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University of Papua New Guinea cancels academic year after student unrest

The Guardian | Protest -

Cancellation comes as a boycott of classes and violent protests continue around the country in response to the shooting of students demonstrating against the prime minister

The University of Papua New Guinea has cancelled the academic year after student boycotts and protests saw the murder of one man and the shooting of eight students by police officers.

Weeks of protests, centred around the prime minister’s avoidance of a police inquiry into corruption allegations, escalated when police fired into a Port Moresby protest march at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) last month.

Related: Papua New Guinea shootings: university wins injunction banning further protests

Related: Papua New Guinea's students have a point. Peter O'Neill should talk to them, not send police | Jonathan Pyke

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What will it take to stop extrajudicial killings in East Africa?

Waging Nonviolence -

by Phil Wilmot

Peaceful demonstrations were held in Kenya and other East African nations to protest the extrajudicial killings of Willie Kimani, Josephat Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri. (Facebook / Law Society of Kenya)

Kenya is often praised as a beacon of democracy and stability in East Africa, but recent squelched demonstrations and recklessness by police have led Kenyans to question whether the benchmarks of their nation’s progress are being quickly eroded.

The discovery of human rights lawyer Willie Kimani’s corpse in a river 43 miles outside of Nairobi on Friday does President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government no favors in soliciting additional support from the Western world.

Kimani had represented client Josephat Mwenda — a motorcycle taxi driver — in a case at Kenya’s Mavoko Law Courts on June 23. After filing complaints against police over a bullet that struck his leg while operating his motorcycle, Mwenda faced allegedly fabricated drug and traffic charges — an effort by police to intimidate him into reneging his official complaints. Shortly after leaving court, the two men and their driver, Joseph Muiruri, were abducted.

A massive search ensued, spearheaded by International Justice Mission, or IJM, which was Kimani’s employer. State authorities were called to action, and word spread quickly to diplomats and larger media houses around the globe. The last person to have seen Mwenda was someone who spotted him — and perhaps others — calling for help from a metal container on a police base, where he tossed out a note on a piece of toilet paper saying, “Call my wife. I’m in danger.”

When little progress was being made in the search for the missing persons, lawyers crowded Kenya’s Supreme Court steps to demand an independent investigation. Kenya’s Flying Squad, accused of extrajudicial killings in the past, was the entity in charge of the investigation.

“The security system has completely failed in its constitutional mandate to protect Kenyan citizens,” said Law Society of Kenya president Isaac Okero, who lauded his colleague Kimani as an exemplary figure for those seeking to fulfill professional mandates as lawyers.

Peaceful demonstrations during the search were too little too late. When Kimani’s body was finally found, it had been stuffed in a sack, his hands still tied behind his back.

“Willie was joyful, funny and persistently positive,” said IJM communications fellow JoAnn Klandrud. “Although he worked in stressful situations under intense pressure, he was seemingly carefree. Over the past several years, police have been responsible for hundreds of murders.”

Few private investigators are truly chomping at the bit to involve themselves in matters like homicides by police. In 2009, Oscar Kamau Kingara and his colleague John Paul Oulu were ambushed in heavy Nairobi traffic, then killed by gunshot wounds. The assailants fled the scene. Kingara, a human rights lawyer and activist, had been investigating and documenting extrajudicial police killings.

The tragedies of Kimani’s death and Kingara’s earlier assassination are points of mourning for anyone anywhere who believes in justice. Unfortunately, they unveil a much broader and escalating concern across the region, where the atmosphere of fear engendered by regular disappearances and executions parallels that of Argentina in the late 1970s and early 80s.

“The incident of Kimani highlights a growing epidemic across East Africa,” said Chemisto Kubai, a public interest lawyer from Mt. Elgon.

According to Pacifique Nininahazwe, Burundi’s most widely-known activist, “Extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances have numbered in the hundreds since the April 2015 protests. [President] Pierre Nkurunziza is determined to exterminate all those who do not think like him.”

Justice for Kimani, Mwenda and Muiruri can only be fully attained if we treat their disappearance and subsequent torture not as a one-off incident, but as one that highlights the growing pattern of disappearances in the region. Unfortunately, a lawyer of significant notoriety from a large international human rights organization had to be among the victims for the movement against such injustices to earn a modest degree of global attention. This shows how dangerous the reality is for less visible activists whose abuse consistently falls upon deaf ears.

Monday protests

Fortunately, Kenya’s citizens are among the better organized populations of East Africa.

On Monday, activists and human rights groups began the work week with a march from Nairobi’s Freedom Corner to deliver petitions to the Supreme Court, police bosses and Parliament. Their demands included calls for the resignation of the inspector general of police and other security personnel. This coincided with a campaign using the hashtag #StopExtrajudicialKillings.

“We have announced that for one week, lawyers will effectively put down their tools,” Okero said. “We are so outraged that we are not in a state that we want to work in.” Boycotts of the courts are ongoing. During the first day, judges and lawyers all across the country stayed home.

The mood of demonstrations was set by the colors used. White T-shirts and coffins were covered in blood red lettering with slogans denouncing extrajudicial killings. According to Cidi Otieno, secretary general of the Coalition for Grassroots Human Rights Defenders, “The abduction and brutal murders of [Kimani, Mwenda, and Muiruri] were a big blow to our struggle … We asked the people to come out in large numbers.”

Across the border in Uganda, Solidarity Uganda and IJM arranged a solidarity vigil to grieve with their neighbors to the east and cast a light on the worrying trends of insecurity facing organizers and human rights defenders in their own country. Attendees, however, wanted to do more than hold a vigil.

“We need to do a physical march or something,” suggested an attendee representing the law firm Niwagaba & Mwebesa Advocates.

The sentiment was echoed by Simon Seyonga of the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development, who said, “We need to make much more noise, even when the space is tight.”

All of the tactics employed in these first few days after the discovery of tortured bodies are mere stepping stones toward attaining justice for those allegedly murdered by Kenyan policemen. Organizers in Kenya want to do more to politicize the funerals. Meanwhile, supporters of the deceased are planning to attend court in large numbers once suspects are arraigned.

Although the intensity of the situation feels overwhelming, a few adjustments can be made by organizers and human rights organizations to initiate the beginning of the end of political kidnappings, torture and extrajudicial killings in East Africa.

Expanding the definition of human rights defenders

Civil society organizations are part of the elite social class in East African countries. Although they may not earn salaries comparable with those of parliamentarians, they wear suits, carry smartphones and are seen driving private cars. Perhaps subconsciously, they develop programs centered on preserving people like them.

This is perhaps one reason why the classification of “human rights defenders,” or HRDs, has been restricted to the likes of employed people of higher social standing: lawyers, journalists and professionals in civil society organizations. There are many programs in East Africa run by organizations and coalitions that aim to protect HRDs, but they are often resistant to support activists and community organizers who may not have the social clout and media value of someone like Kimani. (This is obvious even in this campaign, given the way Mwenda and Muiruri have been largely overlooked.)

Activists on the frontlines of social change have few kind remarks for human rights organizations whose operating licenses — as one Ugandan activist put it — “rest in the hands of the oppressor.” Fear often prevents them from achieving their mission of protecting the most vulnerable.

According to Norman Tumuhimbise, a formerly abducted and tortured Ugandan activist, “Some [human rights organizations] are just moneymakers. They write reports, launch those reports in posh hotels, and then draft proposals for more funding.” He insisted that activists should make their activities transparent to the public to give them more credibility than those of other stakeholders working on similar objectives. “We activists should also blacklist some opportunistic civil society organizations. They are more evil than the state.”

The power of nonviolent social change has demonstrated time and again that victims of a problem do not need intermediaries. There is no reason the most vulnerable people should remain idle and expect civil society organizations with little sense of urgency to represent their interests. Intermediaries can sometimes be used, but “advocacy” is best waged when those most victimized by an injustice discover creative means that do not necessitate the public dialogue being led by voices that speak on behalf of the so-called voiceless.

