Child asylum seekers sacrificed on the altar of efficiency

I am a child under 18

On Monday, June 20, Sir Stephen Silber, Justice of the England and Wales High Court, decided that a child who applies for asylum deserves a modicum of justice. The story is fairly straightforward. The fact that there is a story at all is a national, and global, disgrace. An unaccompanied boy-child, called AA in the court proceedings, made it, alone, from Sudan to Italy. From Italy, he made it, alone, to the United Kingdom, where he applied, more like begged, for asylum. He said, rightly, that he was 16 or 17. The border official looked at him and decided he was well over 18. There was no other proceeding. That was it. A guy looks at another guy and decides he’s older. AA was sent to adult immigration detention, where he spent two weeks, first at Brook House and then Tinsley. Officially children can only be detained for 24 hours. The Refugee Council and a team of lawyers from Bhatia Best Solicitors worked for two weeks, and finally secured his release. He was then interviewed by a team of social workers and deemed to be a child. On Monday, Justice Silber ruled, first, that the Secretary of State for the Home Department had illegally detained AA and, second, must pay damages to AA for the two weeks of detention.

According to Stuart Luke, the head of public law and community care at Bhatia Best Solicitors, “Since 2013 when the Home Office introduced these rules about age assessment I have seen an increase in these cases. Today’s landmark judgment is very important because it protects the rights of unaccompanied asylum seeker children who come to the UK.” Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis added: “This judgment is extremely significant and sends a clear message to the Home Office that its current policy is both unlawful and indefensible. For too long the Government has been jeopardising the safety of children who it should be protecting. It’s clear that the stakes are far, far too high for children to be arbitrarily thrown behind bars with adults on the basis of guesswork. Instead of wasting public money fighting this ruling, the Government should instead ensure that everyone who claims to be a child receives a sensitive, timely, lawful and expert led age assessment.”

Home Office lawyers described the decision as “absurd.” The Home Office lawyers’ entire case was based on “absurdity.” They argued that taking childhood as an objective matter, meaning developing actual processes to determine an applicant’s age, would “lead to an absurd and anomalous outcome.” What is the basis of this absurdity and anomaly? Efficiency. In his decision, Justice Silber responded to this line of reasoning: “I have not overlooked any of the submissions of Mr McKendrick, and, in particular, his contention that the Claimant’s case is `profoundly troubling for the efficient running of a fair immigration system’. My task is not to ascertain what would lead to the most efficient running of a fair immigration system but to apply the established principles of construction.”

For the past three years, the Department of Home Affairs sacrificed children on the altar of efficiency. In so doing, they inverted and abused the story of the binding of Isaac: “God tested Abraham and said to him, `Abraham! And he said, `Here I am.’ He said, `Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’”

Today’s parable goes like this: “And the State said to a nameless functionary, `Take their son, whom you despise, and go to the prison and offer him there as a burnt offering.’” Where efficiency subsumes justice and compassion, God is dead, and no one weeps.

(Photo Credit: Refugee Council)

The time for concern is over. Shut Yarl’s Wood down today!

 

Last year, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons concluded a report on Yarl’s Wood: “Yarl’s Wood is rightly a place of national concern … Yarl’s Wood is failing to meet the needs of the most vulnerable women held … We have raised many of the concerns in this report before. Pregnant detainees and women with mental health problems should only be held in the most exceptional circumstances.” Over the weekend, it was reported that the Home Office refused to reveal how many women have been raped or sexually assaulted because “disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests” of companies that run Yarl’s Wood. Serco runs Yarl’s Wood, and G4S provides Yarl’s Wood health services. Today, the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner demanded that the Home Office release information about the number of pregnant women held in immigration detention, which would mean primarily Yarl’s Wood. This demand comes after months of the Home Office refusing to answer questions, refusing to acknowledge that questions and requests have been made. When it comes to women, the only thing that counts is corporate and State profit. Mass produced illegality is big business, generally. The big business of women’s illegality has been secured in black sites in our backyards. Across the suburban spectrum of so-called liberal representative democracies, women asylum seekers are being renditioned.

