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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Honour killings increasing By Amanda Lindhout In Iraq - July 12, 2008

There has been a sharp increase in so-called “honour killings” in Iraq since 2003, as chaos and religious fundamentalism has swept the country.
If a female is suspected of being “dishonourable,” it is often considered the duty of male family members to murder her to save the family’s name.

Beheading, stoning and strangulation are the most common ways the women are killed.

Yanar Mohammed, founder of the Organization For Women’s Rights in Iraq, ceaselessly campaigns to bring attention the increase of violence against women in her homeland.

Honour Killings

They are called “honour killings,” but there is nothing honourable about them.

A terrifying development in wartorn Iraq is a dramatic increase of violent acts against women accused of bringing dishonour to their families.

Sanctioned under an article in Iraq’s criminal code, Iraqi males are permitted to murder their wives, daughters, sisters or mothers whom they suspect have defiled the family by breaking traditional rules of chastity and fidelity.

Inside the Organization for Women’s Rights in Iraq, founder Yanar Mohammed says that the chaos of war has brought about a rash of honour killings as the rise of religious fundamentalism has grown, bringing with it strict rules that women must abide by.

“As a woman in Iraq, you are sandwiched between the terrorists from the militia groups and the tribal mentality of your own family that will not accept any female who chooses to love on her own terms.”

Mohammed is passionate about empowering Iraqi women and to educating the world about this female genocide.

She left Iraq after the Gulf War and obtained Canadian citizenship in 1995. With a master’s degree in architecture, she lived and worked in Toronto until 2003.

That year, she received a call from a friend in Baghdad who told her the situation for women had deteriorated with the fall of Saddam Hussein’s secular government.

She saw a chance to help her sisters in Iraq. And despite the rising violence, Mohammed set up her first office for women’s rights in an old bank building that had been burned down.

“Our aim was to provide shelters for women, to give them another alternative to being killed.”

With some assistance provided by international women’s groups, Mohammed established a proper office in a central Baghdad neighbourhood.

Many of her 25 staff members are women she has rescued from prisons, prostitution and the streets. They fearlessly venture into the city’s most volatile neighbourhoods to get help and education to women trapped inside.

Mohammed estimates that as many as 3,000 women are killed in Iraq each year over issues of “honour.” They are commonly beheaded, strangled or stoned.

Often these acts are carried out in public.

Last year, Du’a Khalil Aswad, a pretty 17-year-old girl, was stoned to death in northern Iraq while a crowd of hundreds of men cheered and looked on.

Her crime? Falling in love with a boy of a different faith.

The stoning was filmed on a number of mobile phones, inevitably ending up on the Internet – prompting the international community to express a brief surge of interest in women’s rights in Iraq.

Still, organizations like the Organization For Women’s Rights In Iraq can barley manage to make ends meet.

They struggle with a lack of support, seriously limiting their scope of work.

The Iraqi government has refused to legalize Mohammed’s two women’s shelters, making her work dangerous from all sides.

She is still afraid to hang a sign outside their door. She speaks of police visits to their office and, on multiple occasions, having the organization’s funds frozen in bank accounts.

But she perseveres.

This year, Yanar Mohammed was the recipient of the prestigious Peter Grouper Award for working on women’s rights in a conflict zone.

“The funding that’s starting to come in supports us nine months ahead. After that, we don’t know if the project can go on,” she says.

“I don’t know that any part of our work is easy, but we are still going, and we will keep trying until we make it work.”

She has helped numerous women, taking them from dangerous environments, educating them, teaching them employable skills and eventually relocating the women in another part of Iraq.

“We tell them, there is a day you will be strong. You will be safe and you will be outspoken. That day you will want to help other women in need, because you will know, better then anyone, what is possible.”

Africa’s largest slum By Amanda Lindhout In Iraq

Published: August 16, 2008 4:00 AM The railway line snaking through Kibera becomes a highway of human activity as the first rays of morning sun begin to warm the muddy earth, signalling the start of another day in this Kenyan ghetto.