Strengthening both rapid response and long-term efforts

According to Ugandan activist Hamidah Nassimbwa, who has been jailed on numerous occasions, the first step in engendering a culture of rapid response to disappearances is the educating of citizens in the villages and slums — not in fancy hotels where so many human rights functions take place.

“The public doesn’t know that it’s their role to say ‘no’ to human rights abuses,” she noted. “That’s why they pay when asked for money for police bonds, even thanking the police when their bonds are supposed to be free.”

Apart from educating communities on their rights, a network and system can be created to ensure that the disappeared is declared dead and a vigil is held within 24 hours of any abduction. This will pressure the state to either release the person they are torturing or use its resources to quickly trace the missing person.

Drastic times often call for hasty measures, but losing sight of the long view will only weaken the movement to put an end to the terrorizing of East African citizens.

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo of Argentina, the Ladies in White of Cuba and the Saturday Mothers of Turkey teach us that many years of consistent, solemn demonstrations may be necessary to procure justice for the disappeared. Their movements also illustrate the importance of yielding to the actions and leadership of the family members of victims.

Developing an East African solidarity network

Heads of state in the region are fond of duplicating one another’s tactics. One flips the switch on social media, and the other turns it off the following month. Disappearances are an extreme form of repressing dissent, but rulers in the region have seen how effectively it silences their societies.

Without maintaining a grassroots East African network that is at least competitive with the amount of correspondence and cooperation the political elites are enjoying among themselves, residents of the region are doomed to an ever-shrinking civic space for the foreseeable future.

“East Africans need to collaborate at the regional level to ensure that the various treaties and conventions related to human rights are upheld,” Otieno said, noting that demonstrations in 30 towns across Kenya enabled police to apprehend another suspect of the murders who was still at large following the discovery of the bodies. With broader cooperation, greater achievements could be made. “In countries where public gatherings are impossible, we can use judicial activism and target specific leaders with cases in court.”

Rwanda and Burundi are particularly dangerous countries for those struggling to end state-sponsored injustices. Finding a dead person in the street or at the edge of a body of water is an increasingly normal occurrence.

Many of the Rwandans and Burundians who have spoken out in recent history are now exiled and largely carry out their own struggles with few external allies. Nininahazwe described recently leaving Burundi “clandestinely, since everything was set up for my elimination.” Other activists in the largely French-speaking areas of East Africa declined to comment for this article, citing possible repercussions.

Something must be done to overcome this climate of fear. Lack of engagement with regional neighbors may breed an even worse degree of insecurity in the long term. Resistance to the regional oligarchy can only be carried out by an East African community united amidst its diversity.

In terms of tactical approaches, the consensus in East Africa seems to be that vigils, while a starting point, are far from a sufficient answer to the atrocities perpetuated by death squads and a culture of impunity in the various nations of East Africa. Such acts of solidarity should serve only as catalysts for much more organized cross-border strategies.

IJM staff member Marian Bogere said they organized the vigil for their colleague to “tell Kenya that we care, that we feel their pain with them, that we care about human rights.” Such emotions are a fertile seedbed for an East African alliance against extra-judicial killings.

“We want this to be a watershed moment,” IJM field office director Claire Wilkinson told the press. “We want this to be the turning point for police reform and for police accountability in Kenya.”

Romania reopens 1989 revolution probe amid growing generational divide

Waging Nonviolence -

by Alexandru Predoiu

Embed from Getty Images

Earlier this month, a Romanian court ruled that the investigation into the brutal repression of unarmed demonstrators during the 1989 revolution could be reopened. The decision comes less than a year after the case had been declared classified by the Military Prosecutor’s Office, which — after  overseeing the case for 26 years — said it didn’t have the evidence to prosecute anyone, and blamed the events of 1989 on soldiers firing at one another due to “fatigue and stress.” Interim Prosecutor General Bogdan Licu sought to reopen the case in April, arguing that the previous ruling was illegal and “did not take into account numerous key documents regarding the case.” The High Court of Cassation and Justice of Romania accepted the appeal on June 12, allowing the investigation into the actions of former members of the Romanian Communist Party and high officials from the ministry of interior and armed forces, as well as some civilians, to continue.

The Romanian revolution of 1989, which brought an end to Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorial regime, was part of a series of events that led to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War. Considered one of the bloodiest struggles for liberty in recent history — during which 1,142 people were murdered and more than 2,000 injured or maimed by army and police forces over the course of just nine days — it is still considered an open wound in the Romanian collective memory.

Since then, several thousand police investigations have been opened over the last 26 years. Many people who participated in the revolution formed NGOs to put pressure on the state and its institutions to “find out the truth about who shot at them,” as a famous protest chant of the revolutionaries puts it. But no favorable decisions have been made in Romanian courts. Only the European Court for Human Rights has forced the Romanian state to pay compensation — to just 17 people — while criticizing its institutions and justice system for the way proceedings have been carried out.

At the same time, however, the reputation of the aggrieved revolutionaries has slowly diminished among the general public because for the past two decades the state has been giving special pensions to some participants or families and relatives of the dead as compensation for what happened. As a result, a high number of corruption cases appeared from 2006 to 2012, when it was discovered that approximately 3,500 people — with the help of some NGOs and doctors — had forged papers in order to claim special compensation. Meanwhile, other groups were used by almost all of Romania’s major political parties as paid supporters during protests or counter protests, creating a stigma for several years around anyone protesting in the squares.

The new generation of activists or active citizens, the ones who constitute Romania’s civil society today, has been battling this negative legacy — not just with the politicians in power, but also the former revolutionaries themselves. The breaking point between the old and the new occurred during the 2012 anti-austerity riots, when people from the new generation decided to separate their protest from the revolutionaries by gathering on the opposite end of Bucharest’s University Square, so as to not be associated with the image they projected in society.

The divide between the two generations further solidified during the 2013 Rosia Montana anti-mining protests, during which several new activist groups were founded, isolating the revolutionaries and forcing them to adopt the shouts of large crowds. These groups — like Romania Curata, Activisti Fara Frontiere and Comunitatea Uniti Salvam — differ from the revolutionaries in their opposition to all political parties, focus on concrete issues as opposed to political scandals, and tactics such as marches, human chains, public awareness campaigns and sit-ins. All of this constitutes what some describe as an unbridgeable chasm between the two generations.

Like other young activists, Irina Melente — a member of the samba activist group Rhythms of Resistance — said she understands how 1989 and the revolution gave them the framework, the structure and, to some degree, the freedom to struggle for specific causes, but now the majority of the generation responsible for it has “retreated into the passivity of their lives, disappointed at how post-socialist Romania turned out.” Meanwhile, the only groups remaining active “are without bearing or purpose and easily manipulated by party activists.”

Marius Nastase, a revolutionary who was paralyzed by a bullet that damaged part of his spinal column, agrees with this assessment, saying he feels “disappointed that the solidarity and fire of our generation faded away.” As for the new generation of activists, he said, “We took to the streets thinking of them also, but now they struggle for other things. They are much more organized.”

So far, the only mention of support for the reopened investigation has come in the form of press releases from NGOs representing the revolutionaries. Younger activists seem to feel that the struggle to hold those accountable for the crimes of 1989 is not theirs to wage. Alex Lita — member of the activist group Militia Spirituala — confirmed this by stating, “It would only be legitimate if they [the revolutionaries] act on this. We would surely offer support.” As for the wider Romanian public, which remains skeptical of state institutions and the justice system, it’s likely that only an initial verdict by the court — whether it be a conviction or an acquittal — would cause a reaction.

When asked if he would like to see activists of all generations working together, Nastase smiled and said, “With their organizational and creative capabilities and our grit we would surely make a powerful community.”

Hungary: Statement from Ligetvédők, Occupy City Park Budapest

House Occupation News -

We the Ligetvédők (Occupy City Park Budapest) have been occupying this area for more than 100 days, for we think it is unjust and harmful to transform Városliget (City Park) into a museum district (Liget Budapest Project). We are locals, civilians and experts, among whom many have been protesting for years against this huge prestige-investment.