Yarl’s Wood is filled with pregnant women, women trauma survivors, lesbian women, African women, women torture survivors, women seeking help, and it is as it has always been, a special “hell on earth” designed to torture precisely those women. Ira Putilova, a Russian LGBTQ activist who sought asylum in England and was thrown into Yarl’s Wood, reflected on the case of Prossie N, a Ugandan LGBTQ activist who was deported to Uganda: “We came and left, but Yarl’s Wood stayed and we should do something with it. Help people inside. … Because borders and detention centres should disappear and all homophobes and racists should be sent to the moon! Fuck them! Free Prossie N!”

Borders and detentions centers must disappear. This is the inhuman geography of purchased security, in which the State acts as nothing more than the bouncer at the door of the global club of “commercial interests.” The time for “concern” is over. Yarl’s Wood is a black site in which women are being abused in an ever growing infinite of ways. It is an abomination, and it is being replicated everywhere. Tear it down … now. Shut Yarl’s Wood and its fraternal order of detention centers across the “free world” today.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Establishment) (Photo Credit 2: BBC News)

Orlando: There must be more than grief

That you would not have done this dire massacre on your honour
Ben Jonson, Volpone

Last April, in response to the massacre at Garissa, we quoted, in full, Shailja Petal’s poem, “Garissa.”

Garissa

the morning after a massacre
a country wakes nauseous

no food stays down
no chai comforts

on the roads
they drag crosses

blood is given
blood invoked
blood sanctified
blood is our national language

on TV the men
talk blood and markets

tears
stay out of the newsrooms

there will be more killing
there will always be
more killing

a state will punish survivors
with pogroms

an army will terrorize
the terrrorized, traumatize
the traumatized

the merchants of war
have already moved on
to the next transaction

the death-profiteers spent the night
reviewing cost-benefit reports

a country stares at its amputation stumps
the morning after a massacre

Then in May, we wrote of the factory massacre of women workers in the Philippines; in July the massacre of women and children by the Mexican army and the massacre of women in Khayelitsha, in South Africa, and Mymensingh, in India; and in February the massacre of prisoners in Topo Chico Prison, in Mexico. We wrote of massacres before and there were massacres we did not address since.

This is the age of massacre; we are the ones who have built a global slaughterhouse in a period that is formally at peace. We move furiously and quickly back to the root of our violence, calling it progress or destiny. And today we are in Orlando, wherever we are, afraid to read, listen, watch, as the numbers of lost human lives rises.

“For I must talk of murders, rapes, and massacres,
Acts of black night, abominable deeds,
Complots of mischief, treason, villanies
Ruthful to hear, yet piteously perform’d”
William Shakespeare Titus Andronicus

These reports were once reports of fantastic evil, which now inhabits the everyday. We were meant to know the difference between one massacre and another. We were meant to know the significance of the massacre was its brutal elimination of the humanity of the individuals who were butchered. Now, it’s the massacres themselves that blur.

“We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.”
Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck

By cowardice or courage, there must be more to life than grief, more killing, and the worldwide collective acceptance of reports of tallies and carnage and loss. We must talk of murders, rapes, and massacres, but there must be more than grief.

 

(Image Credit: Facebook)

Australia is NOT shocked by the routine torture of women asylum seekers on Nauru

Yesterday, Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru released a report, Protection Denied, Abuse Condoned: Women on Nauru at Risk. It’s a powerful, and all too familiar, description that ends with recommendations for Australia, guilty of waging a war on women, through a campaign of systemic sexual violence and torture. While gruesome and horrifying, none of this is new, and the Australian government is not shocked by the routine torture of women asylum seekers on Nauru. If anything, it’s proud of the system of routine, deterrent torture.

After briefly detailing the recent intensification of violence against women asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru, the report notes, “Ample evidence of the likely damaging impact of inde nite detention and lack of adequate health facilities on detainees was readily accessible when Labor reopened Nauru. For example, an Oxfam Report published in 2007 painted `a shocking picture of psychological damage for the detainees’ including mass hunger strikes, multiple incidents of self-harm and widespread depression and other psychological conditions. Oxfam may have been shocked, but this was already old news to those who had erected the Nauru adventure.

