rights of minorities
A guide for human rights activists and civil society organizations
The perception of minority towards Somaliland.The minority tribes have played a vital role in Somalia.
Child Support Grants prove critical to reducing child poverty in South Africa.Positive impact...
As mental illness remains shrouded in stigma, real questions remain about where South Africa is in the fight for better mental health .
In some corners of South Africa, those living with mental disorders are still tied to trees and denied food by the very people meant to protect them – their families.
Charlene Sunkel was 19 years old when she was first diagnosed with schizophrenia but says it took her nine years before she got the right medication. Before she found medication that worked for her, Sunkel said she suffered adverse side effects and was admitted to hospital. She says being admitted to hospital was a wake up call.
Now, Sunkel has devoted her life to advocating for people living with mental disorders. As the advocacy and development programme manager for the South Africa Federation for Mental Health, Sunkel recently conducted community workshops in the Northern Cape to educate patients and families.
Community health workers based at the Lehnoloholo Adams Clinic in Douglas, Northern Cape have said that many families in the rural areas in which they work continue to mistakenly believe mental illness is a curse.
In a small study conducted among about 80 people living with mental illness in the the North West, the international academic consortium Programme for Improving Mental Health Care (PRIME) found that patients reported being denied food, tied to trees and being forced to work without pay because of their mental illness by family and community members.
But families have a crucial role to play in supporting those living with mental health issues, cautions Sunkel who added that not only support but living a healthy lifestyle have helped her adhere to her daily treatment.
Sunkel is also part of the recently created Rural Mental Health Campaign, which released a reportin October detailing the challenges rural mental health patients face, including stigma.
“I feel ashamed of my diagnosis and the severity of it,” said a North West patient named Jill who asked not to be identified in the report. “People see mentally ill people as being mad and (as people who) should be locked away in an institution”.
According to Sunkel, stigma remains a leading barrier to care.
“Statistics indicates that 75 percent of people who experience symptoms of mental disorders do not access mental health care services,” she wrote in a commentary for the report. “This is not necessarily because services are not available… people avoid seeking help because they fear being stigmatised and being discriminated against.”
No one knows how many South Africans are living with a mental disorders but the county’s only nationally representative survey completed on 2004 on found that about 17 percent of those surveyed had experienced a mood, anxiety or substance use disorder in the previous year.
In 2013, South Africa adopted its first officially endorsed national policy for mental health. Attending the South African Federation for Mental Health’s recent workshop in Douglas, National Department of Health Deputy Director for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Dudu Shiba said she welcomed similar initiatives that not only empowered people living with mental illness but also educated people on the national policy.
However at a recent Johannesburg meeting of the Campaign, Sunkel noted that two years since the national policy was adopted, little is publicly known about what has been done to implement it in provinces around the country.
“There’s inconsistencies across provinces in how they are monitoring the implementation of the strategy,” said Garret Barnwell, a clinical psychologist with the campaign. “There’s still a lot to be done in regards to reporting and there’s not a lot of feedback to the public.”
The campaign has recommended not only better tracking of policy implementation but also the integration of mental health services at the primary health care level and within HIV services. – Health-e News.
ZANELE MUHOLI: The mission is to ensure that we have– a visual history that speaks to the moment that will inform the future. And also to ensure that we document and archive the history of our people who are on a daily basis violated simply because of our gender expression and also because of our sexual orientation.
TRACY WHOLF: Zanele Muholi’s work focuses primarily on the black lesbian experience, from moments of celebration and joy, to intimate portraits and stories that depict the violence many gay South Africans experience…everything from corrective rape, where lesbian are sexually assaulted by men who want to ‘turn them straight’ to murder.
TRACY WHOLF: Are you concerned about repercussions against your own family for the work that you do?
ZANELE MUHOLI: Unfortunately, a lot of innocent souls have been killed without even doing anything at all. But then if anything happens to me, at le– at least I’ll die, you know, peacefully ’cause I’ll know that I’ve acted to challenge any phobias that– that still persist.
TRACY WHOLF: Catherine Morris is the curator of Muholi’s exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.
CATHERINE MORRIS: Zanele’s engagement with her community is coupled with her extraordinary photographic talent. She is simultaneously documenting her community, but at the same time speaking very eloquently about the history of photography and history of portraiture. And these black and white photographs resonate on so many levels because of that push/pull between the history that she’s capturing and the community she’s committed to.
