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#NoRightsNoGames: The Uyghur Genocide & the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games

This week, host Muna Gasim and producer Sam Baron are joined by Zumretay Arkin, the Program and Advocacy Manager at the World Uyghur Congress, an umbrella organization based Berlin, Germany that advocates for the rights of Uyghur people, an ethnic group from the province of Xinjiang in Northwest China. Despite the severe human rights abuses taking place against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China, Beijing remains the host of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, which has vast political and humanitarian implications. Muna, Sam, and Zumretay discuss the atrocities being committed against the Uyghur people, the political power of the Olympics, and how governments, corporations, athletes, journalists, and citizens can take action.

Overview of the situation in Xinjiang

“I’m just going to say it bluntly. Currently, there’s a genocide.”

Zumretay Arkin

The Uyghur people are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority group living in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China. It is currently estimated that more than 1.8 million Uyghur people are being held in concentration camps in China as a result of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s efforts to assimilate and eradicate minority groups. Since the beginning of CCP Chairman Xi Jinping’s tenure, perceived differences from the Han Chinese majority have been considered a threat to the national interests and thus attacked and criminalized. As a result, ethnic and religious minorities such as the Uyghurs have been subject to language severe religious persecution including the criminalization of religious practices such as wearing a veil or having an ‘abnormal’ beard, and the destruction of sacred cultural and religious sites such as mosques and gravesites.

The Uyghurs have been targeted with mass arbitrary detention in concentration camps and subjected to abhorrent abuses including unsanitary and unsafe living conditions, constant surveillance, sexual abuse, rape, forced sterilization and abortion, family separation and placement of children in state-run orphanages, and forced labor. Recent satellite imagery suggests that the network of camps is expanding, raising major concerns about the future of the Uyghur people.

These abuses constitute crimes against humanity and, as Arkin emphasizes, amount to genocide under Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The 2022 Winter Olympic Games

“[The IOC] told us that they could not save the world, basically, through the Olympics, which is pretty condescending to human rights activists and groups. We’re not asking them to change the world. We’re just asking them to respect their own set of values which is clearly indicated in their own charter.”

Zumretay Arkin

While Arkin acknowledges that general awareness of the plight facing the Uyghurs has greatly improved over the past few years, she notes that concrete actions by the international community have been slow, and there remains much to be done. The selection of Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics has been widely criticized by human rights advocates, who view the selection as a tacit endorsement or excusal of China’s human rights abuses, not only against the Uyghur but also against persecuted peoples of Tibet, Hong Kong, and Mongolia.

Arkin recounts her experience during a meeting between human rights groups and the IOC – a meeting eighteen years in the making – which ultimately led to little more than empty promises and a dispersal of responsibility. Despite the soft power wielded by China both economically and diplomatically, Arkin and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) have called on national governments across the globe to orchestrate a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Games.

Acknowledging the lifetime of work that goes into competing in the Olympics, Arkin is careful to note that the WUC is not calling on athletes to boycott the Olympics – instead, they celebrate the power that athletes can wield to call attention to the human rights abuses taking place in China. Similarly, broadcast networks and journalists can use their platforms to elevate stories about the Uyghur genocide and persecution, giving essential context to any coverage of the 2022 Games.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, we’re not involved in these crimes,’ but many of these sponsors or brands, they might not even know their own supply chains.”

Zumretay Arkin

Muna, Sam, and Zumretay also discuss the implications for corporations, sponsors, and consumers before and during the Olympics, and beyond. Uyghurs detained in the concentration camps are also subjected to forced labor, particularly as part of the massive cotton farming industry located in Uyghur territory.

More than 20% of the world’s cotton supply originates in this region, and many large clothing companies, including Adidas, Puma, Nike, and Zara source materials from this region. While several nations, including the US, UK, Canada, and Australia have either implemented or proposed bans on cotton goods from this region due to the high likelihood of slave labor, it is still incumbent upon corporations to interrogate their supply chains and ensure forced labor has not assisted in the creation of their product. Consumers can also become informed and avoid shopping from companies which source materials from regions known to force slave labor.

The #NoRightsNoGames Movement

Arkin notes that social media has played a very important role in raising awareness and building solidarity around the Uyghur persecution. The #NoRightsNoGames hashtag has gained momentum and helped to spread information about the atrocities taking place in China. Social media helps connect people with actionable steps they can take to make a difference, from simple one-click actions like sharing a post, to signing petitions, to writing and sending letters to elected officials calling for action. While Arkin celebrates the power that social media has to democratize information sharing, she also notes that the strict restrictions imposed by the Chinese government make this tool much less effective within the country.

“Just last week I was speaking at the UN and China… replied to my statement saying that we should not be speaking at the UN… they basically tried to intimidate me at the UN… that means that our words, our work has some kind of influence and power, because they’re feeling threatened. For me that also counts as a victory.”

Zumretay Arkin

Reflecting on the advances that the WUC has made, Arkin first notes that it is difficult to connect with small victories when confronted on a daily basis with the realities of genocide, persecution, and the disappearance of members of her family. Still, she views the heightening public awareness of the Uyghur genocide as a sign that their campaign is moving in the right direction.

