Category Archives: Human Rights

The Trial of Thomas Hardy: A Forgotten Chapter in the Working Class Fight for Democratic Rights

by Ian Angus
November 5, 2009, is the 215th anniversary of the acquittal of Thomas Hardy on charges of High Treason. Hardy is nearly forgotten today, but for decades workers and democrats in England celebrated November 5 every year as the anniversary of a major victory, a triumph over a powerful state that had deployed immense resources to crush working class organizations and suppress popular demands for democratic rights. Continue reading

Khawaja Sentenced to 10 Years;
Tories Plan New ‘Anti-Terror’ Law

By Richard Fidler. Mohammad Momin Khawaja, the first person to be sentenced under Canada’s post-9/11 terrorism laws, was ordered March 12 to serve 10½ years in prison, with no eligibility for parole for 5 years. Under the Anti-Terrorism Act, this term will be consecutive to the more than 5 years he has spent awaiting trial and sentence. Continue reading

Afghan resistance is ‘terrorist’ under Canadian law, Khawaja trial judge rules

By Richard Fidler. In the first major prosecution under Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act, Mohammad Momin Khawaja, a 29-year-old Ottawa-area software developer arrested almost five years ago, was convicted October 29 on five charges of participating in a “terrorist group” and helping to build an explosive device “likely to cause serious bodily harm or death to persons or serious damage to property.” Continue reading

Farmers Seek Defenses Against the Giants of Agribusiness

By John Riddell

Around the world, farm income is plummeting, pushing farmers off the land and into destitution. At the very same time, soaring food prices are putting tens of millions onto starvation diets.

Welcome to the bizarre world of capitalist agriculture, where the drive to boost profits of giant transnational corporations is imperiling the production of our means of survival.

Suzanne Weiss and I sought insight into this crisis by talking to farmers who live close to us — in Grey County, 200 kilometers north-west of Toronto. We had been invited there to report on farming in Venezuela to the local unit of the National Farmers Union. Our hosts took time to give us an education in Grey County agricultural economics.

“What is the one single measure that would do the most to help farmers in Ontario?” I asked Rae MacIntyre, president of the Grey County local of the National Farmers Union (NFU).

“Open up food markets to local producers,” he replied. “That would transform the situation.”

MacIntyre’s stress on “local food” reveals how much ground has been lost by Grey County’s 160 NFU members — and their 50,000 farmer colleagues across Ontario — during recent decades of big-business attacks on farmers and degradation of the food system. The challenge before farmers is no longer merely low prices for farm products. They are now almost entirely excluded from grocery-store shelves.

Check out your local supermarket: almost every food product has traveled 3,000 kilometers or more to reach the store.

Exploited producers

But more is at stake. Farmers are working people, exploited by big-business profiteering. Despite the supposed advantages of large-scale farming, Canada has very few capitalist factory-farms worked by hired labour. The great majority of operations are “family farms,” where family members do most or all of the work.

Some working farmers employ seasonal labourers under the government’s oppressive migrant-labour programs. Defense of these workers must be a top priority of the labour movement as a whole. But the primary blame for this shameful system falls on the government that designed it, and the capitalist market that requires it.

Farmers are self-employed and must get by on what their products fetch on a hostile market. Many farmers have been subjugated by onerous contracts with giant corporate customers. They are exploited by big-business suppliers, buyers, and banks just as workers at General Motors or WalMart are.

The last two decades of cutbacks, layoffs, and concession contracts, which wage workers know as “neo-liberalism,” hit farmers with extra severity. In that time, 25% of Canada’s farms disappeared.

‘No more buying local’

Our Grey County hosts, mostly beef and lamb producers, told us that most of their potential corporate customers had stopped buying from local producers, seeking to cut costs through giant contracts with foreign suppliers. Shawn, who runs a sheep farm, had just lost his marketing contract with a grocery chain that was cutting out local producers. Another NFU member had lost his contract for pumpkins. The buyer told him frankly: “No more buying local.”

Jon Radojkovic, a Grey County grower of shiitake mushrooms told us he has given up trying to sell them to Toronto distributors. Instead, he finds his customers through a local bartering network.

Like most Grey County farmers, Rae MacIntyre raises beef. Not long ago, “there was a slaughterhouse in every county,” he says. That’s all gone now; the only significant purchaser is the corporate goliath, Cargill, which has an abattoir in Guelph, MacIntyre says. Most Ontario beef is sold into the U.S. for whatever it will bring, and these days that’s next to nothing.

Grey County used to be a major supplier of apples. Now few apples are sold, MacIntyre says. “Juice apples … are often composted or used for animal feed.” Many of the apples we see in stores are flown in from China. The same applies to apple juice and apple sauce, despite the misleading “made in Canada” labels on the packaging.

“Many good farmers have given up,” says Radojkovic. “They were proud and happy; now they have lost hope — killed by low prices.”

The average farm in Canada represented an investment of $1.3 million in 2006 — more per worker than in any other industry. Yet the average farmer’s “net market income” from this massive investment was only $13,000. And more than two-thirds must be set aside to provide for depreciation of buildings and equipment.

The NFU calculates that Ontario farmers` real return on their investment dropped to zero in 1991, and has declined since to “negative $15,000 per farm” in 2006.

Meanwhile, farm debt has more than doubled over the last two decades. With income levels so low, such debts can usually be repaid only be selling the farm.

Farmers try to compensate by taking off-farm jobs. Small and mid-sized Ontario farms get 90% of their income that way. Even farms with the highest sales get more than a quarter of their total revenue from off-farm jobs.

Given the disastrous economic conditions, few young people are stepping forward to replace Canada’s aging farm work force. In twenty years, the number of farmers under 35 years old is down 62%.

Corporate profiteering

The sickness in Canada’s farms is rooted in the way the proceeds of agriculture are divided between farmers and workers, on the one hand, and capitalist corporations on the other.

In Canada’s hog industry, between 1988 and 2002, and despite inflation, farm-gate prices (including inflation) fell 5% from 1988 to 2007. Packinghouse workers’ wages rose a bit, but much less than inflation. Yet the price of pork to consumers went up 39%.

In 2005, the NFU noted that wheat farmers were getting five cents from each loaf of bread, the same amount as thirty years earlier. The income of supermarket workers has been under sharp attack. But the share of each loaf that goes to corporate millers, bakers, and grocers rose from 38 cents to $1.35.

In 2004, which the NFU says was the second-worst year for farming in history, the corporations living off the farmers had their most profitable year ever. The corporations are appropriating every penny of the profits of farming — indeed, more than 100%, since farmers are unable to cover their costs from farm-product sales.

‘The problem is market power’

How do they get away with it?

“The problem is market power,” a Farmers Union document explains. On one side are the “huge transnationals with only two or three competitors” — on the other side, “individual farmers competing in a global market against a billion other farmers.” In such conditions, agribusiness can set prices at will — whatever level best drains the farmers’ resources without shutting down cultivation completely.

Farmers’ incomes can be stabilized in two ways, the NFU points out: (1) government subsidy programs that “transfer money from taxpayers” and (2) programs to enable farmers “to extract money from the marketplace.” The farmers` union strongly advises a focus on enabling farmers to gain more market power.

“If farmers are more powerful, they will be more profitable,” the NFU concludes.

Unity in marketing

Farmers have long sought to achieve market power in the same way as workers — by joining together in order to impose a higher price for their product.

Workers do this through unions, which establish “market power” by bargaining collectively to set wage levels.

Farmers have sought to establish agencies — under their own or government management — that exercise control over the marketing of farm produce. The NFU points to the merits of existing plans of this type, such as the Canadian Wheat Board or Ontario’s egg and milk marketing boards.

In recent years, such “supply management” plans have come under government attack, and some have been shut down. New marketing agreements of this type are banned by the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA clears the decks for agribusinesses to combine worldwide in giant transnational monopolies, while preventing the world’s atomized and oppressed farmers from uniting in self-defense.

Imagine a law banning collective bargaining by unions, and you’ll have some idea of the effect NAFTA has on farmers.

Hostile governments

Governments in Canada could ignore the NAFTA provisions, citing the need for food products to conform to local environmental and health regulations. But their policies cater to transnational corporations and are hostile to smaller family-based farms.

“The Ontario government wants land and farming to be in a few strong hands,” Rae MacIntyre comments. Leafing through government documents, he reads out some examples of this attitude:

  • A government leader says, “I remain committed to working with industry leaders.” Rae’s comment: “That means Cargill.”
  • “$1.5 billion in aid to livestock producers.” Farmers will not see a penny of that, he says. This aid goes only to farms that have been profitable for three years running, which excludes almost all family farms.

Rae points to other government programs that exclude farmers with off-farm income — which again cuts out the vast majority who need help the most.

He recalls the statement of Ontario Deputy Agriculture Minister Frank Ingratta in 2004 that “We could produce all the product we need from 10,000 large highly mechanized farms” rather than the present 57,000. Despite Ingratta’s later denial, many farmers believe that the “10,000 farms” goal corresponds to current government policy.

Official programs with praiseworthy goals are blocked by bureaucratic methods. Several of the Grey County farmers express frustration with government staffers who are long on talk and promises but unwilling to take action. Meanwhile, the government has been creative in thinking up new regulations that make farming more difficult and shift inspection and other costs onto the farmers` backs.

NFU program

The Farmers Union proposes an array of measures to help working farmers resist corporate profiteering. Among them:

  • Encourage supply management and take initiatives to implement it internationally.
  • Establish price supports to guarantee that farmers receive their cost of production.
  • Break the monopoly of corporate suppliers of seed, fertilizer, and other farm inputs by funding creation of farmer-owned co-ops.
  • Ban corporate farming as well as corporate contracts that dictate where farmers buy inputs and sell their product.
  • Provide young people who want to farm with access to the land through community land trusts and land banks; ease the mountain of debt that now prevents sons and daughters from taking over the family farm.

None of this needs to increase the cost of food to consumers, the NFU points out. Farmers receive so little of the food dollar that the cost of increasing their share can be absorbed by corporate processors and retailers without price increases.

Consumer awareness

In recent years, a new ally for working farmers has appeared: the ecologically minded consumer. Many such consumers now visit Grey County as tourists. “Tourists have new tastes,” says NFU member Lillian Burgess. “They prefer fresh local food. When buying food, they ask, ‘Where was it grown.’”

This new interest in local food has a Third World feel, Burgess says. Impoverished locals have to buy cheap, at the franchised groceries, but “tourists are willing to pay more.”

The rise of “food tourism” reflects concerns felt by a growing number of consumers about the impact of corporate methods on food supply:

  • Locally grown food is prized by many consumers as fresher, tastier, and healthier; many seek direct contact with the farmer.
  • Air-freighting food around the world when it can be grown locally generates damaging and unnecessary carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
  • Agribusiness imposes industrial farming methods that are unhealthy and unsustainable.
  • Environmental degradation and the diversion of food to fuel are placing the security of world food supplies in jeopardy, as has been eloquently explained by Fidel Castro and other leaders of the Global South.

World outlook

According to a United Nations report, retail prices for food worldwide in 2007 were 40% higher than in 2006. The price of rice, wheat, and corn doubled. (Globe and Mail, March 29) The long-term impact on farmers is uncertain. Those producing grain for the world market may benefit. But farmers buying grain for fodder will pay more. The big winners will be the agribusiness giants. And the big losers are the world’s poor — many of them farmers.

The National Farmers Union has been alert to these threats. On May 9, 2006, it wrote the United Nations, noting that the world body’s own reports show a decline in the “area of arable and permanent crops” since 2001. Grain stocks are the lowest since 1975. “In five of the last six years,” it notes, “our global population ate significantly more grain than farmers produced.”

The NFU seeks to develop an international response to this crisis as part of its participation in the international farmers’ organization Vía Campesina (Farmers’ Way).

Local-food initiative

Given the scope of the challenge, the Grey County NFU members’ focus on the local-food issue is quite modest. It concedes that for now, local farmers have been driven from mainstream supermarkets and must focus instead on niche markets. But winning the chance to provide consumers with a local-food alternative could be vital for these farmers’ survival.

Wayne Roberts, a Toronto-based ecologist active in efforts to promote local food, points out how easily such a transition could begin. “Two simple actions by the Ontario government would transform the situation,” he says.

First, “all government-funded institutions could buy local and sustainable food: jails, hospitals, educational institutions, seniors residences, and the like. [The government] would not even have to change a law. Ontario farmers would need five to ten years to catch up with the demand. This is readily doable and cost-effective; it just takes organizing to bring it to the attention of the politicians.”

Roberts cites a recent victory in convincing the massive University of Toronto to go over to purchasing local and “sustainable” foods. Such efforts are coordinated through Local Food Plus, which establishes criteria for sustainable food based on positive social and ecological practices.

Roberts’s second proposal concerns the right to farm. As things stand, land is available to aspiring farmers only in the form of large farms that sell for hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. “The provincial government could make land available to those who wish to farm,” he says.

The government owns plenty of idle agricultural land, he says. “They could lease it out in small packets for reasonable prices, with special programs to encourage members of minority groups and new immigrants who may wish to grow products favored by their communities and neglected by conventional supermarkets.”

Labor’s stake

The local-food effort is helping to provide farmers with an influential potential ally — the ecological movement. Farmers deserve determined support from the labour movement as well. Working people have a lot to gain from the availability of local-food at grocery stores and from ecologically sound and sustainable agriculture.

It is also a question of solidarity. Working people who are employed need to stand together with farmers, fishers, truckers, and other independent producers who are exploited by the same corporations and face the same enemy.

John Riddell is co-editor of Socialist Voice (www.socialistvoice.ca) and a member of Socialist Project.

Resources:

Proposal to Fund Separate Faith-Based Schools Endangers Ontario Public Education

by Richard Fidler

The issue of government support for faith-based schools, a perennial question in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, is once again a topic of public debate. With a general election scheduled for October 10, the opposition Progressive Conservative (PC, or Tory) party is calling for direct government funding of non-Catholic, faith-based schools “in the same way” as Ontario already funds a separate Roman Catholic public schools system.

The Tory proposal has been characterized by the big business media as the “defining issue” in the election. It has elicited fierce polemics on call-in shows and in letters-to-the-editor. Newspaper columnists and editorials debate the pros and cons. Where do the interests of working people lie in this debate?

The Conservatives, of course, are clearly plumping for votes among ethnic and religious minorities. But the Tory proposal, while limited to faith-based schools, is widely and correctly perceived as a further step toward weakening the public school system and lowering the quality of education available to Ontario citizens. It would open the door to further extension of private educational institutions at all levels and result in increased segregation of students and inequality of standards and facilities. And there are wider implications as well.

What about the Catholic “public” schools?

Just over 50,000 students in Ontario attend private faith-based schools. About half of them are in fundamentalist Christian schools. Another 20% are in Jewish parochial schools, and fewer than 10% in Islamic schools.

However, a whopping 600,000 students — about 30% of all Ontario elementary and secondary students — attend government-funded separate Catholic schools. What this means is that about 93% of all faith-based schools in Ontario are already fully funded by the province!

But among the major parties only the Greens call for an end to the separate Catholic schools and for one publicly funded universal public school system open to all.

(The public system would maintain the present French-language schools — currently divided between public non-denominational and Catholic boards. Ontario’s Francophone population is a national, not ethnic minority that historically waged a hard-fought struggle to overcome a ban on French schools. Of Ontario’s 72 school boards, 12 are French-language (8 Catholic and 4 public), with a growing proportion of enrolment in the public schools.)

The governing Liberals and the third-largest party, the social-democratic NDP, oppose the PC proposal but find it embarrassing. Their support of continued public funding of separate Roman Catholic schools, while opposing similar funding for other faith-based schools, clearly favours one religion over others. In 1984, both parties supported the then PC government when it extended the Catholic system to include all high school years.

On two recent occasions (1999 and 2005), Ontario’s discriminatory funding formula has been denounced by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. As the UN committee states, “… if a State party [Canada] chooses to provide public funding to religious schools, it should make this funding available without discrimination.” That is, either provide equal public funds for all religions or no public funds for any.

The Tory response is to create more government-funded separate school systems. The Tories make the preposterous claim that their proposal is “inclusive” — and neither the Liberals nor the NDP have challenged that claim. In fact, it is the opposite, dividing students from each other according to their parents’ religious beliefs (and, for many, according to ethnic origin).

Working people, in contrast, have every reason to promote the integration of students in one publicly funded school system and the elimination of all government funding for separate and private schools, whether faith-based or not.

What kind of ‘public’ education do we want?

To be credible, however, a defence of public schools must also address the sorry state of today’s schools and, more generally, of public education under late capitalism.