TRACY WHOLF: Muholi struggled with her own identity as a black lesbian and even had thoughts of suicide when she was younger, but someone gave her a point-and-shoot camera and she began taking self-portraits and found it to be therapeutic.
ZANELE MUHOLI: Like, I’m one of those people who really doesn’t mind to photograph– the self, you know? And I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s very, very important for us to look at us before we look at what is happening in the neighborhood.
TRACY WHOLF: Muholi’s portrait series called ‘Faces and Phases’ is a collection of intimate photos she’s taken of friends and acquaintances, people she refers to as ‘collaborators.’
TRACY WHOLF: What are you looking for when you’re setting up a shot and you’re working with a collaborator?
ZANELE MUHOLI: I’m looking for me. You know, when some people say, ‘You look at someone and you see yourself in them–‘ I’m looking for me that I never was. So I’m looking for the person, that person who– that lies in each and every one of us no matter what.
TRACY WHOLF: Despite gay rights being protected by law in South Africa, attacks against black lesbians are often overlooked and under investigated by authorities, according to human rights groups.
ROSALIND MORRIS: It’s– it’s– much harder to be a black lesbian in South Africa than it is to be a white lesbian.
TRACY WHOLF: Rosalind Morris is a professor of anthropology at Columbia University.
ROSALIND MORRIS: Violence against women is– not uncommon. So one finds a kind of intensification of that violence directed against black women for not conforming to ideals of femininity, on one hand, and for appearing to betray a– black cultural or a black national cause.
TRACY WHOLF: And while Muholi’s work has been celebrated and embraced by art critics around the world, some of her more explicit and revealing photographs have led conservative politicians in South Africa to criticize her work – calling it ‘immoral’ and ‘offensive.’
TRACY WHOLF: Your work has been met with criticism or controversy. How do you respond to those statements, those sentiments, that pushback?
ZANELE MUHOLI: When I’m being called a black lesbian controversial photographer, they basically say, “Continue to do it because you are doing the right thing.”
TRACY WHOLF: Muholi’s latest American show will run through November at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.
Zakhe, 28, lives in Soweto in Johannesburg. She is a lesbian and a victim of a horrifying growing trend in South Africa: corrective rape. “They tell me that they will kill me, they will rape me and after raping me, I will become a girl,” she tells ActionAid. “I will become a straight girl.”
On a Sunday morning in July 2007, the bodies of Zakhe’s friends Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa were found in a field in Meadowlands, a suburb of Johannesburg. Both women had been bound with their underwear, gang-raped, tortured and shot. Just weeks previously, Sizakele had said she felt uneasy in her community as one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian. Nearly eight years on, three men have been detained and released. The case is now effectively closed.
A man lies in the street after he was reportedly stabbed by a mob in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, South Africa last month. The man, believed to be a Mozambican national, was taken to hospital for treatment but reportedly later died of his injuries Photo: Kevin Sutherloand/EPA
A month on from the xenophobic attacks that rocked the country last month, South Africa continues to deal with a crisis that refuses to go away; hate crimes against lesbian women to “cure” them of their homosexuality. Since the term corrective rape was coined by charity workers over a decade ago, few national statistics on levels of violence against lesbians have been compiled. At least 32 women have been raped and murdered in the last 15 years – but underreporting means this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. According to South African charity Luleki Sizwe, more than 10 women are raped or gang-raped weekly.
Societal attitudes need to shift
The country’s transition to democracy and its constitutional and human rights framework has been a source of hope for South Africans. But as promise is translated into reality, South Africa is facing a number of challenges – one of which is the prevalence of gender-based violence.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world. Of the estimated 500,000 rapes that take place every year, only one in nine are reported. For every 25 men brought to trial for rape, 24 will walk free – a poignant reminder of the aggressive masculinity that colours the social and political landscape of South Africa. In a country strongly influenced by traditional cultures and religious groups, corrective rape is a reaction to protect the status quo – women are forced to conform to gender stereotypes or suffer the consequences.
“There is a clear sense of entitlement to women’s bodies which underlies the general rape pandemic, and no doubt the attack of lesbian women or women who read as gender non-conforming,” says Emily Craven, policy and programme manager at ActionAid South Africa, one of the first charities to document the use of corrective rape.