The propaganda for the Liget Budapest Project investment has been going on for almost 4 years, despite a survey of IPSOS, which shows that 75% of the Budapest citizens are against new buildings in the park and the professional resistance is also massive.
A referendum was started about the Liget Budapest Project, but the government simply created a new law in order to stop it. In the past years we could only take part in fake, pretended conciliations which ignore the common weal. We have demonstrated, protested, collected nearly 100,000 signatures and we organised forums for professionals. We made use of every opportunity to press the contractors of the Liget Budapest Project to take into account the rightful opinions of the professionals and the civilians, as it is about the future of one of the World’s oldest and the inner city’s last real common park. The government’s reaction is a flow of new regulations and laws, that were and are still made in order to let the government do with this park whatever they want.

The City Park has been the property and beloved community place of the citizens of Budapest for 200 years. During this time many children have learned how to bike here, locals come here to run, do yoga, walk dogs, have picnics and even to sledge in the winter. Each year millions of people come around here, who want to be closer to nature.

Many empty or raunchy areas would be available for the government all around Budapest, if they would like to build cultural centres and museums, considering the capital city’s and the locals’ demands. Many alternative plans came into existence years ago to allow that.

The more than 11 billion Forints (Hungarian currency) -from public money- already spent on the project would have been easily enough to renew the unfortunately long-time neglected park. Despite of that, the goverment wants to spend further 250 billion Forints to mutilate the park, by putting up at least 5 monstrous buildings, which would come with cutting down around 1000 trees. This move would worsen the -already bad – quality of the air of Budapest and would cause great environmental damage in the park’s ecosystem.

The plans of the Liget Budapest Project weren’t even ready yet, when in March trees were cut in the planned building area for the Hungarian House of Music. Vigilant and brave activists risking bodily harm stopped the action and the arriving locals occupied the area (which beforehand used to be an open-air pub). The civilians and the professionals, who protested earlier united with the activists, started the Ligetvédők movement and founded the Ligetvédők Camp (Occupy City Park Budapest). For more than 100 days we have been protesting and have been working solely voluntarily as a spontaneous group of individuals so that the demands of the professionals and civilians after all these years can finally be heard.

Many thousands of people have visited our camp,expressed their solidarity and their gratefulness or joined our movement. Our Facebook-page in 3 months got twice as many supporters -without a paid campaign- as the official page of the Liget Budapest Project in more than 2 years, that actually is spending all in all 450 million HUF public money only to advertise their project.

We don’t hold on to ruinous buildings, nor to fatally sick trees. But we insist, that the professionals and the citizens have the right to have a voice in the future of the City Park. So if the citizens don’t approve the planned 300,000 tons of concrete and the bedding plants on the top of deep garages and new buildings (said to be ‘green areas’) instead of the real green spaces with trees and bushes, then no one can decide to take away the common park of Budapest and transform it into a tourist attraction, only so that their self-centered financial interests are gratified.

Let’s take back from the government our last real common park in Budapest, before it is too late!

A letter to the Prime Minister

Peace News -

Teaser: 

On the eve of the publication of the Chilcot report, watch the trailer for "A Letter to the Prime Minister" below and sign up on the web site to see the entire feature length film: http://www.yearzerofilms.co.uk/a-letter-to-the-prime-minister.html

<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/101726517?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="640" height="470" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

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Kenyans protest over alleged extrajudicial killings of trio by police

The Guardian | Protest -

Protesters gather in the capital Nairobi following discovery of bodies of lawyer Willie Kimani, his client and their driver

Hundreds of people have marched in Kenya to protest against the apparent extrajudicial killing by police of a human rights lawyer, his client and their driver.

Demonstrators in Nairobi carried a mock coffin emblazoned with the words “stop extrajudicial killings”. Others wore T-shirts bearing the slogan “stop police executions”. Some carried placards demanding the resignation of senior officials.

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Resisting the extremism of the Dhaka attack with radical love

Waging Nonviolence -

by Tekendra Parmar

Embed from Getty Images

On Saturday, I learned what it means to truly grieve during a national tragedy. Terror was brought to my home in a way that didn’t happen with the attacks in Turkey and Orlando. No longer an abstraction of news-stream violence — Dhaka, I grieve for you with tears in my eyes and my heart in my throat.

At 9:30 p.m. on July 1, seven militants entered a cafe frequented by locals and expats alike in Dhaka, Bangladesh and began a more than 10-hour killing spree that left 20 hostages dead and many others injured. Three of the dead were alumni of my high-school and siblings of my classmates.

Dhaka, despite being the nation’s capital, can feel a lot like a small town, especially in the community of expats with which I spent 18 of my most formative years. Many of us lived in Dhaka only temporarily, but we spent much of the past three days online together, still deeply connected to our former home. Those who are no longer here were our friends, students, family members, and — most importantly — our loved ones.

I grieve for my classmates and their siblings, who the world has so utterly failed. I grieve for their parents, for whom no prayers and no words can begin to console. I grieve for the teachers who taught and loved them. I grieve for my family and the families I do not know.

I have spent the last few days —  as many of my friends and family did — in shock, processing what happened. Some that I spoke to offered prayer. Others swore off religion. Tragedies like this tend to reaffirm our predisposed positions.

Google Street View’s look inside Holy Artisan Bakery, the Dhaka cafe where the attack took place.

Perhaps, in a futile attempt to understand what happened there, I returned to Dhaka through Google’s Street View, walking through placid images of days less heavy with sadness. I walked to my house. To the homes of my loved ones. To school and the expat bars at which we would spend many weekend nights.

My thoughts turned from sadness to anger towards the men who took their lives. I have thought of them as evil and as monsters. But the word evil itself sounds trite and incapable of describing the depravity of their violence. Ultimately, I am left frustrated because no amount of thought can authentically examine the premises and principles from which they committed their crimes. I’m brought back to the words of Israeli writer Amos Elon, who said, “Good can be radical; evil can never be radical. It can only be extreme.”

I fear the violence that occurred in Dhaka on Friday, in Turkey on Tuesday, and in Orlando weeks before that, will manifest in more violence and thought-defying tragedy. To those who are no longer with us, I am sorry we have so devastatingly failed you. For those who are still here, I love you and refuse to let violence incite more violence. May we resist their extremism with true radicalism and confront their hate with radical goodness and love of our world. Please, keep hope alive. God knows we need it.

Zaandam (NL): Old post office squatted

House Occupation News -

On Sunday 26 June a group of squatters and about 25 sympathisers
occupied the old post office on Mahoniehout street.

The building is owned by Merin B.V, which rents out a lot of office and company buildings in the Netherlands. This building, where PostNL was based, has stood empty since they left 2.5 years ago.

Merin BV and the council have been in contact about doing something with the building, but nothing happened. The latest news involved a plan to demolish the building and build care apartments. This was in may 2014 and the permits haven’t been granted.

The action went relaxed. The cops came with four people and asked to check the place to see if it was empty and didn’t contain anything valuable. After a discussion, two cops with eight of us made an inspection, then left. During the action a panic room was in use in case of eviction.

Squatting continues! Also in Zaandam!

Source in Dutch
Translated by tegengif

Rotterdam: Films screened at WORM

House Occupation News -

The film night at WORM back in May was packed out. As promised, here are the films which were screened. These have all been carefully ripped off the internets and subtitled in english. Much respect to all the original film makers and also to Cineac / Pietje Bell Rotterdam, which was great local community television (lots on youtube!). Unfortunately it lost its funding in 2015.

Kraken gaat door! All films listed below:

The films. Follow the links to watch/download and remember to grab the subtitles als je niet nederlands praat..

