.يولد جميع الناس أحرارا متساوين في الكرامة والحقوق. وقد وهبوا عقلا وضميرا وعليهم أن يعامل بعضهم بعضا بروح الإخاء‎
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Monday, May 28, 2007

"If Death comes, so be it"


By Charles Hawley in Alvesta, Sweden

Firas wanted nothing more than to work for the Americans when they arrived in Iraq. But his job soon became life threatening. The problem was that his employers didn't seem to care.

Firas was a believer. Even before the Americans came to Iraq -- when everyone knew the invasion was on its way -- he had decided he would do everything he could to help. And he had a lot that the Americans wanted: He spoke fluent English; he had a degree in political science; and he believed in the American dream.


"America came wanting to transform Iraq into a model for the Middle East. I knew Iraq had potential and that the country was full of good people," says the 36 year old. "And America is America. They would come to Iraq with a plan, I thought, and they would surely make this thing work."

That was then. Now, Firas, a former European history teacher, lives in the tiny town of Alvesta, Sweden, some 175 kilometers north of Malmö. He's only been here for six months. After the invasion in the spring of 2003, he spent years doing what he could to make the US experiment work -- as an interpreter for the army; as an author of political reports for Washington; as a liaison between the American Embassy and the Iraqi parliament. But in the end, America didn't want him.

Flagging Down Humvees

Although he didn't know it at the time, Firas's trip to Sweden got its start during the chaotic, hopeful days right after US tanks appeared on the streets of Baghdad. The mood, he recalls, was electric and optimistic. Iraqis welcomed the US troops and the soldiers had few qualms about being approached by Iraqis. Firas's first clumsy attempts to get a job with the Americans involved little more than flagging down Humvees and asking if they needed an interpreter.

Before long, he hit pay dirt. After knocking on the door of the Hotel Palestine in central Baghdad, where the Americans had set up an early headquarters, he was sent to the US base out by the airport. There, having proven his language skills, he was taken up by a captain as his personal interpreter. Soon, he moved to military intelligence. Eentually he got a post with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), even rising to the point where he would sometimes interpret for Paul Bremer, then head of the CPA.

"This is something I never understood," he says now. "Why was I treated with such trust at the beginning to work in very high level intelligence and with high level Americans, only to be treated as a potential terrorist later? I don't understand."

The heady days at the start of the war didn't last. Now, Firas shakes his head as he recalls telling everybody about his first interpreting job with the US military. He even allowed himself to be driven home from work sometimes. "Imagine. A whole convoy of Humvees parked outside my house. People knew what I was doing," he said.

'If Death Comes So Be It'

Even then, though, he was concerned about his security. He told friends and acquaintances it was just a temporary job. As sectarian violence began to mount, Firas, a Shiite, began to conceal the true nature of his work.

"I tried to keep a low profile and not get into conversations where people would ask me about my work," he says. "The thing is in Baghdad, you see things getting worse, but sometimes you ignore it. You shove the bad things away from you and you simply don't want to see it. I tried to convince myself that things would get better.

"Imagine not getting in touch and not answering the calls of your high school and university friends. After awhile, I never kept in touch with anyone anymore. Because of my work, I stayed friends with maybe three people."

As sectarian violence mounted, particularly following the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra in Feb. 2006, so too did the dangers of working for the occupiers. Not only were Shiites targeted by Sunnis and Sunnis by Shiites, but those working together with the US were in danger from both.

"Until the very last moment, I was totally dependent on my luck," Firas says. "I was very fatalistic. I thought, 'If death comes, so be it.'"

Commendation from the White House

Firas's American employers weren't making things any easier. Early in his tenure as a US employee, Firas says, he was "lucky," a word that peppers the Baghdad native's speech. Not only was he working for people he liked, he says, but he was paired with Americans who had complete faith in him. Indeed, one of his first supervisors spoke Arabic and treated Firas more as a political officer than as an interpreter. Firas once even received an e-mail from the White House commending him for a report he had written.

But the political situation in Iraq was changing quickly. In late June 2004, the Firas's first employer, the CPA, was disbanded. The US established an embassy. Then, in Jan. 2005, the country went to the polls paving the way for a parliament and a government, which, along with the embassy, found its home in the Green Zone, the heavily protected area in central Baghdad that is off limits to all except those on official business.

Getting into the Green Zone isn't easy. While embassy and diplomatic personnel could freely cross in and out with the help of their official badges, Firas and his colleagues, despite years of service to the American military and diplomatic leadership, were given no such privileges. Instead, they had to wait each morning for up to two hours just to get to work.

The blazing hot sun was the least of their problems. The occupation became so unpopular that death awaited anyone who collaborated with Americans. Some of Firas' colleagues didn't even tell friends and families who their employers were. And waiting outside the Green Zone for hours on end, in downtown Baghdad, wasn't the best way to maintain anonymity.

In fact, the crowd of Iraqis that gathered each morning made an excellent car-bomb target. One morning Firas was on hand to help cart away dead bodies after an explosion at the so-called Assassins' Gate killed 25 people.

More Afraid of the Americans than the Iraqis

Firas and his Foreign Service National (FSN) colleagues asked the Americans for badges to speed up their entry into the Green Zone. They also asked for housing inside the Green Zone for those days when it was simply too dangerous to go home. And they had complaints about the Regional Security Office, which started treating Firas and his colleagues with suspicion as soon as the embassy opened. Some had even been arrested by the RSO on the thinnest of pretexts, and turned over to the Iraqi police.

It was a laundry list of complaints, and in the meantime, Firas says, some improvements have been made. The FSNs still in Iraq have been given badges, but lodging within the Green Zone is still under discussion. And at the end of 2006, Firas ran up against a stone wall with his requests.