A page later, the report notes, “Stories of the sexual assault of women on Nauru both in the camps and in the community have been told in horrified whispers to trusted people. They are backed up by reports of shocking incidents.” Maybe ordinary people with a sense of conscience or humanity would find these incidents shocking, but, again, not the members of the Australian Parliament.

Repeatedly, the population was allowed to be shocked as long as its elected government refused the shock: “The Australian population had been shocked by vivid footage of the SIEV 221 carrying mainly Iranian asylum seekers foundering onto the jagged cliffs of Christmas Island in December 2010. More than 40 people died, including children and babies. In 2013, when Rudd was Prime Minister again, he announced that none of those detained in o shore centres would ever make it to Australia.”

In 2012, when an Expert Panel recommended the re-opening of offshore centers, “the refugee and human rights sector was visibly shocked.” The centers were re-opened.

There was no shock when one atrocity after another was reported, and there was no shock when the detention center and later the island itself became “a black site, with access to the island denied to the international media.” There can be no shock, given the purpose of Nauru. Nauru was set up as a dumping ground built on a legalistic nicety: “The detention centres on Nauru house women and children who arrived in Australia by sea seeking asylum after 19 July 2013 and who the Australian government has declared will not have their claims processed in Australia, nor will they be allowed to settle in Australia.”

The name for the policy that allows this toxic legerdemain is No Advantage. In 2001, Australia established offshore centers. In 2008, the Nauru center was closed. In 2012, under the No Advantage policy, the Nauru center was re-opened: “The basic premise was that asylum seekers arriving after 13 August 2012 would be given no advantage over those who waited for a humanitarian visa in a refugee camp overseas.” The result was predictable. Four years later, “No Advantage underpins the punitive offshore regime where even death by violence, death by medical neglect, rape of women and sexual abuse of children has not deterred either the current or the previous government from this policy.” No one is shocked.

None of this will come as a shock to members of the Australian Parliament. Letters and photographs detailing the attacks on women have been sent to every Member of Parliament and Senator. They know what is happening on Nauru.”

The report is harrowing as was the last and as will be the next. Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru has done great work here. Their recommendations to Australia are eminently sensible and familiar: obey the law; close Nauru and Manus Island; transfer everyone to Australia; invest in ending violence against women on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea.

But no one is shocked by “a deliberate policy of sending women who have already been exposed to sexual violence to a place where they are exposed to further violence.” No one is shocked by the torment of women on Nauru. We need a new kind of report. Let the next report on the atrocities in the camps focus on the members of Parliament who are not shocked. Show the faces of members of Parliament as they yawn and roll their eyes at the stories of rape and torture. Include mirrors, because right now, no one is shocked by the routine torture of women asylum seekers on Nauru or anywhere else.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Australian Women in Support of Women on Nauru) (Photo Credit 2: New Matilda / Refugee Action Coalition)

Judy Da Silva: “The bottom line is the river has to be cleaned up”

Judy Da Silva is the environmental health coordinator for the Grassy Narrows First Nation, also known as the Asabiinyashkosiwagong Nitam-Anishinaabeg, in northern Ontario. Judy Da Silva is 54 years old, a mother, grandmother, and activist. Her story is the story of contemporary Grassy Narrows, a tale of industrial violence followed by State brutality with a stream throughout of community activism, organizing and hope.

In 1962, the year Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published, Reed Paper, in Dryden, Ontario, began dumping untreated mercury waste into the Wabigoon River. By 1970, the mill had dumped more than 9,000 kilograms, or close to 10 tons (US), of untreated mercury into the waters. Just downstream lay Grassy Narrows, an Ojibwa community that had been on the Wabigoon and English Rivers for centuries. For centuries, they had relied on fishing as a food source and a cultural and economic base. For centuries, the people of Grassy Narrows had prospered. Then the mercury came, the fish turned to poison, and the mercury levels of the Grassy Narrows First Nation population hit astronomical heights. Members of the community recognized early on that they were suffering new and catastrophic symptoms.

