JASS Blog Archives for April 2009

by Martha Tholanah on April 30, 2009 on 4:54 am

I was looking forward to a restful Easter, when on the eve of Good Friday I went into a meeting where I thought I would be in a safe space. This was a feedback meeting from those who had attended the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The UN CSW was held in February 2009 in New York, and a number of Zimbabwean organisations who are seen as the leaders in advocating around gender equality, women’s rights, and anti-stigma and discrimination of vulnerable or marginalised communities. One of the organisations present is a male-led men’s organisation that focuses on challenging the traditional concept of male dominance over women, seeking to transform men’s mindsets into treating women as equals, with respect and dignity. The other four organisations are women-issues-focussed, led by women proponents of women’s rights as human rights.

I must say I went into this meeting by default – my organisation which is a network of positive women was never invited. The director of one of the organisations that I work with received an invitation, and as she was unable to go, she asked me to represent the organisation at the meeting. Other participants in the meeting were from Harare-based NGOs, one based outside Harare, and legislators. Each participant in that meeting was asked to introduce themselves by saying their names and the organisations they represented. When it was my turn, I decided that I would introduce myself as who I identify as, considering the nature of the meeting and the gathering. I said my name, and stated that I am a feminist. The response was laughter around the room – I am not sure why they laughed.

Then the first shocker in that meeting then came from one of the women – a respected lawyer, working for a women’s organisation that looks at women’s rights in regards to the law – “Oh! So you don’t do men!” It was not a question – a statement that shocked me in terms of what being a feminist had to do with “doing men or women”; why such a “safe space” all of a sudden was apparently not so safe for all women. I assumed by her saying that I don’t do men she was insinuating that I was sexually attracted to and slept with women. After the first reaction of shock, I became disgusted by the whole system and the process we engage in – calling ourselves advocates for human rights of all, when some of us can unashamedly display such homophobic and discriminatory statements in the presence of other human rights advocates. In the meantime, no one else said anything about that statement. To me, that meant the derogatory statement was condoned, and that if there were any same-sex loving people in the room, they lost hope of ever having the “human rights advocates” ever stand for their rights.

The main issues discussed were to do with care work and criminalisation of HIV. It was revealed in this meeting that the law on criminalisation that is applied in Zimbabwe today was passed in 1996. The questions were what position we take as a nation. On the criminalisation issue, one of the prominent women leading lawyers stated that she suggested we take a position to keep the law as it is, proposing that it was a good law that protects women. I was astounded as I wondered whether the law gurus who speak for us and protect our interests had ever cared to consult with the women in the communities, explaining the law and hearing their views. In the absence of full information, and adequate health services that ensure access for every Zimbabwean citizens, those whose mandate it is to ensure that the service is there are the ones who should be prosecuted under this law, as they are failing the nation.

While the experience frightened and immobilised me for a while, I committed to say this out loud. Maybe some day, some people will learn. Maybe some day, human rights advocates will learn to truly encompass human beings in their advocacy for human rights.

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by Alejandra Bergemann on April 3, 2009 on 3:51 pm

March 25, 2009 - Gladys Monterroso, lawyer, University professor, and Secretary General of the Encuentro por Guatemala party, and wife of Human Rights Ombudsman Sergio Morales, was kidnapped in Guatemala City on Wednesday March 25 at 7am and released 13 hours later. She was interrogated and burned with cigarettes on different parts of her body; no ransom was demanded.

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission and our Guatemalan partners (including UDEFEGUA, CALDH, CIIDH, GAM, SEDEM, IECCEG and ODHAG) express outrage concerning this attack.

This violent attack occurred just eleven hours after the Human Rights Ombudsman’s release of the first report on the contents of the police archives discovered in 2004. Over 11 million documents were cleaned, scanned, and filed out of over 80 million documents that exist from the 1960-1996 conflict.

The report includes information connecting the Guatemalan National Police to atrocities committed during the war and provided the evidence needed to detain two former members of a police unit linked to death squads that operated during the internal armed conflict. This is the first time that police officers have been detained for involvement in any of the over 47,000 cases of forced disappearances during the 36 year conflict.

GHRC and our Guatemalan partners condemn this violent and criminal act against Gladys Monterroso. We demand that Guatemalan Government authorities and the Public Prosecutor’s Office fully investigate the crime in order to identify, process, and sentence the material and intellectual authors of the crime. We demand that the necessary steps be taken to dismantle the criminal structures that obstruct citizens’ rights, liberties, and guarantees under the Guatemalan Constitution.

Furthermore, we demand immediate protection for Gladys and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s staff throughout Guatemala, to allow them to carry out their work. We also demand protection and guarantees of security for the Historical Archives of the National Police, in order to continue the investigation process linking state entities to crimes of the past. We express our solidarity and concern for Gladys Monterroso, her family, the staff of the Human Rights Ombudsmans Office, and the party leaders of Encuentro por Guatemala.

The following article appeared in Siglo XXI, 28 Marzo 2009:

Kidnapping of Guatemalan Lawyer, Wife of Human Rights Ombudsman

Lawyer Gladys Monterroso, wife of Human Rights Ombudsman Sergio Morales, was kidnapped on Wednesday March 25, 2009.

“The least we can hope for is justice,” said Emilio Alvarez Icasa, member of the Federal Human Rights Commission. “It was a cruel, cowardly, and inhuman attack,” said Rigardo Vargas, President of the Central American Human Rights Ombudsman and Public Defender’s Coucil from Panama.

Álvarez Icasa complimented the work of Sergio Morales and said that he is a reference for all of Latin America for his bravery and work for an open and participatory democracy. “Those clumsy men are mistaken if they think that, through these actions, they are going to slow down the Guatemalan people in seeking peace,” he emphasized.

The Interamerican Commission of Human Rights experessed their concern, and in a memo stated that they are asking for information related to the case from the Guatemalan Government.

Dunia Tobar, Adjunct Human Rights Ombudsman, informed that Monterroso is in stable condition and under medical treatment in a hospital in Guatemala City.

Read more.

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