Denis Mukwege, Congolese gynecologist, awarded Sakharov Prize

Human Rights First

Human Rights First

In a move that will draw a collective cheer from thousands of women whose lives have been destroyed by brutal sexual violence, the European Parliament announced that Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege won the 2014 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, Human Rights Watch analyst Anneke Van Woudenberg writes:

Dr. Mukwege, who specializes in gynecology, has been on the frontlines of the fight against sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has treated countless victims of sexual violence in his hospital in Bukavu, eastern Congo.  He has been threatened, his family has been attacked, yet he continues the arduous task of mending the bodies of women and girls ravaged by brutal rape. He does it with kindness, grace and compassion….Sexual violence in Congo is at epidemic proportions. There are no exact statistics, since collecting data in a war zone is exceedingly difficult, but various studies confirm the figure is in the hundreds of thousands.

The $65,000 award was established in 1988 in honor of the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, the New York Times writes:

Previous winners include Nelson Mandela; Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general; and Malala Yousafzai, one of the recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, for which Dr. Mukwege was a front-runner.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said in a statement on Tuesday that Dr. Mukwege, 59,` was chosen “for his fight for protection, especially of women.” The Congolese physician will be invited to Strasbourg, France, to receive the award on Nov. 26, the statement said.

Mukwege runs another hospital in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin told the National Endowment for Democracy.

It receives about 10 new rape cases a day, every day. And those are only the tip of the iceberg, since most rape survivors never seek treatment,” he said addressing a conference on Voices from the Congo: The Road Ahead, held at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum:

The victims range in age from 2 to 80 years old. Dr. Mukwege says they arrive “broken, waiting for death, hiding their faces.” In a dozen years, Dr. Mukwege and his staff have repaired more than 20,000 of these women and girls. Their work is supported in part by USAID. Dr. Mukwege is sometimes mentioned – deservedly – as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. On his white coat is a badge given to him from a Jewish organization. It is a cry against indifference. It says, “Don’t stand idly by.”

The endowment has also made a grant to Films de Passarelles to produce a documentary about Dr. Mukwege’s work (see above).  It is nearing completion.

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Ukrainians see poll ‘reviving lost ardor for change’

ukrainesolidarnoscTo many Ukrainians who flooded Kiev last winter to demand change, this month’s parliamentary ballot is a chance to get the revolution back on track, Bloomberg reports:

While the nation’s new rulers sealed a European integration pact, the sweeping change the protesters demanded as they ousted Viktor Yanukovych hasn’t materialized. Efforts to curb graft and revamp dysfunctional state offices have fallen by the wayside. President Petro Poroshenko, elected in May, has picked tycoons for top jobs and hasn’t sold his business empire as promised. Voters are poised to expel Yanukovych’s allies at the Oct. 26 vote….. One in 10 candidates for parliament, across all the parties, is suspected of corruption in some form, Transparency International said Oct. 13.

Ukrainians are set to cast out Yanukovych’s former allies, a Sept. 26 survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology and the Democratic Initiatives polling company showed. Poroshenko’s party has 27 percent support and no group tied to Yanukovych’s clan has the backing needed to breach parliament’s 5 percent entry barrier, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.

ukraine euSeparate elections in Donbas will be a step toward forming a new (pro-Russian) political elite in eastern Ukraine, writes Balázs Jarábik, a visiting scholar in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program:

Like the national parliamentary vote, the ballots in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk aim to produce a certain credibility and put political leaders in charge of military ones.

If that happens, Kiev could gain a more acceptable partner for the implementation of the Minsk Protocol, which seeks to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, while Moscow might be more willing to bail out the area. Perhaps both capitals realize what the experience of other frozen conflicts suggest: that pursuing mutual economic interests is a better way to overcome the trauma of recent bloodshed than continuing military and political confrontation. But can Ukraine and Russia gain control of the actors on the ground?

Ukrainians go to the polls on Sunday, October 26 to elect a new national parliament. Following the May 2014 presidential election, which was organized to replace deposed President Viktor Yanukovych, the parliamentary vote marks another milestone in the “Euromaidan” uprising against corruption and in support of European integration, RFE/RL reports:

UKRAINE AID EUBrian Whitmore, author of RFE/RL’s “Power Vertical” blog, will moderate a panel of experts who will look at how the vote will impact the many security, economic and political challenges Ukraine continues to face.

RFE/RLive: Ukraine’s Parliamentary ElectionsWatch on YouTube and Google+Thursday, October 23, 2014Washington – 11:00 AM / Prague – 5:00 PM / Kyiv – 6:00 PM

Taras Kuzio is a leading international expert on contemporary Ukrainian and post-communist politics, nationalism and European integration, who serves as a research associate at the University of Alberta and non-resident fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. His most recent article, “Ukraine’s new parliament will be more pro-European but will it be more reformist?” was just published in the “Financial Times” “beyondbrics” blog.