When brands support calls to stop sourcing materials from regions with forced labor, as M&S did just recently, these are important steps towards ending the persecution of the Uyghur people. By persistently and fearlessly advocating for the Uyghur people, Arkin and the WUC have drawn criticism and intimidation from the Chinese government – but Arkin says these repercussions only serve to reinforce the power and importance of their work fighting for the human rights of the Uyghur people.

“Behind all of these statistics and numbers, there are real people on the line … and they have human stories to share.”

Zumretay Arkin

When asked how listeners can get involved, Arkin encourages getting informed and using the power available to you to effect real change. Everyone has the capacity to become informed about this critical issue and to thoroughly engage with the Uyghur stories, not just at a surface level. Recently, the app Clubhouse has become home to multiple discussion boards addressing the persecution of Uyghurs.

As consumers, we have the power to affect change by boycotting brands whose supply chains exploit forced labor. Arkin encourages us to use our political voices to call our elected officials’ attention to the Uyghur genocide. Before we are athletes or spectators, we are human beings, and as much as the controversy surrounding the 2022 Olympic Games is a political issue, it is important to remember that it is a humanitarian crisis with real human lives at stake. 

Further resources: 

Follow:
@ZumretErkin
@UyghurCongress

Zumretay’s Op-Ed in the Hong Kong Free Press: https://hongkongfp.com/2021/02/06/in-a-year-china-will-host-the-first-genocide-olympics/

For an overview of the general context of the crisis in Xinjiang, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has a catalogue of theme-specific case studies/research called “Xinjiang Data Project.”

BuzzFeed News resource on the overall camp network with multiple parts.

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Season 5 Episode 5 – Understanding the #EndSARS Protests, Part 2: Women in Activism, Social Media, and the Road Ahead in Nigeria

This week, for the second in our two-part series focusing on the #EndSARS Movement, we are joined by three powerful activists working to end police brutality and abuse of power in Nigeria: Aisha Yesufu, Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar, and Lola Omolola. Our guests share stories about living under SARS control, insights about the power of the #EndSARS protests, and their visions for Nigeria’s future. To listen to Part 1 of this series, click here.

Aisha Yesufu is an activist, community leader, and financial literacy educator who demands good governance. She is unapologetic about her stance in fighting for justice and equity. Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaaris an award-winning chemical engineer and energy consultant. She is the founder of Ignite Energy Africa, an online community and resource hub which provides data and promotes innovation in the energy sector. She is also the author of Everyone Deserves to Sparkle and the founder of the Sparkle Initiative,which supports STEM education and encourages young people everywhere to pursue their passions. Lola Omolola builds communities that change people’s lives. She has more than twenty years of experience in journalism, spanning radio, television, and digital project management. She is also the founder of the Female IN Facebook group, which has brought together more than 1.7 million members across 100 countries to share experiences and forge a meaningful community.

Building upon our conversation in Understanding the #EndSARS Protests Part 1, our guests this week provide on-the-ground insights into life in Nigeria under the corrupt reign of SARS. Although SARS (the Special Anti-Robbery Squad) was established as a sub-unit of the police force to curtail armed robbery and kidnapping, as our guests explain, SARS was soon corrupted by the power they wielded. Before long, SARS became the perpetrators of the very corruption, violence, and terror which they had been tasked with policing. Young men were profiled and targeted by the police for things as simple as owning an iPhone or driving an expensive car. Police officers also routinely harassed, threatened, stalked, and violated young women.

“This is not acceptable. Citizens have a right to protest in Nigeria and nobody can stop that.”

Aisha Yesufu

In October 2020, protests erupted across the country. Aisha Yesufu emphasizes the fundamental importance of social media to the surge and coordination of public outcry and protests. Social media helped disperse information – not only about the murders and violence being perpetrated by the police, but also key details about protests. This enabled larger groups of people to join in the movement. Social media also provided an invaluable record of the offenses committed by the police during the protests. When protestors were attacked and teargassed by the police, videos and photos that were posted to social media became key evidence against the attempts of the government to gaslight the public and deny the attacks. The rise of social media has also democratized the exchange of information in Nigeria. Unlike the days of Yesufu’s childhood, when news broadcasts were controlled by the government and dispatched only twice a day, social media has all but destroyed the barriers to both sharing and receiving information.

“Every time women are coming together, it scares the structures, the traditional structures…”

Lola Omolola

Social media has also created space for Nigerian women, in particular, to share their experiences and find community. As our guests share, women have long stood at the forefront of the movements to advance change while also bearing the brunt of the pain inflicted by injustice. Lola Omolola notes the power that can be ignited by finding community and recognition through social media and through pages such as FIN, which empowers women to organize and mobilize to rectify unjust power structures.

We also discuss the collaborative, community-focused nature of the #EndSARS protests, a key pillar of the movement’s effectiveness. Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar shares that a strong commitment to the movement inspired not just activists, but others such as lawyers and doctors to contribute their skills and resources to supporting the cause. Our guests also stress that a successful movement is made up of whole communities contributing their different skill sets – from marching, to writing, to policy-building, to political organizing – to a shared vision of a more just future.

