediately replaced by a man in line with Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ ideas. The bill under discussion contains many questionable articles, but the one that will allow deprivation of nationality for French born citizens with dual citizenship convicted of act of terrorism is emblematic of the current trend personified by Prime Minister Valls, to curtail rights in the name of security.

This is the trend that Christiane Taubira has opposed particularly since the first attacks in Paris in January 2015. Her approach was to understand why some young French were attracted by DAESH and violent actions, while for Manuel Valls to find explanation to terrorist acts “is already an attempt to excuse them.” He takes an opposite direction: no explanation or understanding needed, just security measures.

Since her nomination in 2012, Christiane Taubira has committed herself to induce a turn toward restorative justice in France, a real shift from the Sarkozy years of repression and development of the prison industrial complex. She tried to instill a change in mentalities, from crude punishment to create means for rehabilitation and reinsertion, beginning by revoking mandatory minimum sentencing. Her unfinished project is the reform of the juvenile justice system and the elimination of the correctional juvenile courts. Many legal scholars and even magistrates supported her action and expressed their concerns after her departure. For many, she represented a change with her approach and her discourse from the previous administration. The latter endlessly tried to reduce the role of the judiciary to favor harsh policing and blind punishment for civil society, encouraging profiling and at the same time discouraging the judiciary from investigating financial arrangements of the elite.

Nonetheless, Taubira’s initiatives were often at odd with and even opposed by many in her own government, notably the Minister of the Interior and Manuel Valls. She was the target of racial and gendered attacks from an unfettered right and extreme right, especially at the time she defended equal rights for LGBT with the Marriage For All bill. Not to forget that one of the last cases of loss of citizenship was a gay man who married in the Netherlands in 2007. Now he can be French again thanks to Taubira’s bill on gay marriage.

Christiane Taubira’s departure is another blow for those who have cautioned against the excess of state violence and policing that this reform of the Constitution may produce. Last weekend many demonstrations were organized to oppose the reform of the Constitution. Taubira has described these articles as “absolutely pathetic inefficiency.” She is not isolated, Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, has declared on Radio France that what infuriated her was national politics especially the issue of loss of nationality and précised that it makes her fly off the handle. She concluded, “It is time to change radically the logic of politics in France.” Similar opinions and support have been expressed by former members of the government as well as many from the center to the left.

Despite heavy rains, thousands of people went to the streets, responding to the call of 123 civil associations and 19 unions, to oppose these reforms, the prolongation of the state of emergency, to demand justice, to defend rights for all including the more vulnerable rendered even more vulnerable at the time of increased economic gaps between classes and ethnicities, and to affirm that a just world is possible!

In the wake of the attacks a certain consensus appeared among various sectors of the society. This consensus against these security measures has upheld, with the president of the Observatory of the “Laicity” signing along with many Muslim organizations, women’s rights organizations, the collective against islamophobia, a declaration released in the newspaper Liberation.

Still Manuel Valls railed against this consensus, accusing some to be irresponsible and others to be undemocratic. In resigning, Taubira has shown her support for this consensus. Her method is to listen, to understand the struggle of the second generation French youth in “les cités”, in the suburbs.

In the United States, we have seen the effect of the ‘tough on crime’ approach linked to security measures in the so-called Patriot Act. The two curtail rights and bring impoverishment and violence. Maybe this is the real purpose of these measures. For Taubira to resist is to give “the last word to ethics and rights”. Let’s have the last word!

Meanwhile, in the past few days, Christiane Taubira wrote a book, “Murmures à la Jeunesse”, explaining her position. It was published today.

 

(Photo Credit: Slate / AFP / Alain Jocard)

Danielle Hicks-Best: “I’ve given up on justice”

Danielle Hicks-Best today

In 2008, when Danielle Hicks-Best was eleven years old, she was raped … twice. She reported the rape to the District of Columbia Police Department. As happens so often, the police did not do nothing. They arrested the eleven-year-old Black girl, Danielle, for filing a false report. There was medical evidence of sexual violence, and it didn’t matter. The police focused on the girl in front of them rather than the men who had committed the violence. The same thing had happened to Lara McLeod, in nearby Prince William County, who explained, “People say rape is serious and you should report it, but look what happened to me: I reported my rape and they told me it never happened.” Danielle Hicks-Best is even more succinct, “I’ve given up on justice. I’m at the point where I no longer hope for anything to come out of this case.”

