Posts tagged human rights

My Talk about Kazakhstan…and Zhanaozen

This morning I will give a talk about Kazakhstan to impressionable university students who probably know next to nothing about Kazakhstan.  Last week I was in a sporting goods store stocking up on “smartwool” wool socks and the sales clerk who checked me out asked where I was going.  I told her Kazakhstan, after I said she probably wouldn’t know where it is.  She surprised me and said that she knew about Kazakhstan because she had lived there as a little girl.  I was in a hurry to finish my shopping so I didn’t pursue this bit of surprising information from her.  Someone else, besides me, had actually been to Kazakhstan maybe 10-15 years ago.

As I prepare for my return trip to Astana, I realize I have not been in Kazakhstan for almost a year and a half.  I left the early spring of 2011.  Much has stayed the same where I live in Minnesota but I’m sure much has changed in Astana.  I’ll be shocked by what has happened as far as more students at the university I taught at.  More buildings will no doubt have been built in my absence.  In Astana, they were going up at a frenetic speed while I lived in Astana for over a year.

I’m wondering how many people were forced into labor on these buildings?  Why do I ask these kinds of questions? Because of the following unsettling report from the Human Rights Watch organization.

On December 16, 2011, a terrible massacre happened in Kazakhstan. State police fired on civilians in the small town of Zhanaozen in the western part of our country. According to official numbers, 16 people were killed and 100 were injured. Independent sources stated that more than 70 were killed and more than 500 to 800 were wounded. This was the bloody end of a seven-month conflict between oil and gas workers—protesting for better working conditions—and Nursultan Nazarbayev, the dictator who has ruled our country with an iron fist since 1991.

The Zhanaozen massacre marked the beginning of a new era in Kazakhstan of unprecedented political oppression. Striking workers have been convicted and sentenced to long-term imprisonment, while trials linger for the civil society activists and politicians who aided the workers. One such leader, Vladimir Kozlov, was convicted last week on trumped up charges and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison and forfeiture of all his assets. State authorities have also targeted the independent media. Journalists who covered the incidents are now facing charges of coup-plotting.

Meanwhile, the security forces who fired on civilians have not been punished. Nazarbayev refuses to consent to an international investigation, because he knows the results would expose the real face of his regime.

As representatives of the civil society of Kazakhstan, we fear for our colleagues. Our attempts to stop Nazarbayev’s tyranny have been futile, since all parts of the justice system, including prosecutors and courts, operate under his orders. His system of oppression has been well documented by international human rights organizations like Freedom House, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. The New York-based Human Rights Foundation has also recently announced a new initiative to expose Kazakhstan’s regime and is sponsoring publication of this open letter.

We respectfully ask US legislators to help us. In the past, thanks to the intervention of European politicians, civil society activists like Bolat Atabayev, Zhanbolat Mamay, Natalia Sokolova, and Igor Vinyavskiy have been released. We are confident that the proposed law known as the Magnitsky Act, currently under consideration in the House of Representatives (and held-up by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen), or a separate Zhanaozen Act with similar goals, would compel Nazarbayev to allow space for dissent—a vital first step toward democracy. With the imprisonment of Kozlov last week, Kazakh civil society has lost the most vocal critic to the Nazarbayev regime and his unregistered political party, Alga!

On the next page we copy the names of the Kazakh officials, police officers, judges, and security agents involved in the Zhanaozen massacre and the subsequent oppression of civil society and the media. We also ask the U.S. to consider adopting a document threatening a travel and finance ban for these individuals and we alert civil society, financial institutions, and public policy groups.

Nazarbayev has been aided in Washington by public relations machinery including BGR Public Relations, Qorvis Communications, Global Options Group, APCO Worldwide, Policy Impact Communications, as well as Kazakhstan insiders such as billionaire Alex Mashkevich and Bulgarian fixer Alexander Mirtchev. They have all enriched themselves while serving a ruthless tyrant that ordered oil workers killed. They have peddled the lie that Kazakhstan is the story of a “young democracy” with “stability”—rather than a totalitarian police state with a leader who wins elections with 95% of the vote and passed a law allowing him to be elected president indefinitely.

Nazarbayev, like Putin in Russia, and Lukashenko in Belarus is yet another tyrant interested only in looting the treasury and ruling for life.”

Well, this is thought provoking as I consider talking to our American youth about a country they may have never heard of and about the trafficking and human rights violations that continue to go on in Kazakhstan.  But we have some of the same problems here in Minnesota and the rest of the U.S.  Evil is everywhere but unfortunately we live in a bubble here in the U.S. and are unaware of the dangers that are all around us.  Maybe that is why Halloween is a good reminder of the bad. Maybe the ensuing storm beating off the East Coast is also helpful to remind us that we are NOT in control of anything.  God is.

