Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jihadi Bombers

Four Lions

Chris Morris hits a raw nerve in his take on homegrown terror in which the police are as bumbling as the jihadi bombers, writes Andrew Pulver

The bombers run around in hysterically inappropriate fancy dress  in Chris Morris's film Four Lions

The would-be bombers in Chris Morris's film Four Lions.

Chris Morris is still the most incendiary figure working in the British entertainment industry. Even if you have not read reports of Four Lions' premiere at Sundance, it should come as no surprise that Morris – the man behind surreal short film My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117, and the TV series Nathan Barley, has taken on arguably the most bad-taste subject imaginable: a cell of homegrown jihadi bombers, feverishly plotting martyrdom from terrace houses in Doncaster.

The title is offered up with sledgehammer irony: our crew of wannabe killers are as fervent as football fans, and at one point — in a parody of the 7/7 tube bombers' group hug caught on a station surveillance camera — cuddle up and chant motivational phrases.

But of course it's as contrary an idea as everything else Morris sets up: these are anti-patriots of the most unmistakable kind. Added to which, there are actually five of them. Omar (Riz Ahmed) is the intense, coiled-spring leader, Fessel (Adeel Akhtar) his clueless, dozy lieutenant; Waj (Kayvan Novak), an easily confused bruiser; harmless-looking Hassan (Arsher Ali), a late sub when one of the others enters heaven a little earlier than planned; and Barry (Nigel Lindsay), — the most bizarre of all the "lions" — a Caucasian convert to Islam with a streak of ferocious invective and penchant for little hats.

Morris's basic strategy is to undermine and undercut. The jihadis are hopelessly confused and contradictory, caught between their assimilated lifestyle and righteous ideological fire. Omar, for example, can't stop mocking his far more religious, far more peaceable, brother. Fessel, a main vehicle for the doofus comedy, buys bomb-making material with a voice disguised as his own. (Plus he forgets about his beard when he presents himself as a "woman".) Omar and Waj bond by asserting they would happily kill the other if necessary. Barry is constantly trying to insert himself into a group trip to the Middle East, even though it is clear he is not wanted. And when the authorities finally track the group down, Morris doesn't spare them his withering eye: the cops are as incompetent as everyone else, despite their veneer of technological sophistication.

Strangely enough, Four Lions reminded me of Dad's Army, with its blend of buffoonery and cantankerousness, petty power struggles and blurring of the lines between home and combat life. Perhaps it is also indicative of how essentially unadventurous Four Lions is, cinematically speaking; only in the final section, when the bombers run around in hysterically inappropriate fancy dress, does the film approach the demented inspiration with which we associate Morris. Still, in its very existence, Morris has hit on the rawest of nerves, and for that he deserves admiration.

Saudi religious police chief risks job by backing mixing of sexes

Caryle Murphy, Foreign Correspondent

Saudi and foreign Muslims eat fast food in a shopping mall in Mecca,

as the debate rages over segregation of the sexes. Hassan Ammar / AFP

The question of the hour for those who watch the winds of change in Saudi Arabia is this: will Sheikh Ahmed al Ghamdi keep his job or not?

Mr al Ghamdi, 47, is head of the Mecca branch of the Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, otherwise known as the religious police. Ever since he publicly questioned Saudi Arabia’s strict gender segregation in December, there have been rumours that he would be sacked.

Those rumours looked to be correct on Sunday when the Commission announced on its website that Mr al Ghamdi was being replaced. But a few hours later, the press release was removed and the state news agency, which had also posted the release, advised that it had been cancelled.

The back-and-forth on Mr al Ghamdi’s status is part of an unprecedented public row among Saudi religious scholars over what has been a pillar of this society for decades – its far-reaching ban on the mixing of men and women in public places.

For several weeks now, the ban has been a hot topic of newspaper columns and television talk shows, with both ultraconservative and moderate sheikhs weighing in on an issue that is increasingly on the front burner as Saudi Arabia seeks to diversify its economy.

The debate reflects the more open atmosphere that has emerged since King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz came to power. But what is especially noteworthy this time is that those expressing more moderate views are not backing down under fierce hardliner criticism, including a fatwa recommending they be executed.