"The Americans were treating the FSNs so badly," Firas says, "that I was more afraid of the Americans than the Iraqis."

Now, he lives in a small asylum camp on the outskirts of tiny Alvesta, located in the forests of south-central Sweden. Soon he plans to move -- to another town in Sweden. Maybe, he says, he'll go back to school. "I have to start my life over again from scratch," he says pragmatically. For now he's doing little other than attending Swedish classes -- and planning to stay.

"I came to Sweden," he says, "to be a Swede."

Related links:

Photo Gallery:
Exodus from Iraq

The Growing Iraqi Refugee Crisis:
Trading Civil War for Small- Town Sweden (05/23/2007)

The List:
Death Threats and Academia in Iraq (05/23/2007)

The Dangers of Being an Electrician:
Escaping a Baghdad Death Sentence (05/23/2007)

Rejected in the Green Zone, Accepted in Sweden: The Tragically High Price of Helping Americans (05/23/2007)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Gay flamingos pick up chick

A pair of gay flamingos have adopted an abandoned chick, becoming parents after being together for six years, a British conservation organisation said Monday.

Carlos and Fernando had been desperate to start a family, even chasing other flamingos from their nests to take over their eggs at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Slimbridge near Bristol.

But their egg-sitting prowess made them the top choice for taking an unhatched egg under their wings when one of the Greater Flamingo nests was abandoned.

The couple, together for six years, can feed chicks by producing milk in their throats.

"Fernando and Carlos are a same sex couple who have been known to steal other flamingos' eggs by chasing them off their nest because they wanted to rear them themselves," said WWT spokeswoman Jane Waghorn. "They were rather good at sitting on eggs and hatching them so last week, when a nest was abandoned, it seemed like a good idea to make them surrogate parents." Gay flamingos are not uncommon, she added. "If there aren't enough females or they don't hit it off with them, they will pair off with other males," she said.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Report: British gay soldiers a non-issue

Allowing openly gay soldiers to serve in the British military has not sparked any significant incidences or animosity, military experts said.

According to experts and Ministry of Defense officials, the British military's 2000 decision to allow homosexuals to serve hasn't provoked the massive discord that many predicted would occur, The New York Times said Monday.

Several unidentified Ministry of Defense officials told the newspaper the ability of homosexual soldiers to integrate into their military units offers hope for further acceptance.

One expert said that a soldier's homosexuality is likely seen as a weakness initially due to the rough nature of the military but never to a derogatory extreme.

"The military is a proving ground and the first thing people do is find your weakness and exploit it," researcher Nathanial Frank of California's Michael D. Palm Center told the Times. "If you're gay, that's your weakness and guys will latch on to that. But frequently this is no more significant a weakness than any other based on your accent, body type, race, religion, etc."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Don't send us back to the war!

Some 100 refugees started a symbolic journey along the pilgrimage route from Trondheim to Oslo (648-kilometer) to protest against deportations from Norway to Afghanistan.

There are an estimated 1,900 Afghan refugees in Norway, and the majority have been denied asylum. The march is part of many protests against deportations to Afghanistan. For example many refugees staged hunger strikes in 2006.

On May 19, 2007 the pilgrims gathered at about 2 at Trondheim Torg. A large group of people came there because of two things. The Obiora case and the Asylum march. Some activists told about fundamental rights to live and that Norway should not send back people to war.

One day later, on May 20th, 2007, the Asylum march has started at 4 p.m. You can follow the progress at, with regular updates, pictures and information in norsk english and farsi.

100 Afghans following the pilgrimage route

"Don't send us back to the war"

Afghan refugees are spending every night in fear. Fear of this night will be the day my home is in the Police's list. Fearing that my friends bed will be empty the day after. Just as our home, the safe is not safe either; our excistence, our being and our body belongs to the hidden.

We came to Norway after fleeing from war and persecution in our home country. We ask from you, people of the peaceful and safe Norway, to let us stay here. Until it is safe to return to Afghanistan. This is our hope. A hope we still carry, even though the responsible government has broken all their promises. When the hungerstrike was ended in June last year, the government promised everyone an equal treatment of the cases, where the guidelines from UNHCR should be taken in consideration. This has not been the case, Norwegian government is sending us back to the war: Since the hungerstrike, about 150 Afghans has been deported by force. At the same time, we see that the government allows the we war they want to send us back to, is getting worse.

In fear of being the next, many of us is now living a hidden life, fleeing in and from Norway. About a hundred of us will walk a march from Trondheim to Oslo. Our path will be the old pilgrimage route, and our prayer this: Don't send us back to the war.

We will start this march in Trondheim on Saturday the 19th, where we will take part of the demonstration against the dropping of the Obiora case, at 14:00. We will then walk from Trondheim at 16:00 and end our march in front of the Norwegian Parliament in the end of June. We hope that many will join us in parts of the march, and take part of events along the route, and take part in the discussion about what point of view Norway should have to the gruesome war in our home country. Does the Norwegian people think it is right to send people back to war? Again we reach out our hand, and hope that the Norwegian politicans will listen to the UN's guidelines which is saying it is not safe to deport refugees back to Afghanistan.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hate-crime sentence: Gay for a day

A British teen who attacked a gay high school teacher is invited to be an intern at an LGBT publication; the experience opens his eyes.

What punishment would you inflict on a teenager convicted of a violent homophobic crime?

Knee-jerk reactions tend to vigilante-style ferocity, but careful thought can yield surprising results, as police in Sussex, England, discovered this year.

Brighton's hate crime unit ordered a homophobic teenager to spend a day working as an intern at the gay magazine 3SIXTY as part of his sentence. The boy had been part of a group who attacked a gay high school teacher in Dukes Mound, Brighton, early one Sunday morning.

