Category Archives: Human Rights

South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Turns 95

Nelson M.

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”  – Nelson Mandela

Even though I was born in Eritrea and grow-up in America, I have found that you cannot remain untouched by the amazing Mandela. Historically known as one of the most influential icons of African history, Nelson Mandela is fighting the ultimate battle for his life today, physically. However, even in his weakest moment he still has the power to influence and bring people of different backgrounds and races together. Mandela’s legacy will always remain as important a chapter of Africa till the end of times.

Even during President Obama’s recent visit to South Africa, Obama stayed in the Rainbow Nation. His stay also included a visit to Robbon Islands, where Nelson Mandela spent years as a prisoner of the Apartheid regime of erstwhile, White South Africa.

Regardless of his life of struggle and hardship, Madiba developed a great sense of humanity. Although I have never met Mandela in person, his leadership, determination and drive he has left a great mark on my thoughts, and inspires me to continue to be a voice for the African Diaspora. As people around the world celebrate Mandela’s 95th birthday, I will pray for his health and hope for more Mandela’s around the world.

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Henry Okah Sentence To 24 Years In Nigeria


Let there be justice! Today Judge Neels Classen sentenced Nigerian terrorist Henry Okah to 24 years of jail time, but is that enough?  I’ve been following this news since I’ve first heard of it a few months back.

On January 21, Okah was found guilty on 13 counts of terrorism. The chargers were in relations to two car bombs in Nigeria. The first bomb took place on March 15, 2010 at a post amnesty meeting where one person was killed and 11 people injured. The second bombing took place on October 1, 2010 also known as Nigeria’s Independence Day where 12 innocent people were killed along with 36 injured people.

According to the South African Press Association (SAPA) Classen stated “the State had proved Okah’s guild beyond a reasonable doubt, and his failure to testify meant the evidence against him remained uncontested.”

So how did Judge Classen calculate the amount of years Okah should serve? Okah was given 12 years imprisonment for each of the bombings and 13 years for the threats made to the South African government after his arrest in October 2010. SAPA stated the 13 years would run concurrently with the 24 years.

I hope Okah’s hearing today serves a bit of justice to the families of the victims and most importantly the ones who survived the bombing.

Senegal: Early Child Marriage and Children’s Rights to Education

Photo by Elena Uderzo

Today’s guest blogger is Elena Uderzo, a friend and colleague from London. Elena is currently working in  Senegal focusing on children’s rights regarding early marriage with pregnancy. As always please feel free to comment, share your view, and pass along today’s message.

Elena Uderzo from Senegal – 

I have been working for Action Aid Senegal for the last two months. We are conducting a survey targeting early marriage and pregnancy for young students in primary school. We are near Sokone, five-hour drive from the capital Dakar, a few kilometers away from The Gambia.

Our survey includes 11-14 years young girls on one side, and unfortunately on the other side there are often teachers who marry these girls, or other adults. These marriages are against the law and either they are not known to the people involved or worse are ignored. Is it a right to know the law or not?

During the past two weeks, we visited 24 schools and recorded already many cases of early marriage and early pregnancy. Our work is divided between my three colleagues and a French-Wolof translator. Wolof is the official language of Senegal. In some school students are taught in French and in the Arab schools they are taught in Arabic.  We are interviewing students and teachers to better understand the factors and causes at play in this context.

The understanding and knowledge about children’s rights do not come up in these children’s classes or at their homes. The students told me that they have great difficulty, as can be imagined, to discuss these issues with adults. The only information they can find are those provided by community radio stations that talk about the importance of continuing their studies in spite of the early marriage. It is easy to relay this message but then it is always their parent’s choice. Often for reasons related to poverty and to prevent pregnancies outside marriage. It is usually said that this happens to girls who do not have good results at school. The cultural aspects are difficult to understand for people coming from other cultures and for other reasons that people might not be able to explain to me clearly.

For now, I only record all these experiences, since it is not my duty to change the situation in this country about these issues. I am only investigating how active is the role of schools in the  communication with the families of the girls that “decided” to get married and that for this reason leave school forever. Thus disregarding their education and not knowing if they have the right to an education.

Unfortunately, the role of teachers is often that of passive acceptance of these decisions. That often happen, they say, during the great school holidays (which here are from June to October, coinciding with the rainy season), so that at the return in the classroom, you notice the absence of some students, now “happily married”.