The educational system as a whole is a microcosm of class society, with all its divisions and inequality, and the education of children is an important terrain of class struggle. The capitalist rulers have always had their own exclusive schools for the education of their children, their legatees. The public schools, for the rest of us, are institutions for instilling the capitalist conception of society and creating a compliant labour force for the employers. This class bias is reflected in every aspect of the public system, from the streaming of students between trades and professional orientations to the content of core curriculum, particularly social studies.

Of course, no great importance is accorded to the quality of physical infrastructure, cultural and sports activities, or to staff relations within the public system. Under the neoliberal capitalist offensive, the public schools are increasingly underfunded, “extra-curricular” and special education programs are eliminated, and teacher unions are under constant attack.

Working people benefit from an educational system that furthers their unity, not their division. They need education that builds the knowledge, consciousness and confidence of the toiling classes in their collective capacity to manage the affairs of society. Teachers should be encouraged to use their professional skills to help broaden the cultural and scientific horizons of their students.

The issue of religion in the schools must be approached on the basis of a critique of capitalist education and an alternative conception of universal public education.

For a variety of reasons, faith-based schools — Catholic or non-Catholic — are popular in Ontario. For example, some ethnic and religious minorities, not least among the rapidly growing immigrant population, feel alienated from a “secular” public school system that makes no attempt to acknowledge their religious beliefs or accommodate their religious practices.

Many parents turn to personal and sectarian solutions, and the capitalist education system is only too willing to accommodate them in that regard through provisions for charter schools, vouchers, tax credits, etc. Such practices are widespread in the USA and, increasingly, in some of the more conservative provinces of Canada such as Alberta. In Ontario, the previous Conservative government voted a tax credit for parents who send their children to private schools. While the tax credit was overturned in 2003 by the newly elected Liberals, there are prominent members in both of these traditional capitalist parties who favour some form or other of government funding for private schools.

Some, like Tory leader John Tory (yes, that’s his name!) are even prepared to allow public funding of schools preaching “creationism” in opposition to the science of evolution — a clear sop to a particular layer of right-wing Christians who play an increasingly important role in government circles in both the USA and Canada. (The current federal minister in charge of police and prisons, Stockwell Day, for example, is on record as believing that dinosaurs coexisted with humans.) No such indulgence has been displayed toward Islam, however.

Integration requires reasonable accommodation

Educating children within a common social and institutional environment is probably the most important integrative device at the disposal of any society. As proof, we in Canada need only look to the powerful effect Quebec’s establishment of a single public and predominantly French-language school system has had in reinforcing the defining French character of that nation and integrating youth of non-Francophone and immigrant origin as fully functioning citizens of Quebec. (See sidebar at end of article.)

If minority religious communities are to be attracted to the public education system, however, that system must be receptive to their concerns. Where parents feel that religious beliefs and practices must be an integral part of the educational process, there is no a priori reason why some at least of those needs cannot be accommodated within a universal public system. This could involve such things as providing prayer rooms for practicing Muslims, providing non-pork diets in schools attended by Jews and Muslims, and so on. A court ruling that a child could wear the Sikh kirpan, a religious symbol, despite a school ban on this ceremonial dagger as a “weapon,” allowed Sikh children to be accommodated within the French-language public school system in Quebec: See Socialist Voice #71)

Some instruction in particular religions might even be made available to children whose parents so request — especially parents in immigrant communities often suffering discrimination and oppression on the basis of their religious identity.

The overriding consideration should be the need to encourage all parents to have their children educated within the common school system where they can be exposed to a diversity of ethnicities and religions and introduced to the widest range of beliefs and values, and receive generic education about world religions as a component of courses in world cultures and civilizations.

Such accommodation must be reasonable, of course. John Tory’s willingness to fund schools preaching “creationism” is unreasonable. Religious instruction should not trump science.

Widen the public debate

Issues such as these, however, illustrate the need to open up a wide-ranging public debate over the role and scope of public education, including what if any accommodation should be available for religious belief and practices within the public schools. In particular, we need critical input from progressive parents and educators, teachers, and their unions — all of whom have many proposals to advance on how to rescue public education from its current disrepute and disrepair.

Teachers, for example, have some important contributions to make in this regard.

In Quebec, the militant teachers union, the CEQ, published in the 1970s radical critiques of capitalist education, such as the pamphlets L’école au service de la classe dominante (1972) and École et lutte de classes au Québec (1974). In 1979 the CEQ implemented its alternative concept of progressive education through a major campaign in Quebec schools to raise funds and provide material aid to the mass literacy campaign undertaken by the new Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

In Ontario, in the 1960s, radical teachers caucused within their unions and published a journal, This Magazine is About Schools, that offered a left critique of capitalist schooling. Today, the Canadian Centre on Policy Alternatives publishes a teacher-edited quarterly journal, Our Schools / Our Selves, that to some degree resembles the earlier publication. Some of its material is on-line.

Supporters of public education need to engage with these issues in the current public debate on separate schools, by discussing and developing an alternative conception of education that is focused on the interests of the child and the child’s need for exposure to the vast diversity of people and ideas within our society.


Sidebar

Quebec’s Approach: a Secular, but Constitutionally Fragile, Public Education System

Defenders of Ontario’s discriminatory system invoke a “historic compromise” entrenched in the country’s Constitution of 1867, which gave minority (“dissentient”) Catholic schools in Ontario the same entitlement to public funding as minority Protestant schools in Quebec. However, this constitutional restriction can be removed by a simple amendment with the support of the Ontario legislature and the federal Parliament. In 1997 Quebec got a similar amendment by Parliament to remove the constitutional requirement for a separate Protestant public school system.

The Protestant school system in Quebec had functioned essentially as an English system that ghettoized Anglophone children and (because of its attraction to many immigrants) served in practice to hinder the integration of new immigrants with the province’s Francophone majority. As Quebec moved to affirm French as the sole and universal language of public communication and discourse, it was obliged to integrate the separate public school systems into one largely secular system that is overwhelmingly French (albeit with an English component for the children of parents previously educated in English in Canada who choose to have their children instructed in English).

Removing French-language public education from the grasp of the Catholic hierarchy facilitated the enrolment of non-Catholic youth — both immigrants and native born — in the Francophone system. It eased the acquisition of French language skills among non-Francophones, making them more comfortable within the majority French culture of Quebec.

Within this public system, Catholic and Protestant religious education was continued for a transitional period. However, beginning in September 2008, that curriculum will be replaced by a course in ethics and religious culture that will include studies of six world religions, among them Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and “the spiritualities of the Aboriginal peoples”.

The Quebec department of education states: “By bringing [children] together in the same classroom, instead of separating them according to their beliefs, and by promoting the development among them of attitudes of tolerance, respect and openness, we prepare them to live in a pluralist and democratic society.”

However, Quebec’s reform is still incomplete and under constant attack. The Quebec government partially funds private schools, which account for almost 10 percent of total elementary and secondary enrolment, the highest proportion in Canada. These private schools, many of which are faith-based, are disproportionately English. Moreover, the province’s Court of Appeal ruled in August that children who are otherwise ineligible for instruction in English may attend English public schools if their parents first send them to an unsubsidized English private school. The Court used the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to overturn a provision of Quebec’s Charter of the French Language.

Moral Punishment for the Arrogance of an Empire

The absence of the United States on the Human Rights Council is moral punishment for the arrogance of an empire

Statement by Felipe Pérez Roque, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba, at the High-Level Segment of the UN Human Rights Council

Geneva, 20 June 2006

Excellencies:

Today is a particularly symbolic day. Cuba is a founding member of the Human Rights Council and the United States is not. Cuba was elected with the overwhelming support of 135 countries; more than two-thirds of the United Nations General Assembly, while the United States did not even dares to run as a candidate. Cuba relied on the secret vote for the same reasons that the United States was afraid of it.

Cuba’s election epitomizes the victory of principles and truth; it stands as recognition of the value of our resilience. The absence of the United States is the defeat of lies; it is the moral punishment for the haughtiness of an empire.

The election entailed a demanding assessment. Each one got what they deserved. Cuba was rewarded and the United States was punished. Each one had its history and the voting countries were well aware of it.

The African countries recalled that over 2,000 Cuban fighters had shed their generous blood in the struggle against the outrageous Apartheid regime, which the United States supported and furnished with weapons, even nuclear ones.

The election for Cuba came at a moment in which nearly 30,000 Cuban doctors were saving lives and alleviating the pain in 70 countries, while the United States reached that stage with 150,000 invading soldiers, sent to kill and die in an unjust and illegal war.

The election for Cuba came with more than 300,000 patients from 26 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who were recovering their eyesight thanks to the cost-free surgeries performed by Cuban eye specialists. It came for the United States with over 100,000 civilians murdered and 2,500 American youths dead in a war concocted to steal a country’s oil and give away sumptuous contracts to a group of cronies of the President of the world’s sole superpower.

The election for Cuba came with more than 25,000 youths from 120 Third World countries studying in its universities and colleges free of charge. It came for the United States with a concentration camp in Guantánamo, where prisoners are subjected to torture and where the official statement of the prison wardens was that the suicide of three human beings “is not an act of despair but an act of war and propaganda.”

The election for Cuba came with its airplanes carrying Cuban medical doctors and field hospitals to places where there had been natural disasters or epidemics. It came for the United States with its aircraft secretly carrying drugged and handcuffed prisoners from one jail to another.

The election for Cuba came with its proclamation of the prevalence of lawfulness over force, defending the United Nations Charter, demanding and fighting for a better world. It came for the United States with its proclamation of “if you are not on our side, you are against us.”

The election for Cuba came with its proposal of setting aside the trillion US dollars annually spent on weapons to fight off the yearly death of preventable causes of 11 million children under the age of five years and 600,000 poor women at childbirth. In the meantime, it came for the United States with its proclamation of its right to bomb and “pre-emptively” wipe out what it scornfully called “any dark corners of the world” if its designs were not obeyed. That included the city of The Hague, if there were any attempts to prosecute an American soldier at the International Criminal Court.

While Cuba defended the rights of the Palestinian people, the United States was the main pillar behind Israel’s crimes and atrocities.

While under the striking force of Hurricane Katrina the US Government abandoned hundreds of thousands of people to their luck, most of them black and poor, Cuba immediately offered to send 1,100 doctors, who could have saved lives and alleviated their suffering.

I could go on and on listing reasons until tomorrow. I just want to add that it is the Government of the United States, not its people, which does not have a seat today as a member of the Council. The American people will be represented in the others, including Cuba’s seat. Our delegation will also speak out for the rights of the American people and, particularly, for the rights of its most discriminated and excluded sectors.

Now, the truth is that the United States was not alone in its gross and desperate schemes and pressures to prevent Cuba’s election. A handful of its allies followed them to the very end. The usual posse: beneficiaries of the unjust and exclusion-oriented world order, most of them former colonial metropolises, which have not yet paid off their historical debt to their once-colonies.

Cuba is perfectly aware, even to its barest details, of the secret agreement negotiated in Brussels through which the European Union undertook not to vote for Cuba and then work closely with the United States against our candidature. But they failed famously. It turned out that Cuba was elected without its support and its uncomfortable ally, which they need as a policeman to guarantee its privileges and squandering opulence, could not even run as a candidate.

The corridors and halls of this building are now reverberating with repeated calls for “a fresh start” and “breathing fresh air into the new Council” – precisely by those who are responsible for the manipulation, hypocrisy and selectivity that caused the Commission on Human Rights to run aground. It is fitting to point out that a fresh start cannot be built on the oblivion of what has been happening or the simulation that some sugar-coated rhetoric is a problem-solver. What we need are deeds and not words.

If there is any truth to the statements by the spokespersons of the European Union and we are actually faced with a mea culpa, then we are still awaiting their rectification. Not because of Cuba. Not because they colluded with the United States to try to prevent our election. Not because they have never been able to have an ethical and independent policy towards Cuba.

We are awaiting a rectification to the attitude of the European Union, which last year prevented the Commission on Human Rights from adopting an investigation into the massive, flagrant and systematic human rights violations at Guantánamo Naval Base.

A rectification to the silent complicity with which they allowed hundreds of secret CIA flights carrying kidnapped people and the establishment of clandestine prisons right on European soil, where prisoners are tortured and harassed. So far, the European Union has hypocritically hindered the investigation and the clarification of these events.

The European Union has not mustered the courage to serve exemplary sanctions on the miserable manifestations of lack of respect for other religions and customs.

The European Union was an accomplice to the United States in turning the former Commission into some sort of Inquisition Tribunal against the countries of the South. We just hope that it will not happen again now.

The European Union has not even acknowledged its historical debt to the nearly 100 countries – currently independent nations after years of struggle and sacrifice – which were its pillaged colonies when, fifty-seven years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, which paradoxically stated that: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Excellencies:

This session can usher in a new stage in the struggle to create a real system for the promotion and protection of all human rights for all the inhabitants on the planet, and not just for the rich and privileged. A radical change will be required to that end; a real revolution in the concepts and methods that weighed down the defunct Commission.

Cuba does not indulge in wishful thinking about the real willingness of the developed countries – allies of the United States – to take that significant and historical step. However, it will give them the benefit of the doubt. It will wait and watch them.

Cuba can be counted upon if we work towards fulfilling the promises that have been trumpeted. If the past repeats itself and the Council becomes a battlefield again, from now on Cuba can be counted upon to turn, one more time, into a fighter in the trenches of ideas of the Third World.

Cuba cannot be counted upon to turn the Council into an exclusive tribunal against the underdeveloped countries and ensure the impunity of those in the North. Nor can it be relied upon to use the Council’s suspension clause against rebellious countries or to continue using, in a politicized and selective fashion, the country resolutions to punish those that do not bow their head.

Cuba cannot be counted upon to use the new universal periodical review mechanism as an instrument of new pressures and media campaigns.

Nor can Cuba be counted upon to defend lies and act hypocritically.

Cuba can be counted upon to fight for truth and transparency, to defend the right to independence, to self-determination, to social justice, to equality. And also to defend the right to food, to education, to health, to dignity, the right to a dignified life.

Cuba can be counted upon to defend real democracy, true participation and the real enjoyment of all human rights.

Cuba’s cooperation cannot be counted upon to assist the spurious mandate of any envoy, representative or rapporteur imposed through force and blackmail. Cuba can be counted upon to cooperate, on an equal footing, with the Council and its non-selective mechanisms.

Cuba’s cooperation cannot be counted upon to make silence and fail to speak out against the ruthless economic blockade that we have endured for over four decades, nor can it be relied upon not to demand the return to our Homeland of five pure and courageous Cuban youths that were fighting terrorism and are currently imprisoned in US jails unjustly and illegally.

Cuba’s cooperation cannot be counted upon to relinquish a single principle. Cuba will always be counted upon to uphold the noble ideal of building a better world for all.

Finally, on behalf of the Cuban people, who dream, build and defend their Revolution back in our Homeland, I would like to extend a special gratitude to our Third World brothers and sisters for their decisive support for Cuba’s election as a member of the Human Rights Council – and I hereby reiterate that the Cubans will never betray the trust that you have placed in us.

For those who support Cuba’s struggle for its rights, which is also the struggle for the rights of all the nations in the Third World and the progressive and democratic forces in the First World, we have a message: Until victory onwards!

For those who attack Cuba and for their accomplices, we have another message: Homeland or Death!

We shall overcome!

Ontario’s ‘Sharia Law’ Controversy: How Muslims Were Hung Out to Dry

By Richard Fidler

“A lie can travel halfway around the world,” the American writer Mark Twain once said, “while the truth is putting on its shoes.” That statement could apply to the recent phony debate over “sharia tribunals” in Ontario.

Odds are that if you consulted the average man or woman in the street on the matter, you would learn that the largest province in Canada had come within an inch of allowing fundamentalist Muslims to institute mandatory “sharia” law, bypassing legislation designed to protect the rights of women and children, eliminating the separation of church and state, and possibly exposing Canadians to the harsh legal punishments found in some Islamic countries. The Muslim scheme, you would be told by many, was turned back only by a vast campaign spearheaded by secular Muslims, feminists, labor unions, and progressives who forced the government to retreat and to ban all resort to religious leaders or principles in resolving legal disputes. It was a great victory for progressive public opinion, a major defeat for reactionary Muslims.

That’s more or less the official story, reinforced by the mass media and believed by many on the left, as well. But it is largely fictitious. And it is important to understand the true story, both because the issues at stake in this controversy may well arise in new and similar contexts and because the stench of the anti-Muslim prejudice stirred up by the “anti-sharia” campaign lingers on. The Islamophobic campaign against “sharia tribunals” has undermined efforts to build a firm alliance with Muslims and other minorities in the fight against imperialist war and domestic war-induced repression, much of it directed first and foremost against members of the Muslim community.