“The notion that women do not need men for either economic support or sexual pleasure is one that is deeply threatening to entrenched patriarchal values.”
Several studies have highlighted the problem of gender inequality that pervades South Africa. According to research by the anti-violence NGO, CIET, 20 per cent of men said the victim “asked for it”. In a related survey, a quarter of Soweto schoolboys described “jackrolling” – a local term for gang rape – as “fun”. Survivors of corrective rape have said their attackers wanted to show them “how to be real women and what a real man tasted like”.
With the apartheid in recent memory, its scars are evident in the gendered and racial segregation of the country. Violence is rife and there is a clear hierarchy which places women and lesbians – often in depressed socio-economic circumstances – at the bottom.
Sex education is non-existent
Part of the problem is that the cycle of hostility towards women and homosexuality is not addressed. South African schoolchildren are not taught about sexuality, sexual or reproductive health – a vital factor in changing attitudes towards sexual violence. In 2013, a UNESCO report found that schools nationwide were failing to make the grade on a number of essential topics, including gender rights.
Significantly, still, brutal violence against gay women stands in stark contradiction to the country’s progressive 1996 constitution. As the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation – South Africa was the first country in Africa to recognise same-sex marriage – the post-apartheid constitution hailed a new era of tolerance and equality.
Yet even a new constitution has failed to abolish deep-rooted bias against the South African LGBTQ community. If anything, the formal protections intensified homophobic inclinations, as the legal framework sprinted ahead of social consciousness on the issue of gay rights.
“Homophobic violence is not unique to South Africa nor is it an African phenomenon – but it is clear that this violence has taken a particular form in South Africa,” Craven says. “In the post-apartheid era a series of key legal battles were won which entrenched gay rights, culminating in the legalisation of gay marriage in 2007. These battles were however largely fought in court rooms and little was done to try and bring the population along with the process.”
As LGBTQ issues began to feature prominently in local media, lesbian and gay men and women felt safe to come out. Yet the vast majority of the population remained openly homophobic, which led to a backlash. Recent studies show that homophobia is still a major problem – a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center found up to 61 per cent of South Africans believe society should not accept homosexuality.
The majority of attacks on lesbian women go unreported, but many are exceptionally violent – proof that attitudes towards lesbians are yet to change. Last August, 18-year-old Gift Makau was gang-raped, strangled with wire and left with a hosepipe in her mouth. Another woman, Noxolo Nogwaza was raped and stabbed to death with a shard of glass in 2011.
A failing criminal justice system
South Africa’s criminal justice system has failed to keep up with the country’s liberal constitution. Hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation are still not recognised by South African law, and the courts refuse to recognise that it plays any part in cases of corrective rape. The police are reluctant to investigate hate crimes against lesbian women and there is little support for survivors.
Nomawabo, from the northernmost province of Limpopo, has been sexually assaulted twice. At the age of 15, she was raped by a schoolfriend and two years later, she was abducted by a group of men and sexually assaulted for three days. Despite these horrific attacks, she is one of the luckier victims: she survived. Yet despite reporting the crime to police, the case disappeared and her attackers were never caught.
“At school I was betrayed by my best friend. He told me to come to his house for a school assignment but when I got to the house we fought until he hit me so hard I collapsed, and then he raped me because he said I needed to stop being a lesbian,” Nomawabo told ActionAid.
“Afterwards I got pregnant and had a baby. The second time, my soccer friends and I were kidnapped at gunpoint and they took us somewhere far away and did what they wanted with us for three days. We told the police but the case just disappeared. Nothing happened because they all thought I deserved it.”
Up to 40 per cent of South African women will be raped in their lifetime according to the South African Institute of Race Relations, but estimates very widely due to underreporting. Further statistics from the South African Police Service state that between 2013 and 2014 there were a total of 46,253 rapes were reported to police countrywide. However, due to underreporting, the figure is likely to be much higher per year. The Medical Research Council estimate that only one in nine rapes are reported to the police.
Moreover, only 14 per cent of perpetrators are convicted. Such a lack of accountability has left report rates at an all-time low, partly attributed to the public perception of the police post-apartheid as a symbol of oppression. Until 1994, South Africans lived in fear of the state – unjust laws were applied unfairly, intended to entrench white domination.