The decision to get married is it a right or not?
There are local organizations, such as girls’ education committees and associations of women’s rights. I’m trying to get in touch with these organizations to collaborate with them on these issues, there are no clear data about these cases and it’s important to understand how others organization were previously mobilized.

I noticed that you cannot just talk about school dropout for girls, there is also a large share of male students who interrupt their studies to work in the fields,  others to go fishing, some to become  truck drivers, everything to gain a bit ‘of money for themselves and  their families.

The problem has many facets, and as an organization we are asking for more dialogue on the part of the schools on these issues. We hope to increase awareness among the students about the consequences of early marriages and pregnancies, their rights, and the importance of education. The pupils themselves can decide whether to convey their rights and duties to their families, where it’s possible.

Meanwhile as I write, people are preparing the fields waiting for the rain. Sandy fields are plowed, weeds removed, the rain is expected to start sowing, especially peanuts and millet in this region.

On the walls of the schools that I visited I saw written in French with colored chalks:


Without passion you cannot do anything important.


Success: commitment and discipline.

The intent, the desire to succeed is there, but there are no foundations yet, of well trained teachers, constructive school system, and also on a larger scale the importance of education in this country.

Greetings to all from the country that here is famous for the abstract concept of Teranga: Hospitality in Wolof.


A Move Towards Gender Equality in South Africa

Yep, there is finally some good news going on in Africa this week. South African President Jacob Zuma-led Cabinet approved the Women Empowerment and Gender Quality Draft Bill for publication in the Government Gazette for public comment Wednesday.

The draft Bill seeks to:

  • Provide the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities with the necessary authority to monitor, review and oversee gender mainstreaming and integration of gender equality considerations into all programmes of government and other sectors;
  • Promote the protection and advancement of women as envisaged in section 9 (2) of the Constitution.

During the launch of Women’s Month, Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana explained how the bill will empower women.  “South Africa has some of the most progressive policies on the the empowerment of women and gender parity. This will set guidelines on how woman should be empowered,” she said.

Xingwana also points that the biggest challenge is in the implementation of these policies. The Bill is reported to be published on the Government Gazette this week and the public will have 30 days to submit their comments. I am curious to see how the Bill will play out over the next several months, and hope this Gender Equality Bill empowers other African nations to do the same.

New Sanctions Against Eritrea Have Passed, Now What?

For anyone who is Eritrean I am sure we all heard of the saying “Eritreans’ only kneel for two reasons, to pray and to aim.” Lately the Horn of Africa has been all over the news mostly relating to famine and conflict. According to the DailyMaverick:

“The United Nations Security Council passed new sanctions against Eritrea on Monday, punishing the tiny country in the Horn of Africa for its continued political, financil, training and logistical support to Al Shabaab, the radical Islamist militant group in Somalia an allegation which Eritrea denies. But with sanctions as weak as these, there’s not much incentive for Ertirea to change its ways.”

I came across this interesting interview a few weeks ago with President Isaias Afwerki on the topic of Somalia, Al Shabaab, and Eritrea’s role in the current crisis. Click hereto watch and let me know what you think.

“The peoples of Eritrea, Ethiopia and the region will undoubtedly pay the price for this continued misguided policy, but the Eritrean people will prevail, as they prevailed in the past” a statement from Eritrean Foreign Ministry stated.

Even though Eritrea was sanctioned before in 2009, the new sanctions wouldn’t be any different and will continue putting a freeze on weapon sales to Eritrea and travel bans and asset freezes on selected officials. However, Eritreans both for and against government including the diaspora are frustrated.

The Young People’s Front for Democracy and Justice  (YPFD), a pro-government Eritrean Diaspora Youth organization striving to create a strong, conscious, and patriotic youth movement and others groups have been petitioning against the sanction.  But do you have to be pro-government to be patriotic? And if you don’t agree to the UN sanctioning Eritrea, what other solutions can we come up with together regardless of government views? According to the petition:

“The Eritrean population, which suffered seven decades of repeated UN injustices, shouldn’t be made to suffer more injustice by this world body. Besides, putting more sanctions against Eritrea and the innocent people of Eritrea will not bring peace to the war ravaged Horn of Africa; in fact, this is a reckless act designed to reignite existing simmering conflicts and to create new ones…Finally, the solution is not in scapegoating or isolating Eritrea. The solution is on constructive engagement.”