Was “sharia” law the issue?

Despite the claims by some participants, there was no issue involving criminal law or the kinds of state constraints on individual action that are subject to scrutiny by judges for compliance with the Charter of Rights or other human rights legislation. Rather, the issue was simply whether Muslims were entitled to avail themselves of procedures long available in Canadian law to any couple seeking to resolve difficult and intimate questions related to marital disputes and marriage breakdown.

Under Canadian law, couples are free to make their own arrangements both for cohabitation and for separation. In the latter case, where consensus and mediation prove impossible they may resort to private third-party adjudication, choose their own arbitrators, and apply any religious and cultural principles they wish so long as these do not harm others or conflict with the laws of Canada. Or they may decide to take the matter to court and let a judge decide. Which course they adopt is their choice, and no one else’s.

Family law arbitration is strongly supported by family law lawyers, marriage counsellors and other professionals involved in resolving difficult marital issues. It allows disputes to be resolved in an atmosphere of privacy and confidentiality, drawing on the services of expert mediators and arbitrators chosen and trusted by the parties. Arbitration costs less and decisions are issued more quickly than in the court system, where proceedings may drag on for years.

Faith-based arbitration (FBA), conducted by members of minority communities and informed by religious precepts, has long been engaged in by some Jews, Christian evangelical groups and even some Muslims, until now without notable dissent. FBA is favoured in particular by couples for whom deeply-held religious precepts are vitally important to their personal culture and self-definition. Ontario Jews, for example, have been arbitrating family disputes in their Beth Din courts for over a century; such private arbitration has been recognized in Ontario law since the late 19th century. By using the procedures laid down in the Arbitration Act, the parties can have a court enforce the arbitration decision, thus ensuring that the terms of the decision are legally binding. The Act provides minimal safeguards to ensure free informed consent to arbitration.

The courts retain their power to intervene and set aside arbitration decisions, as they can separation agreements, where the “best interests” of children are not honoured or where the decision is “unconscionable”. Similar legislation now exists in a half dozen other Canadian provinces, all of it modeled on a draft law drawn up years ago by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada following extensive discussions.

The controversy in Ontario arose when a Muslim lawyer, Syed Mumtaz Ali, proclaimed his intention to establish a “shari’a court” that would function under the Arbitration Act, thus making its decisions, like all decisions under the Act, legally enforceable.

The campaign unfolds

Mumtaz Ali’s proposal was reported with great sensationalism by some media, most notably the Toronto Star. Media reports took as good coin his misleading reference to “sharia” and highlighted statements by a variety of groups who warned that “sharia tribunals” would impose patriachal Islamic fundamentalist norms on vulnerable women and children. Although most of the opposition clearly reflected anti-Islamic prejudice, some critics, in an attempt to appear even-handed, discovered that they opposed arbitration altogether; many now professed a surprising confidence in the ability of the courts and judges to accommodate the private and intimate concerns at issue in marriage breakdown.

This “anti-sharia” campaign unfolded against a backdrop of anti-Muslim propaganda related to the Iraq war, the growing threats to Iran, and Israel’s ongoing repression of the Palestinians as well as Canada’s increasing military involvement in Afghanistan. (To sense the odour of the campaign, see the article below on the “anti-sharia” opposition.)

Ontario’s Liberal government, headed by Premier Dalton McGuinty, responded to this campaign by asking Marion Boyd, a former Attorney General in Bob Rae’s New Democratic Party government in the early 1990s, to carry out a broad consultation and make recommendations.

Boyd consulted a wide range of supporters and critics of faith-based arbitration. “Sharia law,” she concluded, was a misnomer when applied to the Ontario context. Even Muslim critics of FBA, such as the Canadian Council for Muslim Women, Boyd noted, distinguished between sharia and Muslim family laws, sharia being a much broader concept.

Most of the Muslim supporters of FBA, Boyd reported, thought Islamic family law was compatible with Canadian family law; what they wanted was to apply Canadian law using Islamic principles. They also acknowledged procedural defects in their existing informal arbitration procedures and saw compliance with the Arbitration Act as a means of overcoming these problems. (See below for accompanying article, “Faith-based arbitration – a Muslim Perspective.”)

Boyd endorsed this perspective and proposed a broad set of legislative reforms to enhance the quality of decision-making and ensure that parties to private arbitration of family law disputes (especially vulnerable women) would be more fully apprised of their rights under Canadian law. (For more on Boyd’s report, see “McGuinty’s Ban on Faith-Based Arbitration: No Victory for Women’s Rights”, Socialist Voice #52, October 9, 2005.)

Boyd’s 180-page report was endorsed editorially by the province’s major newspapers, including the Toronto Star. But it failed to stem the “anti-sharia” campaign. The media reported little about Boyd’s proposals while continuing to feature prominently the misleading propaganda of the opponents of FBA, who if anything became even more strident. The NDP broke with its former attorney general, denouncing her report and calling for an end to all family law arbitration. It was joined in this by many trade unions and civil liberties organizations. The Quebec National Assembly chimed in, unanimously voting to reject “sharia tribunals” even though no such proposal had been made in that province, where a distinct statutory regime quite different from Ontario’s governs family law.

Just as a real public debate on the substantive questions discussed in Boyd’s report was getting under way, however, Premier McGuinty chose the fourth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks to announce that “there will be no sharia law in Ontario.” His brief statement was immediately greeted as a victory by FBA opponents. The Muslim threat to our freedoms had apparently been turned back.

Bill 27 – What does it really say?

Since almost no one was seeking to implement “sharia” – even Mumtaz Ali admitted to Boyd that using the Arbitration Act for a limited number of personal law issues is not the same as having a “system” of justice – it remained to be seen what McGuinty would do.

Although McGuinty’s September announcement was widely interpreted as rejecting all faith-based arbitration and Boyd’s approach, his government’s legislative response to the Muslim proposal – Bill 27, introduced in November – actually reflects a relatively subtle and nuanced appreciation of the underlying issues. It retains the option of private family arbitration under Ontario legislation. More significantly, while stating that family arbitration must be “conducted exclusively in accordance with the law of Ontario or of another Canadian jurisdiction,” Bill 27 does not, on its face, foreclose the application of Islamic or other religious principles by arbitrators in their interpretation of Canadian family law.

Bill 27 implements Boyd’s major proposal, to make family mediation and arbitration agreements domestic contracts under the province’s Family Law Act and thus subject to the same laws that cover separation, domiciliary and paternity agreements. All of these laws allow couples to make their own arrangements for property division, custody, and support of dependent children and spouses, etc. Such arrangements are subject only to court intervention where such agreements are “unconscionable” or contrary to “the best interests of the child” or where there was insufficient disclosure of significant assets or liabilities or a party did not understand the nature or consequences of the contract.

Bill 27 also adopts Boyd’s proposal to add to the list of professionals required by law to report a child in need of protection “a religious official, including a priest, a rabbi and a member of the clergy; a mediator and an arbitrator” – implicitly acknowledging the role of religious officials in such capacities.

What the amendments will mean in practice is still not entirely clear, as much depends on the regulations yet to be enacted by Cabinet. These will cover such vital matters as the training and certification of arbitrators (e.g. will a law degree be required?), standard provisions of family arbitration agreements, etc. Until those regulations are enacted, the amendments are not yet proclaimed in force. And there is evidence that the McGuinty cabinet is consulting FBA opponents and not proponents as it grapples with these issues.

However, the bill’s incorporation of Boyd’s major proposals testifies to their basic reasonableness. More importantly, it underscores the irrationality – and, it must be said, Islamophobia – of much of the “anti-sharia” lobby. These critics, apparently satisfied with McGuinty’s earlier disavowals of “sharia tribunals”, appear to have paid little attention to the actual content of Bill 27. No surprise there. It was apparent from their attacks on “sharia tribunals” that few had made any attempt to understand what faith-based arbitration actually entails. The bill passed the legislature in February after only a couple of days of public hearings.

In part because the bill itself is silent on who may conduct arbitrations – it neither prohibits nor provides for the conduct of private family arbitration by religious authorities – the response by FBA proponents has tended to be uncertain and tentative. For example, all three Jewish organizations that appeared before the MPPs in committee were critical of the bill’s ostensible ban on any arbitration not “exclusively” conducted in accordance with Canadian law. But they did not flatly oppose the new legislation and suggested some amendments.

Only two Muslim organizations made representations on the bill. One, the Muslim Canadian Congress, a secular Muslim group, supported the bill and said little about its contents. The other, the pro-FBA Canadian Islamic Congress, stated that it opposed the bill and confined its remarks to a general defence of faith-based arbitration without addressing any of the bill’s specific provisions. In fact, to date there has been very little public reaction to the new legislation by pro-FBA Muslim organizations. Some have told me they are still considering their approach and weighing their options.

In my opinion, the dearth of public reaction to the bill by Muslim organizations also reflects the intimidating effect of the “anti-sharia” campaign on their community. The scars of the “anti-sharia” campaign will long endure. One of the most damaging results was the deep division it created between Muslims and the predominantly non-Muslim left and labour movement. Among the most outspoken opponents of FBA were the Canadian Labour Congress and the NDP. The anti-FBA campaign sharply undercut the developing alliance between Muslims and non-Muslims in the movement against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In effect, the Muslims were stigmatized by a phony campaign against “sharia” and FBA that had no real basis in fact or law. Yet none of the major anti-FBA critics has acknowledged their error.

In fact, the public debate on these issues, cut short by McGuinty’s September statement, never really resumed. Once Bill 27 was tabled, it was as if there was a conspiracy of silence between the government, the official opposition and the media (and even the NDP, while opposing Boyd and Bill 27, did not campaign against either). In effect, it appears to have been decided to allow FBA subject to certain constraints, but to pretend that the proposal had been defeated. At no point has any acknowledgement been made that allowing Muslims the choice to engage in faith-based arbitration of private family disputes was in fact generally consistent with good public policy. So the Muslims, having been savaged in the media and among wide layers of left and progressive feminist opinion, have been left to twist in the wind. Their stigmatization remains.

April 28, 2006


Some Canadian critics of “sharia tribunals”

Among the more moderate statements issued in opposition to the Boyd report was a “Declaration on Religious Arbitration in Family Law” that actually opposed all use of arbitration in family law issues. It was signed by more than 50 organizations, including the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, the YWCA, and many other women’s and feminist organizations. It stated that “even with Ms. Boyd’s ‘safeguards,’ the amendments she proposed would effectively put at risk decades of legal reform in keeping with an equality and equal rights framework.”

Many critics were more inflammatory. Among the most vociferous of the “anti-Sharia” opponents was Homa Arjomand, a Toronto-based transitional counselor and refugee from Iran. She is the Coordinator of the “International Campaign Against Shari’a Court in Canada,” which claims a membership of 87 organizations from 14 countries with over a thousand activists. Much of the material on its web site (http://www.nosharia.com/) is outrageously Islamophobic.

One such piece, by Elka Enola of the Humanist Association of Toronto, sketches a startling “Worst Case (but probable) Scenario” of the effect of allowing Muslim FBA, starting with “Stage One — Using the Arbitration Act, the Shari’a courts appear to get legal sanction” and ending with “Stage Three — Muslims now outnumber Christians and the majority rule of democracy is turned on its head as the majority Muslims make Shari’a the law of the land.” It concludes, “We must protect Canada from such a scenario.”

Not surprisingly, the Humanist Association of Toronto proclaimed Arjomand its “Humanist of the Year” in 2005.

More typical of the opposition, perhaps, is a pamphlet published by Rights and Democracy, the Montréal-based International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, a federal government-funded agency that promotes the Canadian government’s “human-rights” agenda around the world and especially in countries where Canada intervenes militarily such as Afghanistan and Haiti. Entitled “Behind Closed Doors: How Faith-based Arbitration Shuts Out Women’s Rights in Canada and Abroad,” it is mainly a polemic against Mumtaz Ali’s “sharia tribunals,” a concept that Marion Boyd explained had little if anything to do with the reality of faith-based arbitration under the Arbitration Act. Like other such statements, the pamphlet condemns the Boyd report but fails to address her specific recommendations. And it is riddled with factual misstatements.

For example, it says: “While it is true that the Orthodox Jewish and Ismaili Muslim communities operate their own tribunals under the Arbitration Act, the vast majority of cases handled by both are commercial disputes. Furthermore, the Ismaili tribunal does not apply religious laws in arbitration.” In fact, Boyd describes the Ismaili Muslim Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) in detail. She reports, citing their figures, that 63% of their cases are “matrimonial,” 29% commercial, and 8% “other (including inheritance cases).” And she adds: “The CAB system is grounded in the ethics of the faith….”

“Behind Closed Doors” preaches reliance on Canadian courts and state institutions; it assumes that women will be victimized under any system of private law. The entire approach is paternalistic, opposed to choice for the oppressed. It is not hard to see why this is the favoured approach of Rights and Democracy, which implements such reasoning worldwide.

-R.F.


Faith-based arbitration – a Muslim perspective

[Excerpts from an article by Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. Full text at http://usa.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/1964]

… [T]he term “Shariah-based arbitration” is a misnomer and the cause of much unnecessary and divisive confusion. The proposed implementation of Marion Boyd’s recommendations was designed simply to establish parity for Muslims in Ontario who desire equal opportunity with other religious groups to participate in consensual faith based mediation and arbitration.

The real issue at hand is that governmentally recognized faith based arbitration could be regulated to everyone’s benefit. It could establish standards for licensing and/or accrediting both men and women (yes, women!) mediators; and it could determine the number and makeup of arbitration teams. For example, a government-supported faith based arbitration system could determine that specific teams be assigned to Muslim community issues; perhaps a team consisting of an elder, an Imam, a woman, a Canadian-trained Muslim lawyer and a social worker….

Faith-based mediation and arbitration are as old as faith itself. Long before Canada existed as a modern state, our First Nations peoples practiced both styles of resolution and still do.

Seeking faith based mediation and arbitration is voluntary. If it is also regulated, participating arbitrators must document fully the fact that all parties involved are engaged in this process of their own free will, as a legitimate alternative to the secular civil court system.

Mediation is usually attuned to the conflicting wants and needs of two parties in family/marital disputes, while arbitration is concerned first with the rights of the opponents and their children, if any. Both processes, however, must follow the laws of the land — a provision made very clear by the Boyd Report but too often dismissed by its opponents.

Western culture has traditionally treated faith-based mediation and arbitration with suspicion. This is because the secular world generally views all conflicts as battles in which one side wins, only because the other side must lose. In such an adversarial culture, superior value is placed on holding one party (often male) wholly responsible for the conflict. Thus, agreeing to any form of mediation and arbitration, faith-based or not, is usually equated (often by women) with giving up one’s rights, power and safety.

But faith, any faith, treats family conflict resolution first and foremost as a type of meditation; that is, restoring peace of mind to those who once shared a mutual partnership of peace within their relationship.

Faith-based mediation and arbitration in Islam are no different than in any other faith group. Along with their Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters, Muslims believe it makes perfect sense to engage in mediation (and meditation!) along with arbitration to resolve family matters, right here in Canada. Here are some key reasons:

1. In matters of family conflict, our Canadian legal system often does more harm than good, as it is based on the premise that in difficult times the other person becomes an adversary, or opponent. Our litigious society — aided and abetted by the professional legal system — has promoted the notion of winners and losers to an absurd degree. In most cases of family conflict, the “winner” may be awarded more money, or gain some satisfaction in being proven “right,” but the conflict has not been resolved, and may never be.

2. In family conflicts, one must deal with all kinds of pain. Faith based mediation and arbitration can inject a major dose of healing into the resolution process. But it is virtually impossible for secular Canadian courts or family lawyers to provide any amount of emotional or spiritual healing. Community leaders who practice faith based mediation and arbitration do not consider themselves lawyers, or marriage and family counselors (although they may be members of these professions), but rather see their roles as being primarily healing ones.

3. Faith based mediation and arbitration have the advantage of allowing the parties in a conflict to agree upon their selection of the impartial third party/parties and even the methodology of how to select those individuals. In Islamic family law, for example, both husband and wife can each select one or more persons to be on the mediation and arbitration panel.

4. Faith based mediation and arbitration cost the conflicted parties much less, both financially and emotionally, since conflicts are generally resolved much faster than if taken through the adversarial justice system. This offers a great advantage by freeing up seriously over-taxed court resources, which have resulted in large case backlogs. For example, it now takes years to complete a divorce settlement anywhere in Canada. The negative financial, social, and spiritual impact on families of such extended delays is far too high. Some judges now advise Muslim couples to seek faith-based mediation and arbitration first before they will hear their pending divorce cases.

