Friday, November 11, 2011

Cuba follows Sweden to combat prostitution

Cuba follows Sweden to combat prostitution

Published: 11 Nov 11 08:13 CET | Double click on a word to get a translation
Cuba is considering implementing the Swedish example in fighting prostitution by penalizing the clients rather than the sex workers, Cuban sexologist Mariela Castro said Thursday.

"Sweden has done a really admirable job and even organizations like CENESEX (Cuban National Center for Sex Education) and the Federation of Cuban Women would like to emulate the Swedish experience," said Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro, in an interview posted on YouTube on Thursday.

Castro made her remarks following a trip to the Netherlands, where she visited Amsterdam's infamous Red Light District.

The sixth Cuban congress on Sex Education, Sex Therapy and Sexual Orientation would take place January 23-26, and according to Castro this would be "a very good opportunity to relaunch the debate on prostitution."

Some 100,000 prostitutes worked in Cuba before the 1959 revolution, according to official figures.

Following a fierce crackdown by the Castro regime, prostitution reappeared with the severe economic crisis that hit the island following the fall of the Soviet Union.

The 49-year-old sexologist, who heads CENESEX, said that "the Dutch experience cannot be replicated" on the communist island, but stressed that Cuba "is considering implementing the Swedish approach, which since 1999 has penalized the client and decriminalized the sex worker."

Is US failing to respond to reform in Cuba?

US-Cuban affairs dominated the confirmation hearing of Roberta Jacobson, acting assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, showing how "out of step" the US is as Cuba forges ahead with reform, writes blogger.

By Anya Landau FrenchGuest blogger / November 11, 2011
Tania Duran (r.) and her husband Fernando Ramiro stand in their home which they have put on the market in Havana, Cuba, Thursday. A new housing law allowing Cubans to freely buy and sell their homes took effect on Thursday. The White House has not explicitly acknowledged that moves like this qualify as reform in Cuba.
Javier Galeano/AP
For the first time in 50 years, Cubans will be able to freely buy and sell their homes. As news of this long-awaited and the biggest yet of Raul Castro’s slow-moving but continuing, irreversible economic reform campaign in Cuba reverberated on and off the island, policymakers in Washington are increasingly – embarrassingly – out of step with what’s actually happening on the island today. It's like the US embargo has become a wax feature at Madame Tussauds: questionably life-like and stuck forever in one moment in time.
As Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson appeared before a Senate committee this week that could make or break her nomination to become assistant secretary, the able career diplomat was forced further and further into the Cuban policy box the Obama administration has needlessly painted itself.
Grilled by Senator Marco Rubio (R) of Florida on the administration’s policies toward the island, Ms. Jacobson repeated that the president's new, more open travel and remittance policies for Cuban Americans and other “certain, very clearly defined” travelers is intended to help foster democracy in Cuba. And, as have other administration officials in the two years since the limited US policy reforms began, she failed to forcefully and unapologetically insist that not only is exposure to Americans better for the Cuban people than is isolation, but that it’s good for the American people too.

Jacobson should have been armed with a sure-footed answer like this:
“Senator, the administration believes increased interaction with Americans is inherently a positive thing that will contribute to a growing sense of openness on the island that the Cuban people already are building for themselves. But just as strongly, we believe that, unlike the Cuban government for many years now, our nation has nothing to fear in letting our citizens travel abroad. We’re confident that these travelers not only bring and share our democratic values with them on their trips, but that they benefit from their studies, exchanges and worship, even and especially if they disagree with practices to which they are exposed while in Cuba.”
But because the administration has never boldly sold its Cuba policies, and has instead chosen to weakly defend them on an as-needed basis, the box into which officials like Jacobson must squeeze gets ever smaller. And it emboldens an unapologetic, almost authoritarian line of questioning from Mr. Rubio, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
“But if our policy ultimately is to foster democracy, wouldn’t we, shouldn’t these groups be evaluated on the basis of what they would do to foster democracy? If a ballet wants to go perform in Cuba, if a sports team wants to go play – shouldn’t we analyze that at least to try to figure out what this would do to try to foster democracy?
Who are you going to get to see, where are you going to get to express yourself, what are you going to do when you are there that actually fosters our foreign policy towards Cuba . . . ”
Surely few Americans would feel comfortable with such a Big Brother-style inquiry into their personal and professional travels. Conducting the government’s foreign policy is usually something best left to its diplomats, not private citizens. It’s a painful irony that Jacobson says we hope these exchanges can take place without “the intervention of the Cuban government,” precisely as the long arm of our own government is, well, intervening in these exchanges.
The smarter approach would be for the administration to finally acknowledge and encourage the biggest structural economic, social, and yes, even political changes underway in Cuba in decades, and to reframe our policy objectives and methods according to the clearly changing context on the island. Instead, we continue to be guided – and boxed in – by what we thought was inevitable in Cuba – total regime change – 20 years ago in the aftermath of the Cold War. The regime is changing, no doubt, as Raul Castro fights a corrupt and resistant bureaucracy, dialogues with the Catholic Church on human rights, and announces term limits for all high level government posts. But it’s not the sort of change we can create or for which we can take any credit in fostering.
As Cuba’s government forges ahead with its own necessary reforms, including, as Raul Castro himself has indicated, coming reforms to Cubans’ rights to travel abroad, America’s willful ignorance looks ever more dated and foolish.
--- Anya Landau French blogs for The Havana Note, a project of the "US-Cuba Policy Initiative,” directed by Ms. Landau French, at the New America Foundation/American Strategy Program.