“Young people want to also be engaged, have a say in the future of our nation. We want to know that we are being listened to… The country belongs to us and our children and our generations to come.”

Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar

When looking ahead to Nigeria’s future, Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar envisions a country which works for and listens to its younger generations, tapping into the nation’s vast potential. Omolola is working to build a community in which every woman truly knows the power and importance of her own voice. In Yesufu’s view, cycles of corruption will not be broken until the people become invested and involved in politics. When people reclaim the power of their voice and vote through government, there will be meaningful and lasting change. Our guests encourage all listeners to first, educate themselves, and then get involved as best suits their skills, their abilities, and their passions.

Read more

“I am proud that young Nigerians are driving change – we will no longer be ignored.” Vome Aghoghovbia-Gafaar, The Independent

Female IN (FIN) Facebook Group

Aisha Yesufu: ‘#EndSARS​ is a fight for the next generation of Nigerians’ – BBC Africa

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Season 5 Episode 4 – The Sudanese Revolution: Women’s Rights and the Power of Social Media

For our first episode of 2021 we return to the 2018-19 Sudanese Revolution that overthrew Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party. Joined by Dinan Alasad and Aida Abbashar, the conversation highlights the course of the revolution, the importance of international attention and the mobilising and uprising of Sudan’s youth. Our guests identify both the power of social media movements such as #BlueForSudan and #BlueForMattar as well as reminding us that, in areas like women’s rights, the story is far from complete. 

Both Aida and Dinan have devoted huge amounts of time to both educating themselves on the history and politics of their home country and raising awareness of issues in Sudan that persist to this day. They herald the removal of Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 as a monumental event in Sudanese history that can represent a watershed moment for the nation. In particular, they seek to highlight the role of young Sudanese citizens who refused to accept the growing apathy of older generations and strove to bring about meaningful change. It is to this resilience that they attribute the success of the revolution.  


“…everything I do is driven by my passion for Sudanese politics”

Dinan Alasad

Beginning outside Khartoum, the revolution gained momentum in 2018 as the inequalities between life in the capital and the rest of Sudan became impossible to ignore. Dinan speaks of the lack of funding for schools resulting in children having to get on boats, with many drowning in the waters of the Nile as they tried to access their education. With the tripling of the price of bread and doubling of the price of school meals towards the end of 2018, marches and protests flared up across the country. The National Congress Party (NCP) headquarters were set alight in Atbara and Dongola and protestors began to converge on Khartoum. 

Our guests emphasise the role social media, in particular Twitter and WhatsApp, played both in the early days of the revolution and throughout its enactment. WhatsApp groups emerged in many Sudanese neighbourhoods, used both for the organising of marches and instances of civil disobedience as well as the communicating of military positions and actions. Dinan also highlights how, when marches were planned, those more affluent members of the neighbourhood would ensure arrangements were made to cover the losses daily-wage workers would incur. Through these communities the revolution could maintain its momentum and mobilise on a large scale. Indeed, as Aida notes, even during the internet blackout imposed upon Sudan by the al-Bashir regime, connections could not be severed, with those involved in the revolution able to use the existing connections they had made on WhatsApp and other social media platforms. 

Social media remained critical in the mobilising and maintaining of support amongst the Sudanese diaspora. Our guests discuss with Muna how Twitter hashtags like #BlueForSudan and #BlueForMattar both helped to decrease the impact of the internet blackout in Sudan, perpetuating the momentum of the movement from outside the country and brought further pressure to bear on the al-Bashir regime. Both Aida and Dinan agree the power of online activism was an undeniable factor in the revolutionary events, engaging wider audiences, acting as a highly effective organisational tool and bringing first-hand experiences and stories to the fore that would otherwise have gone unheard. 


“We’re living in a reality where 30 years of violent, oppressive rule has to be uprooted”

Aida Abbashar

Nevertheless, whilst the achievements of the revolution are to be celebrated, we are reminded that in light of the current transitional government now is no time for complacency. Despite their heavy involvement in the revolution itself, both Aida and Dinan agree that women are noticeably underrepresented in the current transitional government. Such links tightly to the institutionalised and ingrained misogyny of Sudanese society, exacerbated by the previous regime. Although our guests do mention improvements in the treatment of Sudanese women – naming the protection now granted to tea ladies in the Sudanese Professional Association as one example – work is still to be done. Under al-Bashir, police were empowered to launch misogynistic campaigns across the country, challenging, arresting and beating women who they deemed to be dressed inappropriately. For Sudan to progress, Aida believes a lot of unlearning must commence, with Sudanese men and women alike challenging the strictures of Sharia law and the coercive and misogynistic policies under which they lived for so long. The comradery cultivated during the revolution must be a tool for further change in Sudan. 