Craig, the teacher, sustained a damaged lymph system, a scratched cornea and cuts and bruises across his face and body. He was hospitalized the following week with an infection that threatened to spread to his brain and was readmitted later with blood clots.

Craig was determined the offender should receive an appropriate sentence. He said, "As a gay man, I have experienced low-level homophobia throughout my life, such as name calling. I learned to roll the punches, but for me this punch was one blow too far.

"I like to think in reporting this crime, I helped stop it (from) happening to others."

Sussex police were inspired by similar projects in San Francisco, where anti-gay criminals have been required to work for gay organizations as part of their sentences.

David Harvey, co-owner of 3SIXTY, said, "They rang us in October and said, can this person come and spend a day with you?

"My initial reaction was, I am not sure if I want somebody who perpetrated a hate crime to be sitting next to me in my environment."

Harvey and his staff debated for two weeks before they came to a unanimous decision agreeing to the program. Now, Harvey says he would do it again.

"If we can change somebody's prejudiced view about us by admitting them into our environment, that has to be a good thing," he said.

The teen was asked to research and find articles on the Net which covered homophobic crimes. Editor Torsten Hojer said the team hoped the boy would see the futility -- and frequency -- of the type of crime he'd perpetrated.

Surly at first, the teen perked up when asked to write an article about a gay person in the public eye. He chose to pen a piece about the pop star Ian H Watkins, who'd outed himself before entering the Big Brother house. It seems the task enthused the boy, who stayed to oversee the page layout.

Following his internship, the boy asked his probation officer if he could write to Craig to apologize for his crime.

As part of Thursday's International Day Against Homophobia, Craig and Harvey spoke about the experience at the launch of a new campaign to tackle LGBT crime called "This is where you fit in." (Stewart Who?, U.K.)

Washington's AIDS hypocrites ousted

World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz follows alleged escort client Randall Tobias out the door; critics accuse both of stonewalling anti-AIDS efforts.

The heads of two of the world's biggest AIDS programs, largely run by the United States, have resigned within a month of each other amid accusations of sexual hypocrisy.

Paul Wolfowitz, the head of the World Bank, resigned yesterday after fighting for his job for six weeks. He was quoted Thursday by the New York Times as having given up his fight and negotiating terms for his resignation.

His resignation comes less than a month after the resignation of Randall Tobias, President Bush's overseas aid director and former AIDS czar, for allegedly being a customer of a Washington escort agency.

The media have made it look as Wolfowitz's troubles stem mainly from his promoting and negotiating big pay rises for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza.

This is bad enough, given that Wolfowitz, during a scant two years as World Bank president, alienated many executive directors from Europe and the developing world in the complex, multilateral organization by pushing through tough anti-corruption measures sometimes involving the withdrawal of funds from poverty-stricken areas.

In reality, Wolfowitz's resignation is about much bigger issues, including global HIV and family planning policy, and whether the United States has any right to prescribe sexual morality to the rest of the world.

According to his critics, Wolfowitz prioritized "good governance" even over poverty alleviation. This included freezing programs in such places as tsunami-hit Bandar Aceh in Indonesia, where, until recently, Wolfowitz, as former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, had been held in high esteem.

But the bank's own Jakarta representative said locals have been questioning Wolfowitz's right to raise issues like local corruption when he is accused of corruption himself. Staffers at the bank's Washington headquarters have been seen sporting "good governance" blue ribbons in open opposition to their president.

The World Bank has been the scene of bitter battles between Wolfowitz and his group of vice-presidents and advisers -- most of them neoconservatives brought in by Wolfowitz -- and the bank's executive directors, most of whom come from outside the United States.

The conservative faction recently lost a huge battle when its determined attempt to remove all wording that might possibly refer to abortion or to contraception for underage girls from its new Health, Nutrition and Population Strategy was rebuffed by the Europeans and the phrases reinstated.

The crucial battle took place when Wolfowitz appointee Juan Jose Duboub, a Salvadorean archconservative and member of the secretive Opus Dei Catholic organization, tried to change the phrase "reproductive health services" in the strategy to "age-appropriate access to sexual and reproductive health care."

This may look like a trivial change, but Wolfowitz opponents say it would have effectively removed explicit World Bank support for any programs offering contraception, condoms, abortion and women's reproductive rights.

Duboub had also tried to remove references to "climate change" from the same document and replace them with "climate risk" or "climate uncertainty."

Wolfowitz is the first World Bank president ever to resign, and the Reuters news agency Friday called it "an unprecedented challenge to the United States' global financial leadership."

The World Bank president has always been American because of a tradeoff after World War II that, quid pro quo, allowed the leader of the International Monetary Fund always to be European. Insiders are speculating that the presidency may now have to be offered to a non-American -- possibly someone from China. If so, this would be a historical shift in global financial leadership and evidence of the Bush government's continued slide into irrelevance.

And, on the surface at least, all because of a girl.

Meanwhile, the resignation of Randall Tobias, Bush's director of Foreign Aid and former AIDS czar, continues to echo round Washington, and for the same reasons. Tobias resigned April 30 when he was named as one of the frequent customers of a call-girl agency run by alleged "D.C. Madam" Deborah Palfrey.

Among her customers was, Palfrey alleged, former naval commander Harlan Ullman, author of the Iraq war "shock and awe" strategy.

As the ultimate boss of the PEPFAR AIDS relief program and during his days as AIDS czar, Tobias was directly responsible for enforcing U.S. policies that forbade the funding of HIV programs targeted to sex workers.

Given that many of the "girls" Tobias admitted he called round were central American immigrants, he is being accused not just of using prostitutes but supporting the very trade he campaigned against.