Can someone please explain to me how we can have constructive engagement with the UN and supporting nations? Seems like people are so passionate and have opinions, but it’s rare when I hear a solution without it sounding so vague. At the end of the day it should be the innocent people of Eritrea and the state of the economy that we should look out for.  One of the many reasons I created this blog is to establish a platform for people to speak what is on their mind so that we can collectively come together and think of different ways to better Eritrea and the people.

“Crisis In The Congo: Uncovering the Truth”

When it comes to watching documentaries, it is one hobby that allows me to educate myself, and get inspired to share a story that other’s may not know about. Thanks to the wonderful world of social media, I came across the next documentary from a friends Facebook wall. This is one story that needs more attention from the international community, including  individuals in America and world-wide.

“Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering The Truth explores the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century. The film is a short version of a feature length production to be released in the near future. It locates the Congo crisis in a historical, social and political context. It unveils analysis and prescriptions by leading experts, practitioners, activists and intellectuals that are not normally available to the general public. The film is a call to conscience and action.”

After watching this powerful documentary, I wanted to know how I can help, so I went to the Crisis in the Congo Facebook page and started there. You can also check out the Crisis in the Congo Website to get more information and ways you can take action. Below is the full documentary, feel free to leave your comments, view, and opinions. Also share with a friend, knowledge is key!


A Photo Worth a Thousand Words

When we think of weddings, we think of a happy day to celebrate with our family and friends. And like most girls, we even plan how that special day is going to be at a young age. However, that story is different for many girls living in developing nations, especially east Africa.

Today I attended the last day of the  Fourth Annual FotoWeek DC photography festival , a phenomenal exhibit with many types of photos from all over, inspiring to change peoples view of the world. From “The Nights of 9/11″ to “Conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC),” this powerful exhibit showcased and brought extraordinary regional and international photographs together. Out of all the photos, the one that spoke to me the most was the image below by Stephanie Sinclair.

“Family member place a white cloth over the head of Leyualem, 14, as she prepared to be whisked away on a mule by her new groom and his groomsmen. Leyualem had never met her husband before her wedding day, yet submitted as they bound her in the white wedding cloth. The men later said it was placed over her head so she would not be able to find her way back home should she want to escape the marriage.”

Murderer of Gay Activist Sentenced to 30 Years

Today Sindy Nsubuga Enoch, a young Ugandan man was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being found guilty for the murder of a gay rights activist, David Kato on January  26th 2011. The Daily Monitor reported:

 “The 30 year sentence was passed by Justice Joseph Mulangira after Nsubuga admitted to have murdered David Kato 46. This verdict was passed based on the evidence produced in court by the lead state prosecutor, Ms. Loe Karungi. Kato’s death was condemned by both local and international human rights bodies including United States President Barack Obama, saying it was an abuse of fundamental human rights. They called upon the government to investigate the cause of his death and speak out against homophobia towards the gay community in the country. The police issued a statement to the effect that Kato’s killing was no way related to his campaign for gay rights.”

Now, I’m not too sure if I truly believe the police statement that Kato’s murder was ‘NO WAY’ related, really?  In 2010 a Ugandan tabloid  Rolling Stone,  newspaper issued names, photographs and address of 100 people with the words “Hang Them!” The individuals on the list were accused of “recruiting” children to homosexuality. Kato along with two of his co-workers Kasha Nabagesera and Julian Patience Onziema from Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) were listed in the issue. As a result, Kato and his colleagues sued the newspaper and demanding to stop publication. Although the petition was granted on November 2, 2010, the paper’s managing editor, Giles Muhame commented:

“I haven’t seen the court injunction but the war against gays will and must continue. We have to protect our children from this dirty homosexual affront.”

As frustrating as that comment is, Muhame is not the only the Ugandan who is anti-homosexuality. Below is a video by Human Rights First showing Ugandan parliamentarian David Bahati (who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill–legislation that proposes the death penalty for certain cases of “aggravated homosexuality”) debating with  Human Rights First’s Fighting Discrimination program director, Paul LeGendre.

A Free Eritrea

The one thing I hate more in the world outside of standing in a long Starbucks line on a Monday morning is INJUSTICE, especially when it’s happening in my beloved Eritrea. Anyone who knows me can tell you I am a proud Eritrean, however, lately I find myself praying for my country. To me Eritrea is in a state of despair.