  1. Presentation of SqEK via a 5 minute film from the previous SqEK conference in Barcelona, 2015. Film on youtube.
  2. Kraakmaraak – gnaef & youpie – 3mins – 2003 (cineac pietje bell). Film. Subs.
  3. Cops & Squatters – NN – 6mins – 2009? Film. Subs.
  4. Hans Pruijt visits the squatted bicycle workshop – 2mins – 2010 (VARA). The workshop still exists in 2016 but in another location. The clip is cut out of a longer piece on national TV about the criminalisation of squatting. Film. Subs.
  5. Rotte Boerderij – 2mins – 2012 – TV Rijnmond (local TV). Film. Subs.
  6. Tour de Squat – 20 seconds – Florian Cramer. Film. No subs. This won’t make much sense without a bit of context, provided by Amy at the film night. In 2008 there was a Tour de Squat in Rotterdam as part of the days of action in support of squats and autonomous spaces. Amy then later made a font out of representations of the squatted social spaces of Rotterdam. She did made a zine and did an exhibition at the Poortgebouw, documented in this clip. SqEK then did the 2016 conference based out of the Poortgebouw and someone used the font to make a wonderful poster. And so the circle became complete!
  7. Een Blok Stad – 2mins – 2010ish Film .Subs. This is a truly disgusting promo video for the gentrified block of Snellinckstraat / Zwaerdecroonstraat. See how squat chic is reappropriated!
  8. The eviction of the fietsenfabriek (bicycle factory) in 1984. Shots were fired by cops. This is an excerpt from a 30minute long look back by Cineac Noord made in the early 2000s. Film. Subs.
  9. The Emmahuis squat. This is a 5 minute excerpt from a longer film by Cineac about the Emmahuis, a beautiful building on the Schiekade. Film. Subs.
  10. To end up, we showed the full 30 minute short film made by Melle in 2000ish and called ‘Squatting in Rotterdam.’ This was shown at least twice by Cineac and it’s a fantastic film! Film. Subs.

Source

Amsterdam: Yet another empty office building SQUATTED!

House Occupation News -

A office building in Amsterdam Noord was squatted successfully this afternoon [3/7/16]. It is one of many empty commercial buildings in the area. The group wants to use the building as a living space and a place for creative activity in the neighborhood. The object is one of many similar empty buildings in the street, most of which have their darkest corners inhibited by anti kraak.

Many thanxxx to all supporters!

Source

Hungary: Call for support from Occupy City Park Budapest

House Occupation News -

Hello! We in Hungary are in deep protest. The government decided to demolish part of our City Park (Városliget). We don’t like this. So on march 17th 2016, when they started to cut down trees, it was enough. Men and women jumped over the fence, broke the barrier and it was over. Since then, we occupy the area. It is a pretty big complex more than 5 buildings, several floors with its own garden and parking area in the middle of this huge park. There are over 20 people living here now. We build, create, imagine. We started actions outside of camp too, with more or less success. This created lot of attention from the public, so the power holders decided to take action. This is where everyone comes into picture. We need help. We need to grow rapidly, to transform. We need people from all over the globe with experience in nonviolent protest. We have food, place to sleep, love to share. Please please help us with your presence.

Statement from Ligetvédők, Occupy City Park Budapest

We the Ligetvédők (Occupy City Park Budapest) have been occupying this area for more than 100 days, for we think it is unjust and harmful to transform Városliget (City Park) into a museum district (Liget Budapest Project). We are locals, civilians and experts, among whom many have been protesting for years against this huge prestige-investment.

The propaganda for the Liget Budapest Project investment has been going on for almost 4 years, despite a survey of IPSOS, which shows that 75% of the Budapest citizens are against new buildings in the park and the professional resistance is also massive.
A referendum was started about the Liget Budapest Project, but the government simply created a new law in order to stop it. In the past years we could only take part in fake, pretended conciliations which ignore the common weal. We have demonstrated, protested, collected nearly 100,000 signatures and we organised forums for professionals. We made use of every opportunity to press the contractors of the Liget Budapest Project to take into account the rightful opinions of the professionals and the civilians, as it is about the future of one of the World’s oldest and the inner city’s last real common park. The government’s reaction is a flow of new regulations and laws, that were and are still made in order to let the government do with this park whatever they want.

The City Park has been the property and beloved community place of the citizens of Budapest for 200 years. During this time many children have learned how to bike here, locals come here to run, do yoga, walk dogs, have picnics and even to sledge in the winter. Each year millions of people come around here, who want to be closer to nature.

Many empty or raunchy areas would be available for the government all around Budapest, if they would like to build cultural centres and museums, considering the capital city’s and the locals’ demands. Many alternative plans came into existence years ago to allow that.

The more than 11 billion Forints (Hungarian currency) -from public money- already spent on the project would have been easily enough to renew the unfortunately long-time neglected park. Despite of that, the goverment wants to spend further 250 billion Forints to mutilate the park, by putting up at least 5 monstrous buildings, which would come with cutting down around 1000 trees. This move would worsen the -already bad – quality of the air of Budapest and would cause great environmental damage in the park’s ecosystem.

The plans of the Liget Budapest Project weren’t even ready yet, when in March trees were cut in the planned building area for the Hungarian House of Music. Vigilant and brave activists risking bodily harm stopped the action and the arriving locals occupied the area (which beforehand used to be an open-air pub). The civilians and the professionals, who protested earlier united with the activists, started the Ligetvédők movement and founded the Ligetvédők Camp (Occupy City Park Budapest). For more than 100 days we have been protesting and have been working solely voluntarily as a spontaneous group of individuals so that the demands of the professionals and civilians after all these years can finally be heard.

Many thousands of people have visited our camp,expressed their solidarity and their gratefulness or joined our movement. Our Facebook-page in 3 months got twice as many supporters -without a paid campaign- as the official page of the Liget Budapest Project in more than 2 years, that actually is spending all in all 450 million HUF public money only to advertise their project.

We don’t hold on to ruinous buildings, nor to fatally sick trees. But we insist, that the professionals and the citizens have the right to have a voice in the future of the City Park. So if the citizens don’t approve the planned 300,000 tons of concrete and the bedding plants on the top of deep garages and new buildings (said to be ‘green areas’) instead of the real green spaces with trees and bushes, then no one can decide to take away the common park of Budapest and transform it into a tourist attraction, only so that their self-centered financial interests are gratified.

Let’s take back from the government our last real common park in Budapest, before it is too late!

roll [dot] ligetvedok [at] gmail [dot] com

UPDATE 07-07-2016: We have been evicted from the squat by heavy police force, like 300 policemen for the 20 inhabitants. Now we are camping in front of the former squat, we are building up a tent camp. Anyone experienced with situation like this is more than welcomed.

Berlin: Rigaer 94 Action Day

House Occupation News -

Each day is Day X until we got Kadterschmiede back
…and until the existence of Kanal, Linie, Potse/Drugstore, M99 is no longer threatened.
The list of projects in Berlin facing eviction is long. The pressure on alternative living spaces and other places where me can meet up, exchange our ideas and develop alternatives is constantly increasing. So is our anger. We’re pissed off.

On June 22nd cops broke into R94 at 7:30am without prior notice. They were sent by a politician acting on the demands of a former Aparheit attourney. In the following process of eviction they destroyed most of Kadterschmiede, the yard and the ground floor and threw out everything that was left. Since then the rest of the house is under siege by securities and cops.

The people living in R94 have been assaulted verbally, physically and sexualized by the besiegers. They have lost any kind of privacy and are facing random controls when entering their home. People without papers who had been living in the house so they don’t have to face the dehumanizing situations in the Lager (=official refugee camps) before the attack had to rashly leave their homes and have been unable to return.

Pawel Kapica, the property manager, issued a press release saying that the evicted parts of R94 will be transformed into living spaces for refugees. The rooms are supposed to be rented according to the Berliner Mietspiegel which dictates how much rent you can charge. The absurdity of the situation lies in there because the organisations usually renting places for refugees (like LaGeSo or Jobcenter) do not pay that much rent. Therefore the living spaces that are currently being built will not be accessible to refugees.

Aside of that anybody moving into such a space would still be subject to constant control by securities and cops inside the Gefahrengebiet (the so called ‘danger zone’ that the Senate declared in Nordkiez. It gives them a lot of additional rights like random stops & searches, ID checks or temporary bans from the entire area).