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Memorable Quotes from “The Help” and human rights today

I knew when I read the book by Kathryn Stockett titled “The Help” two years ago that it would eventually be turned into a movie.  I didn’t know that it would happen as quickly as it did when it opened to theaters in the U.S. on August. 10th.  We watched it last night to a nearly packed audience. I’m sure it will have receive many Oscar awards when that season begins. The range of up and down emotions you go through as you watch the movie are from lighthearted fun to intense ache and pain in the relationships.

I believe the movie stayed true to the book. The following are some memorable quotes I picked off of imdb.com in no particular order. (Internet Movie Database)

Aibileen Clark  is a black maid who says to white baby girl she takes care of: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
Charlotte Phelan says to her daughter Skeeter: Your eggs are dying. Would it kill you to go on a date?
Aibileen Clark: 18 people were killed in Jackson that night. 10 white and 8 black. I don’t think God has color in mind when he sets a tornado loose.
Preacher Green says to his congregation: If you can love your enemy, you already have victory.
Aibileen Clark says to Skeeter when she goes to interview Aibileen: I ain’t never had no white person in my house before.
Stuart Whitworth, Skeeter’s boyfriend: Isn’t that what all you girls from Ole Miss major in – professional husband hunting?
Minny Jackson maid who says to her flighty employer Celia: Fried chicken just tend to make you feel better about life.

Charlotte Phelan says to her daughter Skeeter: Courage sometimes skips a generation. Thank you for bringing it back to our family.

Minny Jackson says to Celia: Minny don’t burn fried chicken.

Celia Foote: They don’t like me because of what they think I did.
Minny Jackson: They don’t like you ’cause they think you white trash.
Now, how does this movie relate to human rights today?  Of course, everything that I see or hear goes through my grid about human trafficking in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the world. I believe there may still be pockets of “slave mentality” in the deep South of the U.S. but after the Civil War that poisonous thinking was supposed to be totally eradicated. Right? We have laws in place that protect human life (except for Roe v. Wade which is another hot topic that I won’t get into in this blog) The unfortunate thing is that there is so much going on in the world that does NOT protect human life.  Human trafficking is not just in Kazakhstan but China and India and many other places where there are powerful, rich people who victimize poor people who have no other options.
So, yes, Americans will go to the movie “The Help” now and feel good about themselves that we, as a nation, have come a LONG ways from the 1960s where the blacks were put down and there was intimidation and fear.  However, they will willfully remain ignorant of what is happening in the rest of the world where little girls as young as two years old are used as sex toys in temples in India.  Yes, I just read an article about it today and it grieves me sorely.
(to be continued)

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A Kazakh’s View of Human Trafficking in Kazakhstan

You never know where curiosity may take you. Just today I was asked why I have taken on this terrible topic of human trafficking and slavery.  I guess I’m interested in peoples’ freedom of expression, especially in Kazakhstan.  I’m glad I have Kazakh friends back in Kazakhstan who have the same passion to eradicate this crime against humanity.  The following piece is written by a Kazakh woman who has seen with her own eyes a shelter for victims caught in slavery.  Thankfully they escaped but there are thousands of others still trapped. I think Nadia articulates the problem very well:

“I hope that those responsible for human rights protection will hear about situation in Kazakhstan. The world media cries about human rights in different countries, even neighboring Uzbekistan is under the pressure of world organizations. Only Kazakhstan is quiet as a steppe around Astana. I don`t blame world NGOs or the government, the society is guilty for severe human rights abuse in Kazakhstan. I`m a part of this culture and I know where the roots lie.

As you wrote in an earlier blog, there is a girl who was sold for slavery by her mother. This case shows the vicious circle of ignorance and indifference in which Kazakh society will be drawn.

Natasha used to live with her mother, alcohol addicted, who constantly brought strange men to their home. Those men hit the poor girl and then slept with her. Natasha did not attend school as she is mentally slow. The girl has some psychological disease. One day her mother sold her to some men for some bottles of vodka. These men kept Natasha for eight months and forced her into prostitution, then let her go or just threw her away. Natasha was caught by other businessmen, but this time she was rescued. By chance there was another girl kept in the same flat, she refused to work for masters and started to cry from a window when bosses went away.

As the psychologist explained, Natasha due to her illness and constant abuse at home, she lost her protective instinct. People like this keep obeying and get used to being forced.

Now there is a question who is to blame for the ruined life of a young woman? Her mother? Poor life conditions? In my opinion, people who witnessed mother`s attitude toward her daughter and did nothing: neighbors, teachers at school and local authorities are responsible for Natasha`s life. There`s no law to charge them, but there is a social rule of humanity which is now forgotten.”

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