5. Mediation and arbitration, faith based or not, offer a positive forward step toward conflict resolution. They are complementary processes that should be an integral part of any justice system; they cannot be outlawed or dismissed.

6. Structured and professionally licensed faith based mediation and arbitration processes can provide valuable legal and social resources to faith-practicing Canadians, as well as potentially attracting many lapsed or non-practicing believers, from within and without all mainstream faith groups.

7. It is far better to regulate faith based mediation and arbitration and to accept them as an integral part of our Canadian justice system, than to reject their present and potential value by marginalizing or suppressing them.

September 15, 2005

The Kirpan Ruling: A Victory for Public School Integration

By Richard Fidler

On March 2, the Supreme Court of Canada overruled a Montreal school’s ban on a student’s right to wear the Sikh ceremonial dagger, or kirpan, on school property.[1] The judgment was not just a victory for freedom of religion. It was also a major step forward in the ongoing struggle to integrate non-Francophone ethnic and racial minorities as full citizens of the Quebec nation through the public school system.

Gurbaj Singh Multani was rapidly learning French as a student in the École Sainte-Catherine-Labouré in 2001 when he accidentally dropped his kirpan in the school yard. His parents were told by the school authorities that he could not wear this symbol of his orthodox Sikh faith, which is normally concealed in his clothing, on school property. In response, they pulled him out of the French-language public school system and enrolled him in a private school that allowed the kirpan, and that also happens to be Anglophone — with the result that Gurbaj Singh Multani speaks almost no French today.

“I like learning French,” he told a press conference following the Court’s judgment. “But this affair prevented me from doing so. Now that we have won this case, the young [Sikhs] like me will have no further problems. They will be able to learn French.”[2]

Gurbaj’s parents had initially agreed to an accommodation with the school board that would allow him to wear the kirpan sealed inside his clothing. This was rejected by the school. The Quebec Superior Court supported the Singh Multanis, but the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld the ban. The case then went to the country’s highest court.

The Supreme Court judgments (there were three separate opinions, although all eight judges concurred in the result) were limited to the conclusion that the school’s ostensible reason for the ban — that wearing the kirpan violated the school’s ban on carrying “weapons” — was not rationally supported by the evidence. After all, some judges noted, “there are many objects in schools that could be used to commit violent acts and that are much more easily obtained by students, such as scissors, pencils and baseball bats.”

The Singh Multani judgment was a victory for the principle that public schools cannot exclude students who wear symbols of their personal religious beliefs. But there are broader implications as well.

The kirpan case is the latest event in the ongoing efforts in Quebec to build an integrated public school system that does not impose religious beliefs — or non-beliefs, in the name of a supposed “secularism” — on minorities. Until recently, under the Canadian Constitution, Quebec had two distinct public school systems distinguished by religion, one Catholic (and largely French), the other Protestant (and largely English). Non-Christians and non-Francophone immigrants overwhelmingly sent their children into the Protestant stream, where they were educated mainly in English and in many cases emerged with little or no knowledge of the mother tongue spoken by more than 80 percent of the province’s population.

Declining demographics of native-born Quebecers and rising immigration levels tended to increase the influence within Quebec society of English, long the language of privilege of a wealthy economically dominant minority based in Montreal. The divisions in the public school system reproduced and reinforced the distinctions between the linguistic solitudes.

Establishing a unilingual French public school system became a key goal for the rising nationalist movement and a major component of Quebec’s efforts to modernize and enhance its educational system beginning in the 1960s.

A major step toward that goal was achieved in 1997, when the Constitution Act, 1867 (formerly the British North America Act) was amended to exclude Quebec from the requirement to maintain “denominational” (sectarian) public school systems. Since then, there is one, secular or non-denominational public school system in Quebec, although there is a sub-component of English schools within that system for children with at least one parent who was educated in English. All other parents must send their children to a French public school or, failing that, to a private school at additional expense to them.

The reform is still incomplete. Apart from the “grandfathering” rights of Anglophone parents, the Quebec government still provides generous funding to the province’s private schools. Just a year ago, Quebec Premier Jean Charest announced the government would give full public funding to private Jewish schools — only to abandon his plan a week later in the face of massive public opposition. Religion classes are still an option in some public schools, although they are being phased out.

But since the mid-1970s two generations of immigrant children and many from old-stock English families as well have been educated in the French-language public school system. This has produced a broad layer of young Québécois adults of non-Francophone ethnic origin who are fluent in French and comfortable in a French Quebec. They are often referred to as the “Bill 101 generation,” after the legislation, the Charter of the French Language, that required most Quebec students to attend French-language schools. This has been one of the great achievements of Quebec’s nationalist upsurge since 1960, a cornerstone of the new multi-ethnic Quebec nation in which French is the common language of public communication and discourse.

Accommodate, don’t discriminate

Underlying the school integration movement, as it was known, was the understanding — or at least the implicit logic — that religious beliefs and practices are fundamentally individual matters, and that in modern, pluralistic, democratic societies the majority has no right to impose its religious beliefs on others. This principle of separation of church and state, or secularism as it is often described, is strongly supported by most progressive-minded people in Quebec and Canada.

Much less understood, however, is its corollary: that a democratic society, in the interest of integrating minorities with full rights into the larger society, must be prepared to accommodate particular beliefs and practices of minorities that the latter consider vital to their cultural self-definition, provided those beliefs and practices do not threaten the rights or safety of the society as a whole. Many such beliefs and practices are all too often singled out as grounds to ghettoize and otherwise discriminate against minorities, especially visible minorities.

The kirpan incident illustrates how progressive secularism can work in practice, allowing room for the expression and practice of individual beliefs within public institutions in order to ensure that those institutions are responsive and available to all.

Implementing this principle requires developing a knowledge of how and where to draw the line between public and private. What are legitimate concerns of the collectivity, and what are not? When the Montreal school characterized the kirpan as a “weapon,” that is, a threat to society and not a religious symbol, it made a false distinction. Although the Supreme Court judges do not speculate on the school authorities’ motives, it is not hard to detect the odour of racism in the school’s decision.

Judging from the furor over the Court’s ruling that is being expressed on hot-line radio shows and in letters to the editor, many Québécois are having a hard time understanding and accepting these implications of an integrated public school system. But imposing “secular” dress codes could drive many immigrant kids away from the French school system and point Quebec backwards to the ethnic self-identity that divided its population and ultimately tended to undermine the status of French as the common language of the nation.

It must be said that the Canadian Court’s verdict compares favourably with such manifestations of imperialist arrogance as the French government’s recent ban on the wearing of ostensible religious symbols of personal faith in the schools, otherwise known as the “hijab ban.” In effect, the French state told staunch Muslims that they must abandon or redefine their religion if they wish to join French society. This is what goes by the name of “secularism” in contemporary France and indeed in much of Europe. The violent protests that shook France’s immigrant ghettos last summer were surely fuelled in part by resentment of this xenophobic contempt for the beliefs of a beleaguered minority.

Closer to home, many feminists and otherwise liberally-minded individuals were quick to line up last year in opposition to a modest proposal by some Muslims to bring their faith-based private family arbitration system under the ambit of Ontario’s Arbitration Act. Advocates of this proposal argued that not only would it respect the particular religious beliefs of many Muslims, but it would help protect vulnerable women and children and reinforce the rights of all parties engaged in private arbitration, especially when coupled with the recommendations in a report by Marion Boyd, a former Attorney General, to reform the Act and related legislation.[3]

Opponents of the proposal warned darkly that it would undermine family law reform and be the thin edge of the wedge to impose “sharia” tribunals in place of Canadian courts.[4] Even the Quebec National Assembly weighed into the debate with a motion unanimously supported by federalists and sovereigntists alike condemning the Boyd report and the proposed reform in Ontario — although none of the honourable members had evidently read the report or knew anything about the real issues involved!

Feminist opposition to faith-based arbitration was particularly troubling, in my view. Feminists understand the importance of choice in other contexts (e.g. a woman’s right to abortion). Why deny Moslem women the option of faith-based arbitration of private family matters where they so wish?

In the end, wiser heads prevailed. The McGuinty government’s Bill 27, which just passed the Ontario legislature (the NDP opposed it), effectively implements the bulk of the Boyd recommendations.[5] There is nothing in the bill that would bar Muslims from conducting arbitrations under the reformed Arbitration Act, provided they are duly certified as having the requisite knowledge of the applicable Ontario and Canadian laws. That was in fact what most of the Muslim advocates of private family arbitration were asking, as Boyd’s report clearly documented.

The Supreme Court’s kirpan judgment and Ontario’s Arbitration Act amendments are a useful reminder that those who control the vital institutions of the Canadian state are more sophisticated than many on the left are often prepared to acknowledge. While the rulers are certainly willing to inflame racist passions where it is useful to them, and are thoroughly committed to loyal participation in imperialist ventures around the world — witness their current military and police operations in Afghanistan and Haiti — they also have a well-honed understanding of the need to accommodate difference within the body politic where such difference does not threaten their class rule and where the recognition and calibrated accommodation of difference can reinforce citizens’ sense of identification with the state. It is their skill in navigating the shoals of these social tensions that earns them their status as a “ruling class.”

Those of us who aspire to build a movement that can some day replace that class and institute a government truly of the people and by the people would be well-advised to study the lessons to be learned from incidents such as the kirpan ban or the Muslim family arbitration issue. And to learn how to build effective bridges of solidarity around such issues with our Sikh, Muslim and other sisters and brothers who are now, through immigration, becoming an increasingly important part of the working class in this country.

We need to demonstrate, in action, that their real allies are not the capitalist rulers, who concede such rights only reluctantly, but the working people, who can only gain in strength and political consciousness through identifying with these struggles.


References

[1]Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys, 2006 SCC 6, http://makeashorterlink.com/?S6E3219CC.

[2] Le Devoir, 4-5 March, 2006, http://www.ledevoir.com/2006/03/04/103550.html

[3] http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/about/pubs/boyd/fullreport.pdf

[4] http://www.nosharia.com/

[5] http://www.ontla.on.ca/documents/Bills/38_Parliament/session2/b027.pdf

Socialists Must Oppose Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Where The Militant Goes Wrong on Cartoon Protests

By Sandra Browne and Robert Johnson

Editors’ Note: Protests against the anti-Islamic caricatures published in Denmark have been widely supported by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. However, capitalist media claim that these actions endanger freedom of speech, and some socialist groups echo this view. Sandra Browne and Robert Johnson analyze the views of one such current, the U.S. Socialist Workers Party. Both were prominent activists for several decades in the SWP’s Canadian sister organization. —Roger Annis and John Riddell


“People are no longer willing to pay taxes to help support someone called Ali who comes from a country with a different language and culture that’s 5,000 miles away.” Flemming Rose, the editor who commissioned the caricatures for the newspaper Jyllands-Posten, quoted in the Feb. 12 New York Times


“To Muslims, the caricatures vividly brought back the scenes of Israeli bulldozers demolishing Palestinian homes in Jenin, the invasion of Afghanistan, the fall of Baghdad, terrors of Abu Ghraib and humiliations of Guantanamo Bay.

“Cultural arrogance was added to political aggressiveness. Muslims have grown used to the torrent of terrifying images that associate them and their faith with the most horrifying of practices, from violence and cruelty to fanaticism and oppression. When it comes to Islam, all boundaries and limits could be dispensed with. The unacceptable becomes perfectly acceptable, proper and respectable.

“The truth is that today racism, intolerance, xenophobia, and hatred of the other hide behind the sublime façade of free speech, the defence of ‘our’ values and protection of ‘our’ society from ‘foreign’ aggression.

“Let us not be deceived about this rhetoric of liberalism and free speech. The Danish cartoons have nothing to do with freedom of expression and everything to do with hatred of the other in a Europe grappling with its growing Muslim minorities, still unable to accept them.”Soumaya Ghannoushi writing for Aljazeera.net


“Muslims have, in effect, been vilified twice: once through the original cartoons and then again for having the gall to protest them. Such logic recalls the words of the late South African black nationalist Steve Biko: ‘Not only are whites kicking us, they are telling us how to react to being kicked.'” Gary Younge, “The Right to be Offended,” The Nation, February 27

In the weeks following the publication of the anti-Muslim caricatures by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, many large actions of protest have taken place around the world. The mobilizations have been particularly massive and sustained among the Arab and Muslim peoples, the direct targets of the caricatures. But other fighters against racism and chauvinism have joined the protests.

Meanwhile, the imperialist rulers and their ideological followers are doing everything they can to dampen and discredit the mobilizations. This has led to a sharp polarization of political opinion and action. It has also posed a test for socialists. Many have rallied to the defense of Muslims. But others have echoed ruling-class themes.

The February 27, 2006, issue of The Militant provides a particularly blatant example of this. The newspaper expresses the views of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party, and its stand on this issue illustrates how far the SWP leadership has retreated from revolutionary Marxism on the struggle of oppressed nationalities against imperialism.

1. Turning the victims into the criminals

As Soumaya Ghannoushi explains, the publication of the caricatures and the reaction they provoked had nothing to do with the issue of free speech and everything to do with the mounting tide of war, oppression, chauvinism, and racism that has been particularly directed against peoples and nations who are Muslim.

This international context includes:

  • The rise of racism in Denmark spearheaded by the Danish government and the record of xenophobia and anti-Muslim incitement of the publishers of Jyllands-Posten where the caricatures first appeared. Their publication was a deliberate provocation.
  • The presence of Danish troops in the imperialist armies occupying Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Recent European Union decisions aimed at preventing or delaying Turkey’s adhesion to the EU because of its large Muslim population.
  • Afghanistan has been invaded and occupied by imperialism. Iraq has been invaded and occupied by imperialism. Palestine is occupied by the Zionists. In all of these countries imperialism has brought nothing but death and destruction. The social fabric of these societies is being destroyed. The U.S. has been building and reinforcing military bases in other countries of the Middle East and Central Asia. The threat of a war against Iran grows ever closer.
  • In the imperialist countries the ruling class seeks to justify its current and coming aggressions with a fierce ideological campaign, an important component of which is directed against Muslims at home and abroad. The campaign is multifaceted, but an underlying theme is that Islam is an aggressive, backward, warlike religion whose adherents must be conquered and “civilized.” Official racism is instituted through the immigration laws, operations of the secret police, secret trials, “rendition” to ensure that detainees will be tortured, the Guantanamo concentration camp, etc. Rightist and openly racist forces are emboldened in this context, take the bit between their teeth and push much further.
  • This is the reality that immigrants in this country who come from the countries under attack face, as they do in the U.S. or Western Europe. The situation is much worse for those who live under imperialist occupation or threat of attack.

The protests against the caricatures occur against this backdrop. They are an expression of deep outrage at all of these aggressions and indignities heaped upon the toiling masses, many of whom are Muslims. At their most basic level they are a cry for dignity and equality, and a sign that there are many among the protesters who are willing to fight against the warmongers and merchants of hate.

The Militant’s view

The Militant presents an entirely different view of the protests.

The coverage is presented in a lengthy article by Sam Manuel, “Imperialist powers use reactionary demands on banning Danish cartoons to attack rights, boost support for war,” and an editorial “Censorship hurts working class.” (See references, below)

Nowhere in either the article or the editorial does the paper acknowledge that the published caricatures including the one depicting Muhammad as a terrorist are anti-Muslim, xenophobic and intended to deepen racist suspicion toward Arab peoples. Nowhere do the writers acknowledge the rightful anger of millions worldwide at such affronts and their legitimate demands for an end to them. Nowhere do they recognize that the victims of these attacks and working people are right to strenuously protest such treatment by the imperialist rulers.

Surely The Militant does not prefer that Muslims turn the other cheek in the face of such an outrage. Why then is it unable to utter a single word of support to the protests? Why are words such as “racist”, “anti-Muslim,” and “chauvinist” entirely absent from its coverage?

The character of the paper’s treatment of the issue is exemplified in the first paragraph of the front-page article by Manuel:

“WASHINGTON—Washington, London, and other imperialist powers are taking advantage of often violent protests against controversial cartoons, including one showing Prophet Muhammad with a lit bomb in his turban, to expand popular support for their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and threats against Iran and Syria.”

The caricatures are characterized as “controversial cartoons.” The choice of words is no accident since the editorial repeats the same expression. The concept that the drawings were a chauvinist provocation is foreign to the coverage.