For more than 26 years the housing projects in Rigaerstrasse have been places of self organisation in an area massively affected by gentrification. The struggle and resistance of people living in the projects together with their neighbours are the reason why Rigaerstrasse doesn’t look like other parts of Berlin which are dominated by luxury housing and mirror finish fronts.

The Senate of Berlin established a Gefahrendgebiet in and around Rigaerstrasse more than 8 months ago to try and control as well as intimidate the people living there by constant police presence.

They were unable to stop the resistance inside the quarter and we will do do everything to keep Rigaerstrasse as an untamable place where we can try and live together in a way we chose.

The current state of siege is unbearable for Rigaer and the entire quarter surrounding it, yet the resistance against it is diverse and ongoing.
We do not want cops in our quarter, no Gefahrengebiet, no Gentrification and especially nobody who decides how refugees have to live here other than themselves.
We struggle for a society living in solidarity instead of capitalism. For more squats and for a quarter shaped by resistance.

There will be a public hearing in court to get back Kadterschmiede on the fifth of July at 10am. The court adress is Landgericht Berlin, Littenstrasse 12-17, 10179 Berlin. Show up at the hearing!

Lets turn the entire city into a Gefahrengebiet for the state that day. Prepare yourselves and organize actions in solidarity with self organized projects. Be out of control, angry and creative. For a life without Lager, for self organized spaces and autonomous structures. Be on the lookout for announcements. There will be an information telephone, we will publish the number in the next days.

You can ask for sleeping places, contact the email address below:

schlafboerserigaer [at] inbox [dot] lv
https://rigaer94.squat.net/
#Tag14

source: http://rigaer94.squat.net/2016/07/03/r94-action-day-05-07-2016/

Stockholm: A new squat cracked today!

House Occupation News -

Why we have occupied and established the New Neighborhood Auditorium in Hagsätra – a statement

Hagsätra, a predominantly low income suburb in southern Stockholm previously dominated by affordable public housing, has been sold off in its entirety to private landlords. Most of it now belongs to the Ikea-owned corporation Ikano, who already many years ago purchased the suburb’s center square and whose presence in the suburb is daunting. Upon arrival with the metro you are greeted by 15 massive flags that tower over the square. The flags of Ikano. Fairs and events arranged for locals are called Ikano—something. A youth center that was publicly funded and on the center square was suddenly closed some years ago and moved to the back side of a building facing the highway at the fringe of the suburb. This youth center is now run by Ikano and they have hired permanent security staff to surveil the few teenagers who go there. It is reasonable to assume that this is part of an effort to clear out unwanted elements from their central property. Just as the overall ambition with their whole turf is to raise property value, which effectively means clearing out current unwanted elements from the residential population. The method is simple: make it economically impossible to stay.

Over the years, our local activist group, Linje 19, has repeatedly tried to gather support against Ikano through smaller protests but each time been ushered off the premises. Premises which legally should be public space, a public plaza. Our attempts to announce meetings and statements about the corporation have all been swiftly removed. The heavy ownership presence comes with a severe democratic deficit, infringing on an otherwise legally protected freedom to express dissatisfaction or outrage with power. Residential efforts to intervene with renovation plans and rising costs have been counteracted by the company through an ever changing slew of tactics. No negotiation meetings are ever held with more than one household at a time, resulting in a lack of communication possibilities between residents and a missed opportunity to face the company with a collective voice. Democracy is an ever diminishing luxury in the area.

When the last remaining public housing in our suburb was sold out by the city in 2012 (a total 1700 apartments sold in a single chunk), with Mayor Sten Nordin and his accomplice Joakim Larsson at the wheel, they argued that the sale would generate “economic space in the company [Svenska Bostäder – public housing company] that can be used for ie. the renovation of existing properties as well as the construction of new rental apartments” (Statement 2012 Dnr023-344/2012). There has been no indication that we will ever see the benefits of that deal here. Resources have plainly been taken from us. And sold to the benefit of the profits of a private corporation. This has been a part of the city’s policy of “revitalizing the city” through urban renewal driven by private businesses and outside investment. The policy rests ultimately on a demand on the residents. We are forced to prove our validity in the area by way of money. Common spaces are replaced with commercial enterprises, where only those who can afford to at all times be a paying customer can remain with any dignity.

Ikano is an enterprise enjoying particularly favorable conditions in terms of profit on homes. Ikano Bostad bought the housing stock cheap, from a government eager to get rid of every last bit of public domain. To make the purchase, Ikano takes loans from their own bank, Ikano Bank. The interests on the loans are thereby collected by the very same family. They then make all the renovation material purchases from their very own father, Ingvar Kamprad, the owner of Ikea. Installing new Ikea kitchens where no new kitchens are necessary but which nonetheless secure a higher market value on the apartment. This in turn prompts a rent increase of 63%. The company is in other words given by way of this huge wholesale a monstrous subsidy from the government, with which they can make even more money, collected from individual residents. These residents are given no say on what renovations they consider necessary or what renovations they really can afford. Ikano Bostad has effectively shown that they are impervious to the economic realities of the residents. Or rather: they are interested in realities matched by residents who can afford their profit scheme. Those who find that they certainly want their homes back are forced to face a life of higher costs and increased poverty, and those who cannot afford to move back in to their previous apartment, post-renovations, need move somewhere else, who knows where. A major portion of the renovated housing stock is thereby made available to new tenants with greater purchasing power.

We have, for all the reasons mentioned above, decided to occupy and open up a space that has long been missing from Hagsätra – to serve a need that has long been neglected. The building we occupy is fortunately still owned by the municipality, but is also the last remaining Hagsätra structure in public ownership. It has not been in use for over ten years and we consider this to be a waste of our common resources. The decision to privatize the center and sell off all public housing was never an idea rooted in the population. We need a space – the only space with this potential left in the area – to discuss our discontent and to plan democratically and collectively a way of dealing with the vulgar conditions of this community. Incidentally, the space we have opened up is an old auditorium, previously utilized by the adjacent school but which they no longer can afford to rent. The school would benefit greatly from having access to this beautiful auditorium but the staff is not at liberty to take it into use as we, the people, are.

Therefore, this occupation is a necessity and a responsibility. By creating a space where we can meet and discuss how to win back power over our part of the city, we are simultaneously introducing a common space that has been lacking, opposing the recent onslaught of privatization, and resisting the subsequent economic eviction epidemic facing so many residential areas today. These buildings may belong to someone else, but these homes belong to us. And knowing that the very homes we invest so much of our living energy into so easily become tools for maximizing profits, we see that the current property relations determining the lives of people in Hagsätra cannot continue. Working people have paid for the maintenance of these structures ever since they were built. Working people have made these neighborhoods what they are. Obviously, then, working people shall decide and manage over them, collectively. We demand that all those now living in Hagsätra be able to stay, and that the properties be returned to the public commons: de-privatized.

Welcome to the New Neighborhood Auditorium, Glanshammarsgatan 9 in Hagsätra!
If you can’t make it, you are welcome to visit our website.

Avprivatisera Hagsätra
http://www.hagsatra.se/

Thousands march in London for Brexit protest - video

The Guardian | Protest -

Thousands have taken the streets of London to protest against the EU referendum results on Saturday. The march, started at Park Lane and directed to Parliament Square, saw many protesters waving EU flags and banners saying ‘We love EU’, ‘March for Europe’, ‘Can’t live without EU’ and ‘Don’t go Brexit my heart’

Continue reading...

'We are the 48%': tens of thousands march in London for Europe

The Guardian | Protest -

‘We’ve been disenfranchised and hoodwinked,’ say protesters as hotel chambermaids come to the windows to cheer

The hollow, bitter wit of the banners and placards was a fair indication of who took to the streets of London, in their tens of thousands, on the March for Europe on Saturday, hastily scrambled on Facebook. “And if this isn’t big enough,” said Jonathan Shakhovskoy, who is with a marketing firm in the music industry, “we’ll do it again next week, and the week after. Normalise the mood, make it less ugly.”