Jodi Jacobson of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), a lobbying organization against Wolfowitz's policies at the World Bank, commented that Tobias' actions "hinted at a new kind of guest-worker program supported by the administration."

The link has also been made between Tobias' support for abstinence-only-till-marriage programs, or what Jacobson calls the "Americans for Stopping Sex in Africa League."

Since President Bush came to power, an estimated 30 million young people, including 11 million in Africa, have taken part in these programs, despite evidence that they have zero effect.

A third of the HIV-prevention money directed to poor countries under the Bush PEPFAR program must be spent on abstinence programs -- in some countries, a much higher proportion than this.

In Nigeria, for instance, 70 per cent of U.S. HIV prevention money is spent on abstinence programs. Commentators have said that this has re-stigmatized condoms.

"Either abstinence doesn't work in high-literacy settings, or Tobias, a married man, has not been reading his own literature," Jacobson comments. (Gus Cairns, U.K.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The girl who was stoned to death for falling in love

A teenage girl lies dead on the ground in a pool of her own blood.

Her once groomed hair is cast across her face like a rag doll's, her skirt pulled up to complete her humiliation.

In another image, she is seen lying on her side, her face battered and bloodied, barely recognisable.

The concrete block used to smash in her face lies next to her.

Du'a Khalil Aswad was beaten, kicked and stoned for 30 minutes at the hands of a lynch mob before one of her attackers launched a carefully aimed fatal blow.

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Du'a Khalil Aswad: Killed by a lynch mob for falling in love

The murder was carried out in public, watched by hundreds of men cheering and yelling. Du'a's crime? To fall in love with a Sunni boy. Her family practised the Yezidi religion.

The Sunnis and Yezidis hate each other. When Du'a ran away with her Sunni boyfriend, a sentence of death was passed on her.

This act of medieval savagery took place last month in a town in northern Iraq, in the fledgling 'democracy' created by Bush and Blair when they invaded the country in 2003 and 'freed' its people.

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Brutal images captured by onlookers or the barbaric stoning

The sickening scenes, which defy belief in every sense, were captured by some of the observers and participants who thought it would be proper to record these harrowing events as some sort of memento.

Perhaps they thought it would serve as a warning to other young people who dared to follow their hearts - not the strictures of a religion which will not brook dissent - and punishes adolescent impetuosity with the most brutal of public murders.

The killing was filmed on a number of mobile phones. The images were then - all too predictably - posted on the internet.

The Mail takes no pleasure in publishing these pictures. But we believe our readers should witness the depths of the depravity still being carried out in the 21st century in the name of 'honour'.

Perhaps, then, something can be done to prevent it happening again.

Of course, anyone who takes even a passing interest in news is all too aware of the tragedy that has engulfed the people of Iraq: the daily bombings, murders and kidnappings.

The subjugation of its women, however, has been largely ignored. Yet according to cultural observers, the number of so-called 'honour killings' has increased in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Campaigners say there is an 'epidemic' of such killings in the wartorn country. Autopsy reports in Baghdad often conclude with the verdict: "Killed to wash away her disgrace."

The filming of Du'a's death was just one more macabre element of her killing, but it has achieved something those bloodthirsty amateur filmmakers could not have predicted: it has brought such practices into the open and exposed them to the wider world.

It is, of course, too late for Du'a, a strikingly pretty young girl with long auburn hair. The 17-year-old must have hoped that the 'liberation' of her country would afford her opportunities she might otherwise never have had - for her education and a life of happiness free from oppression.

She lived with her family in the town of Bashika, near Mosul. They were neither rich nor poor.

It is believed Du'a met her Sunni boyfriend - whose name is not known - several months ago. They had grown up in an environment where hatred against rival factions is the norm.

The Yezidis - a Gnostic sect which combines Islamic teachings with Persian religions - despise the Sunnis; the Sunnis loathe the Yezidis.

Du'a and her boyfriend would have been all too aware that theirs was a forbidden love. But like so many teenagers before them, right back to the illicit love of Romeo and Juliet, they couldn't help themselves.

For a while, they met in secret. It was during one such highly charged meeting that they came up with a plan to run away together.

It is not clear whether this desperate measure was a result of their having sought and been refused permission to marry, or if they decided to do it knowing that such permission would never be obtained.

"Her family would never have agreed to such a marriage," says Diana Nammi, a leading Kurdish women's rights campaigner.

Some Muslim groups have claimed that Du'a converted to Islam shortly before her murder. According to other reports, her boyfriend denies this.

They ran away together to an address in Bashika. The girl's family alerted the police and Du'a and her boyfriend were found just a few days later.

According to Ms Nammi, who is calling for the girl's killers to be brought to justice, Du'a was arrested and put into prison.

A few days later, the police apparently received assurances from the leader of her tribe - who Ms Nammi believes is Du'a's uncle - that the girl would not be harmed.

What happened next is the subject of conflicting reports. According to some, the house of the tribal leader was stormed by a mob and Du'a dragged out and killed.

Ms Nammi, however, says she has information that it was the tribal leader who betrayed his niece to the mob. In this man's eyes, Du'a had committed an unforgiveable crime, punishable by death.

The family's 'honour' had been besmirched. The moment Du'a was placed in his house, her fate was sealed.

On April 7, Du'a was brought out of the house in a headlock to face the lynch mob. Hundreds of men were waiting for her - the excited atmosphere is said to have resembled a large sporting event - but no women.

On the video, Du'a's screams can be heard as she is dragged to the ground. In a further humiliation, her lower body has been stripped.

Instinctively, Du'a tries to cover herself; only later was a piece of clothing thrown over her.

She is surrounded by an enormous crowd jockeying for a good view of the ritualistic killing. About nine men take part in the attack, including, it is thought, members of the girl's family.