During a speech in Taif this month, ” Mr al Ghamdi said: “You can write in the newspaper from my own mouth that I still hold to the view I expressed on [gender segregation], and I won’t go back on it, and I’ll continue to repeat what I wrote."

Mr al Ghamdi seems to be relishing his maverick role. In recent interviews he has also questioned the need to close shops during prayer times, and asserted that Muslims need attend congregational prayer at the mosque only on Fridays, while praying privately on other days.

Some Saudis say the controversy swirling around Mr al Ghamdi underscores how the division between conservatives and moderates has grown deeper. “So now, people are more frank,” said a civil servant, adding that if Mr al Ghamdi had said the same thing 10 years ago, “he would be definitely finished with his job within a day.”

Mr al Ghamdi became a key figure in the debate when he wrote a two-page article published in the newspaper Okaz in December arguing that men and women mixing in public is natural and was an accepted practice during the Prophet Mohammed’s time.

Those who oppose public mixing are not on solid religious ground, he wrote, because Islamic law, or sharia, is silent on the matter. Moreover, it is “dangerous” to associate a term like “mixing” with sharia, he added, because it gives “a fake idea merit”, and thus reflects negatively on Islamic law.

Mr al Ghamdi also said the widespread practice of having female servants in Saudi homes “contradicts” the religious argument that mixing is forbidden.

He was not the first Saudi religious scholar to say such things about public mixing. Weeks before Mr al Ghamdi’s Okaz piece, Muhammad al Issa, the justice minister, warned against confusing public mingling, which he said is permissible in Islam, with private meetings between unrelated or unmarried men and women, which are forbidden.

But Mr al Ghamdi’s remarks made bigger ripples because of his position with the commission, whose agents patrol malls, restaurants, universities and other public places to make sure men and women are not mingling.

The furore set off in conservative circles by Mr al Ghamdi’s arguments is even more intense within the commission, which is already coping with rising public criticism of its sometimes aggressive behaviour and with a fierce internal debate over its policies.

The political observer Abdullah al Shammary said that right now,“there is something like a revolution inside the commission. There are huge discussions about its role.”

Ultraconservative supporters of the status quo hit back at Mr al Ghamdi and others who questioned the mixing ban with a fatwa calling them “apostates”.

Sheikh Abdulrahman al Barrak, who is in his 70s, said in his fatwa that public gender mixing “as advocated by modernisers” is prohibited because it allows “sight of what is forbidden, and forbidden talk between men and women”.

Anyone who facilitates such mixing “is an infidel” and if he does not retract his position “must be killed”, Mr al Barrak wrote on his website in February.

For good measure, the sheikh added that anyone who allows his daughter, sister or wife to work with men or attend mixed-gender schooling is guilty of “a type of pimping”.

It is not only hardliners who are unhappy. Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al Sheikh, is also upset with Mr al Ghamdi. the newspaper Al Madina reported that Mr al Sheikh informed Mr al Ghamdi that he had no authority to speak on issues regulated by Islamic law, such as the responsibility to attend congregational prayers. The mufti said in his sermon last Friday that anyone who questioned that responsibility is “leading people to hell”.

The eventual outcome of the debate on mixing is not just crucial for the credibility of the Saudi religious establishment. It is also vital for the kingdom’s development, since the ban on public mingling is seen by many as a major barrier to modernising the economy and a reason for high unemployment among women.

Fawziah al Bakr, a King Saud University professor, said; "“This is hindering society from going forward.” Not only are women treated as inferiors, she said, but “you always have to have double buildings and double management”.

Many outside experts believe that economic realities will be the most influential factor in breaking down sex segregation, especially as more women enter the job market. But in such a religious society it is important that social change be seen as compliant with Islam. Clerics like Mr al Ghamdi are offering that rationale.

“It should be understood that moderation and flexibility are some of the basic principles of Islam,” he has said. “Moderation and flexibility signify righteousness. They are the middle way.”

Monday, April 26, 2010

All in the name of Zionism

Israel is a Zionist state. Everybody knows that. There is no (Jewish) politician in Israel who misses an opportunity to repeat this.