And that’s the point. The reports suggest that the State “failed” Danielle Hicks-Best. There was no failure in Washington, DC, or in Virginia or in all the other places, around the world, where this story is continuously repeated.

The State, got exactly what it wanted, what it pushes strenuously to get: a woman living with trauma, agony and pain who has learned to silently absorb injustice directed at her as a woman. Ask Veronica Best, Danielle’s mother: “After 11, she lost the rest of her childhood.” There was no failure, because no one cared enough to begin an investigation.

The police now say the arrest and subsequent treatment of Danielle Hicks-Best was “tragic.” While searingly painful and horrible, the actual event was too common by far to qualify as tragedy. Turning rape survivors into liars is part of a program of mass criminalization and hyper-incarceration, and the younger the survivor the more brutal and intense the State violence against them. In a country where girls go to jail for status offenses and boys … will be boys and so are left free, this is no surprise. Girls and women are convicted of the crime of having survived and of having given testimony. For girls and women, speaking is crime. It’s the price of citizenship in the new democracies.

Remember that as you read or ponder the stories of Danielle Hicks-Best or of Lara McLeod. The State got what it wanted. It’s time for us to get the State we want.

 

(Photo Credit: Washington Post / Sarah L. Voisin)

Christiane Taubira: “Parfois résister c’est rester, parfois résister c’est partir”

Christiane Taubira

Christiane Taubira, France’s Minister of Justice, resigned today. As she explained, “Sometimes staying is resisting, sometimes leaving is resisting”. We’ll have something on Christiane Taubira in the next couple days. For the last four years, Brigitte Marti has written regularly, at Women In and Beyond the Global, about Christiane Taubira’s struggles to reform the French penal system, to restore justice to so-called criminal justice, all the while combating racist sexist attacks on her and her policies. Christiane Taubira may be leaving the government, but she is not leaving the struggle for women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights, prisoners’ rights, gay rights, minority rights and more, all in the context of a vision of a realizable just world. A just world is possible!

Christiane Taubira explains prison

Here’s a partial list of Brigitte Marti’s pieces that, from June 2012 to last year, profiled Taubira’s varied engagements and interventions:

Resistances, les femmes, le pouvoir et l’élection (June 18, 2012)

From Paris to Baltimore, our prisons are full but empty of sense (November 21, 2012)

In France, mandatory minimum sentences kill (June 27, 2013)

Scandal in France! Prison as a last resort! (August 19, 2013)

Evolution of a scandal in France (August 29, 2013)

Must punishment mean prison? Why are you asking? (September 21, 2013)

These racist attacks assault the heart of the Republic (November 13, 2013)

It is the responsibility of the State to defend reproductive rights and health (November 21, 2013)

French prison guards strike for global incarceration and dehumanization (May 13, 2014)

The false case against Christiane Taubira (May 24, 2014)

Can Christiane Taubira move France from repressive to restorative justice? (June 2, 2014)

France’s twisted road to restorative justice (July 22, 2014)

From Paris to Washington, all women need easy access to real help in times of crisis (August 29, 2014)

In France, isolation is not the answer to anything! (July 22, 2015)

Prison reform looks to the future, to a Republican society that cares for all its people.

 

(Photo Credit: Women In and Beyond the Global)

Remember Marikana

 

(Photo Credit: Dave Mann / The Con)

Women of Burundi speak. Women of South Sudan speak: Imagine …

Women of Burundi speak. Women of South Sudan speak: imagine yourself in this situation. You are out there doing nothing but demanding change and for your government to follow agreed laws of your country and do what you elected them to do and they come after you. They turn the whole country into one big prison where no one can say anything, ask any questions. They sow fear and chaos and division and make up stories in every way they can. If anyone dares they will use their whole arsenal, from police to soldiers to the courts to those who they can buy to kill you to the papers and television screens…

Imagine that, you scream to the world saying help! Our country has just been turned into one big jail. They have killed our voices. Now they are taking our bodies! They are using the radio and papers and schools and churches to sow hate using all and any old differences between the people.