To any father of a daughter, that a helpless girl should be set upon with such cowardly savagery is beyond comprehension. One can barely imagine her terror.

It is a profoundly disturbing spectacle. One man kicks her hard between the legs as she screams in agony. Du'a tries to lift herself up, but someone hurls a concrete block into her face.

Another man stamps on her face. Someone kicks her in the stomach. Police officers stand idly by, some of them apparently enjoying the spectacle as much as anyone else.

Meanwhile, some observers film the execution on their mobile phones - the modern world intruding on a spectacle that belongs more in the Roman arena than in an apparently civilised society.

After half an hour of this savagery, Du'a is finally - mercifully, perhaps - dead. In a final humiliation, a man tries to lift her up, but drops her again, and her bloodied body is rolled face down into a puddle of blood. The family has had its 'honour' restored.

According to Ms Nammi, Du'a's parents did not want her to be stoned, though it is not clear whether they might have agreed for her to be killed in some other way.

After her murder, according to Ms Nammi, two men were arrested by Iraqi police, but she has heard they were subsequently released without charge.

Reports suggest that two of Du'a's uncles and four other people fled the town as investigators began to search for the culprits. It is thought these included her brother, who appeared in the video of the murder.

As for Du'a's boyfriend - who has lost the girl he loved in the most awful circumstances imaginable - he went into hiding for a while, but it is believed that no action has been taken against him.

Du'a was buried in a simple unmarked grave. Later, says Ms Nammi, her body was exhumed by the Kurdish authorities, who have autonomous control of the region, and sent to the Medico-legal Institute in Mosul.

There her body was examined to find out whether she had been a virgin or not, before being returned to the Sheikh Shams cemetery.

To our Western eyes, this posthumous assault on Du'a's body is the final insult. But according to Ms Nammi, it did at least establish that she was still a virgin and innocent of the 'crime' of which she had been accused.

However, Ms Nammi believes the mere fact that Du'a had run off with a Sunni boy would have been enough to have her sentenced to death.

Meanwhile, the cycle of tit-for-tat murders continues in Iraq. In this instance, in an apparent act of retaliation for Du'a's murder, 23 Yezidi workers were attacked and killed two weeks later, apparently by members of an armed Sunni group.

The men were travelling on a bus between Mosul and Bashika when their vehicle was halted by the gunmen, who made them disembark before killing them.

Tomorrow evening, Ms Nammi, founding member of the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation, will lead a group of women meeting in Shoreditch, East London, to remember Du'a Khalil Aswad and give back to her the dignity torn from her by her violent death.

The women are pledged to campaign against the entrenched beliefs which lead to such senseless deaths - and the fact that the people who commit these crimes are not regarded as murderers, but as heroes of the community.

According to Ms Nammi, there have been an estimated 10,000 cases of honour killings in the Kurdistan region in the past decade.

Under Iraqi law, the punishment for anyone found guilty of an honour killing is just six months in prison.

"Something has to be done to stop this," says Ms Nammi, who came to Britain in 1996. "There is an epidemic of so-called honour killings. It is almost routine and utterly unacceptable.

"We would greatly appreciate any contribution from the British Government in preventing these murders of women in Iraq."

Ms Nammi has the support of Amnesty International.

"This young girl's murder is truly abhorrent and her killers must be brought to justice," says Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK Director.

"Unless the authorities respond vigorously to this and other reports of crimes in the name of "honour", we must fear for the future of the women in Iraq."

For the sake of 17-year-old Du'a, an innocent girl who simply fell in love with the wrong man, it is all too little, too late.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Recalled sailor to be fired again

A sailor who was fired under "don't ask, don't tell," then recalled to active duty in an apparent bureaucratic snafu has been summarily discharged again after telling his story in the Stars & Stripes newspaper.

Petty Officer Second Class Jason Knight learned Thursday that the Navy intends to discharge him just weeks before completing his most recent one-year commitment, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said in a written statement.

Knight, a Hebrew linguist with four years' service, came out to his command in 2005 and was discharged soon after, losing his $13,000 sign-on bonus. He was pleasantly surprised to be recalled in June, and completed a tour of duty with Naval Customs Battalion Romeo in Kuwait.

Once again, he was entirely open about his sexual orientation; his interview with Stars & Stripes was published May 6.

"Jason Knight was an exemplary sailor who gladly returned to active duty when our country needed him," Sharra E. Greer, SLDN's director of law and policy, said in Friday's statement.

"Our nation should be embarrassed that our armed forces are forced to respond to Knight's selfless service with a government-sanctioned pink slip," Greer said.

Knight told Stars & Stripes that he was impelled to go public again by the homophobic comments of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who called homosexuality "immoral" and refused to apologize despite pressure from members of Congress and several presidential candidates. He sent a letter to the editor, which led to the interview and its consequences.

"Though I respect (Pace) as a leader, it made me so mad," Knight told the paper.

America's changing attitude on "don't ask" "includes suggestions that the Pentagon is less interested in kicking out gay service members during war," wrote Stars and Stripes reporter Joseph Giordono.

"Pentagon stats show that discharges of gay service members dropped to 612 in 2006. The peak of such discharges was in 2001, when 1,273 were reported.

"The numbers have fallen steadily each year, from 906 in 2002 to 787 in 2003, and on down."

Knight receives honorable discharges in both cases -- commanding officers have discretion in such matters. Sailors in his detail praised him highly.

"The Navy tends to keep people who don't want to be here, but Jason does," Petty Officer First Class Tisha Hanson told the paper, adding that his gayness "doesn't bother me."

Refusing to be called back up, even as a test case for gay rights, was not an option, Knight told lesbian blogger Pam Spaulding.