Ten years ago, President Isaias Afewerki  demanded the arrest of 11 high government officials after finding information criticizing his leadership. He then went on to arrest 10 journalists who published  letters about this policies and closed all independent newspapers in Eritrea. The Human Rights Watch reported:

“The 20 men and one woman have never been seen again by anyone outside the penal system, including their families, lawyers, or prison monitoring groups. They have never been afforded a hearing; rather, all 21 were incarcerated in secret detention facilities in solitary confinement. According to former guards whose reports Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm, 10 of the 21 have died in prison and the remaining 11 are physically or mentally incapacitated and emaciated.”

Although these 21 are the most internationally known victims, there are thousands of others who have been denied basic rights. Most rights are denied of Eritrean’s because they are suspected of not fully supporting the regime and/or have attempted to flee out of Eritrea.

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information sent out a press release yesterday stating:

“The Sudanese authorities are increasingly deporting Eritreans to their country without allowing them to claim asylum, Human Rights Watch said today. On October 17, 2011, Sudan handed over 300 Eritreans to the Eritrean military without screening them for refugee status, drawing public condemnation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).”

On October 24, Reporters Without Boarders reported their concern to Sudanese authorities when Eritrean journalist Jamal Osman Hamad got arrested in Khartoum.

“Hamad’s arrest took place less than a week after an official visit to Sudan by Isaias  when he and his Sudanese counterpart Omar Al-Bashir inaugurated a new road linking their two countries in the Sudanese town of Kassala. Reporters Without Borders believes the criticism of the Sudanese authorities’ attitude by the UNHCR is well founded. This event unfortunately demonstrates that the U.N. body is not in a position to guarantee the safety of those who have fled persecution by the Asmara government. We therefore ask the UNHCR to appeal to third countries to grant visas urgently to Eritrean human rights campaigners who have taken refuge in Sudan,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard.

On September 10, 2011 which marked the 10th anniversary since the arrest of the 20 political officials, Reporters Without Borders along with various journalists and all privately-owned print media launched an international publicity campaign about Eritrea. The campaign also has an updated list of journalists detained in Eritrea.

Below is a clip of a ‘Free Eritrea democracy speech at San Francisco City Hall’ on April 19.

The Last Cut

Okay ladies, be prepared to cross your legs &  clench those muscles because no matter how you look at it, there is no way I can sugar-coat ‘Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.’

In 2010, I went to Ethiopia to write, film, and produce a documentary addressing the perceptions of female genital mutilation as my thesis project. I also had a chance to partner up with international and local non-government orginzation (NGOs) on their grassroots initiatives which focused on  harmful traditional practices. As I stated before, my journey to Ethiopia reinforced in me an intense realization that there is urgent work to be done.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is practiced in 28 countries across sub-Saharan Africa from Sudan and Somalia in the east, to most of the countries in West Africa. It is also concentrated along the Nile valley from Egypt in the north to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya in the south.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines female genital mutilation/cutting as comprising “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.”

During my time in Ethiopia, I learned that the procedures of FGM/C varies, depending on the type of FGM/C, the age of the girl, and the experiences of the person who is doing the circumcision, who I found to be in many cases an old woman. When I interviewed a local Awasa woman who practiced FGM/C on girls for over 40 years she explained:

“After I am done cutting the girl, I often try to pour egg yold or alcohol to stop the bleeding so that the healing can start. I tune-out the cries and screams that always happen when I am cutting the girl because for me, I cut girls to make an income for my family. “

Although I can sit here and go over more graphic details of my varies interviews and the different types of FGM/C, I  want to discus the purpose of the practice and bring attention that FGM still occurs in African countries.

The Concord Times  posted an article yesterday discussing campaign strategies in Sierra Leone linking to FGM.

According to sources, some politicians are presently expending huge resources to promote Female Genital Mutilation FGM in different parts of the country as a campaign strategy to win the hearts of electorates ahead of the upcoming 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.

Whilst doing this, these politicians spread hate messages against anti-FGM activists. They work in close collaboration with people in the society who support the practice of FGM to harass and intimidate those who talk ill about the society.

Even though these unfortunate events are still happening, it’s important that we pass the knowledge we learn and educate one another. Other then curiosity, what brought my attention and research on FGM/C was the Orchid Project, an NGO that focuses on ending FGM/C; and EGLDAM, a local Addis Ababa NGO decided to educating and ending FGM/C within Ethiopia.

From  my research and trip I learned other harmful traditional practices that were happening throughout Africa including: early marriage and dowry; nutritional taboos and practices related to child delivery; breast ironing; and son preference and tradition.  These are more topics and discussions I plan to cover in the near future.


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