Moreover, the author smears the mobilizations by calling them “often violent protests.” This again turns the victims into criminals. Nearly all of the deaths and injuries associated with the demonstrations occurred when the police and armies of pro-imperialist governments attempted to quell the protests by force. (Later in Manuel’s article he does acknowledge the lethal role of the security forces in two countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He then resumes his narrative portraying the protests as reactionary.) The article also makes a point of mentioning the torching of the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria. Apparently the editors consider this instance of destruction of private property to be especially noteworthy, but they do not explain why.

The Militant states on its masthead that it is “published in the interests of working people.” That statement is contradicted by its refusal to express solidarity with the protests in any way. This refusal is a profound disservice to the paper’s readers.

Instead the paper attempts to portray the protests as a reactionary mass mobilization, one which aids U.S. imperialism in its war drive and which favors censorship.

This is itself a crude caricature unsupported by the facts. It turns reality on its head and amounts to what Malcolm X called “turning the victim into the criminal.”

Censorship, the working class, and the mass protests

To be sure, Marxists oppose any attempt by capitalist governments to stifle political, cultural, religious or other forms of expression. The working class can only advance toward taking power through the free exchange of ideas. History has shown that capitalist governments do not hesitate to direct their powers of censorship and “anti-hate” laws against the labor movement when it suits their purpose, particularly in times of social crisis. This why, for example, Marxists oppose the recent jailing of the right-wing author David Irving in Austria for denying the Holocaust in his1989 speeches. Such ideas must be vigorously opposed, but they cannot be defeated through repressive thought-control laws.

The most effective way to respond to rightist ideas and provocations is through debate and effective mass mobilization. Indeed, by repeatedly mobilizing in the streets in their many tens of thousands from Tangier to Jakarta, Muslims and their supporters have struck a powerful blow against the racists and xenophobes.

In the semicolonial world many pro-imperialist governments sought to suppress the protests, often violently. But others recognized the depth of anger the caricatures triggered and sought to direct the protests into channels that did not threaten their rule. Some political and religious leaders of the protests did indeed call for censorship. It is correct and necessary for socialists to oppose such demands. But this can and should be done in the context of supporting unambiguously the mass mobilizations against the caricatures.

NDP calls for protests

Even the reformist New Democratic Party has a better position than the SWP on this issue.

On February 14 Alexa McDonough issued a statement on behalf of the NDP entitled “NO TO ISLAMAPHOBIA [sic]. NO TO ANTI-SEMITISM. NO TO RACISM OF ANY KIND.” Not surprisingly the statement leaves much to be desired. It attempts to place equal emphasis on freedom of expression and religion on the one hand and opposition to hatred and intolerance on the other. It calls on all sides to avoid excesses.

Yet for all that, the NDP states unequivocally that the cartoons are “abhorrent depictions” that should be protested and says that “(i)ntentionally denigrating Islam or any other faith is offensive, destructive and understandably inflammatory.”

Given this stand, it would certainly be logical to invite the NDP to speak at future protests and to expect to be able to draw NDP supporters to participate in it. This would provide aid and comfort to the embattled Muslim community; they have been attempting to forge a broader front against racism, but they are opposed by powerful forces and their success has been limited to date.

The SWP, in contrast, opposes the protests from the sidelines.

2. Revising Marxism, abstaining from struggles

Faced with imperialism’s drive to terrorize, occupy and impose its political will on the Arab and Muslim world, workers and socialists of the oppressor nations have a special responsibility today to defend and to give all possible aid to the struggles of the oppressed for their liberation.

This is not a new question for the labor movement. Since the beginning of the imperialist era over 100 years ago, some of the sharpest debates and divisions among socialists have been over this very issue. In its early years the Third (Communist) International expressed the common interests of the workers in the imperialist nations and the masses struggling for their freedom from imperialism in the strategic slogan, “Workers and Oppressed Nations of the World, Unite.”

This strategic line formed part of the historic program of the SWP, which applied it for more than 50 years to many of the burning issues of the day including the fight against colonialism in Africa and Asia, the fight against the Vietnam War, struggles in Palestine and Ireland, and solidarity with Cuba.

To cite one such example, in 1982 the military junta of Argentina, its hands dripping with the blood of tens of thousands of Argentine workers, students, and others that it had murdered in its “dirty war,” sought to prolong its highly unpopular rule. It invaded the Malvinas, a group of islands that historically belong to Argentina but were occupied by Britain. In the ensuing war the Socialist Workers Party unconditionally supported Argentina; the Cuban government did likewise and campaigned to rally Latin America to the cause of Argentina, even while it was led by the murderous generals.

Yet today when the targets of the chauvinist caricatures rise up to proclaim their revulsion and their human dignity, The Militant harshly denounces the protests and denies their role as part of the fight against imperialism and national oppression.

The concluding paragraph of the editorial must be read in that light. It states:

“The opposite is true. Muslims, like other believers, are divided into classes. Among the swelling ranks of working people—from the Middle East to North America, from Europe to Africa, Asia, and the Pacific—there is a growing convergence among those who recognize the need to safeguard and extend democratic rights in order to defend the life and limb of the working class and its allies, and to fight for a world without class exploitation, national oppression, or sex discrimination.”

This passage fails to recognize the oppression that imperialism is today systematically directing against Arabs and Muslims on the basis of their race and religion. This oppression has not only a class but a national character. The chauvinist outcry against the Dubai Ports World deal clearly illustrates the fact that capitalists who are Muslim can also become targets of the mounting rightist propaganda of imperialist rulers. (Of course the burden of such oppression falls most heavily on the workers, farmers, and other toiling layers in the semicolonial world and among the immigrant populations in countries like the U.S. and Canada.)

The conclusion of the editorial is a shameful revision of revolutionary Marxism. It contradicts not only the historic program of the SWP but the teachings and practice of such revolutionaries as Malcolm X, Fidel and Che, Lenin and Trotsky.

A further point should be noted. The Militant’s refusal to call for protests against the racist caricatures mirrors its longstanding failure to promote protests against the war in Iraq. It condemns virtually all acts of resistance by Iraqi fighters to the occupation of their country. The paper abstains from and criticizes virtually all of the major protest actions against the occupation organized in the U.S., Canada, and other countries. It justifies this stand by citing its disagreements with the leaderships of these actions. The SWP appears to have lost the ability to join in united fronts and to support actions that objectively weaken U.S. imperialism’s stranglehold on Iraq, whatever may be the political positions of the forces leading such actions.

The Militant does not mention the considerable and growing opposition to the war among the U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. This omission is all the more striking in light of the SWP’s record of leading work among GIs against the Vietnam war and orienting the antiwar movement in this direction. The paper is also silent on the large and growing opposition to the war among the U.S. population as a whole.

Similarly, The Militant has utterly failed to systematically defend Iraq’s sovereignty and expose the colonialist oppression of the Iraqi people. The war and occupation have brought dreadful living conditions, many Iraqi deaths, checkpoints, curfews, raids, jailings, torture and political interference, all imposed with imperial arrogance by the U.S. and its allies. This information is credibly documented elsewhere, but is kept out of the pages of The Militant.

In statements and editorials the party and the newspaper occasionally repeat their call for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq. But The Militant gives no indication that the SWP is carrying out any practical activity to further that goal. It does not report on any antiwar campaigning by the party whether in the factories and mines, on the campuses, outside military bases, or elsewhere. Yet the party does not hesitate to sharply criticize those who protest or resist the occupation.

This course of conduct is also in complete contradiction to revolutionary Marxism and to the outstanding record in earlier years of the SWP and The Militant.

3. Growing divergence with Cuba’s leadership

For several decades after the victory of the revolution in 1959, The Militant was the best source of information in English on events in Cuba and the views of the leaders of the revolution. Speeches by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raul Castro, and other leaders appeared in the newspaper in a timely way; many of these were then published in book form by Pathfinder Press.

This is no longer the case. The SWP and The Militant are still partisans of the Cuban revolution, but their approach and coverage has become highly selective and disconnected from many of the big issues of the day. Articles on Cuba in the paper deal with almost exclusively with historical themes and with Cuba’s humanitarian and internationalist aid to other countries. Publishing projects that involve Pathfinder are also reported. While this is information is certainly of some interest, The Militant has chosen not to report on many key statements by Cuban leaders and on other developments related to Cuba that are vitally important to fighters around the world.

In fact, for Cuba 2005 has been a “wonderful, triumphant year”, as John Riddell reports in Socialist Voice #67. Important advances have been registered both domestically and internationally, and the forward motion is continuing. Fidel Castro and others have given many talks in recent months about changes and challenges inside Cuba, Cuba’s view of the world situation and what the Cubans and others are doing to advance the international struggle. Much of this material is available, in English, on the Web.

So far The Militant has been silent about these important developments. Fighting workers and youth can no longer look to the paper to learn what the revolutionary leaders and people of Cuba are doing and saying. They must find this information elsewhere.

The reason for this silence is not hard to understand.

Mesmerized by its greatly exaggerated appraisal of the strength of U.S. imperialism, bewailing the leadership challenges faced by our class, and dismissive of the masses in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere who are rising up in new waves of struggle, the SWP’s view of the world is very different from that of the Cubans. Moreover, our Cuban comrades are acting boldly on their assessment of the new objective possibilities, and are reaching out to build the most powerful anti-imperialist united front that they can. They are forging ever-stronger ties with Venezuela and have embraced the election of Evo Morales as president of Bolivia, offering concrete aid to the Andean country in every possible way.

In their support for struggles for justice around the world and for Latin American unity against U.S. imperialism, the communist leaders of the Cuban workers state are in fact applying the strategic line of “Workers and Oppressed Nations of the World, Unite” and adapting it to today’s conditions.

Moreover, they explain what they are doing in no uncertain terms, to all who will listen. All of this means that as the objective situation improves for our class and the possibilities for struggle grow, the chasm between what the Cuban comrades are doing and saying, and what the SWP stands for, grows larger.

The SWP’s rejection of the national liberation struggle, so clearly captured in their opposition to the international antiracist protests, is also a rejection of the communist course of the Cuban leadership.


References:

The Militant, February 27, 2006:

Letters from Readers and reply by The Militant, March 20, 2006

Sandra Browne and Robert Johnson were members and subsequently organized supporters of the Communist League and its predecessor organizations for more than three and four decades respectively. Robert Johnson was a central leader of the organization through the mid 1960s to the early 1980s. The Communist League is the sister organization in Canada of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party.

McGuinty’s Ban on Faith-Based Arbitration: No Victory for Women’s Rights

By Richard Fidler

Editors’ Note–On Sunday October 2, about 300 Toronto-area Muslims and supporters rallied at Queen’s Park demanding that Muslims have equal access to the Arbitration Act in Ontario and opposing Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty’s decision to ban faith-based arbitration.

Protesters carried signs declaring, “End racism, stop Islamophobia,” “Islam guarantees all my freedoms,” “Implement the Boyd report,” and “I’m educated and able to choose—don’t impose on me someone else’s views.”

Speakers stressed that Christian and Jewish denominations had utilized faith-based arbitration for more than a decade, without a word of protest. Then the request of Muslims to utilize this provision had aroused an uproar—proof of religious discrimination. Speakers denounced McGuinty for giving way in the face of a noisy minority opposed to Islamic rights, without giving the Muslim community a hearing. Participants pledged to continue the campaign against McGuinty’s proposed ban.

The Islamic community needs the alternative of faith-based arbitration, one speaker explained, because “the Canadian court system lacks the healing touch. The courts are lawyer-driven. The system is adversarial. Court proceedings are meant to draw blood, to accentuate the negative. The entire process is prolonged and costly and leaves everyone embittered.”

Another speaker noted that informal faith-based arbitration had been going on in the Muslim community for decades, with no frictions. “We welcomed the government’s faith-based arbitration initiative because we thought it would be good for our arbitrators to be government-trained, so they would be expert not only in Islamic principles but in Canadian law. We wanted our arbitration procedures to be transparent and monitored. We felt this would assure good practice.”

Richard Fidler’s discussion of this controversy, which follows, is reprinted with permission from the September 24 issue of Socialist Worker. —Roger Annis and John Riddell


The Ontario government decision to ban faith-based arbitration in private family disputes is not a victory for women’s rights. It is a capitulation to a campaign involving more than a hint of anti-immigrant and racist prejudice that tragically was spearheaded by many feminist organizations, the labour movement and the left as well as a few Canadian Muslim women.

As a result of this decision many women of religious persuasion, primarily women in immigrant communities, will be forced to resort to either costly court proceedings or private arrangements that will lack the legal protections proposed by a government-sponsored study in order to resolve disputes arising out of marriage breakdown.

Most organized religions have long had provision for deciding family issues involving such things as inheritance and custody through adjudication by authorities trained in the particular precepts of the religious belief. In Ontario, a number of religions began using the Arbitration Act in recent years to make such decisions enforceable by the courts.

The use of the Act by some Jews and adherents of other religions, including Christians, attracted little or no public criticism.

But the controversy over “sharia law” arose a couple of years ago when some Muslims proposed to likewise put their longstanding faith-based system of private religion-based mediation and arbitration under the Arbitration Act.

The proposal immediately came under fierce public attack. Many of the critics raised the spectre of “sharia” tribunals controlled by fundamentalist mullahs that would expose women to the laws of countries that condone stonings, beheadings, rules of evidence that give a woman’s testimony only half the weight of a man’s, etc.

There was a clear anti-Muslim edge to most of the attacks, which (among other things) failed to note the variations in the laws and customs of predominantly Islamic countries; “sharia” law was equated with Muslim fundamentalism, which was now, we were told, to be “imposed” on women of the Muslim faith.

The Ontario government reacted to these hyperbolic attacks by commissioning a review by Marion Boyd, a prominent feminist and former attorney-general and minister for women’s affairs in the province’s social-democratic NDP government of the early 1990s.

Boyd heard from close to 50 groups and conducted numerous interviews. Her 200-page report, released in December 2004, comprehensively canvassed the issues and proposed a number of amendments to the Act that would in her opinion enhance the quality of decision-making and ensure that parties to private arbitration of family law disputes (especially vulnerable women) would be apprised of their rights under Canadian law.

Here are some of her findings:

  • There is no evidence to suggest that women are being systematically discriminated against as a result of arbitration of family law issues.
  • Under arbitration, the parties choose their own law. But it may not be contrary to Ontario law.
  • Arbitration is subject to legal limits (it cannot address issues of criminal law or divorce law, nor the status of marriage or recognition of parenthood) and procedural limits (for example, the parties cannot opt out of judicial review on issues of jurisdiction, fraud, etc.).
  • Canadian Muslims already have a highly sophisticated and organized system of conciliation and arbitration that is available to practicing Muslims at their individual option.
  • Virtually all of those favouring religion-based mediation and arbitration advocated additional safeguards to prevent the kind of discrimination and inequity feared by opponents.

Boyd acknowledged that support obligations on Muslim men are “extremely limited in comparison to what is required by Canadian and Ontario law.” She framed recommendations to “ensure that arbitration decisions based on religious law do not disentitle spouses and children from the support provisions they are accorded under Canadian and Ontario law….”

In all, she came up with 46 recommendations. One was to add mediation agreements and arbitration agreements to the definition of “domestic contracts” already recognized in family law. These agreements, in writing, signed by the parties and witnessed, could be set aside by the courts on the same grounds as other domestic contracts, that is, if they did not reflect the best interests of children; a party did not have or waive independent legal advice; or no written decision with reasons was provided.

A number of proposals, if implemented, would have ensured that parties were adequately informed of their legal rights, including the right to independent legal advice.

Few of the critics of Boyd’s report addressed these specific recommendations. Instead, the underlying thrust of the attacks was to treat all Muslim customs and laws as primitive, barbaric, and misogynist. The critics were insistent that resort to religious precepts (especially Muslim!) must be prohibited in Canadian family law.

The Islamic community is one of many racially oppressed minority communities in Canada an imperialist country. In such circumstances, religious precepts often serve as a powerful means of self-identification and self-determination as an oppressed people, a key precondition to being able to combat their oppression. In this regard, it is analogous with the national question.

Most imperialist countries have developed definitions of citizenship based on homogenizing cultural concepts that deliberately exclude and discriminate against the immigrants and cultural minorities who make up an increasing share of their populations. England, once the colonial power par excellence, has categorically refused Muslim demands for a separate Sharia system for family law, but Muslims in the U.K. have developed an informal process that leaves them without the protection of British laws. Germany, with its blood basis of citizenship, excludes all of non-German origin other than children born in Germany.

France, with an assimilationist model of citizenship, allows no law other than secular state law to apply to its citizens. However, only one million of France’s four million Muslims are French citizens. So what family law applies to these non-citizen residents of France? The laws of the foreign resident’s country of origin or citizenship as interpreted by French judges! German judges do likewise.