Last week, when we celebrated the 62nd Independence Day, we were flooded by a deluge of patriotic speeches. Each of the Ciceros, without exception, declared his total commitment to Zionism.

By the way, when it comes to the Zionist character of Israel, there is complete agreement on this between the leaders of Israel and their enemies. The Iranian big-mouth declares at every opportunity his conviction that the "Zionist regime" will disappear. Arabs who refuse to utter the name of Israel speak about the "Zionist entity". Hamas and Hezbollah condemn the "Zionist enemy". But no one of them - friends and enemies alike - spells out what it means. What makes the state into a "Zionist" one?

For me, this is Chinese. I mean, everybody knows that China is a "communist" country. Friends and enemies speak about "Communist China" as something that is self-evident. But what does this mean? What makes it communist?

When I was young, I learned that communism means the nationalization (or "socialization") of the means of production. Does this describe the reality in China? Or rather the exact opposite?

Communism aimed at creating a classless society, leading in the end to the "withering away" of the state altogether. Is that happening in China?

So what remains of communism in China? Only the name, which serves as a cover for a group of powerful rulers who use the Communist Party as a means for maintaining a despotic regime.

And, of course - the ceremonies, symbols and banners. Karl Marx would have called them "opium of the people".

And back from the Manifesto of Marx and Engels to the "Jewish state" of Theodor Herzl. Herzl's Zionist vision was quite simple: All Jews, must go to the Jewish state. Those who do not will be Germans, Britons, Americans or members of any other nation, but definitely not Jews.

In the Zionist school in Palestine we were taught that the essence of Zionism is the negation of the Diaspora (called Exile in Hebrew). Not just the physical negation, but the mental, too. Not only the demand that every single Jew come to the Land of Israel, but also a total repudiation of all forms of Jewish life in Exile, their culture and their language (Yiddish/Jewish). The absolutely worst thing we could say about anybody was to call them an "Exile Jew". Herzl's own writings exude, in places, a strongly anti-Semitic odor.

And lo and behold, "Zionist" Israel is embracing the Diaspora, loving the Diaspora, kissing the Diaspora. The Zionist executive is sending emissaries to the Jewish communities throughout the world in order to reinforce their "Jewish culture".

The leaders of the "Zionist state" depend to a large extent upon the Diaspora and use it for their own purposes. The Exile-Jewish AIPAC ensures the subjection of the US Congress to the will of the Israeli government. The "Anti-Defamation League" (which should more properly be called the "Defamation League") is terrorizing the American media in order to prevent any criticism of Israeli policy. In the past, the United Jewish Appeal was essential for the economic wellbeing of Israel.

For years, the foreign policy of Israel has been based upon the power of the Jewish "exile" community in the US. Every country, from Egypt to Uzbekistan, knew that if it wanted aid from the American Congress, it had first of all to acquire the support of Israel. In order to get access to the American Sultan, they first had to get past the Israeli gatekeeper.

What has all this to do with Zionism? What has remained of Zionism, except the historical fact that the Zionist movement has given birth to Israel? Empty platitudes, and an instrument for achieving quite different objectives.

Inside our political system, Zionism serves various and contradictory aims. If one speaks in Israel of "Zionism", one means "not Arab". A "Zionist" state means a state in which non-Jewish citizens cannot be full partners. Eighty percent of Israel's citizens (the Jews) are telling the other twenty percent (the Arabs): The state belongs to us, not to you.

The state constructs settlements in the occupied territories because it is Zionist. It builds in East Jerusalem because it is Zionist. It discriminates against its Arab citizens in almost every field because it is Zionist. There is no dastardly act that cannot be wrapped in the Zionist flag. If Dr. Samuel Johnson were living in Israel today, he would say "Zionism is the last refuge of a scoundrel".

The "Zionist left" is also waving this flag in order to show how patriotic it is. In the past, it used it mainly to keep its distance from the radical left, which was fighting against the occupation and for the two-state solution. Nowadays, after the "Zionist left" has itself adopted this program, it continues to wave the Zionist flag in order to differentiate itself from the "Arab" parties. In the name of Zionism, the "Zionist Left" continues to reject any possibility of including the Arab parties in a future government coalition. This is an act of self-mutilation, since it prevents in advance any possibility of the "left" returning to power. That's simple arithmetic. As a result, the "Zionist left" has practically disappeared.