"It is one thing for conservative bigots to kick gays out, but if we refused to serve they would have a nervous breakdown," he said. "I did consider it.

"But I love the Navy and the military; it's just unfortunately under bad policy. I want to defend my nation, as every American has the right to. So I went willingly and out of the closet." (Barbara Wilcox, The Advocate)

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

African gays speak out on "state-backed" homophobia

JOHANNESBURG - African gay activists protested against "state-sponsored" homophobia, saying authorities tacitly condoned their persecution across the continent.

The International Gay and Lesbian Association's (ILGA) first pan-African conference in Johannesburg, which ends on Tuesday, drew about 60 activists who say they have seen first-hand the consequences of laws that breed homophobia.

In some cases, possible sentences against gays include death by stoning.

Thirty-eight of 85 U.N. members who outlaw homosexuality are in Africa, according to an April 2007 ILGA report which notes: "Although many of the countries ... do not systematically implement those laws, their mere existence reinforces a culture where a significant portion of the citizens need to hide from the rest of the population in fear.

"A culture where hatred and violence are somehow justified by the State and force people into invisibility or into denying who they truly are."

South Africa stands alone in Africa in its liberal attitude, last year becoming the first African nation to allow gay marriages.

Rowland Jide Macaulay, a gay cleric, breaking with African tradition that regards homosexuality as a taboo, launched a gay-friendly church in his native Nigeria last year to counter negative messages from officials and church leaders in a country where laws render homosexuality punishable by stoning to death.

"We're talking with people who cannot even integrate in the society. They've lost their jobs because they found out that they're gay at work, they've lost the roof over their head because their landlord found out they are gay," he said.

"There are people who suffer homophobic attacks ... verbal abuse and I think people need assurance they're not mentally ill."

Laws proposed last year will make life harder for gays in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, he said. The Same Sex Prohibition Bill bans homosexual unions and allows for the prosecution of anyone "aiding and abetting" gays and lesbians.

"In the southern part of federal Nigeria the punishment is 7-14 years. In the Sharia (Islamic law) states in the north it's actually death by stoning," said Macaulay.

Jean-Louis Rodrigues, secretary-general of Only Gay, a Senegalese support group for gay men, applauded the recent inclusion of gay men in a government HIV/AIDS panel but said this group faced discrimination in many spheres of society.

"Our struggle is about being visible and claiming our rights," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting. "Many gays in Senegal are arrested ... and given unfair trials because what is judged is not their crime but their sexuality."

Young gay execs look to break "pink ceiling"

Corporate boardrooms are slowly becoming a somewhat friendlier place for gay executives, but as John Browne's sudden exit from the top job at oil major BP Plc showed when his sexuality became public fodder, there are still challenges to overcome.

Browne stepped down last week when a UK court lifted an injunction preventing a newspaper group from publishing details about his private life. He was scheduled to retire in July, but stepped aside to "avoid unnecessary embarrassment and distraction to the company," adding he had always regarded his sexuality as a private matter.

"There still is a pink ceiling for openly gay executives," said Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, a group that promotes civil rights for gays.

"We are clearly going through a transitional moment, as the black civil rights movement and women's civil right movement went through," he added.

Browne felt the need to keep his sexuality private despite his high profile position, something that likely led to his problems.

"By not being out and being open, you do create a certain amount of questioning around you. Often times it creates a bit of mystery around an individual," said Eric Bloem, an official with the Human Rights Campaign, another gay civil rights group.

And Browne is not alone, according to Kirk Snyder, a lecturer at the University of Southern California's business school.

"Talking with executives and people in the position to become CEO, I have found that there are at least five closeted CEOs in the Fortune 500," said Snyder, author of the book, "The G Quotient: Why Gay Executives Are Excelling As Leaders." He declined to name the executives.

"It's a personal issue," he added. "There are a lot of psychological elements and economical elements."

While there are no known gay CEOs among large companies, many corporate observers said the next generation of gay executives are not willing to hide that part of their lives.


"What you are seeing, is the next generation is unwilling to live in the closet," Lazin said. "Those capable young executives will choose only to go to these places where they believe meritocracy prevails."

Throw in nondiscrimination policies and same-sex health care benefits by a growing number of U.S. companies, and the environment is changing.

The U.S. House recently introduced legislation making it illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation, something that is legal in 33 states.

On Friday, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson apologized for saying at the Republican presidential debate that private employers should be allowed to fire gay employees because of their sexual preference. He later told a morning television show he misinterpreted the question and discrimination was not acceptable.

The American Family Association, which opposes companies giving gays equal employment protection and benefits, cares more where corporate money is spent.

"Our thing is not with the internal hiring practices with corporations," AFA President Donald Wildmon said. "We would have no way of knowing nor would we really care how many gays or homosexuals this company hired. What we care about is using (company) profits to further the political and social agenda of the movement."

However, companies realize that to attract the best talent, they must provide a welcome atmosphere, executive recruiters said.

"I am not seeing any kind of a shakedown at the top saying, 'We want only straight males or females running our company.' It is unheard of," said Seth Harris, executive vice president with Chicago-based Cook Associates. "It's about the success based on past merits and the ability to get the job done."

Nevertheless, Lazin wonders whether Browne would have resigned if he had had a liaison with a woman.

"I do think there is still a double standard there," he said. "It reflects an inequality and a moment in time when society is becoming comfortable around same-sex relationships but is not quite there yet."

Should Hate-Crime Law Extend To Gender & Sexual Orientation?

Under U.S. federal law, a hate crime is defined as a crime committed against a person because of his or her race, religion, color or national origin.

Now the U.S. House of Representatives voted to extend hate-crime protection to cover crimes spurred by a victim's gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. But the president is expected to veto that bill as soon as it lands on his desk.