Judy Da Silva is 54 years old, and so she was born in that fateful year, 1962. In an interview this week, Judy Da Silva noted: “I have mercury poisoning. It affects me physically. I’m like the age of the mercury poisoning. I was in my mother’s womb when the poison was being poured into the river … It’s like a slow degenerative form of dying … My mom is still alive and she says they roamed the land freely. They fished, they hunted, they lived off the land. They hardly went to the store. They were very independent economically and socially. Now, it’s like our hands have been severed.”

Since the 1970s, a team of Japanese scientists has been studying and documenting the mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows. Others have as well. The contamination is considered “a prominent example” by scholars, activists, and just plain folk. And since the 1970s, the Canadian government and the provincial government of Ontario have done absolutely nothing to clean up the river. This week a new report said that the river can be and should be cleaned up. Ontario has a new regime, which seems to be more committed to the rights of indigenous populations, and to the need to address the centuries long violence committed against indigenous people. Will the new provincial government clean up the river?

Thursday, over a thousand people, led by Grassy Narrows teenagers, marched through Toronto, demanding justice. Judy Da Silva was among them, having returned from Geneva where she made a case before the United Nations, arguing Canada had violated the Grassy Narrows First Nation’s right to access to clean water. Back in Toronto, Da Silva is of two minds. On one hand, “We are not valuable enough to be considered. We, as Indigenous people, are expendable. And that’s why the poison is allowed to be still in the river. Money is more important than us.” On the other hand, “I always gotta be hopeful. I can’t be a victim. I gotta be a powerful person.”

In the end, “the bottom line is the river has to be cleaned up.” Judy Da Silva joined the women, elders, teenagers, and everyone in the Grassy Narrows First Nation to say: “No more fancy words, no more studies”. They say NO to the murderous racist devaluation of their lives. They say the time is NOW.

(Photo Credit: Legal Defense Fund for Judy Da Silva)

South Carolina built a special hell for those living with mental illness: prison

South Carolina’s prisons and jails are overcrowded, under-resourced, and toxic. People, like Joyce Curnell, regularly die in agony, begging for help. Jails are fatally overcrowded. For example, the Pickens County Jail, built for maximum 91 prisoners, currently holds close to 200. South Carolina’s prisons and jails are bad, but for those living with mental illness, the prisons and jails are absolutely infernal. They are described as negligent, outrageous, abusive, where cruel becomes usual, appalling and worse. People living with mental illness spend years in solitary confinement, engaging in self-harm, and scores have died in agony, begging for help. Finally, after twelve years of struggle, this might just change, thanks to prisoners themselves and to Protection and Advocacy for People Living with Disability.

In 2002, Protection and Advocacy and the Death Penalty Resources Center approached a prominent South Carolina law firm and asked for help concerning the systemic abuse of prisoners living with mental illnesses. The lawyers took on the case. In 2005, three inmates – T.R., P.R. and K.W. – and Protection and Advocacy sued the South Carolina Department of Corrections and its director, William R. Byars, Jr. They laid out a horror story of abuse, neglect, mayhem, torture, pain, suffering, and death. The details were horrifying as was the scale. In 2012, the case went to trial. In 2014, Judge Michael Baxley ruled decisively against the State. He opened his remarks noting, “It has been the privilege of this writer to serve the State of South Carolina as a general jurisdiction judge for fourteen years. At the time this case was heard, Court Administration reported there were more than 5,000 new case filings per year for each of our state’s circuit court judges. Thus, over 70,000 cases of every imaginable sort have come to this Court over the years. This case, far above all others, is the most troubling … The evidence in this case has proved that inmates have died in the South Carolina Department of Corrections for lack of basic mental health care, and hundreds more remain substantially at risk for serious physical injury, mental decompensation, and profound, permanent mental illness.”