Imagine you are standing on the other side of the razor wire looking out and the world is saying sorry, you must wait, we might negotiate with your government. We could apply the policy of non-indifference but let’s negotiate a bit. Then they tell you about precede and law of unintended consequences and other big words. We’ll ask them if we can please come in to protect you. We’ll make another resolution. We’ll organise a very big meeting and bring lots of big cameras and we’ll let you tell your story and talk about you. We’ll talk about peace and we’ll buy it with money and it will be beautiful. Just wait, just wait a little bit longer…!

That is how we feel. We keep hoping that the fact that their guns can’t kill us all, that they need some of us to remain at least for labour to rebuild the country after they have finished destroying it. For women to bear more children after they have killed many of them. A few men to carry the guns enforcing order after they have killed many and created chaos.

You stand there on the other side of the razor wire hoping that this logic will prevail upon them and that just maybe they will stop before they get to you, or your son, or your daughter, or your husband or your brother, or your neighbour… Running too is tiring. So, we stay and keep trying…!

(Photo Credit 1: Mail & Guardian Africa / AFP) (Photo Credit 2: Broadly Vice)

Rohith Vemula: The rot of caste privilege and the price of a Dalit scholar’s life

Rohith Vemula

Rohith Vemula was the leader of a Dalit student organization, Ambedkar Student Association at the University of Hyderabad. He was a bright student on a scholarship in a prestigious PhD program, interested in science studies. His coursework complete, he had just received approval for his research proposal. His dream was to become a science writer like Carl Sagan.

Because of a complaint by the rival, right-wing student association ABVP’s leader N. Susheel Kumar, that he had been assaulted by Rohith and his friends, Rohith had become the target of three different investigations by local neighborhood police and the university. Starting in September 2015, the Union Minister for Human Resources Office had written three letters to the university pressuring them to take action against Rohith and four other ASA members. One faculty member asked, why these investigations about a minor student-student altercation were so drawn out: why was it not settled swiftly? After all, the doctor who examined the claim to assault by the ABVP student said he had one small bruise on his body and did not show any signs of assault.

The altercation was politicized from the start. The ABVP is allied to the RSS, an extremist Hindu nationalist organization popular with upper-caste Hindu communities, whose political arm is the BJP (the political party currently in power in India). India’s largest student union, the ABVP has in recent years been known for disrupting campus dialogue on Kashmir (Pune), secularism, and, at Rohith’s campus, the ASA’s screening of a film on Hindu-Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar in north India. The scuffle involved both ABVP and ASA students when the latter had demanded an apology for the disruption. Only five ASA students were singled out and suspended in August 2015 by the university.

Subject to three institutional investigations, suspended from the university for seven months while these were ongoing, Rohith’s situation kept worsening. His scholarship was withheld for these seven months, a terrible financial hardship for him and his poor family, which earlier subsided largely on his mother’s daily wage labor of sewing and tailoring. Following three letters from the Ministry of Human Resource Development urging action against these five students, on 16 December 2015, these student-activists were expelled from their dorm, and barred from entering administrative buildings and shared spaces on campus, such as the library. This institutionalized discriminatory treatment in the very educational institution that is supposed to enshrine equal and democratic rights, was part of his long experience of discrimination, “in studies, in streets, in politics, and in dying and living.” As he wrote in his suicide note, “Never was a man treated as a mind. As a glorious thing made of star dust.”

Denied dignity and human rights, Rohith and the four other expelled students launched a 14-day sleep-in strike to protest their treatment. On the fourth day of this strike, Rohith died, gently asserting, in what Manash Bhattacharjee notes is the clarity of a suicide note, “Do not shed tears for me. I am happy dead than alive.”

Following the suicide and related media protests across India, the suspension of the other four Dalit students was reversed. Only proving Rohith’s suggestion, that his birth as a Dalit drove the harassment he faced; though not just that, but also the fact that he spoke up as a Dalit subject, as an activist, and he exercised his constitutional rights of free speech, because he thought he lived in a democracy. But he spoke up in a political climate that has become increasingly inhospitable to dissident voices, be they Muslim, Dalit, secularist, or feminist. His treatment violated the equality promised in our constitution, and his young life was lost needlessly, as Ananya Vajpeyi writes, “to our eternal shame.”