The controversy stems around language dealing with homosexuality. The Bush administration says it's doesn't want people who speak against homosexuality to get caught in the middle.

While some agree, others don't buy it.

"The church cannot say we tolerate homosexuality," said Pastor Sterling Lands II. "Not ever."

"This act does not punish thought," said Paul Scott with Equality Texas. "It does not punish religous thought."

When it comes to proposed hate-crime legilation, no one is middle of the road.

Lands says he's against any legislation that affects his freedom of speech.

"To me, hate crime is attempting to put some limits on thought and attitude," Lands said. "It also seems to want to bridle the First Amendment."

KXAN's Sonta Henderson said, "Do you think you have hate speech when you speak against homosexuality?"
Lands said, "Absolutely not."

"What this really focuses on," Scott said, "is the intentional targeting of people for who they are and going out and committing a crime, whether it's based upon race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexuality or gender identity."

"I know people do feel sometimes it's being forced down their throats with the parades and that type of thing," said concerned citizen Patrick Lanhom.

Lanhom is gay and works at a gay bar. He says federal legislation is needed. Check out what happened to him in Houston.

"A beer bottle was thrown at me," Lanhom said. "It hit the ground. I wasn't injured, but it scared me. It shook me."

"If someone makes the choice to go out there and attack just because they are gay lesbian, bisexual or transgender, why is that the right thing to do," Scott said. "Why shouldn't that get the same type of review when it comes to criminal proceedings?"

Lands says he condemns crime against anyone but is steadfast in his belief.

"I don't think the church should tolerate homosexuality, but the church should invite them in because a homosexual is no different than any other sinner," Lands said.

You may recall Austin has seens its own share of crimes against homosexuals. After leaving with several guys, one man was beaten, cut and sodomized.

'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Comeback?

Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Knight says the U.S. Navy knew he was gay, discharged him after he admitted his sexuality, and then re-called him last year to serve in the Middle East.

Rhe Navy disputes that Knight was ever officially known by the Pentagon to be openly gay, so there was nothing odd about his being re-called last summer. But Knight, 23, calls this "a joke."

He filled out all the proper paperwork, he says. He suspects the Navy knew of his sexuality but "had a spot to fill, and for whatever reason, I didn't have the re-enlistment code that would prevent me from filling to spot."

A Comeback for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'?

The particular circumstances surrounding Knight's discharge complicate any definitive narrative that the Pentagon, hungry for manpower, is overlooking its ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

Navy spokesman Cmdr. Jeff Davis, says, "There is nothing in his [Knight's] service record to indicated he was discharged for violation of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' It was a normal routine discharge that occurred when his enlistment was up."

Knight says that he informed the military of his sexual orientation after having his July 2004 marriage to a woman annulled, and he was filling out Pentagon paperwork to have that annulment recorded.

He says that he filled out the proper paperwork under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" protocols.

A Navy legalman was filling out the forms for the Navy, he recalls. But Knight says, ultimately, his superior officers decided that since he was nearing his four-year anniversary in April 2005 and was eligible for a normal discharge, they would opt for that exit.

"They didn't want to drag it out," Knight says. So he did not receive what is referred to as a "homosexual separation," but rather a regular DD214 -- "a regular discharge."

Soldier Claims Navy Re-Called Signing Bonus

The Navy, however, hadn't quite washed its hands of the matter.

In April 2005, Knight says he received a letter from the Navy saying that it wanted Knight to return to them the $13,000 signing bonus he'd been paid after enlisting in April 2001.

Then, even after the Navy re-calleded him from the individual active reserve, Knight -- who received a promotion during his service in a customs battalion in Kuwait -- says the military withheld $350 from his monthly pay to repay that bonus.

Because of the paperwork he filled out and the wages that were withheld, Knight does not believe that the Navy didn't know he was gay.

Davis says Knight's "official personnel record does not reflect" that it was known that he was openly gay.

The Pentagon also challenges the notion that it re-calleded Knight back to duty. Davis says Knight volunteered, and the Navy accepted him.

Knight says that he received an e-mail from the Navy re-calling him but "I found out when I got to Kuwait it was volunteer. That happened to a lot of us."

Knight is currently in San Diego on his 30-days of leave before he is officially discharged again on May 28.

"I understand there are some people that push the limits on it with being gay," he says. "But so many people are just doing their job, and just want to have the right to serve their country."

He calls "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" "an immoral policy" and says his being openly gay had "no effect on unit cohesion."

"Everybody I worked with was totally comfortable with me," Knight insists.

That would be disputed, no doubt, by supporters of the current policy, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who last month wrote that "polarization of personnel and breakdown of unit effectiveness is too high a price to pay for well-intentioned but misguided efforts to elevate the interests of a minority of homosexual servicemembers above those of their units."

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Turkish gays say reforms aren't enough

The secular Muslim nation launches broad reforms in a bid to join the European Union, but while gay sex is legal, living an out life remains tough.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Turkish police routinely raided gay bars, detained transvestites, and banned gay conferences and festivals.

Next month, in a sign of how the state has loosened up, gay activists will hold forums on several university campuses to discuss their rights and the discrimination they still face.

Gay men and lesbians in Turkey say they lack legal protections and face social stigma in a Muslim nation with a secular tradition of government that has implemented broad reforms in its bid to join the European Union -- but remains heavily influenced by conservative and religious values. For the most part, they face less pressure than in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries where Islamic codes are enforced with more rigor.

However, Turkey's gay men and lesbians are jostling for more rights in a crowded field.

The historical feud between Turks and Armenians, as well as the concerns of ethnic Kurds and minority Christians, attract more international attention and pressure for change on the Turkish government.

