On Tuesday evening, I received a short email from Mark. The message was this:
"massive, 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. really, really devastating"
Mark is an even-tempered and measured guy and I knew that he wouldn't exaggerate the severity of the situation.
In the days since the quake struck, I've tried, like so many millions of people, to do as much as possible to raise awareness, donate money, and help the victims of the Haiti catastrophe.
Liu Zhenmin, the Chinese deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, spoke to the general assembly on Tuesday and called for better global cooperation on global health issues. He specifically focused on improving information: “The international community should pool its resources and work together, strengthen the sharing of information, technology and experience in prevention and control, so as to contain the spread of major epidemics around the world, including H1N1 influenza…”
The United Nations General Assembly voted Monday to create a new, more powerful agency for women, in a move supporters hailed as a breakthrough for women’s equality and rights. An Assembly resolution called for the amalgamation of four existing United Nations offices dealing with women’s affairs into a single body to be headed by an under secretary general. The unanimous vote followed three years of negotiations.
The creation of this body had actually been somewhat controversial, as some member states opposed consolidating the currently existing women's agencies into one supra-agency. The step is to be applauded, though, as it will make the UN's work on women's issues more streamlined and more effective.
UNIFEM, one of the UN's chief agencies dedicated to women, naturally approves.
Lubna Hussein is a Sudanese woman and former UN worker arrested a few months ago in Khartoum for the crime of wearing pants. Because she is an incredibly brave human being she turned her arrest, detention and trial into a public event that drew considerable attention to the arbitrary enforcement of discriminatory laws in Sudan. Her trial concluded earlier this week. She was found guilty and sentenced to a $100 fine (which she refused to pay) and one month in prison.
She was released from prison earlier today. But her trial has made her an international hero to human rights defenders around the world. Lubna would not acquiesce to injustice. Instead, she fought it head on. In the process, she drew considerable attention to the discriminatory Sudanese criminal code. Consider this statement from the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
“Lubna Hussein, a female former UN staff member in Sudan, was yesterday sentenced to one month in jail, with the alternative of a 500 Sudanese Pound fine, on charges of dressing in an indecent manner – essentially because she was wearing trousers.
The Sudanese Criminal Act does not define what constitutes “indecent dress” and leaves wide discretion to police officers, raising concerns that the arrests are being conducted arbitrarily. According to Article 152(1) of the 1991 Criminal Act, "indecent dress" may be punished with up to 40 lashes or a fine, or both. Under international human rights standards, flogging is considered as cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
Lubna Hussein's case is emblematic of a wider pattern of discrimination and application of discriminatory laws against women. Ms Hussein was arrested along with 13 other women. The arrests of all, and not only Lubna Hussein, were arbitrary and left to the discretion of police officers.
The arrest and conviction of Ms. Hussein is a violation of Articles 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Sudan is a state party and Art. 29 of Sudan’s own Interim National Constitution. The charges were not communicated at the time of arrest which is in violation of Art. 14 of the ICCPR. Article 9 of the ICCPR deals with the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest and is also applicable.
On account of being a UNMIS staff member at the time of arrest and initial trial Ms. Lubna Hussein was represented by UNMIS Legal Affairs. Ms. Hussein consequently resigned from UNMIS as the trial proceeded. However, there was lack of legal representation for the other women and inadequate time to prepare their defence. There was also an absence of review of the sentence for other women. The judgment and flogging of some of the women arrested with Ms. Hussein who were not represented by legal counsel were carried out immediately under Section 152(1) of the 1991 Criminal Act.
The rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest, to due process of law, and to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are expressly protected in the Bill of Rights contained in Sudan’s Interim National Constitution. They are also enshrined in international human rights treaties to which Sudan is a State Party.
Under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, national laws, such as the Criminal Act, require a comprehensive review in order to bring them into line with the Interim Constitution and Sudan’s international human rights obligations. This review has yet to be completed.”
Lubna has vowed to press on. We'll be with her all the way.
Incredible article from the Kristoff/WuDunn duo.
In many poor countries, the greatest unexploited resource isn’t oil fields or veins of gold; it is the women and girls who aren’t educated and never become a major presence in the formal economy. With education and with help starting businesses, impoverished women can earn money and support their countries as well as their families. They represent perhaps the best hope for fighting global poverty.
Pre-order your copy of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Like Alanna, I too am glad to see Secretary of State Clinton focusing on the pandemic of rape in eastern DR Congo. I'm also glad, to judge from the flurry of media reports coming out of Goma and Kinshasa, that her visit and her attention are having some effect. And naturally, I'm glad that she's calling for an end to impunity -- for real "arrests and prosecutions and punishment" -- for perpetrators of this crime (easier said than done, unfortunately, given its ubiquity among all sides of the conflict).
"The entire society needs to be speaking out against this...It should be a mark of shame anywhere, in any country. I hope that that will become a real cause here in Kinshasa that will sweep across the country."
She's right, of course, and her purpose is to upend the lamentable status quo, in which rape is rampant and unchallenged. And maybe there's a sort of power in reversing the meaning of the phrase "mark of shame," using it to signify the failure to combat rape, rather than rape itself, as so often occurs in places like Congo where what should be a war crime is seen as a stigma. But "mark of shame," I think, falls too close to this line; in a culture in which the entrenched response to rape remains shame and ostracization -- or even laughter and mockery -- it's difficult to use that emotion to galvanize a vigorous and difficult campaign to change not just a country's punitive structures, but a society's very mores.