“Un-Fuck My Future”, “No Brex Please, We’re British”, they read. Pictures of Whitney Houston with “I Will Always Love EU”, “Europe Innit” and “I wanna be deep inside EU”. “All EU Need is Love”, “Fromage not Farage”, “Eton Mess” and, more seriously, “Science Needs EU”. “Hell no, we won’t go!” they shouted, rounding Piccadilly Circus.

Continue reading...

Brexit live: thousands 'march for Europe' in post-referendum protest

The Guardian | Protest -

People take to the streets of London and other centres across the UK to demonstrate against the vote to leave the EU

11.46am BST

The Conservative leadership contender Andrea Leadsom appears to have taken a swipe at the frontrunner, Theresa May, saying the next leader must be a Brexit supporter rather than someone “who is reluctantly following the wishes of the people”.

11.45am BST

Brexit is coming...

Game of Thrones themed anti-Brexit artwork... pic.twitter.com/dW30drjeAi

11.42am BST

Guido Fawkes reports that the Daily Telegraph has taken down an article by Jonathan Foreman headlined Theresa May is a great self-promoter, but a terrible Home Secretary after pressure from her campaign.

11.31am BST

More scenes from the march.

Crowds are swelling on Park Lane at the start of the anti-Brexit march to parliament pic.twitter.com/PyPsUuIguO

#marchforeurope - we are standing up against liars, broken promises and racism pic.twitter.com/Iv4AukOFy8

11.26am BST

Crowds are swelling in Park Lane at the start of the march to Parliament Square against the Brexit vote. Protesters waving EU flags and clutching home-made banners and placards are preparing to walk through the streets of central London.

11.19am BST

The finest wits in Britain have been busy with their placards for today’s march it seems.

Frontage Not Farage #marchforeurope #fromagenotfarage pic.twitter.com/Ezr56HvZtD

11.15am BST

Momentum, the grassroots movement that supports Jeremy Corybn, has dismissed claims that the Labour leader could resign after being offered a settlement that would ensure his top priorities were maintained under his successor.

11.05am BST

Still confused by what must rank as one of the wildest weeks in UK politics? Let Michael White take you by the hand and explain the Brexit vote aftermath.

Related: The Brexit vote aftermath, explained: a wild week in UK politics

11.02am BST

And they’re off - the London march starts on Park Lane near Hyde Park Corner and will proceed down Piccadilly, Pall Mall and Whitehall before ending at Parliament Square, where speakers will address the crowd.

Marching once again of a Saturday #marchforeurope pic.twitter.com/NblYsHy9hI

10.58am BST

The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, is attending the march in London today.

Looking forward to talking at the #marchforeurope rally tomorrow - lots of @LibDems members coming

10.53am BST

Welcome to our Brexit live blog, with full coverage of the March for Europe taking place in central London and other towns and cities around the UK today.

Labour’s David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, tweeted this call to arms last night:

Join me @OwenJones84 and @CatherineWest1 and many thousands more tomorrow. Make your voice heard #marchforeurope pic.twitter.com/amNMiZyovB

Continue reading...

Hungary: The plight of a Budapest city park

House Occupation News -

In the last few days the Hungarian media has been full of stories about clashes among three groups in Budapest’s famed park Városliget (City Grove): the so-called “grove defenders” (ligetvédők), members of a private security firm recruited from skinheads hanging around football stadiums to protect the demolition/construction crew, and the Hungarian police.

Városliget is one of the oldest city parks in the world, dating to around 1810, although work on it continued through most of the nineteenth century. By now Városliget definitely needs a face-lift to restore it to its former beauty. But what’s going on right now, in the opinion of the grove defenders, is the destruction of the park as a public space for recreation as well as a source of respite from all the stone and brick that makes up Budapest, especially its Pest half. It is being turned into a “museum quarters.”

Viktor Orbán, most likely at the suggestion of the director of the Museum of Fine Arts, László Baán, decided on the creation of a museum quarters. But the idea of clustering museums was in reality just attractive packaging of what amounted to an eviction notice. Several galleries currently housed in the former royal palace must move because Viktor Orbán wants to put the core of his government where in his opinion it belongs, the ancient seat of the Kingdom of Hungary.

And so the Castle District will become the prime minister’s domain and the city park will be turned into the site of some hideous architectural reproductions. Miklós Gáspár Tamás (TGM) put it this way: “Everybody knows what is happening in Városliget. An uneducated, nouveau riche, parvenu political right wants to pay tribute to the sanctified memory of the House of Habsburg, but they must be satisfied with a third-rate fake of the days of Horthy.”

Indeed, billions of forints will be spent and thousands of trees will have to be cut down to create this absolutely unnecessary project to which, on top of everything else, the people of Budapest strongly object. In February Ipsos, a Hungarian polling company, posed several questions, all concerning the future of the Castle District and the fate of Városliget. The overwhelming majority opted for the renovation of the park and against erecting new buildings within the park. In fact, 85% of those surveyed wanted to have more parks in Pest and thought that another park could be fashioned out of the region lying behind the Western Station. A proposal to hold a referendum on the question was turned down by the Kúria, Hungary’s highest court. By now it should be clear to everyone that a referendum can be held in Hungary only if it is in the interest of the government. And surely, given public sentiment in Budapest, the results would have put an end to Viktor Orbán’s dreams.

Who are the “grove defenders”? As far as I can ascertain, we are talking about a group of 40 or 50 people who decided on March 17 to occupy a part of the park where one of the existing buildings is to be razed and a modern building, House of Hungarian Music, designed by the Japanese architect Suo Fujimoto, is to be erected. Ever since mid-March there has always been a small group of people on site to make sure that no demolition work can begin. They are a varied lot. There are environmentalists who chain themselves to trees. There are urban planners and architects who have grave reservations about the kind of “restoration” the Orbán government has in mind, at least in the case of two of the buildings: the Hungarian Museum of Engineering and Transportation and the Városliget Színház.

The Városliget Színház, built in 1874, was razed in 1952. Looking at an old photo of it, I see no particular reason to rebuild it, which is not in accordance with acceptable restoration practices in the first place.

The Városligeti Szinház

The Museum of Transportation, which was heavily damaged during World War II, was restored in a truncated form sometime in the 1950s. The government plans to raze the building and rebuild the horrendous original.

The original Museum of Transportation

It will not look any better

Although the majority of Budapesters object to the whole project, very few have been ready to keep vigil at the park to keep the demolishing crew of Bont-Tör Zrt. (Wrecking and Breaking Co.) away from the old museum building. But those who did were not ready to move, and it was almost inevitable that sooner or later there would be a showdown with the company’s private security contingent. In the end even the police decided to enter the fray.

The grove defenders maintain that the private security forces and the police work together. Eventually some of the demonstrators managed to get to the building and chained themselves to the iron bars on the windows, from where the police eventually moved them one by one. About thirty people were removed in this fashion. In the scuffle some of the demonstrators were injured. For example, Imre Mécs (82), a hero of the 1956 Revolution, was knocked over.

The most spectacular event of Wednesday was the ascent of Gergely Komáromy, the leader of a reggae band and one of the grove defenders, to the very top of the chimney of the building. After spending a few hours there, he eventually came down on his own. The police immediately handcuffed him, forced him into a car, and took him to a rehab center. The story from here on is murky. The police’s story doesn’t jibe with his own.

Gergely Komáromy on top of the chimney

Meanwhile, the skinhead security guards had lost patience with the demonstration. When Komáromy again climbed to the top of the roof yesterday, he was followed by three or four guards, one of whom hit him in the pit of his stomach. He collapsed. This time he was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The security guards denied any wrongdoing, but since then a video taken by a smartphone emerged on which one can clearly see the blow. Judging from the short video, I’m not surprised that, as Komáromy told reporters after his release from the hospital, he felt in mortal danger atop that building surrounded by muscle-bound skinheads. As one of the reporters of Index wrote tonight, just watching the video is a harrowing experience, and what is especially upsetting is that the police officers who were present didn’t move a finger. The work must go on because Viktor Orbán is intent on moving to the Castle.