Syria commits crimes against humanity in Homs: HRW

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian government forces have carried out crimes against humanity as they try to crush opposition to President Bashar al-Assad in the restive province of Homs, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Friday.
It urged Arab League delegates meeting on Saturday to suspend Syria from their organization, ask the United Nations to impose sanctions on individuals responsible, and refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.
"The systematic nature of abuses against civilians in Homs by Syrian government forces, including torture and unlawful killings, constitute crimes against humanity," the group said in a statement accompanying the report.
HRW said Syrian security forces had killed at least 104 people in Homs since November 2, when the Syrian government agreed an Arab League plan aimed at ending the violence and starting a dialogue with Assad's opponents.
Those deaths followed the killings of at least 587 civilians in Homs between April and August, the group said, the highest death toll of any single governorate in the country.
"Homs is a microcosm of the Syrian government's brutality," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The Arab League needs to tell President Assad that violating their agreement has consequences, and that it now supports (U.N.) Security Council action to end the carnage."
The United Nations says 3,500 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on protests which erupted in mid-March, inspired by popular Arab uprisings which have toppled three North African leaders. Authorities blame armed groups for the violence, saying they have killed 1,100 soldiers and police.
Syria has barred most foreign media, making it difficult to verify accounts of opposition activists or officials.
Human Rights Watch said it was also refused access to Syria and described the task of obtaining accurate information as "challenging." Its report was based on interviews with 114 Homs residents, who had either fled to neighboring countries or who spoke via the Internet from inside Syria.
It said security forces had conducted large-scale military operations in several towns in the province, including Homs city and the town of Tel Kelakh on the border with Lebanon.
"Typically, security forces used heavy machine guns, including anti-aircraft guns mounted on armored vehicles, to fire into neighborhoods to frighten people before entering with armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles," Human Rights Watch said.
"They cut off communications and established checkpoints restricting movement in and out of neighborhoods and the delivery of food and medicine."
Thousands of people in Homs -- as in the rest of the country -- were subjected to arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearances and systematic torture in detention, the group said. Most were released after several weeks in detention, but several hundred were still missing.
HRW said it had documented 17 deaths in custody in Homs, at least 12 of which were clearly from torture.
"Torture of detainees is rampant," it said, adding it had spoken to 25 former detainees in Homs, all of whom reported being subjected to various forms of torture.
It quoted one man, held at the Military Intelligence base in Homs, as saying he was beaten with cables and hanged by the hands from a pipe so that his feet did not touch the ground.
"I was hanging there for about six hours, although it was hard to tell the time. They were beating me, and pouring water on me, and then using electric stun guns," he said.
Human Rights Watch said army defections had increased since June and that some residents in Homs had formed "defense committees" armed with guns and even rocket-propelled grenades.
Syria's state media and activists have reported several assassinations in the city over recent weeks of people seen as sympathetic to Assad.
"Violence by protesters or defectors deserves further investigation," Human Rights Watch said. "However, these incidents by no means justify the disproportionate and systematic use of lethal force against protesters."
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Jon Hemming)