Natalya Sedletska is the host of “Schemes: Corruption in Detail,” a television program jointly produced by RFE/RL and the satellite channel “First Ukraine.” Sedletska, a former Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellow with RFE/RL who previously worked as an investigative TV journalist based in Kyiv, was one of the journalists who created the award-winning YanukovychLeaks website that recovered and published hundreds of documents from the former Ukrainian president’s residence at Mezhihirya.

Iryna Shvets is a board member of the Civil Network OPORA, a watchdog group that has carried out election monitoring campaigns for three national and eight local elections in Ukraine since 2007. Shvets, a longtime activist with OPORA’s Lviv office, has helped plan, conduct, and promote observation campaigns at the regional and national levels.

Brian Whitmore, Moderator — Europe Desk Editor for RFE/RL’s Central Newsroom and author of “The Power Vertical” blog. We invite you to post questions in advance, and follow updates for live links to the Google+ Hangout on Facebook and Twitter using #RFERLive. To follow the latest developments involving Ukraine, check out RFE/RL’s Ukraine In Crisis Live Blog.

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U.S. welcomes release of jailed Vietnam blogger

vietduucayThe U.S. government on Tuesday welcomed Vietnam’s decision to release jailed blogger Nguyen Van Hai, who staged a hunger strike to protest treatment of political prisoners, and said he was set to travel to the United States, Reuters reports:

Hai, better known by the pen name Dieu Cay, was set to arrive in the United States on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a daily briefing….Hai ended a five-week hunger in late July after the prosecutors office agreed to look into his claim of abusive treatment. It was his second hunger strike since being jailed for “anti-state propaganda.”….

In 2013, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists awarded Hai an International Press Freedom Award. The committee said his troubles began in 2008, when he was imprisoned for the first time “after co-founding the unsanctioned Free Journalists Club of Vietnam while maintaining a widely read blog known as Dieu Cay (Peasant’s Pipe).”


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Iranian rights lawyer Sotoudeh stages protest, journalist Rasouli released

iran sotoudehIranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh staged a sit in in Tehran in front of the country’s Bar Association to protest a decision to ban her from practicing law for three years. Sotoudeh told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that she plans to continue her sit-in in the coming days:

Sotoudeh, the co-winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov rights prize in 2012, was released from jail last year halfway through a six-year sentence she was serving for “actions against national security and committing propaganda against the regime.” Last month, a court authorized her to return to work. But she said on October 19 that the decision had been overturned and the ban imposed.

“From the first day of my arrest four years ago, my interrogator said that he would use all of his powers to try to stop me from practicing,” Sotoudeh told Reuters during her second day of protest outside the Bar Association in Tehran.

“Now, after four years, I think that my interrogator, with the help of my colleagues to certify it, was successful in achieving his goal,” she said, holding up a placard reading “Work Rights, Dissident Rights”.

Marzieh RasouliIranians aspired to look past the scandal and violence associated with the 2009 presidential elections in the weeks and months after President Hassan Rouhani’s ascent to office last year, says a prominent rights advocate. But he has disappointed those many citizens who believed his campaign platform of “hope and prudence” would be a first step to bring the long awaited changes necessary to improve the country’s troubling human rights situation, notes Roya Boroumand, executive director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

The Boroumand Foundation also announced that journalist ‪Marzieh Rasouli (above, right) who wrote for reformist newspapers such as Shargh and Etemaad, was released from prison in ‪Iran. She had been sentenced to two years in prison and 50 lashes in July for doing her job.

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Isaiah Berlin’s ‘Message to the 21st Century’

isaiah berlinThere are men who will kill and maim with a tranquil conscience under the influence of the words and writings of some of those who are certain that they know perfection can be reached, argued Isaiah Berlin.

Let me explain, he wrote for the New York Review of Books:

If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter.

So what is to be done to restrain the champions, sometimes very fanatical, of one or other of these values, each of whom tends to trample upon the rest, as the great tyrants of the twentieth century have trampled on the life, liberty, and human rights of millions because their eyes were fixed upon some ultimate golden future? he asked in A Message to the 21st Century:

My point is that some values clash: the ends pursued by human beings are all generated by our common nature, but their pursuit has to be to some degree controlled—liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I repeat, may not be fully compatible with each other, nor are liberty, equality, and fraternity.

So we must weigh and measure, bargain, compromise, and prevent the crushing of one form of life by its rivals….. The denial of this, the search for a single, overarching ideal because it is the one and only true one for humanity, invariably leads to coercion. …..

I am glad to note that toward the end of my long life some realization of this is beginning to dawn. Rationality, tolerance, rare enough in human history, are not despised. Liberal democracy, despite everything, despite the greatest modern scourge of fanatical, fundamentalist nationalism, is spreading. Great tyrannies are in ruins, or will be—even in China the day is not too distant.


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