Source: Hungarian Spectrum http://hungarianspectrum.org/2016/07/01/the-plight-of-a-budapest-city-park/

Veterans lead fight against sexual assault in the military

Waging Nonviolence -

by Nan Levinson

Embed from Getty Images

By the Pentagon’s own estimate, some 20,300 sexual assaults involving the U.S. military took place in the last fiscal year. About one quarter, or 6,083, of those were reported; 543 cases came to court martial by the year’s end; in 413 of those cases, the accused was found guilty; and 331 of them were imprisoned. Do the math and you’ll find that about one in 60 of the estimated sexual attacks in the military last year resulted in j­ail time.

At a moment when it seems that everyone with thumbs and a keyboard has weighed in on the rape case at Stanford University, less attention is being paid to sexual aggression in the military, where it is more likely to occur and nearly inconceivable that a similar kind of viral shaming would follow. Civilian-military comparisons are approximate at best: Sexual assault statistics are notoriously unreliable and susceptible to confirmation bias, and the Pentagon’s count includes attacks on family and other civilians, as well as on servicemembers. Still, it appears that while reporting and conviction rates are low for both, in recent years about four times as many sexual assaults have been reported in the military as in the general U.S. population.

The stories behind these statistics are complicated, ramifying and sad. Victims, or survivors —  the terms are controversial — report being spat on, jerked off over, drugged, stalked, bitten, beaten, raped, gang raped, and raped on multiple occasions. Underreporting is rampant because victims have little faith in the military justice system and treatment of what the VA labels military sexual trauma, or MST, is spotty or misdirected.

The women and men who are attacked tend to be young and clustered in the lower ranks — a 2015 Defense Department report found that female privates and corporals made up the largest group of sexual assault complainants — while their attackers are most often of higher rank. Frequently, they are supervisors, who are in a position to make their victims’ lives miserable. Those brave enough to report an assault are ignored, undermined, belittled, blamed, ganged up on, ostracized, punished disproportionately for unrelated infractions, accused of being weak or complicit, and ordered not to pursue action because it would ruin their abusers’ careers, when it is usually their careers that are ruined.

Quitting is an option with serious repercussions — servicemembers are legally bound to complete their contracts and face potential jail time for going AWOL — and victims are often drummed out of the military with less-than-honorable discharges for “personality disorders” they do not have, making it difficult for them to get health care for problems they do have. According to a new report by Human Rights Watch, victims who report are 12 times more likely to face retaliation as a result of that report than to see their abuser convicted for the crime.

Panayiota Bertzikis, U.S. Coast Guard rape survivor, holds a sign with the statistics on rape from 2011. The frequency of rape within the military has increased since then. (My Duty to Speak/Sand Angel Media

Panayiota Bertzikis, the founder of the Military Rape Crisis Center and a victim of rape when she was in the Coast Guard, summed it up: “The only options out are going AWOL or suicide.”

Sexual violence against women has been going on in the military since the 1940s, according to Ann Wright, a retired colonel in the Army Reserves, and a tireless advocate for women soldiers. It has no doubt been going on against men longer, but that was even more hidden. Reporting has improved, but the extent of the problem has varied only slightly since the Defense Department began its annual accounting in 2004.

The United States military is big, powerful and resistant to change, especially by outsiders. Veterans, particularly those who have been victims of sexual predation and know how the military functions, have been at the forefront of attempts to improve the situation. Regardless of what anyone thinks about the military, soldiers — like everyone else — deserve to be safe from sexual harassment, violence and retaliation. And while civilians may not be able to change military culture much, they can create systems of oversight, hold military leaders accountable, and reorient the thinking of young servicemembers, who may someday be in command. So activists, NGOs, politicians, lawyers, filmmakers and other artists have been working with veterans to raise public awareness, pass legislation, and pressure the military to take care of all its members.

Most recently, advocacy has focused on passing the Military Justice Improvement Act, or MJIA, which would remove the decision over which cases to prosecute from commanders and give it to impartial and trained military legal officers. In the military justice system, senior officers are advised by military lawyers, called staff judge advocates, who investigate cases and recommend whether and how to go forward with charges. The final decision, however, rests with the commanders, who are the convening authorities.

Commanders, who set the “command climate” — the culture — for their units, have greater power over the people below them than in any other national institution. They control careers, living situations, safety, health care, and community status. So, what’s known as “command influence” doesn’t have to be explicit; it’s built into the system and everyone knows it.

Military attorneys, like civilian attorneys, want to win their cases and they represent their clients to the best of their abilities. This can put them at odds with a convening authority, who may have conflicting priorities. That’s not to say that commanders want sexual assaults in their units, but that those priorities can get in the way of justice and deterrence. The way around this, reformers say, is to relocate the decision-making authority to avoid bias and favoritism.

To civilians, this probably doesn’t seem like an extreme position, and everyone from Samantha Bee to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council has endorsed the change, but many in the military and Congress consider it too radical. Opponents of MJIA argue that the command climate is central in dealing with sexual abuse and that taking the decisions away from commanders undermines their authority and capacity to establish good order and discipline.

In the beginning was an article on Salon.com by Helen Benedict, a writer and journalism professor at Columbia University, who had become aware of sexual assault in the military through interviews she was doing for her book, “The Loneliest Soldier.” Among her readers were independent documentary filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, who began looking into the issue. They found, Ziering said, “that the problem was widespread, systemic and occurring at epidemic numbers.” She and Dick painstakingly tracked down victims, convinced them to go public, and filmed their searing and tearful stories, along with interviews with their families, retired officers, members of Congress, and a remarkably clueless then-director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Resource Office, or SAPRO. The result was “The Invisible War,” released in 2012.

The award-winning film was screened on the Hill, where Ziering made sure key legislators saw it. Gillibrand was among the viewers. Galvanized, she took up the issue and hasn’t let it go, while the film continues to make waves. Two days after then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saw it, he moved Defense Department policy a step closer to the MJIA reform and helped establish the Special Victims Counsel Program to enhance victims’ rights. “The Invisible War” is now shown on military training bases and, Ziering reports, resonates on college campuses. “It was the first time in my lifetime when the focus somewhat shifted from perpetrators to victims,” she said. “People listened to survivors’ voices in a way not heard before.”

Embed from Getty Images

Ziering and Dick continued to work closely with Gillibrand, and when she first introduced the MJIA in 2013, it looked like it might pass. Many senators were outraged by a series of high-profile sex crimes in the military and Gillibrand had lined up widespread bipartisan support. Even Ted Cruz had signed on. Then Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, Jr., who was, at that time, the second highest ranking officer in the U.S. military, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that commanders were tougher on military sex offenders than civilian law enforcement officials. “I worry that we are going to have fewer prosecutions if we take it outside the chain of command,” he said. As evidence, he cited 93 instances in the prior two years in which a commanding officer had pursued a case when civilian authorities had declined it.

There was no particular reason to believe Pentagon statistics. Even the Pentagon doesn’t seem to believe them much of the time. But enough senators apparently did believe Winnefeld to scuttle the MJIA; it won a majority the first time it came to a vote in 2014, but not big enough to override a filibuster, and was defeated again in 2015. Instead, the Senate unanimously passed the Victims Protection Act, watered-down legislation promoted by Sen. Claire McCaskill that added some review processes, but left decision-making within the chain of command.

Now it turns out that Winnefeld’s testimony wasn’t true. Protect Our Defenders, or POD, a nonpartisan advocacy organization, requested files for the 93 cases, combed through the information they were able to get a hold of, and gave summaries to the Associated Press, which was also looking into Winnefeld’s claims. They found that the information he gave the committee was inaccurate, incomplete or misleading, and that there was no evidence that commanders were more stringent than prosecutors, civilian or military.

Senators do not like being lied to. Meetings and explanations were demanded. McCaskill, MJIA’s leading opponent, was quoted as saying, “If the military was sloppy or misleading in the way they presented information, I’ll go after them with my claws bared.” When the Defense Department finally did respond with a less-than convincing affirmation of Winnefeld’s claim, nine senators wrote to Obama to request an independent investigation.