Men and women in faded but pressed suits walk the tracks into Nairobi, tentatively hopeful that today they will find a job in the city.

Groups of old men sit under tin awnings, anticipating rain.

Some have their heads in their hands.

Others just stare across the railway and out over the endless maze of shacks that make up Africa’s largest slum.

Barefoot children with distended bellies pick through mountains of garbage alongside the tracks, competing with stray dogs for the find of a half-eaten corn cob or a bone with a bit of meat.

Here, hunger is a way of life — a never forgotten pang that is all consuming. Many of these children haven’t eaten in days.

A scramble down a muddy slope, slick with human waste, leads into the most densely populated slum in the world.

More than 1.2 million people are living in haphazard, makeshift homes.

There are no sewage pipes. No services. No roads. What began as an unregulated settlement in the First World War for Nubian solders is now a veritable hell on Earth, ironically adjacent to a city booming with one of the best economies in Africa.

Solomon Akello sits inside his family’s mud hut, palms open in a gesture that resembles both despair and a form of special pleading.

His baby brother Hezron lies in a swath of dirty blankets on the floor, and 17-year-old Solomon is desperate to get the child to a hospital. Inside Kibera, government medical care is too expensive for most squatters (whose average monthly income is less then $20 a month).

The infant mortality rate is among the highest in the world.

He brushes away the determined flies that crawl into the child’s mouth and grows sadly nostalgic.

“My parents were good people. We came here two years ago from the Rift Valley because they thought there would be jobs in Nairobi.”

“They didn’t imagine that we’d be stuck in Kibera, living like animals, sick and with no help.”

Solomon slumps over in his chair when he tells that his mother and father were both killed in the politically motivated fighting that erupted in Kenya earlier this year.

The random brutality of criminal gangs claimed hundreds of lives inside Kibera as homes were set ablaze and guns appeared on every corner.

He struggles to take care of his four siblings by begging on the streets. But he hasn’t lost sight of his dream, to become a construction engineer, despite not having the money to attend school since 2005.

Beside a river of open sewage is another row of crumbling mud shacks. Parting the curtain door of one, Doreen Achieng Olale’s gaunt face appears.

A matronly woman, with a belly indicating she will soon have another baby, she has lived here for 10 years.

Olale lines up bottles of pills on a small table. This is her HIV medication, given to her each month by a group of foreign non- governmental organizations. One fifth of all HIV positive Kenyans live in Kibera. Since her husband died of AIDS two years ago, she is alone each day with her four children.

The answers to the disturbing, frightful questions that creep into the mind of anyone witnessing this kind of incomprehensible abject poverty are obvious.

“I am a prostitute,” Olale says with a kind of defensive pride. “Do I sell my body for a bag of rice so my kids don’t die? Absolutely. No one else is going to help us.”

Recently, the Kenyan government has taken small steps to upgrade the slums. One government water line is now available to residents, but at a cost few can afford.

For five cents, 20 litres of clean water can be bought from a single piped-in source. Down the road, for less then half the price, Kiberians can buy water from a private pipe.

It’s often dirty, but when every penny counts, many don’t feel they have a choice.

“No one can afford the government water. If they are trying to help us, why don’t they make it the cheapest option?” complains one man.

The overwhelming stench of human waste in Kibera is unbearable. It flows openly between the rows of homes. In other places, men roll up their pant legs and wade ankle deep through it. Children play alongside the filth.

There are only two government toilet facilities to accommodate the vast population.

A teenage boy sits up on the railway tracks watching the scene around him. Henry waits here for the next train to roll through, destined for Mombassa, a coastal city in Kenya.

“One day, I’m going to hop on the back of the train. I’m going to ride it all the way to the sea and see what the rest of the world looks like.”