Judge Baxley handed down his decision January 2014. South Carolina immediately leapt to the defense of its clearly abusive and troubling treatment of those living with mental illness. Meanwhile, self injury and harm continued unabated. A year later, in January 2015, an agreement between the parties was reported, but that proved not to be the case. Finally, this week, a final agreement – with real goals, timelines, independent checks and assessments, and a budget – was signed.

South Carolina built a special hell for those living with mental illnesses. Its ratio of mentally ill in prison or jail to mentally ill in hospital is 5.1 to 1, one of the worst in the country. South Carolina is near the bottom of state rankings when it comes to “availability of public psychiatric beds, efforts to divert mentally ill individuals, per capita state mental health expenditures, and almost every other measure of treatment for mentally ill individuals.” Furthermore, when it comes to investing in prisoner healthcare, it’s the second worst state in the country. Only Oklahoma is worse.

For decades South Carolina has tortured people living with mental illnesses. It was State public policy, everyone knew. Everyone knew that seriously mentally ill people were sent to solitary more than others, and everyone knew that they stayed in solitary for much longer. Judge Baxley wrote repeatedly that the State was aware of what was happening under and within its administration. This torture was public knowledge, and so the question lingers, “What is that public?” Why does it take spectacular deaths for us to acknowledge the torture we already knows? Why does it take heroic struggles that last for years for us to say that we cannot torture people because they live with mental illnesses? Who are we who know and then turn away? Who are we? This case, far above all others, is the most troubling.

 

(Image Credit: The Atlantic)

Chadian women win a victory for women everywhere!

On May 30, 2016, after Chief Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam, of the Extraordinary African Chambers, read the decision against former Chadian despot Hissène Habré, there was momentary silence, and then all heaven broke loose: “After Kam delivered the verdict, it took a minute for the full weight of it to sink in. Then a quiet ululation went up from the victims’ benches. It was the widows, a row of brightly dressed women who had travelled from Chad to see what would happen to the man responsible for the deaths of their husbands. They stood and threw pieces of black cloth on the floor. After decades of waiting, they could finally celebrate. The courtroom erupted in cheers, and in weeping.” Jacqueline Moudeina and Delphine Djiraibé “clung to each other in relief.” Khadidja Hassan Zidane, Kaltouma Deffalah, Haoua Brahim, and Hadje Mérami Ali had broken decades of silence to report on the systemic and brutal sexual violence committed directly by Habré as well as his forces. From beginning to end, this is a story of women organizing, persevering and never giving up. Hissène Habré was brought to justice because women refused to accept injustice.

Habré ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990. When his reign of terror ended, people set to demanding justice instantly. Delphine Djiraibé returned from exile in 1990, and seeing the situation, founded the l’Association tchadienne pour la promotion et la défense des droits de l’homme, the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, which she presided over until 2003. Jacqueline Moudeina returned from exile in 1995 and immediately set to work with Delphine Djiraibé. In 2004, Moudeina became President of the Association, and is to this day. The two set their eyes on the prize, and kept it there steadily for twenty six years, and that prize is more than one man. The prize is justice.

Moudeina and Djiraibé involved Human Rights Watch and others to do both research and to advise on legal matters. They joined with Souleymane Guengueng, founder of l’Association des victimes des crimes et répressions politiques au Tchad, the Association of Victims of Political Crimes and Repression in Chad, and Clément Abaïfouta, who took over when Guengueng had to flee. Then they set to work. In 2000, representing seven Chadian women, Modeina filed the first human rights complaint against Habré. The next year, Moudeina was almost killed by a hand grenade assault, which sent her to France for a year for medical care and from which she still suffers pain, fifteen years later: “The grenade became a challenge for me, to live and continue the legal work, and so I did.”

For many, the turning point of the trial was the testimony of four courageous women who gave direct witness to the sexual violence and exploitation they had suffered. Khadidja Hassan Zidane described the violence Habré had committed directly against her, and the other three testified to what they had experienced and witnessed. Their testimony changed the tenor of the proceedings and added to the charges against the torturer. Where originally Habré was charged with torture and murder, in December sexual slavery and rape were added to the charges. As lain Werner, director of Civitas Maxima, noted, “They were just women in the middle of the desert with soldiers, abused for a very, very long period of time. We fought very hard for the sexual violence to be brought back. Women suffered so much under Habré. It puts the whole sexual violence aspect back in the middle of the case, and it was very unexpected, to be candid.”