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We Need to Talk: The Climate Crisis with Daze Aghaji

The topic of conversation this week is the ongoing climate crisis and our urgent need to act. We are joined by the remarkable Daze Aghaji, a university student and high-profile climate justice activist who has fought to combat the climate emergency at an international level. The climate crisis has the potential to impact all aspects of our lives and Daze urges us to tackle the issue, not just environmental grounds, but on social and cultural levels as well.

Raised in a one-bedroom flat in Tottenham, London, Daze has come from humble beginnings. When her mother started her own restaurant and saw success, she was given the opportunity to go to boarding school in the English countryside, where she says she loved being amongst nature. On returning to London, the levels of air pollution in the UK’s capital caused her to suffer from asthma and skin conditions; her love of the countryside began to transform into a desire to fight for its survival. Extensive work in Extinction Rebellion alongside political activism, becoming the youngest ever person to run for a seat in the European Parliament in 2019, are testimony to this desire to provoke real change and our episode encompasses numerous ways in which the spirit of this activism can be replicated. 

One area where meaningful change can take place to better protect our planet is in the fashion industry. Fast fashion is an established and growing problem in our world, with the increased usage of cheaply made garments designed to be thrown away after a number of wears placing a considerable strain on our planet and natural resources. To have individuals disposing of clothes on a regular basis is an unsustainable model and one that must be replaced by an emphasis on sustainability and care. Whilst not shying aware from the difficulties of this, we discuss the issue that many sustainable labels are often too expensive to become items of mass consumption, we nevertheless advocate the adoption of an attitude of care. By seeking to look after what you own and consume, you will in turn look after our world. 

 “We need to do better and be taking ownership of the problems we created” 

Daze Aghaji

Issues like fast fashion can be fixed firmly at the intersection of social and climate issues. Not only do these pressing concerns damage the environment, but they also perpetuate the exploitation of under-developed or poorer communities and peoples. Daze references our colonial past in this instance, talking of the ways in which it habituated and engrained abusive and coercive tactics for economic gain. In our capitalist world today, some of that attitude most certainly remains. Large multinational corporations and companies must be held to account by the populations they supply, forcing them to consistently adopt more sustainable and eco-friendly means of production and operation. Our involvement as consumers is essential to the bringing of change in this area. A more forgiving attitude must be adopted if we are to both help our planet and the people who live on it. This forsaking of a fixation on profit margins or efficiency of production will bring a mirid of benefits. 

“Climate change is a by-product of our social ills” 

Daze Aghaji

In our current climate, it is so important that we also discuss the implications of COVID-19 on the ongoing climate emergency. The spread of coronavirus momentarily paused the world as we knew it. We as individuals and communities were given time to think, read and educate ourselves on the pressing issues that so often are swept aside in chaotic everyday life. The outpouring of indignation following the murder of George Floyd, amongst the wider Black Lives Matter movement, is just one example of how this time provoked large-scale activism. Daze calls on us to also utilise this watershed moment to bring about real and meaningful change to the discussion on the climate crisis. We cannot be satisfied with promises to become carbon neutral or reduce emissions in the coming decades, real change must tackle the present as well as the future.  
 

Further information

Extinction Rebellion: https://extinctionrebellion.uk/ 

Daze Aghaji: https://twitter.com/DazeAghaji  

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Season 5 Episode 3 – Understanding the #EndSARS Protests, Part 1: Anti-Corruption and Political Power in Nigeria

This week, in partnership with Global Integrity, we are joined by Dr. Jackie Harvey of Northumbria University and Dr. Pallavi Roy of SOAS University of London to discuss the structures of political power in Nigeria and the underlying systems of corruption that culminated in the protests of the #EndSARS movement. To understand the ongoing #EndSARS protests, this week’s guests provide an in-depth look at the formal and informal political and financial economies at play in Nigeria. This episode is the first in a two-part series focusing on human rights abuses in Nigeria and the protests fighting to #EndSARS and end police brutality.

SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) was founded in Nigeria in 1992 as a security apparatus designed to investigate and mitigate kidnappings and robberies that were taking place at the time. One of the key characteristics of SARS, when it was founded, was its highly secretive and opaque operational strategy. SARS personnel were permitted to travel throughout the country in unmarked vehicles without uniforms. While at the time this was purported to enhance their ability to investigate crime, the extra-legal and inhumane proceedings conducted by the unit soon brought SARS to national notoriety. The recent protests across Nigeria to #EndSARS illustrate a larger picture of the complex political and financial economies of Nigeria. To fully understand the push to #EndSARS, Dr. Harvey and Dr. Roy explain the backdrop of widespread corruption and economic uncertainty against which the protests are taking place.

Both Dr. Harvey and Dr. Roy work to research and combat corruption in Nigeria. Dr. Harvey’s financial corruption research has addressed matters such as beneficial ownership, or the natural person who ultimately has control of any legal arrangements, a position which is often obscured from the public eye, and asset recovery, or legislative tools provided to prosecuting authorities to help collect evidence that assets are the proceeds of criminal activity.

“It doesn’t help if those that are committing [bribery] are getting away with it.”