Is it any wonder that in those countries many immigrants would want to evade the jurisdiction of the courts and rely simply on private adjudication of family law disputes?

For a variety of reasons that I need not go into here, Ontario seemed recently to be moving in a different direction, one that would make room for the beliefs of some minority communities while providing the more vulnerable members of those communities with greater recourse to the legal rights enjoyed by both citizens and non-citizens. As Boyd notes, a proposal by some Muslims to bring their faith-based private arbitration system under the Ontario arbitration legislation could be interpreted as “a desire [by the minority community] to engage with the broader community”. They were simply asking that their religion be accorded the same rights already enjoyed by others.

That open door has now been slammed shut by the Ontario government. In fact, the government put up no defence of the report it had commissioned. There was no debate in the legislature; the Conservatives and the NDP, like most Liberals, opposed Boyd’s recommendations.

I think those of us who want to build a new left that will encompass the most oppressed in this society need to rethink the lessons of this sorry episode. We need to be actively looking for ways to relate to these minority communities, many of them refugees from imperialist war and exploitation to express our solidarity with their campaigns against repression and to overlook religious differences that for many define their existence and are key to their own cultural or national self-determination.

You cannot combat religion by effectively outlawing it. The society we want to build is one in which human solidarity not repression and exclusion replaces the need for religion. Until that is achieved, we must accept that religion will for many continue to be a primary means of finding solace in a soul-less world.

Canadian Government Condemned for Rights Violations, Torture Policy

By Roger Annis

(This article is slightly revised from the originally posted version in order to incorporate a factual correction.)

VANCOUVER, CANADA—The concentration camp operated by the United States government on illegally-occupied territory at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has earned infamy around the world. Hundreds of prisoners are detained there in violation of humane legal standards, and they are subject to conditions that amount to physical and psychological torture.

Less well known across Canada and Quebec are the mini-concentration camps inside Canadian prisons that mirror the aims of Guantanamo Bay, including the practice of “torture by proxy” by the Canadian government. Thanks to the courageous fights of the victims of these policies and practices, this government is coming under increasing scrutiny and fire for these rights violations.

Security Certificate Five

Five men of Middle Eastern descent have served years in jail in Canada with no charges preferred against them. They are being held under the “security certificate” provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Three are being held in Toronto. They are:

  • Mohammed Mahjoub, a refugee from Egypt, in prison since June 2000.
  • Mahmoud Jaballah, a refugee from Egypt, in prison since August 2001.
  • Hassan Almrei, a refugee from Syria, held since October 2001.

One is detained in Ottawa. He is:

  • Mohamed Harkat, a refugee from Algeria, jailed since December 2002.

A fifth is:

  • Adil Charkaoui, a permanent resident of Canada from Morocco, jailed in May 2003.

Charkaoui won a lengthy and precedent-setting battle for a bail release in February 2005. But the threat of deportation, with all its consequences for his personal security and his political rights, still hangs over him.

Security certificates are a product of the sharp attacks on democratic rights in Canada since the first war in Iraq, in 1991. They were introduced in legislation in 1978 came into use beginning in 1991. They are touted as a necessary weapon for “protecting national security” and “fighting the war on terrorism.”

Under the security certificate procedure, permanent residents or refugees may be jailed indefinitely without charge, and both the detainees and their lawyers can be deprived of “information” or allegations presented to a judge by government agents in a secret hearing from which both detainees and their lawyers are excluded. While in detention, they are entitled to a “hearing” every six months. But since they are not specifically charged with any offence, and have no access to allegations made in secret to the judge, they are effectively deprived of the right of defence, including the right to confront and cross-examine their accusers.

The detainee can be deported, even if this places their lives in danger or if they will be subjected to torture.

Since 1991, 27 people have been detained under the terms of security certificates. Hundreds of other potential targets of this draconian and anti-democratic measure have been visited and threatened by police agencies. As a brochure of No One is Illegal, one of the cross-Canada groups leading the fight against security certificates, states, “Welcome to Canada’s own Guantanamo Bay”.

Protests

The victims of these attacks on basic rights are fighting back., together with growing numbers of supporters. During the week of August 29, rallies were held in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, London, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver to condemn the use of security certificates and, more specifically, to support the fight of two of the five detained for improved prison conditions. The rallies were organized by No One is Illegal, with support from many other groups and individuals.

The rallies focused on support to Hassan Almrei. He recently ended a 73-day hunger strike in support of his demand for one hour of exercise per day. He has been in solitary confinement for the past four years. In Toronto, hundreds of people rallied outside of the jail where he is being held on September 3.

The ending of Almrei’s hunger strike was announced to the rally, amid cheers of support to his cause and his bravery. He issued a statement later that said, in part, “The hunger strike is my only voice in here. It is the only way I have to wake people up to what is going on in here. You, the Canadian people, have helped me make my voice very loud and clear. I want to thank you a million times for this.”

Mohammed Mahjoub is currently on hunger strike, into Day 65 as of September 9. He is demanding contact visits with his wife and children. He has seen them only twice in the past five years. He, too, is held in solitary confinement.

Meanwhile, Adil Charkaoui, has a taken a challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of the five. On August 25, the court announced that it will consider the constitutionality of the security certificate process. The challenge has the support of the Canadian Arab Federation, Canadian Council for Refugees, the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada, and many others.

Government torture policy under fire

A public inquiry into the fate of Canadian citizen Maher Arar is lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding another front of the war on human rights in Canada. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was kidnapped in New York City in 2002 by U.S. officials and then flown to Syria, his country of birth, where he was detained and tortured for nearly a year.

As the inquiry has revealed, his name was given to U.S. authorities by Canada’s national police, the RCMP, as a possible “terrorism” suspect. The Canadian government and its embassy officials in Syria did nothing to protest Arar’s kidnapping, and only moved to request his return to Canada after a growing public campaign led by his wife shamed them into action.

At the inquiry, embassy and police officials played dumb about the Syrian government’s well-known track record as one that practices torture. The only Canadian embassy official to have visited Arar while in jail in Syria told the commission on August 30 that Arar is lying about his treatment in Syria. Canada’s ambassador to Syria during Arar’s detention told the inquiry in July that he was unaware of the widely reported use of torture by the Syrian regime.

Two other victims of Canada’s torture-by-proxy policy have been inspired by Arar’s stand to go public with evidence that they, too, were tortured in Syria after information was relayed to the Syrian regime by Canadian police. This has prompted calls by human rights organizations for a broader inquiry.

“Reading these stories together, we run headlong into the almost inescapable conclusion that there is a Canadian-style rendition policy,” said Riad Saloojee of the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations to a September 1 press conference in Ottawa. Also in attendance were Alex Neve, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, and former solicitor general of Canada Warren Allmand, representing the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.

Seven days after the press conference, Prime Minister Paul Martin rejected the call for another public inquiry. He said that he sympathized with Arar’s plight and the inquiry into his case would prevent future abuses.

But the government’s true hand was revealed on the last day of the Arar inquiry’s public hearings on September 13. There, the government’s chief lawyer to the inquiry, Barbara McIssac, stated in her summation, “CSIS (Canada’s spy agency) will take intelligence from all sources. If information it suspects had been obtained by torture can be independently corroborated and is important to an investigation of a threat to Canada, the information would be used.”

She said that a choice to use information acquired under torture was “horribly difficult” for government agencies.

McIssac’s summation also stated the government’s views that it and its agencies acted “in good faith” throughout Arar’s ordeal.

A Canadian capitalist tradition

Arbitrary detention and deprival of legal rights did not begin on September 11, 2001, nor in 1991. It is a tradition as Canadian as the Mounties and the monarchy. Since the founding of the country, Canada’s rulers herded Native peoples into reservations and stole away their children to concentration-camp schools. During the post-World War One working class upsurge, hundreds of socialists and labour activists were deported, including many who were citizens. During World War Two, the entire West Coast population of Japanese ancestry was dispossessed and placed in concentration camps. In 1971, union and political activists were jailed during a labour and nationalist upsurge in Quebec. Many were jailed for months with no charges and no right to a court hearing.

Jailing of union members or supporters is often standard procedure during strikes or other militant labour struggles. The present wave of arbitrary arrests and detentions is a threat to the rights of all working people, including the trade unions, and it cries out for vigorous, united opposition.

The New Democratic Party, Canada’s union-based social democratic party, has added its name to the call for a broader inquiry into the use of torture. It and the Canadian Labour Congress have issued statement calling for an end to the use of security certificates.

Speaking at a rally here on September 1, Harsha Walia of No One is Illegal explained, “We are demanding that the five men be released. They must not be deported, and the security certificate process must be abolished. If they are to be charged, they must be allowed to defend themselves in open, fair, and independent trials.”

Readers can join the campaigns to defend the security certificate five and other victims of rights violations by going to the websites of No One Is Illegal in various cities across Canada. You are also encouraged to write letters of support for the five and send them to the responsible government ministers.

A Long March Towards Justice: The Cuban Five in Atlanta

By Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada

(Ricardo Alarcón is Cuba’s Vice President and President of its National Assembly. This article was published in Counterpunch, August 27-28, 2005)

“The sun of justice shall rise,
bearing salvation on its wings”
(Malaquías, 4, 2)

On 9th August last, 28 months after the defendants had filed their arguments, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta finally handed down its verdict reversing the unjust convictions imposed over four years ago by a Miami Court on five young Cuban anti-terrorism fighters. The decision of the Atlanta Court was in no way a precipitated one. The process enabling the defendants to exercise their right of appeal was long, complex and hazardous. They had to face a whole series of obstacles that breached principles and rules of both American and international law, which forced them to a defense in conditions that defy imagination. It seemed their case would never actually reach the superior court for its necessary review. Then, the judges in Atlanta in order to do justice dedicated to the case four times the period used by the shameful farce in Miami. [ 1 ]

The Atlanta decision has a truly historical significance.

To understand it, it is necessary to put it in context and to go overalbeit brieflythe events leading up to it.

On September 12th, 1998, the FBI arrested Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González. They were accused of being unregistered agents of the Cuban government, whose mission was to infiltratewith the aim of revealing their criminal plansthe terrorist groups that operate with impunity out of Miami. None of the men had criminal records; none had ever been accused of breaking any law or infringing any rule or regulation. They were unarmed and had never been involved in acts of violence or disturbances of any kind. They were nonetheless denied the possibility of applying for a release on bail.

On the contrary, from the very day of their arrest, they were put in solitary confinementlocked up in the infamous “hole”, where they remained for a continuous period of 17 months. They were subjected to an entirely illegal punishment regime, restricted by US law to dangerous criminals who commit acts of violence inside the prison, and to a maximum of 60 days. They were prevented from mounting their defence while a massive, ruthless press campaign was unleashed in Miami with the participation of the prosecution, the FBI officials and the local authorities, portraying them as dangerous enemies guilty of the worst crimes, including the attempt “to destroy the United States”. [ 2 Condemned in advance without trial or possibility of defence, they were subjected to a barrage of slander and threats.

But that was not enough for their accusers. To make quite sure that justice could not prevail, the government (with the agreement of the Miami Court) classified as secret the alleged “evidence”, much of which belonged to the defendants themselves and included family photographs, personal correspondence and recipes. The defendants and their attorneys were thus denied access to the material, while the government was able to arbitrarily use and manipulate it. The defence is still now awaiting permission to view this “evidence”. It has vainly claimed it time and again before the Miami Court and appealed in this connection to the Atlanta Court; it has still received no reply.

These were the circumstances in which the “trial” opened, on November 27th , 2000. 26 months had gone by since the day of the five men’s arrest. And let us not forget that they spent 17 of those 26 months buried in the “hole”.

The Miami judicial farce ended in June 2001 when a submissive, frightened jury, which had announced in advance the date and precise hour at which it would deliver its verdicts, found them guilty on all 26 counts, after deliberations lasting just a few hours and without asking a single question or expressing the slightest doubt. To cap it all, it found Gerardo Hernández guilty of somethingthe infamous Charge 3, first-degree murderthat the prosecution itself, in the knowledge that it could not be proved, had applied to withdraw it. [ 3 ]

Surprisingly, having arrived so quickly and easily at the desired verdict, the judge took six months to pronounce the sentences. She took as long as the “trial” itself. Why? Was she about to change or amend in some way the conduct of the jury? Was she trying to distance herself at least to some extent from the prosecution’s request?

Nothing of the sort. The disproportionate sentences were exactly those the government had proposed. Was it necessary to delay half a year to respond? Why the long wait?

At the end of the trial, the judge announced that she would proceed to sentence in September. While she took vacation, the five were returned to solitary confinement. This time, they remained in the “hole” for 48 days, and got out only after several efforts by their attorneys. This further arbitrary treatment had a clear purpose: to make preparation of their statementstheir only opportunity to address the courtas difficult as possible. When the time came, instead of apologizing or seeking clemency, as convicted prisoners generally do, the five vigorously condemned the farcical proceedings and exposed the terrorists and the Government that supports and protects them.

But something else happened in September 2001. The odious crime committed on the 11th had shaken American society and the whole world; the judge decided to postpone the sentencing sessions. It was an unusual deferral: three months. It was not mourning of or homage to the victims of that atrocity which caused the delay. Rather, it was quite the opposite.

Her reasons were utterly different. What she and the government were proposing to do was, among other things, a gross affront to the victims of that fateful day. They needed to separate the two events by as large an interval as possible, and gain enough time to ensure maximum impunity, relying on the customary cooperation of the information-suppressing mass media.

The government was going to bring to a climax a manoeuvre designed to support and protect the terrorists with whom the Bush family has close and longstanding links, and to whom the current tenant of the White House had promised reward in kind for the scandalous fraud by which he obtained the presidency in 2000.

That was why, after seeking maximum sentences, the prosecution shamelessly introduced in court proceedings its immoral and illegal theory of “incapacitation”: in addition to the exorbitant sentences imposed on the accused, they were to be subjected to very specific restrictions after their release, such that they could never again attempt any action against these murderers who are close friends of the Bush family and behave as if they owned Miami, from where they organize and openly vaunt their misdeeds against the Cuban people.

They could never again be free men. Beyond the years in prison, which included four life sentences, they were to suffer a special regime, a sort of unusual apartheid designed to protect the terrorists. Places were defined which they could not go near, locations they could not visit, streets they would be forbidden to walk in.

The agency tasked with enforcing these spurious, unconstitutional prohibitions would be the FBI. The same FBI that pursued them, mistreated them and fabricated the infamous accusation against them. The same FBI, incidentally, under whose nose most of the terrorists who attacked the American people on September 11th lived, freely moved about and were trained in the use of aircrafts as monstrous weapons.

The judge naturally welcomed the government’s request and in the sentences pronounced on René González (15 years imprisonment) and Antonio Guerrero (life, plus ten years), both US citizens by birth, expressed the restrictions in the following terms: “As a further special condition of supervised release the defendant is prohibited from associating with or visiting specific places where individuals or groups such as terrorists, members of organizations advocating violence, and organized crime figures are known to be or frequent”. [ 4 ]

The defence attorneys immediately notified their intention to appeal to the relevant superior court. But, again, the long wait.

All 2002 went by before the Miami Court sent the case file to Atlanta, a prerequisite for the opening of the appeal process by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In that year something happened that can only take place in Miami. In June, the US government appeared as defendant, before that same federal court, in a suit for an alleged employment discrimination which was indirectly related to Cuba (Ramírez vs. Ashcroft). Precisely a year before, this Court had condemned the five men after having tried them there, on the insistence of the prosecution who had claimed that Miami was a cosmopolitan centre where a fair and impartial trial for our heroic compatriots was possible.

Twelve months later, the same prosecutors unblushingly claimed the exact opposite: it was impossible to hold a proper trial of any case related to Cuba in Miami. They successfully requested that the proceedings be moved to another city. The same concession denied to the five men, who had applied for a change of venue time and again and invariably received the same cynical denial from those who, a little later and when it suited them, handed down a quick and easy decision that admitted the truth. It is hard to find more conclusive proof of the fraudulent, gangster-like attitude of Miami’s judges and prosecutors.

In response to this clear example of misconduct, the five men again applied for annulment of the trial against them and moving the case away from a venue now recognizedby judges and prosecutorsas entirely unsuitable. Incredibly, this defence motion based on the same logic and arguments as those advanced by the government was opposed by the prosecution and denied by the judge. All of them, remember, were Miami-based. For that reason, the Court of Appeals finding of August 9th, 2005 is largely based on this defence motion and censures the manifest injustice implied by its denial.