"There are so many problems in Turkey," Ali Erol, a member of the gay rights group Kaos GL, said in an interview in his office in Ankara, the Turkish capital. "It looks as though gay rights are put down below in the list of things to be taken care of."

In March, the chief editor of the group's magazine, also named Kaos GL, was acquitted of charges that he had illegally published pornography in a July 2006 issue after a judge noted that copies were seized before they were put on sale. The editor, Umut Guner, could have faced several years in jail if convicted.

The issue that got the magazine in trouble showed two images of men in explicit sexual poses, beside an article that editors described as an analysis of issues relating to pornography. The magazine first published in 1994, and became legal when it secured a license five years later. It comes out every two months, and has a circulation of up to 1,000.

In recent years, Turkey reworked its penal code to bring it into line with European standards. The new version does not specifically ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, although the issue was discussed at the draft stage.

Justice Ministry officials had said that laws barring discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, religion and political views were enough to protect its citizens.

"There are some 'hate crime' articles in the criminal code, but they are not used appropriately," said Levent Korkut, head of Amnesty International's operations in Turkey. "Impunity is a problem in this area."

He noted that even some Turks who describe themselves as liberals say, "'We don't want to protect these people.'"

Gay sex is not a crime in Turkey, and some clubs and cinemas in big cities openly cater to homosexuals. Gay and lesbian societies exist at several universities. But the vast majority of gays remain discreet in a country where liberal views have yet to make inroads in rural areas and many urban settings. Municipalities have some leeway to introduce laws safeguarding "morality," which gay activists view as a potential threat to their freedom.

Some gays, notably poet Murathan Mungan and the late singer Zeki Muren, achieved celebrity status and openly acknowledged their sexual orientation. Similarly, historians and novelists have referred to a degree of tolerance for gay sex among some sectors of the elite during the Ottoman Empire that ended in 1923.

Yet, for many, being gay is an exercise in deception. One gay man who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was distraught years ago because high school classmates kept calling him "ibne," a derogatory word for gay in Turkish.

The man, now a university student, said he avoids physical contact with his boyfriend when they are in public, and passes him off as a close friend. He said he is often mocked if he wears an article of clothing that people think is feminine.

Unable to find regular jobs, many transvestites and transsexuals work as prostitutes, an often dangerous profession that has led to the murders of some at the hands of clients.

Some deadly hate crimes were never publicized because police did not reveal the sexual orientation of the victims, according to gay activists. In some cases, they said, gays who were harassed or physically harmed because of their orientation did not report the incident or go to court because they wanted to avoid scrutiny.

The European Union has funded gay groups in Turkey, which sometimes coordinate with the Turkish Ministry of Health and other government agencies. Kaos GL has links to Lambda Istanbul, a gay group in Turkey's biggest city, and will host an "international anti-homophobia" meeting on university campuses in Ankara next month.

''We want to share and learn the experiences of all gays and lesbians who struggle against homophobia in the Middle East, Balkans, Europe and the other parts of the world,'' the group said in a statement. It has invited international speakers, including journalists and European lawmakers who will discuss gay issues in their own countries.

The Kaos GL magazine paid tribute to Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian journalist who was allegedly slain by extremist nationalists in January, by printing a somber image of him on the back cover of a recent issue.

"Those people who murdered Hrant Dink do not like us either," Erol said.

(Christopher Torchia and Ceren Kumova, AP)

Thai AIDS activist: U.S. is "devil disguised"

America puts Thailand on a list of copyright violators for its decision, backed by the World Trade Organization, to break patent on three U.S.-made AIDS drugs.

AIDS activists rallied outside the U.S. Embassy on Thursday to protest Washington's decision to place Thailand on a list of copyright violators, calling the Thai government's move to break patents on pricey U.S.-made AIDS drugs a "lifesaver."

"The U.S. government is the devil disguised as a priest . . . they want to please the pharmaceutical companies who only care about maximum profit," said Nimit Tien-udom, director of AIDS Access Foundation. "Where is the concern for the dignity of human lives that the U.S. always preach about?"

"We are here to support the government's decision -- a lifesaver for many people living with AIDS," Nimit said.

Countries on the list are under extra scrutiny and could face trade sanctions if violations worsen.

About 30 protesters chanted and carried placards with slogans such as "Evil USA, stop threatening access to treatment in Thailand." They dispersed peacefully after about two hours.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont insisted Thursday that the government would stand by its decision to break patents on three drugs, including the AIDS drugs Kaletra, produced by Abbott Laboratories, and Efavirenz by Merck. Both are American companies.

"We believe we will be able to explain the decision to the world community," Surayud said.

According to World Trade Organization agreements, governments can issue compulsory licenses allowing the manufacture, import and sale of cheaper generic versions of patented drugs in case of a national public health emergency.

Such actions have been taken by several countries for medicines to treat people with AIDS.

Public Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla -- who says the government can only afford to provide the drugs to one-fifth of the 500,000 people living with HIV in Thailand -- is scheduled to travel to the United States this month to explain Thailand's decision to Congress and other public and private agencies.

However, Surayud said the Commerce Ministry would work with U.S. officials to study the issues of piracy and copyright infringement to find a solution.

On Monday, the U.S. government included Thailand among 12 countries on an annual "Priority Watch List" of nations where American companies face particular problems with protection of intellectual property rights.

Washington says Thailand lacked "transparency" in announcing the compulsory licenses because it failed to consult with the drug producers.

Washington has long had problems with piracy and copyright infringement in Thailand, particularly of movies, music, software, books and brand-name fashion wear. Thailand was on the Priority Watch List in 1989-1992 but had been on the less serious "Watch List" for the past 15 years. (Ambika Ahuja, AP)