Ex-Israeli president to serve 7 years for rape

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the rape conviction of former President Moshe Katsav and ordered him to begin serving a seven-year prison term next month, a landmark decision that culminated a sordid five-year saga.
The rape conviction for the former head of state was hailed as a victory for women's rights and equality under the law, particularly at a sensitive time when Israel's liberal democracy has come under assault from extreme nationalists and the burgeoning ultra-religious minority.
"From this day on, let nobody dare claim that these are women who tried to conspire against the president. Rather they are brave women who must empower all harassed women who are afraid to complain," said Tzipi Livni, Israel's opposition leader and the nation's most prominent female politician.
It also completed the tragic ending for a man whose rag-to-riches story had served as a symbol of success for Mizrahi Jews, those of Middle Eastern descent who for decades were an underclass in Israel. Ordered to report to prison on Dec. 7, Katsav becomes the highest-ranking Israeli official to serve time.
The Iranian-born Katsav, 65, was convicted last December of raping a former employee when he was a Cabinet minister and of sexually harassing two other women during his term as president from 2000 to 2007. He received a seven-year prison sentence in March, but remained free pending his appeal.
Katsav has vociferously professed his innocence since the accusations against him first emerged five years ago, claiming he was the victim of a political witchhunt. And the case against him depended entirely on testimony, fueling a debate in Israel on the difficulties of prosecuting sex crimes.
But in a decisive ruling Thursday, the judges said his testimony had not been credible and accused him of exploiting his status as a high public official.
The former president "fell from the loftiest heights to the deepest depths," Judge Salim Joubran told the hushed court. "Such a senior official should be a role model to his subordinates. Every woman has a right to her own body. A right to dignity. A right to freedom. No one has the liberty to take any of those from her."
Katsav sat stone-faced throughout the session, briefly smiling wryly as it became clear his appeal was being rejected.
Katsav's attorney, Avigdor Feldman, faulted the judges for believing the rape victim despite serious holes in her testimony. "They would have believed her if she said the rape occurred on Venus," Feldman said.
Noya Rimalt, an expert on criminal law and feminist legal theory at Haifa University, said the prosecution prevailed in because of strong witness testimony. "Different women who didn't know each other told similar stories about the way he treated female subordinates. That is what the conviction was based on," she said.
Israel's presidency is a largely ceremonial office, typically filled by a respected elder statesman expected to rise above politics and serve as a moral compass.
The case against Katsav, which broke in 2006 after he told police one of his accusers was trying to extort money from him, shocked Israelis by portraying a man widely seen as a bland functionary as a predatory boss who repeatedly used authority to force sexual favors.
Katsav reluctantly resigned two weeks before his seven-year term was to expire in 2007 under a plea bargain that would have allowed him to escape jail time.
He was replaced by Nobel peace laureate and former prime minister Shimon Peres, whom he had bested in the 2000 presidential race, decided by parliament. But he then rejected the plea bargain, vowing to prove his innocence in court.
The lurid details of the case riveted Israelis. In one memorable moment, Katsav held a news conference in which he accused prosecutors and the media of plotting his demise because he didn't belong to the European-descended elite.
The Iranian-born Katsav moved to Israel as a child, spent time in an immigrant tent camp and grew up in the impoverished southern development town of Kiryat Malachi. Katsav became mayor of the town at the age of 24, and continues to live there.
Prosecutors and women's rights groups proclaimed the verdict a victory in a decades-long struggle to chip away at the nation's macho culture, which once permitted political and military leaders great liberties.
Yet observers noted the country — torn between a generally liberal judiciary, conservative religious currents and lingering gaps between men and women in the workplace — still has a long way to go.
Particularly in Jerusalem, Jewish ultra-Orthodox have tried to impose their social mores on the city. Posters depicting women are a rarity, and advertisers freely admit that they expect billboards with women's faces to be defaced or destroyed by religious vandals. Some buses and health clinics have been gender-separated, and recently, women were shunted onto separate sidewalks in one neighborhood.
In the military, traditionally an important melting pot, officials have considered reassigning some female combat soldiers because religious men don't want to serve with them.
Naomi Chazan, a leading women's rights advocate, called the Katsav ruling a "great victory," but said the issue of gender equality is an "ongoing struggle."
Chazan, president of the New Israel Fund, which supports progressive causes in Israel, pointed to "the ultrareligious extremists who are bent on imposing a very gender-segregated approach" on the public.
"That's the duality of Israeli society: a very liberal strain and a very retrogressive strain," she said.

Syrian forces kill 11, protesters urge Arabs to act

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian security forces killed 11 people on Friday as protesters called on the Arab League to suspend Damascus's membership in response to continued violence, activists said.
Local activists in Homs, which has suffered the highest death toll of any Syrian province since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad broke out in March, said security forces killed seven civilians and one defecting soldier.
Another three people were killed in Hama, they said.
"The people want (Syria's) membership to be suspended," shouted a crowd at a rally in the Deir Baalba district of Homs, appealing to the 22-member Arab League to act against Damascus when it meets in Cairo on Saturday.
"Proud Homs!" they shouted, waving the green, white and black flag used by Syria before the ruling Baath Party seized power nearly 50 years ago.
In Homs alone Syrian security forces have killed at least 104 people since the Arab League initiative was agreed nine days ago, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued on Friday.
"The systematic nature of abuses against civilians in Homs by Syrian government forces, including torture and unlawful killings, constitute crimes against humanity," the group said.
It called on the Arab League to suspend Syria, request the United Nations impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence, and refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.
The United Nations says 3,500 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on the protests, inspired by uprisings which have toppled autocrats in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
Syrian authorities, who have barred most foreign media from the country, blame armed groups for the violence and say 1,100 members of the security forces have been killed.
Alongside the mainly peaceful protests there have been increasing attacks on security forces by army defectors. Activists said at least 30 civilians and 26 soldiers were killed on Thursday, and the daily death tolls this month have been some of the highest since the uprising first erupted.
One banner in the southern Hauran plane reflected the religious element behind some of the protests: "There is no god but God. Assad is the enemy of God," it read.
"Has the Arab League initiative stopped our blood from flowing?" read another at the protest in Deir Baalba.
Arab states remain widely divided over how to deal with Syria's crackdown on protesters after the League's peace deal failed to stem violence, and there is little likelihood a meeting on Saturday will bridge the gap.
Several countries oppose bringing serious pressure to bear on Assad and it looks unlikely that foreign ministers will freeze Syria's membership at the Cairo meeting, officials due to attend say.
Saudi Arabia leads a group of Gulf states including Qatar, Oman and Bahrain that are ready to increase the pressure on Assad, an ally of their rival Iran.
Diplomats say0D
(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans and Laila Bassam in Beirut, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Emma Farge and Muriel Boselli in London; Editing by Myra MacDonald)