It was not until January 2003 that the case file arrived at the end of its long and eventful journey to Atlanta. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals set April 7th as the date on which the five men were to file their appeals.

While the papers gathered dust in Miami, the defendants were transferred from there to the maximum security prisons where they have been held since the beginning of 2002 and where they remain to this day. The authorities that were so tardy when it came to sending the documents to the principal city of a neighbouring state, which is also one of the US’s main centres of communication, lost no time in dispersing the five men to the remotest corners of American territory. Each in a different prison, in five different states, as far separated as possible from one another, from their attorneys and from their relatives.

Their families reside in Cuba and require American visas to visit them, visas that only have been granted after annoying and slow procedures. Unlike any other inmate, that elemental right has been denied to the Five: for three of them the visits have not been weekly, but one in a year, and the visas of Adriana Pérez, Gerardo’s wife and Olga Salanueva, René’s wife, have been systematically denied. Consequently, Ivette, Olga and René’s daughter, could not visit her father either.

These were the conditions under which they were to prepare their appeals. All, naturally, in a foreign language. Without access to the “evidence”, without the possibility of consulting each other, while communication with their attorneys was extremely limited. And subject to the severest prison regime under which, among other things, they were required to work to pay with their wages for the rigged trial they had undergone.

But, as the Bible says, “Our eyes can never see enough to be satisfied; our ears can never hear enough”.

While the five defendants were immersed in this difficult, complex task, under the most hostile conditions vindictively imposed by the federal authorities, the latter’s thirst for revenge and desire to obstruct justice were still not satisfied.

For such purposes, there was the “hole”, and within that, the “box”. And that is where they were confined from February 28th until March 31st , 2003. Each of them, in their five prisons, in the decisive month for their appeals, again in solitary confinement without any contact with the outside world. Moreover, they were now denied any communication with their attorneys, even by telephone or letter, while all writing materials were confiscatednot a sheet of paper or a stub of pencil. One was left without clothes, in the middle of winter, and subjected to physical torture (noises, lights and shouting flooding the “box” twenty-four hours a day).

This time there was not even an attempt to disguise the government’s purpose. The men were denied access to their legal documents and their attorneys were not allowed to communicate with their clients. These measures were controlled directly by the South Florida District Attorney’s office. It was only international denounce and the tireless efforts of the defence attorneys that forced the authorities to “ease” these measures: Leonard Weinglass, Antonio Guerrero’s attorney, was able to visit his client, but under such appalling conditions that he was barely able to verify the gross violations of the right to a defence. Weinglass denounced the situation before the Court of Appeals and requested more time for submitting Antonio’s arguments which, because of the situation described, he had been unable to complete. In granting this request, Atlanta acknowledged that these measures had seriously infringed the rights of the accused and their defence attorneys. [ 5 ]

In outline, that was the long path travelled by the five men, to reach Atlanta. Getting there was a truly heroic deed.

What came afterwards were another two years of waiting. The three judges took that time to assess the appeal arguments of both sides, study the trial records and all the other material relating to the Miami farce, review the relevant legislation, hold a hearing (on March 10th, 2004) which exposed the shaky foundations of the government’s arguments, seek additional information from prosecuting and defence lawyers, working towards their final conclusion revoking convictions and annulling the Miami “trial”.

Their decision was announced on August 9th, 2005, but the five men are still being held in the same maximum-security prisons. They are locked up with people presumably convicted of various crimes, while they themselves are different from the rest of the inmates, being the only ones now without any conviction.

It is of no consequence to the US government that the Atlanta Court of Appeals has pronounced them free men against whom no legal sanction now remains. It was unmoved also in May of this year when a working group on arbitrary detention set up by the UN Human Rights Commission declared the incarceration of the five men since September 1998 arbitrary and illegal.

Two weeks have passed, out of the three the law allows the government, to request the Atlanta Court to revoke its finding. So far, Washington has not said whether it intends to do so. Indeed, it has just asked the Court for another month to decide whether to make the request.

Meanwhile, the five men remain isolated in five prisons for convicted criminals. They are suffering all the rigours of that situation, despite their false culpability had already been annulled by three honorable judges.

Now they are five kidnap victims of an administration that rides roughshod over the law everywhere. Not just in Abu Grahib and Guantánamo. Within US territory as well.

What is to be done? The time has come to shout it from the rooftops. To go on demanding their immediate release until it happens, unconditionally. Freedom now for the Cuban Five. Nothing more. Nothing less.


FOOTNOTES

[ 1 ] District Court No. 98-00721-CR-JAL. The document issued by the Atlanta Court is 93 pages long. The court’s decision to reverse the convictions of the Miami Court and annul the previous “trial” was based on Miami’s denial of the various requests to have the trial moved to another venue. In arriving at its decision, Atlanta found it necessary to “review the totality of the circumstances surrounding the trial”, including the “evidence” submitted and other aspects of the earlier proceedings. The length of the document and the exhaustiveness of its coverage are unusual, as were the time taken to produce it and the complete unanimity of the three judges concerned. While what took place in Miami was a charade that shames the American legal system, Atlanta produced an example of professional ethics and rigour that goes beyond the bounds of the normal appeals process, to demonstrate the innocence of the five accused and expose the colossal injustice to which they fell victim.

[ 2 ] The employment of this argument, obviously false and aimed at pressuring the jury and encouraging and exploiting the hostility and prejudices of the Miami community against the accused, was one of the examples cited by the Atlanta judges to demonstrate the fraudulent conduct of the South Florida District Attorney’s office. The then DA, Guy Lewis (now retired) published an article in the Miami Herald on August 18th repeating the same foolish slander: he still insists that the five men “had vowed to destroy the United States”.

[ 3 ] In its “emergency petition for writ of prohibition” to the Court of Appeals on May 25, 2001, the U.S. Attorney’s Office recognized that “in light of the evidence presented in this trial, this presents an insurmountable hurdle for the United States in this case, and will likely result in the failure of the prosecution on this count” (page 21) since it “imposes an insurmountable barrier to this prosecution” (page 27). The government was afraid of the fact that “it is highly probable that the jury will request further elaboration on this issue” (pages 20 21). (Emergency Petition for Writ of Prohibition). Nevertheless, although the court rejected the Government’s petition, nothing alike happen. Without any question, without hesitation, all the jurors declared Gerardo guilty in the first degree of the alleged crime.

[ 4 ] Transcript of Sentencing Hearing before the Honorable Joan A. Lenard on 14th December 2001 (pp. 45-46). In the same session, the judge herself had recognized that “the terrorist acts committed by others could not excuse the wrongful and illegal conduct of the defendant and the other accused” (p. 43). In other words, the Miami-based anti-Cuba terrorists are protected by the federal government and the judges who punishwith four life sentences over 75 years’ imprisonment and the unusual prohibition mentioned abovethose who fight terrorism. So that they should never again fall into such “wrongful and illegal” conduct, Miami invented “incapacitation”, which it unveiled three months after the atrocity of 11th September 2001, when Bush was already attacking Afghanistan, was preparing to attack Iraq and was declaring an alleged war on terrorism to be waged everywhereexcept Miami, of course.

[ 5 ] Weinglass was able to gain permission to visit Gerardo Hernández on March 16th, and he described his visit in this way:

“Gerardo is being most severely punished in his prison, confined in what is known as “the Box”-a hole within the “Hole”.

“He is confined in a very small cell barely three paces wide, with no windows and only a slot in the metal door through which food is passed. His clothes were taken from him and he is allowed to wear only underpants and a T-shirt, but no shoes.

“He cannot tell if it is day or night. His is the only cell where the lights are on 24 hours a day and the incessant cries of other prisoners, many of whom suffer from mental health problems, prevent him from sleeping.

“He is allowed no printed material, nothing to read. Signs saying that no one is to have contact with him are posted outside his cell. He is the only prisoner kept in this kind of solitary confinement who is not allowed to use the telephone to date he has received nothingnot even correspondence from his attorneys”

Two days later he outlined in this way his meeting with Antonio:

“He showed up at the visit in leg irons and handcuffed. They were removed during the visit. The corridors were cleared when moving him. The visiting facility was abysmal. It was a very small cubby with a thick glass between us and a telephone which we had to use to communicate. The space was so small that my associate counsel and I could not fit in it together. He had to stand behind me and share the one phone on our end. Antonio was locked in on his side and we, the attorneys, were also locked in on our side! There was no slot for passing documents and we were invited to give them to the guards who would bring them around the back to Antonio. I did this with one document and then decided to abandon this and hold the papers up to the glass. It was very awkward. The visiting conditions were much worse than those I experienced with Mumia Abu Jamal on death row. We protested these conditions but they refused to bring the warden down for a meeting or any other ranking official”

“Only in Miami”, Editora Política, La Habana 2004, Pages 109-110 and 111 112)

Cuba Five Win New Trial

In a major victory for human rights, the US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta this week overturned the convictions of the Cuba Five and ordered a new trial. The court unanimously ruled that the five men, falsely charged with spying for Cuba, could not and did not receive a fair trial in the right-wing Cuban exile stronghold of Miami.

For more information about the Cuba Five case, see http://www.canadiannetworkoncuba.ca/Documents/CubaFive.shtml and http://www.granma.cu/miami5/ingles/index.html. To participate in the continuing defense effort, contact the Free the Cuban Five Committee of Toronto, c/o Lisa Makarchuk, lisamakarchuk@sympatico.ca

The following articles were published today by the Havana-based press agency, Prensa Latina.


Innocent, But Five and Families Still Suffer

by Julie Webb-Pullman

Havana, Aug 10 (Prensa Latina) With the reversal of their convictions by the Atlanta Appeal Court Tuesday, a small shred of justice surfaced in the sorry saga of US misadministration of due process that convicted Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Rene Gonzalez, Fernando Gonzalez, and Antonio Guerrero.

While welcoming the Appeal Court decision as an important step towards their freedom, there is still the matter of remand to be addressed, and another trial to be endured by the defendants and their families.

In the US justice system, a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. The convictions of the Five have been reversed, rendering their guilt unproven. On 12 September these innocent men will have already spent seven years behind bars, during which time US prison authorities acknowledge they have all been model prisoners.

How long will the retrial process take to play out – another two, three, four, five years? Given the time already served by these innocent men, and their impeccable behaviour while incarcerated, is there any need to remand them to further periods of imprisonment pending the retrial?

As evidence from US military personnel at the first trial demonstrated, the Five posed no threat to US security, and these anti- terrorist fighters certainly pose no threat to the US public or to any peaceful citizen of the world, rather the opposite.

Do they pose a threat of flight? Hardly – they openly and voluntarily handed over all of the information on their activities to the FBI months before they were arrested, months during which they had plenty of time to leave the US, if that was their intention.

No, there is no justification to hold these five innocent men in prison for another moment, until and unless they are found guilty of a crime.

The miscarriage of justice identified by the Atlanta Appeals Court is compounded by miscarriages of human rights, the focus of considerable international concern by Nobel laureates such as Nadine Gordimer, organizations such as Amnesty International, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and thousands of citizens from over a hundred countries throughout the world.

In addition to the arbitrary and unnecessary use of solitary confinement, they expressed extreme concern that Gerardo Hernandez and Rene Gonzalez and their families have been subjected to cruel and inhumane punishment by the refusal of US immigration authorities to grant family members´ visas to enable them to visit them in prison.

For all of these years, visas have been denied to Adriana Perez O Connor, unable to visit Gerardo since his arrest in 1998, and Olga Salanueva, unable to visit Ren‚ since 2000 when she was deported from the US.

Olga and Rene’s seven year old daughter Ivette last saw him when she was 4 months old, chained to a chair in a prison, surrounded by guards.

Now that the convictions have been quashed, should the US immigration authorities continue to refuse visas to Adriana Perez O Connor and Olga Salanueva? Should innocent Ivette and her innocent father continue to suffer the cruellest, most inhumane, and most unjustified punishment of all, the theft of the rest of Ivette ´s childhood?

The answer to these questions can only be a resounding NO.

The US justice system has shown that however belatedly, it is capable of reconciling truth with justice – let it now reconcile the innocent families it has split asunder.


Weinglass: Cuban Five Owed Apology

by Mike Fuller

Havana, Aug 10 (Prensa Latina) Defense council Leonard Weinglass stressed Wednesday that yesterday’s overthrow of the Miami court decision which unfairly jailed five Cubans was a major victory and that they deserve an apology.

In a telephone conversation he said from his office in New York that the 93-page ruling by a three judge panel of the Atlanta appeals court places them in the same situation before they entered the Miami courtroom, and that the gratifying verdict is so strongly in their favor no lawyer would think they should enter again.

By a unanimous vote, the judges of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned Tuesday the verdict handed down on them by a Miami court in June 2001, and also ruled that a new trial should take place, as requested by the defense, in a city other than Miami.

According to the ruling, the volatile anti-Cuban political climate and intense media coverage, both amplified in the wake of the Elian Gonzalez drama, made a fair trial in Miami an impossibility.

Since the very beginning, the defense attorneys had asked Miami Judge Joan Lenard to move the trial out of Miami in January, 2000.

After a trial legal analysts considered it was framed, the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Ramon Labanino, Rene Gonzalez, and Fernando Gonzalez, detained in 1998 on several spying charges, were sentenced by Judge Lenard to harsh jail times, including double life in prison to one of the defendants.

Actually, they just were gathering information on anti-Cuban terrorist plans in Miami in an effort to thwart such violent actions that would also affect US citizens.

Hernandez, Labanino and Guerrero received life sentences from Lenard, who added a second life imprisonment to Hernandez. Rene Gonzalez was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Fernando Gonzalez to 19 years behind bars.

The Atlanta ruling comes less than a month after a UN panel ruled that the detention of the five men was arbitrary and in violation of international law.

The judgment came from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, part of the Geneva-based UN Commission on Human Rights.

But “this is a political issue,” Attorney Weinglass warned, voicing fear over possible appeals by the US government prosecutors in an effort to delay the process, and said his team is reviewing appropriate steps for bail.

When asked if he supported Cuban Parliament Chairman Ricardo Alarcon ´s demand for their immediate release, he agreed, lamenting the fact that “They’ve already done seven years.”

In remarks to the media in Caracas, Venezuela, where he is attending the World Youth Festival, Alarcon hailed the ruling as “a victory against those who promote terrorism, against hypocrites who tout a supposed war on terror and in reality protect terrorists and jail young men who only acted to oppose terrorism in the United States.”

Amid a flurry of calls, the defense lawyer took time to comment on the future of his famous case, saying “the next step is up to the US government. They have 21 days to decide whether or not to take the case to the full circuit court.”

Massive protests on the island, deep-seated support from the international community and a considerable amount of backing from US people may have finally brought about an ethical judicial decision.

Gloria La Riva, coordinator of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five, was quoted on freethefive.org as saying, “This is a huge victory! We are ecstatic about this decision. It confirms that the five Cubans are completely innocent, as we know they always were.”

These victims of lawlessness have spent the better part of a decade languishing in US jails, two of them without seeing their families, and as Weinglass says, “instead of a retrial they deserve an apology from the US government and be sent home.”

Cuba Will Not Make Concessions or Betray Its Ideals

“We will build an even more just, more democratic, more free and more cultivated society. In brief, more socialist.”

The following statement was made by Felipe Pérez Roque, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, in Geneva, March 16, 2005.

The Cuban press recently reported that for the first time in several years, no country was willing to submit Washington’s annual anti-Cuba resolution to this year’s Commission meeting.

Excellencies:

The Commission on Human Rights – despite the efforts by those who honestly believe in its importance and wage a battle to return it to the spirit of respect and cooperation of its founders – has lost legitimacy. It is not credible. It allows the impunity of the powerful. It is handcuffed. In it, there are plenty of lies, double standards and empty speeches by those who, while enjoying their wealth, squander and pollute, look the other way and pretend not to see how millions of human beings endure the violation of the right to life, the right to peace, the right to development, the right to eat, to learn, to work; in brief, the right to live in dignity.

We all knew that the Commission on Human Rights was victim to the political manipulation of its work because the Government of the United States and its allies have used the Commission as if it were their private property – and have turned it into some sort of inquisition tribunal to condemn the countries of the South and, particularly, those who actively oppose their strategy of neocolonial domination.

But in the course of the last year, two events took place that change the nature of the debate that we will hold these days.

The first was the European Union’s refusal to co-sponsor and vote in favor of the draft resolution that proposed to investigate the massive, flagrant and systematic human rights violations still committed today against over 500 prisoners at the naval base that the United States keeps, against the will of the Cuban people, in the Harbor of Guantánamo. The European Union, that always objected to no-motion actions, was willing this time to present it in order to even prevent any investigations whatsoever against its ally. In terms of hypocrisy and double standards, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. What will it do this year, after the dissemination of the heinous pictures of tortures at the prison of Abu Ghraib?