The way the Israeli right is using the Zionist flag is far more dangerous. In their hands, it has turned into a banner of pure hate.

For years now, the plague of "talkbackists" has been spreading. The immense majority of the talkbackists belong to the extreme right and express themselves in a style reminiscent of the darkest periods of the last century. The appellation "traitor" for leftists is the most moderate in this lexicon, and the demand for their execution has become quite commonplace. (When my name happens to be mentioned on one of the websites, it routinely draws behind it a train of dozens, and sometimes more than a hundred talkback epithets spewing pure hatred.)

The words "handing me over to the foreigner" are the most serious accusation in Jewish tradition. "The moser" (he who hands over) was a Jew who betrayed another Jew to the gentile authorities and deserved death. It was precisely this accusation that sealed the fate of Yitzhak Rabin. Lately, this has become the main accusation hurled by Israeli fascists against the left. Recently, an extreme campaign of incitement was launched against the New Israel Fund, a US-based institution that supports many leftist NGOs in Israel. The fund is accused of financing organizations that "helped Judge Goldstone", the "anti-Semitic Jew" who is spreading despicable lies against the Zionist State. (Disclosure: the organization I am active in, Gush Shalom, which is also uncovering war crimes, never received a dime.)

Anat Kam, a soldier who "stole" secret documents from the army command and helped the Israeli newspaper Haaretz to expose a war crime, was also accused of "serving the enemy". She has been indicted for "aggravated espionage", a crime bearing a life sentence.

"Traitors", "Enemy Agents", "Destroyers of the Fatherland", "Knife in the back" - these epithets are becoming part of the mainstream discourse in Israel. One should not dismiss them.

Not so long ago, just such language led to historic tragedies in Europe.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Arabs spend USD5 Billions annually on witchcraft and sorcery

Five Billion Lashes
Thursday 22 April 2010
By Muhammad Diyab

A Saudi expert said that Arabs spend around 5 billion dollars annually on witchcraft and sorcery. The expert who made this statement was Dr. Fahd al-Sunaidi, a professor of contemporary doctrines at King Saud University. According to Asharq Al-Awsat, al-Sunaidi provided this statistic a few days ago during one of his lectures. Upon hearing this astronomical figure, one can only wonder: when will a nation that is being laughed at by these frauds do away with its naiveté and heedlessness?

Five billion dollars per year! This is an astronomical figure and if we multiply it by the past 20 years, the total would be 100 billion dollars. Imagine what could be done with an amount like that rather than going into the devil’s pocket! In this context, we ought to commend the Saudi judiciary for its firm and resolute position on sorcerers.

We can only reproach some of our Arab brothers who allow these frauds to set their traps on the street and on television channels. These frauds range from psychic palm readers and coffee cup readers to fortune tellers. I don’t think many people in our Arab world have reached a level of awareness that enables them to protect themselves against the traps set by such frauds and sorcerers. Pursuing these kinds of people and preventing them from carrying out their practice has now become a responsibility that countries and intellectuals should shoulder.

The people who deal with sorcerers shouldn’t be portrayed as victims, as the media sometimes describes them; in reality, they are wrongdoers. If it were not for them, sorcery would not be so widespread and so damaging to people’s minds and souls.

Even though I detest flogging, those at fault deserve 5 billion lashes, a lash for each dollar they deposited in the devil’s account. I remember how some of our school teachers used to subject our small and fragile bodies to their canes.