They were just women, women who suffered so much, and women who day by day year by year refused anything other than justice. The lawyers, the witnesses, the widows burst into weeping, cheers, embraces and applause, as should we all.

Haoua Brahim, on the left, leaving court in September

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Twitter / Ruth Maclean) (Photo Credit 2: Le Monde / AP / Jane Hahn)

Immemorial Day and the unbroken surface of the Mediterranean

“Fear not suffering’s gravity.
Return to earth its weighty share;
heavy are its mountains, heavy the sea.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus

Last week at least 700 people – refugees and asylum seekers – drowned in the Mediterranean. That raises this year’s known death toll to 2000. Italy plans to build a cemetery, a memorial of sorts, to those who die at sea. It would be located next the remains of the country’s largest fascist concentration camp. While the cemetery is the least Italy, or any country, can do, that cemetery is not a “final resting place”. There is no final resting place for those refugees and asylum seekers. This weekend is filled with images of cemeteries and those who come to the cemeteries: families, dignitaries, people. But there is no picture of the surface of the Mediterranean, and there should be. As we stare at the photographs of cemeteries, we should be made to stare at the unbroken surface of the Mediterranean. We should remember all who have perished in the name of war.

One day, impossibly, we will come to the water’s edge and grasp one another’s hands. We will encircle the Mediterranean and we will say the names of every child, woman, and man who drowned in the heavy sea while trying to find haven. Amen.

(Photo Credit: Miriadna.com)

Hong Kong and Singapore face a day without Indonesian domestic workers

Earlier this month, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, commonly referred to as Jokowi, started quite a stir, especially in the Middle East and East Asia, when he announced plans to limit and then stop the migration of live-in domestic workers. The President argued that much of the abuse of young Indonesian women stemmed from their working in informal, unregulated sectors, and that that has to stop. Indonesia wants those who work as domestic workers overseas to live in their own quarters, to work regular hours, and to enjoy one day off each week and public holidays. This is big news, on a scale of Los Angeles imagining a day without Mexicans.

Indonesia provides Singapore with most of its domestic workers. Currently 125,000 Indonesian women work as domestic workers in Singapore, the overwhelming majority as live-in. 50,000 Indonesian women work as domestic workers in Malaysia, and 150,000 work in Hong Kong. According to the Indonesian government, of the more than 7 million Indonesians working abroad, 60% are domestic workers. That’s over 4.2 million women, a lot of women and a lot of money.

Not surprisingly, employers in the receiving nations are `lukewarm’. Indonesian women workers’ groups argue that the solution to the problem of abuse of domestic workers overseas is for the State to actually protect them, rather than cut off their freedom of movement. While the President talks of national shame and dignity, women workers’ groups argue for decent work and more protections.

Where everyone is in agreement is that abuse of Indonesian, and other transnational, domestic workers is rampant. The case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, two years ago, sparked more than mass mobilizations. Erwiana Sulistyaningsih had gone to Hong Kong to work so as to be able to attend university. After eight months of torture, she was dumped at the airport and sent back to Indonesia. The sight of her damaged body sparked outrage. Two years later, she says, “I still have problems breathing. I cannot go swimming because I cannot get water into my ears. And I still have the scars. I need to see the doctor from time to time.”

The abuse of domestic workers is as old as domestic work itself, as is the work of organizing among domestic workers. What’s new is the transnational. That has meant, on one hand, that domestic workers, especially live-in domestic workers, are radically, viciously isolated, often with no place to go. In many countries, that lack of place is codified by labor and migration laws. These women are beaten by their bosses and trapped by State policy. Additionally, it takes money to travel, obtain visas and work permits, and to find employment. That means overseas domestic workers necessarily incur large debts. They are trapped in indebtedness. They are beaten by the bosses and trapped by international fiscal and monetary policy.