The second event was the release of the report presented by the High-Level Group on Threats, Challenges and Change, set up at the initiative of the UN Secretary-General. It categorically states that “the Commission cannot be credible if it is seen to be maintaining double standards in addressing human rights concerns.” Should we then wait for the representatives of the United States and its allies to come up with self-criticisms at this plenary session and undertake to work with us, Third World countries, to rescue the Commission on Human Rights from disrepute and confrontation?

Mr. Chairman:

The guarantee of the enjoyment of human rights today depends on whether you live in a developed country or not – and it also depends on the social class that you belong to. Therefore, there will be no real enjoyment of human rights for all as long as we fail to achieve social justice in the relations among countries and within countries themselves.

For a small group of nations represented here – the United States and other developed allies – the right to peace has already been achieved. They will always be the attackers and never the ones under attack. Their peace rests on their military power. They have also achieved economic development, based on the pillage of the wealth of the other poor countries that were former colonies, which suffer and bleed to death for those to squander. However, in those developed countries, incredible as it may seem, the unemployed, the immigrants and the impoverished do not enjoy the rights that are most certainly guaranteed for the rich.

Can a poor person in the United States be elected Senator? No, they cannot. The campaign costs, on average, some US$ 8 million. Do the children of the rich go to the unjust and illegal war in Iraq? No, they do not go. None of the 1,500 American youths killed in that war was the son of a millionaire or a Secretary. The poor die there defending the vested interests of a minority.

If you live in an underdeveloped country the situation is worse, because the overwhelming majority, poor and hopeless as it is, cannot exercise their rights. As a country, there is no entitlement to peace. It can be attacked under the accusation of being terrorist, of being an “outpost of tyranny” or under the pretext that it is going to be “liberated.” It is bombed and invaded to “liberate it.”

Nor can the over 130 countries in the Third World exercise the right to development. Beyond their efforts, the economic system imposed on the world prevents this. They have no access to markets, to new technologies; they are handcuffed by a burdensome debt that has already been paid off more than once. They just have the right to be dependent countries. They are led to believe that their poverty is the result of their mistakes.

In these countries, the poor and the indigent, who account for the majority, do not even have the right to life. For that reason, every year we see the death of 11 million children under five years of age, a portion of which could be spared with barely a vaccine or oral rehydration solutions – and also the death of 600,000 poor women at childbirth. They have no right to learn to read and write. It would be dangerous for the owners. They are kept in ignorance to keep them docile. That is why this Commission should be ashamed of the nearly 1 billion illiterate people in the world. That is why in Latin America, 20 million children endure ruthless exploitation as they work on the streets instead of going to school.

The Cuban people strongly believe in freedom, democracy and human rights. It took them a lot to achieve them and they are aware of its price. It is a people in power. That is the difference.

There cannot be democracy without social justice. There is no possible freedom if not based on the enjoyment of education and culture. Ignorance is the cumbersome shackle squeezing the poor. Being cultivated is the only way to be free! – that is the sacred tenet that we Cubans learned from the Apostle of our independence.

There is no real enjoyment of human rights if there is no equality and equity. The poor and the rich will never have the same rights in real life, proclaimed and recognized as these may be on paper.

That is what we Cubans learned long ago and for that reason we built a different country. And we are just beginning. We have done so despite the aggressions, the blockade, the terrorist attacks, the lies and the plots to assassinate Fidel. We know that the Empire is chagrined by this. We are a dangerous example: we are a symbol that only in a just and friendly society; that is, socialist, can there be enjoyment of all rights for all citizens.

Therefore, the Government of the United States attempts to condemn us here at the Commission on Human Rights. It is afraid of our example. It is strong at the military level but weak on the moral front. And morality, not weapons, is the shield of the peoples.

Perhaps this year, President Bush will find some Latin American country – of the few docile ones that are left – to present the notorious resolution against Cuba. Or perhaps it will return to an Eastern European government like the Czech, which enjoys as nobody else its condition of satellite of Washington and Trojan Horse within the European Union. Or perhaps it will be presented by the very Government of the United States, which is now blackmailing, threatening and counting endorsements to know if Cuba’s condemnation can be achieved.

Everybody in this hall knows that there is no reason to present a resolution against Cuba at this Commission. In Cuba, there is not a single – and there has not been ever in 46 years of Revolution – an extrajudicial execution or a missing person, not even one! Let anyone come up with the name of a Cuban mother who is still looking for the remains of her murdered son or daughter! Or a grandmother searching for her grandchild handed over to another family following the parents’ murder! Let anyone here come up with the name of a reporter killed in Cuba – and 20 of them were murdered in Latin America only in 2004! Let anyone come up with the name of a prisoner vexed by his keepers, a prisoner ordered down on his knees, prey to terror, in front of a dog trained to kill!

Excellencies:

President Bush has a plan for Cuba, but we Cubans have a plan of a different sort. We Cubans have a clear idea about our course. And nobody will move us away from it. We will build an even more just, more democratic, more free and more cultivated society. In brief, more socialist.

And we will do so although President Bush threatens us with aggressions, to return to colonized Cuba, to oust Cubans from their homes, their land and their schools to turn them over to the former Batista-style owners who would come back from the United States. We will do so despite his plan to privatize health and turn our doctors into unemployed beings; we will do so despite the plan to privatize education and make it accessible only to the elite, as it was in the past; we will do so despite the plan to auction off our wealth and the heritage of all the people to US transnational corporations. Despite the plan to remove the rewards from our retirees and pensioners to force them back on a job, according to the so-called Plan of Assistance to a Free Cuba.

The Cuban people are entitled to defend themselves from aggression and they will. And I must say it clearly: in Cuba, we will not allow the establishment of organizations and mercenary parties financed by and at the service of the US Government. We will not allow newspapers and TV networks funded by the US Government to uphold its policies of blockade and its lies among ourselves. In Cuba, the press, the radio and the TV are owned by the people and serve and will serve their interests.

We will not cooperate with the Representative of the High Commissioner or with the spurious resolution behind her. Why is not such a prestigious lawyer appointed Special Representative of the High Commissioner to the Guantánamo Naval Base? Why is she not asked to investigate the flagrant violations of the rights of five courageous and pure Cuban youths imprisoned in the United States and their families? Because it cannot be done. Because it is about the human rights violations committed by the United States and they are untouchable. It can be done against small Cuba but not against the United States.

But Cuba will not give up on its fight, Excellencies. Nor will it surrender. Nor will it make concessions or betray its ideals.

And we will see if a free, cultivated and united people can be defeated! We will see if they can overthrow a government of the people, whose leaders walk among them with the moral authority derived from the total absence of corruption and the full dedication to their duties!

We will see if they can deceive everybody all the time!

Excellencies:

The Commission on Human Rights before us today is illustrative of the unjust and unequal world in which we live. There is no longer nothing left in it from the friendly and respectful spirit that brought its founders together after the victory over fascism.

Therefore, the Cuban delegation will cease to insist that we must transform the Commission. What we have to change is the world, go to the roots. A Commission on Human Rights without selectivity, politicization, double standards, blackmail and hypocrisy will only be possible in a different world.

Cuba does not consider that to be a dream, but a cause well worth fighting for. That is why it fights and it will continue to do so.

Thank you.

Growing Protests Condemn Ottawa’s Role in Haiti Coup and Repression

By Roger Annis

Growing numbers of people in Canada and around the world are raising their voices against the February 29, 2004 coup against the constitutional government of Haiti and the bloody repression that has reigned on that island ever since. Events in some thirty cities around the world will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the coup and condemn the widespread violations of democracy and human rights in that country.

Two events in Canada have helped galvanize people into action — the publication in late 2004 of a new report on the human rights situation in Haiti; and the recent speaking tour to four Canadian cities of journalist and filmmaker Kevin Pina.

New human rights report

The Center for the Study of Human Rights at the University of Miami published a shocking report in late 2004 on the current situation in Haiti. The 61-page document is based on a visit to Haiti from November 11 to 21, 2004, by a human rights team led by U.S. attorney Thomas Griffin.

The report’s introduction states, “After ten months under an interim government backed by the United States, Canada, and France and buttressed by a United Nations force, Haiti’s people churn inside a hurricane of violence. Gunfire crackles, once-bustling streets are abandoned to cadavers, and whole neighborhoods are cut off from the outside world. Nightmarish fear now accompanies Haiti’s poorest in their struggle to survive in destitution. Gangs, police, irregular soldiers, and even UN peacekeepers bring fear. There has been no investment in dialogue to end the violence.

“Haiti’s security and justice institutions fuel the cycle of violence…. As voices for non-violent change are silenced by arrest, assassination or fear, violent defense becomes a credible option.” (The full report is available at the website of the Haiti Action Committee)

The report contains photos of Haiti’s police and rightist gangs in action and their dead victims lying in the streets of the poor neighborhoods, often for days on end. Several thousand people have been killed in the past year at the hands of the rightists and their coup regime. Many of the poor neighborhoods of the capital Port-au-Prince cannot easily access food, water or health services because those who venture in or out become targets of the police. Hundreds of Haitians languish in prison in gruesome conditions with no charges or due process of law.

Griffin interviewed members of the United Nations-sponsored military force in Haiti, currently headed by the government and armed forces of Brazil. He reports on widespread evidence of the UN collaboration with the Haitian National Police (HNP) in repressing and killings opponents of the coup. The HNP, most of whose members were installed after the coup, receives training and arms from police forces of the occupying countries, including the RCMP and many municipal police forces from Canada.

A commander of the UN Civilian Police Unit, from Quebec City, Canada, told the Griffin team that he is “in shock” over the conditions in Port-au-Prince. He said that his UN mandate is to “coach, train and provide information” to the HNP, but all he has done in Haiti is “engage in daily guerilla warfare.”

“Where are the newspaper reporters?” he asked Griffin’s team.

Human rights reports from earlier in 2004 reported the same pattern of killings and repression of supporters of President Aristide and his Lavalas party.

In a rare glimpse from the Canadian corporate media into conditions in Haiti, an article in the February 7, 2005 Globe and Mail detailed horrific conditions prevailing inside the prisons there. But the article made only the briefest mention of the Griffin report. The mainstream press in Miami, where a large Haitian exile population lives, was silent on the report until February 22. An article by Jim Defede appeared in the Miami Herald that day.

Journalist Kevin Pina speaks in Canada

“There is a systematic campaign taking place in Haiti today to physically eliminate the Lavalas movement of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide,” charged journalist and filmmaker Kevin Pina in Vancouver, BC on February 9.

“And there is a reason for that. President Artistide was elected in 2000 by an overwhelming majority of the Haitian people. The coup regime and the foreign occupation forces are talking about holding an election later this year to legitimize their rule. But this would be illegal and unconstitutional.

“The Lavalas movement says it will boycott an election, and this would prove a major embarrassment to the U.S. and Canada. If they don’t have long lineups on election day to show to the international press, their game will be up. So the repression aims to silence opposition to a sham election.”

Earlier, Pina told a press conference in Montreal, “The United Nations military forces have been part and parcel of this machine that is physically exterminating the majority political party, the Lavalas movement of President Aristide.” He charged that Canada — particularly the RCMP — is playing a key role in whitewashing crimes carried out by the Haitian National Police.

Pina toured Canada from February 5 to 12. He spoke to several thousand people at public meetings and seminars in four cities—Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Victoria. He also gave many interviews to local and alternative media outlets. He has lived in Haiti for the past five years and has reported from there for the last fifteen. The tour featured his 1994 film on Haiti, “Harvest of Hope,” and his forthcoming film, “Haiti: Betrayal of Democracy.”

Canada: key force in the occupation

The Canadian government was centrally involved in the planning and execution of the coup in Haiti. Five hundred Canadian soldiers occupied Haiti from the time of the coup until July. They have been replaced by police drawn from the RCMP and other provincial and municipal police forces. Military and political officials from Canada and other countries of the UN occupation force play a decisive role in all government decision making in Haiti. They are members of the governing committees of the illegal, coup regime.

A key element of Canadian and UN plans for a future Haiti is the holding of a national “election” later this year. Denis Coderre, special adviser on Haiti to Prime Minister Paul Martin, told a political conference on the future of Haiti, held in Montreal on December 10 and 11, 2004, “What we are looking for is to have a secure environment for elections at the end of 2005.”

Martin visited Haiti on November 15. “We must be here for the long term,” he told reporters. When questioned about the “justice” system in Haiti, he acknowledged that acts “slowly,” but he also stated, “There are no political prisoners in Haiti.” (http://canada.news.designerz.com/pm-martin-canada-in-haiti-for-long-run.html)

Two months later, on January 28, 2005, Coderre met with Haiti’s most prominent political prisoner, the lawful prime minister, Yvon Neptune. Coderre spent one hour with Neptune … in the latter’s jail cell. (Neptune’s supporters succeeded in removing him from prison on February 20, out of concern for his life. They delivered him to UN forces, who promptly handed him back over to the Haitian police.)

Canada embarks on aggressive course

The invasion of Haiti is a centerpiece of the Canadian government’s declared aim to make Canada a more aggressive and influential imperial power in the world. Other features of that policy include:

  • A commitment to participation in a long-term occupation of Afghanistan and pursuit of the internal war there.
  • Deepening Canada’s participation in the occupation of Iraq by agreeing to join in training the new, repressive Iraqi army.
  • Closer alignment at the United Nations with the colonial settler state of Israel in the latter’s suppression of the national rights of the Palestinian people.
  • Significant boosts in military recruitment and spending.
  • A plan to create a more powerful military strike force.

The head of Canada’s armed forces, General Richard Hillier, outlined plans for a beefed-up strike force in a series of press interviews in mid-February. “We’re talking about taking army task forces, navy task groups and air capability … and have it ready to deploy either in Canada or around the world as an entity that says ‘Canadian’ on it….”

“What we need is something that is going to allow us to project power across the shore … whether that’s in the north part of Canada, the coast of Canada, or around the world.” (Vancouver Sun, February 15, 2005). Hillier says the military wants an assault ship capable of carrying up to 1,500 troops, heavy equipment, and helicopters.

The claim that such a military force serves a “humanitarian” purpose was exposed as a fraud during the recent Asian tsunami disaster. The federal government did not deploy the military’s Disaster Assistance Relief Team (DART) until public pressure forced it to do so. By the time the force reached Sri Lanka, sixteen days after the disaster, local and international humanitarian agencies had already met the most pressing emergency needs.

Why Haiti?

Why have the world’s richest powers ganged up on one of the world’s poorest countries?

The government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide implemented modest social reforms for the poorest people of Haiti. It promised more. It enjoyed the support of the overwhelming majority of the Haitian people, and its existence embodied the deep aspirations of that people for more radical and far-reaching reforms. Quite simply, a people engaged in their country’s politics in this manner represent a potential threat to the banks, mining companies, and sweatshop manufacturers that are reaping big profits from the cheap resources and labor of the Caribbean and Latin America.

Demonstrations and rallies will condemn the first anniversary of the coup

Rallies are planned in Vancouver and Montreal on February 26 to condemn the coup in Haiti, demand the return of the constitutional government, and call for the end of political repression. Thomas Griffin will be in Ottawa on February 28, meeting with political, trade union, and human rights figures. He will speak at a public meeting that evening.

In Vancouver on that same day, activists will visit the offices of cabinet minister David Emerson, deliver the Griffin report, and demand an explanation for Canada’s support to the repressive regime in Haiti. Members of Parliament in the Vancouver area will receive letters asking the same question.

For details on events in these cities and others around the world to mark the first anniversary of the coup: http://www.quixote.org/hr/

Many solidarity activities will take place in the United States. A major conference took place in Washington, DC, on February 5 and 6 to discuss and coordinate this. Titled (from the Creole language) the “Kongre Bwa Kayima”, it was attended by more than one hundred people, including Haitian exiles, democratic forces from Haiti, and human rights organizations.

In Brazil in late January, thousands of delegates attending the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre approved a sweeping resolution in support of the Haitian people. For the full text: http://www.haitiaction.net/News/FL/1_30_5.html

There is an urgent need in Canada for student groups, trade unions, the New Democratic Party, and others concerned with human and social rights to join in condemning the coup and demanding an end t  o the criminal role of the Canadian government. Too much time has already been lost since February 29, 2004, a now-infamous date in Canadian history.

(For background to the coup, its aftermath, and Canada’s role, see Socialist Voice #11 and 27)