 Dr. Jackie Harvey

Without the appropriate legal capacity to combat such instances of corruption, the authorities are not able to prosecute these cases. When corruption goes unpunished, it creates an environment in which it is understood that there are no legal repercussions, and this initiates a vicious cycle. Dr. Roy’s research centers on finding impactful, feasible policy solutions to complex political and economic issues centered on anti-corruption, with projects spanning the globe.

As Dr. Roy notes, to understand the political structure of any nation, both formal and informal systems of power must be taken into account. In Nigeria, there is a high degree of informality of political and economic activity. The benefits of the nation’s oil wealth are often redistributed among political elites, rather than in the communities in which the oil is originally found. In response to this uneven distribution of oil industry profits, informal, “artisanal” oil refineries have emerged as a means of keeping oil profits within communities.

“How do we make anti-corruption real, not just something that sounds very good on paper, not just something that’s a good tagline?”

Dr. Pallavi Roy

Similarly, in response to drastically under-supplied electrical power, many residents have created agreements with local engineers or ceased to pay their electrical bills. As Dr. Roy describes, these are adaptations born of necessity, not preference. Both the scale of the informal sector and the dependency of the Nigerian economy on oil have proven to be challenging structures for regulating authorities. Publicly available agency records and data are difficult to find, as Dr. Harvey relates, and the prevalent cash economy and untapped potential of the Nigerian tax base present additional complicating factors. Furthermore, with the specter of climate change looming large and the impending shifts away from fossil fuel use, vast uncertainty has been introduced into the Nigerian economy.

These uncertainties can be tapped for innovative potential. Nigeria is an incredibly dynamic, entrepreneurial nation. When looking to the future, Dr. Roy encourages listeners to use the leverage of the current political momentum to push the government towards tractable goals like job creation and skills training programs. The protests are an important way to signal to the government that conditions need to change and the social contract must be reset. Dr. Harvey underscores the necessity for accountability and transparency, including the public accessibility of agency data, which would enable all citizens to hold their government accountable. By keeping pressure on government agencies to publish data, we can combat the corruption that stems from lack of oversight.

“I was just speaking to a Nigerian friend last night about, where he thinks the opportunities lay in Nigeria and he just said, ‘Well, Pallavi, there are 200 million opportunities,’ and I really couldn’t think of a better way to sum it up.”

Dr. Pallavi Roy

Join us in the coming weeks for Part 2 of our two-part series focusing on anti-corruption efforts and the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria.

Further Information

Global Integrity Webpage: https://www.globalintegrity.org/

Global Integrity Anti-Corruption Evidence Webpage: https://ace.globalintegrity.org/

Read more: Hiding the beneficial owner and the proceeds of corruption

Dr. Jackie Harvey’s Biography: https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/about-us/our-staff/h/jacqueline-jackie-harvey/

Dr. Pallavi Roy’s Biography: https://www.soas.ac.uk/staff/staff62595.php

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Season 5 Episode 2 – “Call it Genocide”: The Rohingya Crisis in Conversation with Dan Sullivan and Tun Khin

In this episode we are excited to be joined by Dan Sullivan, the senior advocate for human rights at Refugees International. With over 17 years of experience in human rights policy, focussing on areas of mass displacement like Myanmar, Dan gives usadetailed and critical appraisal of the country’s situation. Such takes in the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the continued persecution and oppression of the Rohingya people, the state of democracy following the recent election and what the international community must do to provoke meaningful change. We challenge the decision of international actors to refrain from categorising the crisis as a genocide andoffer visions of what such a move could bring.

Since Declarations covered this crisis in our first season, some 700,000 people have been forced to flee Myanmar, or Burma as it is also known. Approximately one million, the vast majority being Rohingya Muslims, are currently living in camps in Bangladesh and must face the trials of the pandemic in a foreign land and with ever-dwindling access to humanitarian support. International actors and organizations have been forced to leave the country due to the spread of coronavirus and Danfears such will have a distinctly detrimental effect. Indeed, in a report released shortly after the pandemic broke, Refugees International highlighted the threat to those living in the densely populated camps. Organizations such as Dan’s rely on their work on the ground, speaking to refugees, government officials, and humanitarian workers to formulate practical recommendations. With all organizations unable to do this now, through fear of bringing the disease to the camps, Dan estimates 80%of humanitarian-aid has gone. Coupled with the declining media coverage and international involvement in the events in Myanmar, now is as pressing a time as ever to address the ongoing crisis.