Rohith’s mother has rejected the state’s offered payment of INR 8,00,000 (US$ 11,838) as compensation for Rohith’s death. Given the withholding of the stipends that would have paid for food and living expenses, and driving him to suicide, this seems like a cruel joke. She demands that the politicians and officials involved be held accountable and responsible for driving him to this.

Rohit Venkatramakrishnan has written that Rohith’s death indicts us all. When death or the risk of death seems happier than life to a young student in Hyderabad, or Syria, or a young Buddhist monk in Tibet, we are looking at a deeply traumatic, and multi-layered historical experience of persistent cruelty, violence, dispossession, and dehumanization. Rohith’s death is an indictment not only of the society, but also of the state and its Delhi ministries, that failed to protect the dignity and human rights of some of India’s most vulnerable citizens. In 2016, this points to a crisis in caste relations, minority experience, and inequality in India that needs to be addressed now, by all of us.

 

(Photo Credit: The Hindu)

In Zimbabwe, the Constitutional Court supports girls who say NO! to child marriage

On Wednesday, Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court banned child marriages, outlawing the marriage of children below the age of 18. In November 2014, Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi filed a suit in Zimbabwe in which they charged that the situation of “child brides” violated girls’ constitutional rights. They named Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community and the Attorney General’s Office as respondents responsible for implementation of the Customary Marriages Act, which allows for girls to be married at 16.

Age prohibitions are like speed limits. There’s the letter of the law and then there’s the car on the road. Ruvimbo Tsopodzi was married off at 15: “I’ve faced so many challenges. My husband beat me. I wanted to stay in school but he refused. It was very, very terrible. I want to take this action to make a difference. There are a lot of children getting married.” Tsopodzi is the mother of one child.

Loveness Mudzuru was married off at 16. By the time she was 18, she had given birth to two children: “Young girls who marry early and often in poor families are then forced to produce young children in a sea of poverty and the cycle begins again. My life is really tough. Raising a child when you are a child yourself is hard. I should be going to school.”

The Constitutional Court decision has been described as revolutionary. Tendai Biti, who represented Mudzuru and Tsopodzi, said, “It’s an amazing judgment. The court has passed a revolutionary judgment for women, girls and children. The court should be congratulated for that,” said Biti, who is also opposition PDP leader. I am very pleased to be part of this great history. Parliament should have done this 36 years ago. It has taken a bold decision by a bold court. Marriages before 18 years are no longer possible. This is a revolutionary ruling since the birth of the Constitutional Court in 2013.”

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, ZLRH, agreed and cautioned, “Although the ruling is a victory and the fact that the primitive practice of child marriages has been recognised and outlawed, ZLHR feels that a lot needs to be done in implementing it and educating Zimbabweans about the legal position so that everyone is aware of this position.”

Veritas, a local NGO who, along with Real Open Opportunities for Transformation Support, ROOTS, initiated the Child Marriage case, commented, “The Constitutional Court this morning delivered its long-awaited ruling on child marriage.  The application to outlaw child marriage succeeded.  This is a great day for gender equality, women’s rights and children’s rights and the fight against poverty … This progressive decision is a mark that the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court is building up a body of constitutional jurisprudence which will also be quoted in other jurisdictions and should assist the Africa-wide campaign against child marriage. Congratulations to the lawyer Tendai Biti who argued the case extremely well before the Bench of the Constitutional Court on January 14th 2015. Well done to the applicants Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi for having the courage to describe their experiences of child marriage in affidavits for the court.”

Well done, indeed! As Zimbabwean women’s organizations know, more than courage is needed. Action is needed. This court case is only one part of the campaign for women’s equality and emancipation, in Zimbabwe and beyond. In the same month that Loveness Mudzuru and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi filed their suit, the young women’s movement Katswe Sistahood began a parallel campaign, “Give us books, not husbands.” They’re still organizing; that struggle continues. Girls, not brides. Books, not husbands. They should be going to school. Another world is necessary.

 

(Photo Credit: ChannelsTV.com)