The domestic workers of this not-so-new neoliberal world order engage in domestic work largely because they want to use the money for the future, and the jobs available at home are too few and too low paying. For the past decades, this scam has been run to the fill the coffers of the sending nation-States, through remittances, and of the receiving nation-States, by subsidizing the entire care industry. People in Hong Kong are wondering who will pay for childcare, eldercare, home health care and so much more if the Indonesians really do vanish and, even more, if the Philippines national government follows suit? From Hong Kong to Singapore and beyond, people really are beginning to imagine a day without Indonesians.

Around the world, women domestic workers are organizing. They’re pushing for Domestic Workers’ Bills of Rights in the United States and in Kuwait. They’re organizing domestic workers’ unions in Jordan and Lebanon. They’re mobilizing everywhere. Most South American countries have ratified the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers. In South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania domestic workers’ unions are on the move. The time to end the super-exploitation of domestic workers occurred decades, centuries, ago, but now is the time to support their efforts to end the global household plantation system. This is the story of women breaking the chains, locally and globally, of bondage, old and new, and seizing and creating power for themselves, collectively, in the name of women’s dignity. My name is Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, and I am unafraid. Justice for all!

 

(Photo and Video Credit: You Tube)

Chikurubi = death. Tear it down!

Women in Chikurubi Female Prison get the news

“In the endless moments that I spent in the cells at Highlands police station, I did not imagine that I could ever be in a worse place. That was before Chikurubi. As it turns out, hell is other people, especially when those other people are your fellow women prisoners and there has been no water for a week and flies are buzzing over the gamashura and the only ablution possible is to run a dry towel across your body, hoping that the dirt and smell will somehow be absorbed by as inadequate an object as a prison-issue towel with a visible thread count”
Petina Gappah, The Book of Memory: A Novel

This is the Republic of Chikurubi, aka Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe pardoned more than 2000 prisoners this week: “The amnesty has freed all convicted female prisoners … leaving Chikurubi Female Prison literally empty. Only two females serving life sentences have been left behind.” No one was freed, but they were released from prison, and the prison is not literally empty, both because there are still women prisoners inside and because we have been here before and we know Chikurubi is not empty until Chikurubi is torn down once and for all.

These prisoners were sent home ostensibly because the prisons are overcrowded, but the prisons in Zimbabwe have always been overcrowded and toxic. In 2013, the Deputy Commissioner of the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services reported that 100 or so prisoners had died that year due to lack of food and medication. They died slowly, starving and writhing in pain, and so in February 2014, Robert Mugabe “freed” thousands of prisoners. In 2009, Robert Mugabe “freed” 2,513 prisoners, due to overcrowding.

Meanwhile, Chikurubi still stands. Built by Rhodesia in 1970, the year that entity declared itself a republic, and maintained since by Zimbabwe, from the first day to today, Chikurubi has been “notorious for its filthy, freezing and overcrowded cells infested by maggots and rats.” It’s the one constant, and that’s why Zimbabwe is truly the Republic of Chikurubi. Half the population dies of starvation one year, and there’s barely a murmur. A two-year old child, Nigel Mutemagawo, is abducted and held in custody for 76 days. He was held in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison for close to two weeks: “Medical reports show that during his abduction and continued detention for charges of banditry and terrorism, two year-old Nigel was assaulted and denied food and medical attention by his captors.” He was two years old. Prominent human rights and women’s rights advocates, such as Jestina Mukoko, are tortured in Chikurubi. What of it? Women like Rebecca Mafukeni are denied access to necessary medication and die in Chikurubi. Too bad. Rosemary Margaret Khumalo, affectionately known as Makhumalo, died, waiting for the new Constitution to be followed. Bad luck.

While it’s a relief to the women and their families and friends and communities to no longer have to sit in the hellhole that is Chikurubi, the flies are still buzzing over the gamashura. Don’t call it freedom. There is no freedom in the Republic of Chikurubi until the Chikurubi prison is destroyed, first the buildings and then structures. Don’t fix it; be done with it. Chikurubi = death. #ChikurubiMustFall

(Photo Credit: Justin Mutenda / The Herald)