“This election was anything but free and fair” – Dan Sullivan

The recent election, so overshadowed by electoral events in the United States, furthers the need to again fix global scrutiny on the treatment of the Rohingya and the state of democracy in the country as a whole. The Union Election Commission, the national level electoral commission of Myanmar, has proved to be flawed, with international funding found to have gone to apps that labeled Rohingya Muslims as Bengali – a term used to imply they are illegal immigrants in the region. Equally, in the run-up to the election, the military declared Rakhine state, among others, as being too dangerous to vote. The majority of Rohingya people can be found within Rakhine yet, due to ongoing conflict between government forces and the Arakan army– the armed wing of the United League of Arakan (ULA) – there were excluded from the electoral process. Disenfranchising both Rohingya and Rakhine citizens appears a thinly veiled attempt to segregate and ostracise those seeking change in the politics of Myanmar. In discussion of this Dan notes:

“The real test of any democracy is how it treats its minorities”

The failings of the election exacerbate the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya. NVCs (National Verification Cards) are widely mistrusted by Rohingya Muslims. With a history of the cards being ignored or revoked, they offer no clear path to recognition of citizenship or increased liberty and freedom.Instead,they act as ameans of identifying minorities, like the Rohingya, and endangering what little freedom they enjoy.Our episode closes with discussion of what the internal community could and should be doing to promote meaningful and long-lasting change. Most prominent in this is Dan’s advocacy of the categorisation of the ongoing crisis as a genocide.He believes strongly such a move would prompt far more coverage and decisive action, forcing international actors to implement stricter sanctions. Whilst many seek to believe the narrative that democracy is moving forward, the recent election shows just why such ideas cannot be allowed to move to forefront of the discussion on Myanmar. Although the U.S. has placed targeted sanctions on military officials – including the Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing – and the ICJ is investigating the case that Myanmar is perpetrating a genocide, we must not be satisfied. Dan calls for us to place increased and sustained pressure on our governments to take meaningful action in the region. We cannot be happy with the progress thus far, nor accept this as a state of normalcy. 

Links to further information:

The work of Refugees International – https://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2020/2/5/a-voice-in-their-future-the-need-to-empower-rohingya-refugees-in-bangladeshhttps://www.refugeesinternational.org/reports/2020/4/27/a-call-to-action-on-myanmars-genocide-against-the-rohingya

Our previous episode on the Rohingya crisis –https://anchor.fm/declarations/episodes/Is-Myanmar-Committing-Genocide-against-the-Rohingya–with-Dr-Thomas-MacManus-e15e7d

Dan Sullivan’s Twitter – https://twitter.com/EndGenocideDan

Tun Khin’s Twitter – https://twitter.com/tunkhin80

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We Need to Talk series: Resources

Documentaries
13th (Netflix)
When They See Us (Netflix)

Books
Are Prisons Obsolete – Angela Davis 
Women, Race and Class – Angela Davis

(More!) Reading lists
the southeast asian anti-racism toolkit
Antiracism Resources for White-led Organizations
Antiracism resources for Singaporeans
The Marshall Project: Articles on the US criminal justice system

By Episode

We Need to Talk: The Prison-Industrial Complex

  • Angela Davis (Women, Race & Class)
  • 13th (Documentary)
  • The Kalief Browder Story (Documentary)
  • Just Mercy (Book/Movie)
  • So you want to talk about race (Book)
  • https://time.com/5405158/the-true-history-of-americas-private-prison-industry/ 
  • https://www.history.com/topics/crime/the-war-on-drugs
  • https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/un-report-on-racial-disparities/
  • https://www.aclu.org/other/drug-war-new-jim-crow
  • https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiii
  • https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/gilmoreprisonslavery.html
  • https://www.raceforward.org/videos/systemic-racism
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/24/upshot/how-redlinings-racist-effects-lasted-for-decades.html
  • https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/redlining.asp
  • https://www.howard.edu/library/reference/guides/reconstructionera/
  • https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/19/magazine/history-slavery-smithsonian.html
  • https://eji.org

We Need to Talk: Abolish the Police?

  • On legal punishment: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/legal-punishment/  
  • Ruth Wilson Gilmore on the case for abolition: https://theintercept.com/2020/06/10/ruth-wilson-gilmore-makes-the-case-for-abolition/
  • Broken Windows theory: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideastour/archive/windows.htm
  • On the creeping expansion of regulation: 
  • https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline/school-prison-pipeline-infographic 
  • https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline/bullies-blue-problem-school-policing-infographic
  • https://www.equalrightstrust.org/ertdocumentbank/ERR8_Brenda_Parkes.pdf
  • Implicit bias training doesn’t change police behaviour: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/implicit-bias-training-doesnt-actually-change-police-behavior_n_5ee28fc3c5b60b32f010ed48 
  • Washington v Davis: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/07/washington-v-davis-supreme-court-systemic-racism.html
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/opinion/sunday/floyd-abolish-defund-police.html
  • #8cantwait proposals: https://www.gq.com/story/deray-mckesson-interview-8-cant-wait
  • Don’t abolish the police, reform them: https://thebulwark.com/dont-abolish-the-police-reform-them/
  • https://bostonreview.net/race-politics-law-justice/alex-vitale-scott-casleton-problem-isnt-just-police%E2%80%94its-politics

Posted by Katharina Oemmelen on

Season 4 Episode 10 – Wet’suwet’en Strong: Indigenous Land Rights in Canada

This episode discusses the Unist’ot’en campaign to protect their land and preserve it for future generations. In 2010, the Unist’ot’en began constructing a cabin within their territory in the exact place where three companies, TC Energy, Enbridge, and Pacific Trails, intended to build pipelines. Their campaign has faced hostility and violence, including from the government of Canada, and its national police force, the RCMP. Most recently, TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink project was backed by the RCMP in an attempt to gain access to the Unist’ot’en camp. To the dismay of Coastal GasLink and Canada’s colonial government, the camp has also received immense support both locally and internationally, with solidarity blockades of Canada’s railroad threatening to shut Canada down. 