The successful prosecution of rapes is a challenge most countries face – including the UK. Recent research by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary also showed less than a quarter of rapes reported to the police in England and Wales resulted in a charge.
However, reporting rates are starting improve in the UK, just as South Africa heads in the opposite direction.
Despite the modern constitution, South African legislation continues to discriminate against women. Under the “cautionary rule”, a judge must show awareness to special dangers on relying on uncorroborated evidence of a complainant – thus, victims of sexual violence feel they may be deemed untrustworthy. Most victims have little faith in the police and the courts to bring their attacker to justice.
“Survivors do not have faith in the criminal justice system, perhaps rightly so,” Sarah McLaughlin of Rape Crisis South Africa says. “This means that rapists are not held accountable; there is no deterrent to rape. In addition, our government does not prioritise the issue of gender violence and does not allocate sufficient resources to address this issue.”
After over 20 years of democracy, lesbians are still living in the shadow of the apartheid. Corrective rape is a symptom of the toxic gender inequality and homophobic attitudes that continue to plague the country – a seemingly endless cycle of violence that did not end with decades of segregation.
“Many of the factors that drive the violence against women are a result of South Africa’s history – such as access to safety, livelihoods and justice,” McLaughlin explains. “Violence against women comes part of the parcel of mass social and structural inequality left over from apartheid.”
Lydia Smith is a freelance journalist based in London. She has written for various national newspapers and magazines with a focus on human rights.
Human Rights Watch says political prisoners are commonly abused by government of President Islam Karimov.
Torture of political prisoners is widespread in Uzbekistan, a Central Asian country courted by the West as a transit point for forces fighting in Afghanistan, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.
In a report entitled Until the Very End: Politically Motivated Imprisonment in Uzbekistan published on Friday, HRW cited the cases of 34 prominent political prisoners as evidence that torture, kidnapping, incommunicado detention, solitary confinement and extension of sentences were all widespread. The watchdog group also added that local human rights bodies believed the number of political prisoners in Uzbekistan was in the thousands.
President Islam Karimov, 76, tolerates no dissent in the ex-Soviet state of 30 million people, which he has ruled since 1989.
HRW, whose Uzbek office was shut down in 2011, said its findings were based on more than 150 interviews with detainees’ relatives, former prisoners, human rights activists and a former prison official.
“Whether behind bars for 20 years or a shorter time, these people have been wrongfully imprisoned and shouldn’t spend even one more day behind bars,” said Steve Swerdlow, HRW’s Central Asia researcher and the former head of its Uzbek branch.
|People & Power: The Long Arm of the Dictator|
The report cited the case of Kayum Ortikov, a former employee of the British embassy in the capital Tashkent, who said he had been tortured for nine months in 2009 after being convicted on what he said were fabricated charges of human trafficking.
He said his torturers in the Tashkent city jail had burned his genitalia with flaming newspapers, pushed needles under his fingernails, and threatened to have allegedly HIV-positive prisoners rape him if he did not confess to being a spy.
After a public campaign by his wife, rights groups and British journalists, Ortikov was released in May 2011. He and his family fled Uzbekistan and finally resettled as refugees in the US this year.
Uzbek officials could not be reached or declined to comment, but Karimov has in the past said his tough methods were needed to keep Islamist militancy in check. Karimov’s relations with the West worsened when his troops notably crushed popular protests in 2005 in the eastern city of Andijan during which 187 people died according to the government and 700 according to rights groups.
With no political opposition to speak of and a state media that is highly supportive, Karimov looks likely to win a new term as president next March.
NDÉLÉ, Central African Republic — One day in September, Ahmed Adam, 23, sat on the ground in the regional capital, Ndélé, and rolled a cigarette. Adam was restless. Earlier that week he returned from the capital, Bangui, about 400 miles away. He was happy to be home. But with no money or means to buy what he needed to restart his life, he said, he was waiting for the U.N.-run demobilization program to begin, when he hoped to collect some cash. “If it works, I’ll be a farmer and work in the fields,” Adam said. “But if it doesn’t work, I’ll return to fight.”
Adam had been fighting since 2010, he said, when he joined the Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP), a northern rebel group that sought to overthrow the government of François Bozizé since 2008. Adam fought, he said, for the rights of the people in the north. But it was also to avenge a personal insult that he suffered at the hands of Bozizé’s police.