Amanda Lindhout is a Red Deer journalist working for a Middle East news channel in Iraq. Contact her at

Canadian reporter kidnapped at gunpoint in Somalia

A freelance journalist from Alberta has been abducted at gunpoint near the Somali capital of Mogadishu, her father said Saturday.

Amanda Lindhout, 27, had recently arrived in the country with an Australian friend, a man who has also been kidnapped, her father, John Lindhout, told Global National in a telephone interview from his home in Sylvan Lake, Alta.

Lindhout said his information has come from the Department of Foreign Affairs, which has been in contact with him throughout the day. By Saturday evening, the department had not yet publicly confirmed the kidnapped woman's identity.

The High Commission of Canada in Kenya is aware of news reports indicating that a Canadian and an Australian journalist are missing in Somalia," Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Eugenie Cormier-Lassonde said. "Consular officials are in contact with local authorities in an attempt to confirm these reports."

Amanda Lindhout, who has been based in Baghdad, had been on a tour through Africa to put together freelance reports for a French television network. She had been hoping to sell her stories to Canadian broadcasters, as well.

"I work with a team of professionals that I have hired locally, and I have packaged together several 2.5-min reports from Ethiopia and Kenya," Lindhout wrote to Global National in a recent e-mail. "Next week I am going to Somalia to report on the deteriorating security situation as well as the food crisis, which has affected 2.6 million there."

Lindhout started out her career as a photographer and has posted some of her work on the Internet. Since then, she has also worked in Iraq as the Baghdad correspondent for an Iranian television broadcaster, but quit in May to work as a freelancer.

The last entry on her Facebook social networking page, posted Friday, said, "Livin' it up in Mogadishu Somalia."

Since news of Lindhout's possible kidnapping broke, friend have been posting messages on her site, saying they are praying for her and praying that it's not she who has been kidnapped.

Omar Faruk Osman, secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journalists, said in an interview from Mogadishu that his organization has been in touch with the family of Lindhout's "fixer" - typically a local person who helps foreign journalists find their way around and serves as an interpreter. So far, they have been unsuccessful in pinning down details of the two Westerners' disappearance, and who may have been involved.

"They are missing," Osman said. "They were taken, diverted from their car and their fixer" about 15 kilometres outside Mogadishu.

"We know that they didn't come back to their hotel. It was supposed to have been midday and now it's almost 10 in the evening, you know, that they have been missing. . . . But we don't know who is responsible and where they are."

Somalia, torn apart by civil war since 1991, "is most dangerous, and particularly when it comes to foreign journalists," Osman said, adding they are vulnerable to attack by two distinct groups.

One group wants to send a message to the outside world that no authority is truly in control of Somalia, he explained. Kidnapping a foreign journalist, he said, helps "make a lot of noise."

The second group, he explained, doesn't want journalists to see the "conflict, suffering and violence" that prevail in Somalia, and report back on it to their audiences.

"They want to silence the journalists who are the witnesses to these things," Osman said.

In Ottawa, meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs Department advises against all travel in Somalia. The travel advisory, updated July 11 but still valid now, cautions that "Canadians in this country should leave."

The advisory goes on to say that "Canadians who are in Somalia despite this warning, and who are confronted with an emergency, will have to make their way to the nearest embassy or consulate of Canada, or rely on their own resources."

Foreign Affairs also warns: "There is a high security threat in Somalia. Killings and kidnappings continue to occur in all areas of the country and there have been targeted assassinations of foreigners, including journalists, human rights activists, and humanitarian workers."

"The rule of law is virtually non-existent. Outbreaks of violence can arise unpredictably and parties involved are often armed. These violent incidents have resulted in civilian casualties."

Somalia has lacked an effective government since 1991 and Islamists are engaged in guerrilla warfare and deadly clashes with Somali government forces, Ethiopian troops and African Union peacekeepers. The abduction of journalists and humanitarian workers is common and kidnappings are often associated with ransom demands.

With files from Global National

here is some of her work i found