Dr. Tait narrates her daily journey home on Highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears. It received this name because of the numerous indigenous girls and women that have disappeared and supposedly been killed across the stretch of the road that leads from more populated areas to the territory of the Unist’ot’en. From the side of official authorities, there has been no attempt to resolve the cases. In fact, the Canadian police force is actively perpetrating violence against indigenous people and thus further increase the fear that Dr. Tait and other women experience travelling the 66 km road to their remote territory, knowing they could be stopped and abused at any time. 

In the 1990s , the Canadian government recognised the legal jurisdiction of the Unist’ot’en over their territory, meaning they acknowledged the clans’ right to occupy and use the land. However, both the government and police pretend as if the law doesn’t exist. This disparity in Canadian laws is as old as Canada itself. To deal with the colonial trauma that indigenous peoples have had to deal with for generations, Dr. Tait set up a cabin to function as a Healing Centre that would help indigenous peoples cope with colonial trauma. This includes the disappearance and murder of thousands of indigenous women, as well as arrests of innocent people. 

The situation is worsened by the construction of the Coastal GasLinks pipeline, planned to run directly through the Unist’ot’en territory. Following an interim injunction at the BC supreme court, the company received permission to access the territory for pre-construction work. This resulted in the establishment of a land camp, containing hundreds of workers that are further undermining the indigenous peoples’ security. 

“It is worrying that industrial workers, who come freely and go freely from our territory without any kind of police checks, without any kind of accountability, without any connection to the land or the people in the area” 

Nevertheless, the chiefs at first decided not to resist, hoping for a just verdict. However, the courts’ final verdict was that anyone attempting to interfere with CGLs’ work would be breaching injunction and thus subject to arrest. When the chiefs attempted to resist, basing their actions on Wetsueten law, the police violently enforced the courts’ decision and further marginalised the indigenous clan. The episode gives an insightful overview over the legal human rights abuses taking place in Canada. These should be seen in the bigger picture, as globally indigenous peoples are discriminated against the law and find themselves in powerless positions to challenge authorities. 

Link for further information:

  • Unist’ot’en website with recent updates – https://unistoten.camp/wetsuweten-hereditary-chiefs-meet-with-mohawks-of-tyendinaga-set-conditions-for-nation-to-nation-talks/
  • Link between ‘men camps’ and violence against women – https://thenarwhal.ca/b-c-failed-to-consider-links-between-man-camps-violence-against-indigenous-women-wetsuweten-argue/
  • Interview with another activist – https://www.democracynow.org/2020/2/13/wet_suwet_en_territory_pipeline_opposition
  • On indigenous law – http://jfklaw.ca/making-space-for-indigenous-law/
Posted by Katharina Oemmelen on

Season 4 Episode 9 – Forced Labour in China’s Prisons: A Conversation with Peter Humphrey

In December, a six year old British girl buys cheap Christmas cards from Tesco for her friends. Suddenly, she turns to her dad and says: “Daddy, someone has already written in this one”. What he finds is a cry for help from a Chinese prisoner forced to manufacture the cards. In this episode we talk to Peter Humphrey, who was himself wrongly incarnated in the Shanghai prison where the Christmas card was manufactured. This episode touches on the conditions of forced labour in Chinese prisons, corporate social responsibility and the steps consumers can take to stop such grave human rights violations from happening. 

While China has been using forced labour in prisons since the 1960s, the horrific human rights abuses associated with it only became known in the 1990s. Since then, forced manufacturing has become ever more important for the Chinese economy, which is under pressure from other Asian countries producing cheap goods. Officially, the prisons aim to combine education and labour to transform criminals into law-abiding citizens. However, when asked about the effectiveness of this strategy, Peter told us: 

“When it comes to the issue of reform and punishment there is not much reform, it is pretty much all punishment” 

– Peter Humphrey 

The attempt to reform is an attempt to cover up a system that exploits and profits from the prisoners. No one comes out a new, reformed man. In fact, Peter explains that neither the prisoners nor the wardens take the reform aspect serious – prisoners only pretend to be going trough the motions to not cause any trouble. If you want to reform a man you need to treat him with dignity and respect – as Peter explains – and forced labour is not the way to do that. 

Peter Humphrey was living and working in China when his involvement with an American client led to collisions with the police. Based on false allegations, he spent two years in Qinpu prison. The episode gives insight into the chilling strategies used in the prisons to “grind you down, crush you and break your will”. Starting from day one, untried citizens are exposed to unliveable conditions, pushed into writing confessions for crimes they haven’t committed. Peter shares with us that upon his release, he was immediately diagnosed with cancer, a consequence of having been denied treatment in the prison cell though the wardens were aware of his worsening condition. Upon arrest, Peter requested to be given a copy of the UN treaty on imprisonment and torture. When he finally received the document after his trial, he found that it contained a checklist of conditions that had to be met for prisons to live up to the treaty. Peter estimates that Qinpu prison would fail on roughly 70% of the points mentioned. For instance, the document says that prison cells need to be furnished, yet Peter and 11 other inmates shared a completely empty prison cell, where they were sleeping and eating off the floor.  