Gillibrand hoped to add MJIA to the defense spending bill this year, but it was not even allowed to come up for debate when the Senate passed the defense authorization on June 14.

Don Christensen attempts to deliver 100,000 petitions to fix the broken military justice system to the White House, with Samantha Jackson (right), a civilian victim of military sexual assault, and Navy whistleblower Paula Coughlin (left) on May 24. (Protect Our Defenders)

Don Christensen, president of POD, was still in uniform, a colonel in the Air Force, when their investigation began two years ago. As chief prosecutor, he had brought more sexual assault cases to court martial than any other Air Force lawyer, often on the defense side, so he had a ground-level view of the system. In the latter part of his career, the blatant favoritism he saw from commanders toward the accused wore on him and he brought it up to the leadership. “I was shot down,” he said succinctly.

What he calls his “watershed moment” came in 2012 after he won a conviction of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson for sexually assaulting his civilian house guest. Such convictions of high-ranking officers are rare, so it was a triumph — until the commanding officer overturned the jury’s verdict months later. (As a consequence, the military justice code was modified to bar that from happening.)

Christensen continued to criticize command efforts to protect perpetrators and punish victims, meet with politicians, and push for change. This time, the punishment was his. He had hoped to end his career as a trial judge, but instead he was demoted to a judgeship on an appellate court.

“Commanders were stopping justice from happening,” Christensen said. “I knew it had to be changed and I knew it couldn’t be changed within the military. The Defense Department will absolutely destroy anyone on active duty who speaks out in favor of justice reform publicly. It is 100 percent a career-ender.” He retired early and went to work with POD.

The family of a sexual assault victim and Protect Our Defenders protested outside an Air Force Base in Arizona on April 25, 2013. (Protect Our Defenders)

The military is given too much deference by civilians, including politicians, he observed, and will change only when it is forced to — by Congress or the president or, eventually, perhaps, by the pressures of recruitment. “The military relies on a volunteer force and a faith in a volunteer force,” he explained. “As the military’s inability to have a fair and impartial justice system becomes more known with the American public, there will be fewer moms and dads willing to let their children go into the military.”

Military and government officials insist that eliminating sexual assault is a high priority — “zero tolerance” is a favorite meme — and the Pentagon has promulgated numerous changes over the past decade. At first, the need was simply to get the military to acknowledge that there was a problem, which it began to do systemically in 2005, by establishing SAPRO. Significant reforms came with the Defense STRONG Act, which guaranteed access to a military lawyer, eased victims’ transfers to safer duty stations, ensured confidentiality of communication with advocates and counselors, and ramped up rape prevention training. It was signed into law in 2012, and the following year, sexual assault reporting doubled.

Commanders still had near-total power and little accountability, so some activists, survivors and allies looked to the courts for remedy. Five years ago, Bertzikis and 16 other servicemembers sued two former defense secretaries, charging them with mishandling their cases. The lawsuit failed, as did subsequent similar ones. Susan Burke, the crusading attorney who brought most of the suits, contended in an email that they were dismissed “because the government successfully argued that rape is ‘incidental to’ or essentially an occupational hazard of military service.” She is currently trying another tack: Last year, she brought a lawsuit on behalf of four former servicewomen who had been assaulted, asking, not for damages, but for an injunction against allowing commanders who have committed assault or harassment to be the convening authority on such cases. With support from the American Association of University Women’s Legal Advisory Fund, the lawsuit is going forward, separate from any legislative action.

Even if that lawsuit were to triumph or MJIA were finally enacted, however, rape and retaliation in the military are not going to disappear quickly. So the primary questions now are what support can be provided to survivors and how can change in the military be pushed forward?

Bertzikis believes that reform needs to come from the top and she is not easily appeased. “They want us to believe everything is great, that it has improved, but it has not,” she said. In 2006, while she was 24 and still in the Coast Guard, she could find little information relevant to what had happened to her, so she started the Military Rape Crisis Center, which now has offices in Massachusetts and Arizona. The center provides counseling, advocacy and legal assistance to victims of abuse and harassment, many of whom were discharged involuntarily. Bertzikis also created the blog, My Duty to Speak, where survivors of military sexual abuse post their stories — to amplify their voices, to comfort themselves and to let others know that they are not alone.

Service Women’s Action Network, or SWAN, a member-driven organization, has been working against military sexual abuse since it began in 2007, but recently, they have shifted their efforts to figuring out how to prevent it, not just at how to respond once it has happened. Kate Germano, SWAN’s chief operating officer and a soon-to-retire lieutenant colonel in the Marines, talked of being up against a “stovepipe problem,” where each branch has its own prevention model and nobody shares data.

Kate Germano speaks the the Continuum of Harm event on April 25. (Facebook/Bruce Guthrie)

Then there is the culture. “Coming from my own service, which I love dearly, we have a culture that is hypermasculine,” she said. “That starts at the foundational level and how we train people to become Marines. Unless we eliminate gender bias across the culture, but especially at the foundational level, we’re never going to fix the culture.”

SWAN is taking the long view, working now through their year-long Service Women’s Institute, which will train members in advocating for themselves and their communities and will explore how small changes can yield big results. In April, they held an event titled, Continuum of Harm in the Military. The term refers to how gender bias feeds into sexual harassment and hazing, which feed into sexual violence and its retaliatory aftermath. The overarching question they wanted to address is how individuals or organizations can interrupt this cycle and change expectations of behavior in the military. The panelists — psychologists, researchers, theorists — didn’t have the answer, but they did have some intriguing insights, including the suggestion that the Defense Department may not be the best authority to regulate itself.

If it is not only the rules, but also the culture, that must change, then the Reserve Officers Training Corps, or ROTC, seems a good place to start, since ROTC cadets are citizen-soldiers being trained in leadership on college campuses. Last year, the Army encouraged ROTC to take part in Sexual Assault Awareness Month events, but apparently it wasn’t prepared for the 15 or so cadets at Temple University, who participated in the school-sponsored Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, tottering along a pre-set route in their army combat uniforms — and red high heels. They weren’t the first to show such political and sartorial solidarity, but it’s against regulations to wear uniforms with civilian clothing, which, alas, includes ruby slippers. After an outcry on social media, there was talk of an official review, but both came to nothing, and cadets walked that mile again this year.

ROTC cadets at Temple University in high heels for the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event in 2015. (Walk a Mile in Her Shoes)

Monisha Rios is a social worker and veterans advocate in Florida and a member of Veterans For Peace. She was attacked sexually while she was in the army in the late 1990s, and when she went to Facebook more recently to start an awareness campaign, she found quite a different situation from the one Bertzikis had encountered several years earlier: blogs, websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds — all part of a burgeoning, multifaceted, decentralized, survivor-led movement, offering advocacy, peer support, and often piercing critiques of military sexual trauma and the systemic failure to stop it. Rios participates by speaking to professional organizations and local groups, often about things they would rather sweep under the rug. “A lot of times, MST survivors are left behind because we’re kind of outcasts,” she said. “We shine a light on one of the ugly things in our nation’s military that a lot of people are ashamed of.”

Like Germano, she sees sexual abuse as an outgrowth of military culture and training, but she locates it on a spectrum. “You’ve got the stuff that happens in the ranks, you’ve also got the stuff we’re doing to other people. And so the beast that we’re trying to tame is a part of rape culture in the United States and a part of rape culture in the world. Sexual violence has always been a part of war. What we’re exposing and what we’re calling out and what we’re asking for is a larger thing than just someone in the military getting raped.”

“I think it’s going to take a long time,” she concluded. “I don’t think it’s impossible.”

Are you protesting against Brexit this weekend?

The Guardian | Protest -

Thousands are expected to march against the EU referendum result. If you’re taking part, share your experiences with us

Thousands of people are expected to march against the Brexit vote in central London this weekend, with smaller protests planned across the UK.

The London protest, organised on social media, is gathering pace. So far, 23,000 people plan to attend, according to Facebook. It hopes to build on a rally earlier this week in Trafalgar Square, and others in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow, which attracted tens of thousands of participants despite bad weather.

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