The CPJP believed that Bozizé, an ethnic Gbaya, was corrupt and that he failed to uphold promises to make his government more inclusive of other regions and ethnic groups. In 2012 a faction of the CPJP, along with other rebel groups, foreign mercenaries and local volunteers came together to form the Séléka, which means “alliance” in Sango, the national language. Most but not all the fighters were Muslim like Adam. The movement often recruited impoverished, uneducated men, and Ndélé quickly became a stronghold. The Séléka gathered strength as they went south, and on March 24, 2013, they succeeded in overthrowing Bozizé and installing their own president, Michel Djotodia.
The Séléka’s nine-month hold on power was cataclysmic. Djotodia proved unable to control his ranks of rebels. They raped women, plundered villages and killed hundreds, perhaps thousands of people whom they associated with Bozizé. In the south, nearly everyone was affected in some way. When asked if he ever killed innocent citizens or committed the abuses that so many spoke of, Adam laughed uncomfortably and asked if it was possible to fight and not kill. “But I only killed other soldiers,” he said.
By mid-2013, a mostly Christian group of fighters known as the anti-Balaka, which translates to either “anti-machete” or “anti-bullets,” emerged in rural villages to fight back. The movement was, in part, truly revolutionary: a self-organized militia of young men armed with rudimentary weapons like machetes and homemade rifles. But the anti-Balaka also counted among their ranks former army officers, many of whom remained loyal to Bozizé.
War in the Central African Republic is usually understood abroad as a grinding religious conflict. Of the 4.5 million people who live in the remote, landlocked country, only 15 percent are Muslim; the rest are either Christian or animist. These communities have lived together peacefully for centuries. The latest explosion of violence, though, has succeeded in pitting them against each other. Victims on both sides have suffered, but the minority Muslim population appears to have borne the brunt of it. Two years ago, there were nearly 700,000 Muslims in the country. Now, according to some counts, fewer than 90,000 remain.
Like many wars around the world that are perceived as religious in nature, and where the narrative of communal strife is used by warring sides to fuel hatred, the sectarian aspect of the conflict may be a result of the fertile soil it grew from. A legacy of weak state institutions, the failure of multiple governments to implement promised reforms, competition over natural resources and the unadorned political opportunism of militia leaders gave rise to the fighting and fed it. Religion coils around these dynamics, increasing the pressure.
Militia leaders on both sides use the narrative of religious war to mobilize fighters in the pursuit of their narrow political objectives, said Beni Youkaté, a Guinean man who works in the country as an informal mediator between Séléka and anti-Balaka groups.
“The crisis here is not at all a religious crisis. It’s military, and it’s political. Quite simply, people have their interests in the crisis, and this suits them to use this ideology, this idea that Muslims and Christians can’t get along,” Youkaté said.
The emergence of the anti-Balaka marked a turning point for the country. Many of the fighters conflated the CAR’s entire Muslim population with the Séléka. Soon they adopted a new goal: rid the country of its entire Muslim population. The Séléka, in turn, launched revenge attacks on non-Muslim populations, in particular against Bozizé’s Gbaya. For the first time, the conflict took on a sectarian dimension. At the U.N. headquarters in New York, diplomats spoke of the possibility of genocide.
Photoessay: Trapped in a Nightmare
Photographer William Daniels documents the plight of 23,000 refugees trapped by violence in the Central African town of Boda
The anti-Balaka attacked Bangui on Dec. 5, 2013, setting in motion weeks of tit-for-tat attacks between the two communities. Hundreds of bodies piled up in the city’s morgues and mosques. More than 100,000 of Bangui’s Christians fled to the city’s derelict airport, which was protected by French troops, and to other camps. Nearly the entire population of Muslims in the west, including many in the capital, fled north or across the border in “an exodus of historic proportions,” according to Amnesty International.
In September 2013, Djotodia attempted to disband some of the Séléka, and Adam, along with thousands of other fighters, was disarmed and forcefully billeted into a crowded, run-down military camp in Bangui. The plan was to integrate them into a new, professionalized army, but it never happened, and he languished there for months. “They just gave us some food, barely enough manioc”— a staple food, like a potato, that is eaten throughout Africa — “for the entire week and occasionally some sardines,” he said. “Life was really hard.”