Apart from these outright-violent measures to coerce prisoners into abiding the prison’s rules, they also use a merit system to convince people to contribute to manufacturing work. When Peter was in prison, manufacturing labour was optional, yet prisoners participating in it were given merit points that could reduce their sentence. In the past four and a half years, the conditions have become even harsher. The system has moved from voluntary to mandatory labour, and various forms of punishment were applied to those not abiding to the system. 

The discussion leads to the topic of corporate social responsibility, and the role that companies and consumers can play in preventing these atrocities from happening. Peter, who was himself involved in supply-chain work, argues that it is almost impossible for MNCs to drill down through the supply chain to “the bottom of the pond” and be certain that no prison labour is involved. Firstly, Chinese authorities prohibit investigations by foreign companies. Also, if low-margin work is sub-contracted to Chinese firms, it is likely that these will further sub-contract the work, thus you can’t find out the working conditions simply by auditing the supplier. Lastly, Chinese prisons are often registered as an enterprise and thus well-hidden from investigation. Thus, the only possible solution is for consumers not to buy low-margin, cheap products that are manufactured in China. 

Link for further information: 

Posted by Katharina Oemmelen on

Season 4 Episode 8 – The Immigrant ‘Race’: Part 2 with Jacinta Gonzales

In this episode we are joined by Jacinta Gonzales, a Senior Campaign Organizer with Mijente, to discuss her current activism against US hostile environments. After bringing to the forefront the racial processes underpinning Ellis Island, our panellists and guest discuss the intersection of technology and state infrastructure in targeting and detaining immigrants at the US border. 

In the first part of this series on the immigrant ‘race’, we learned about the racist foundations of the current UK border regime. This episode picks up this threat to draw parallels to the violence of the US immigration system, which has become increasingly visible throughout the Trump administration. Though the fight against illegal immigration has been going on for many years, with the Obama administration seeing record numbers of deportation, this trend is only getting worse as the government is implicating modern technology to expand surveillance. From the beginning of his campaign, Trump painted immigrants as scapegoats for broader political issues in the US. Since coming to power, the presidents’ administration created policies that explicitly use cruelty to make political points, activating a far-right and xenophobic base to protect his agenda. 

Jacinta takes us back to the legacy of Ellis Island, the United States’ busiest immigration station that saw approximately 12 million immigrants pass through its ports between 1892 and 1954. The euphoria associated with having ‘made it’ to the safe haven that was the US is a scene familiar to everyone, having been replicated in movies, books and photos. What is often forgotten, however, are simultaneously occurring atrocities of land theft, alienation of native populations and forced labour of black people. In recognising that the immigration process at Ellis island was heavily racialised, we can begin to draw parallels to todays’ immigration processes. For instance, narratives of the ‘right’ immigrant are seeping into administrative decisions over people’s worth and a value to the US. The episode highlights how contemporary practices of policing and control are based around race and class rather than public safety. 

Jacinta highlights the importance of building power both inside and outside of the state. The NGO Migente brings together networks of campaigners to create a political home that fights on all these fronts. The term ‘political home’ signifies the dedication to certain principles – Migente is pro black, pro women, pro planet, pro workers – “because our communities are all those things and more”. 

‘Sometimes we have to fight and create alternatives outside of the state, and that is where we are able to use the beauty and intelligence and the brilliance of our communities to create options that our community needs. Sometimes those are co-ops, sometimes those are collectives, sometimes those are community gardens. We have so much to offer that we can build for and between each other.’

Jacinta Gonzales

Part of Jacinta’s activism is the campaign #NoTechforICE. It fights against the technology companies contributing to the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) deportation machinery, fuelled by modern data provision and storage technologies. Coupled with an increasing amount of financial resources made available to strengthen the U.S. police force, the power available to ICE directly results in violence against immigrants. The episode touches on the power configurations between the government and private companies, and highlights the shocking ways in which these transcend data privacy laws. Jacinta highlights the next steps that need to be taken to expose and dismantle the actions of ICE, which are resulting in arrests, separation of families and trauma of thousands of people. 

“We face the hard task to work on both understanding and dismantling hundreds of years of oppressive systems that have been used against our communities while at the same time have the vision of understanding where these governments and companies are trying to go with new systems of control” 

Jacinta Gonzales

Links for further information:

  • The work of Mijente – https://twitter.com/ConMijente 
  • #NotechforICE – https://notechforice.com 
  • An example of how facial recognition is used by ICE – https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ryanmac/clearview-ai-fbi-ice-global-law-enforcement
  • Student protests against Palantir, a private tech company – https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/campus-activists-find-target-intersection-immigration-technology-palantir-n1093136