This led to many of my friends leaving the education system, as only a handful of students were able to persevere. Back in those days, some of our late teachers were not familiar with Ibn Khaldoun who once said that whoever subjects others to tyranny and oppression whether they are teachers, Mamluks or servants, will always feel oppression and unhappiness in their own lives, and there are many people like that around us.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kaki Botol, Saham Carlsberg

Dalam Penyata Tahunan Kewangan Syarikat Carlsberg tahun 2009, dalam senarai 30 pemegang saham terbesar:-

5. Pertubuhan Keselamatan Sosial 2,155,700 0.71

21. Amanahraya Trustees Berhad 585,300 0.19
Public Dividend Select Fund

22. SBB Nominees (Tempatan) Sdn Bhd 574,500 0.19
Pertubuhan Keselamatan Sosial

24. Mayban Nominess (Tempatan) Sdn Bhd 532,200 0.17
Hwang DBS Investment Management Bhd For
Pertubuhan Keselamatan Sosial


Sunday, April 11, 2010

How Dubai's $14bn dream to build The World is falling apart

Of Dubai's absurd dreams, none has failed more spectacularly than The World - 300 man-made islands sculpted from sand; only 'Greenland' has been built on. And as Adam Luck reports, the $14bn dream has left a trail of death, debt and deception

By Adam Luck

A luxury villa nestled in the centre of 'Greenland' island

A luxury villa nestled in the centre of 'Greenland' island - one of 300 man-made islands, sculpted out of sand, a 15-minute boat ride off the coast of Dubai

The two-storey luxury villa rises up like a Bond villain's lair from the immaculately manicured lawn.Swaying palms shade it from the glaring Arabian sun and shelter it from prying eyes. To one side is an infinity pool, while on the other the alluring turquoise of the Persian Gulf, teeming with silver fish, appears to stretch out to infinity itself.

The only connections with the outside world are a jetty for speedboats and a helipad. Security guards patrol the beach, making it clear that visitors are not welcome. This is the paradise playground where Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum comes to fish. The Cambridge-educated ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed is best known in the UK for his love of horse racing, and as founder of Godolphin Stables.

His irresistible idyll is at the heart of The World, a collection of 300 man-made islands sculpted out of sand, a 15-minute boat ride off the coast of Dubai. In a five-year project beginning in May 2003, 320 million cubic metres of sand were dredged from the sea to create the islands. They were built inside a lagoon protected by a 17-mile breakwater, made up of 34 million tons of rock.

Satellite view of The World development

A satellite view of The World development

The islands vary in size from 120,000sq ft (one and a half football pitches) to 450,000sq ft (six football pitches), with 100m of clear water between each. Such was the scale of the enterprise that you could only make out the shape of the islands modelled on Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia from space. Sheikh Mohammed's particular island represents Greenland but, more importantly, it was designed to symbolise the allure of The World and to lure in investors.

An estimated $14 billion was sunk into the project. In 2008 master developer Nakheel, effectively owned by the government, boasted that 70 per cent of the islands had already been sold. Developers, financiers, global banks, building giants and investors flooded in. But look out now from the fine white sandy shores of 'Greenland' and all you can see is emptiness and desolation. Instead of a millionaire's playground there are 299 mounds of bare sand sweltering in the 40 degrees centigrade heat. Not even a desert-island shack has been built on any of the other islands, much less a luxury villa, boutique hotel, Michelin-starred restaurant or jasmine-scented spa.

What happened, of course, was 2008's global financial crash. Virtually overnight property values halved and the market collapsed. Hundreds of billions of pounds' worth of building contracts were put on hold or simply disappeared in a puff of sand. It wasn't until November last year that the full scale of Dubai's debts began to emerge. Dubai World, which is the government investment arm that oversees Nakheel, was in hock to the tune of $60 billion.

Only a last-minute intervention from Dubai's oil-rich neighbour Abu Dhabi prevented the state from falling over the edge of a financial precipice, with a $10 billion bailout to hold off creditors.

But as the future of The World and Dubai still hangs in the balance, one developer is daring to take the biggest gamble of his life, to the tune of a billion dollars.

The orange dumper truck rolls laboriously across 'Sweden' and then after a brief detour through 'Monte Carlo' crosses the sand causeway to reach the shores of 'Germany. As it dumps its load of sand, a bulldozer begins to flatten out the fine grains and crushed shells.

A dredger spews sand close to Dubai

A dredger spews sand onto what will become one of the 'Falkland Islands'

In his crisp dark suit, complete with blue checked handkerchief spilling from his breast pocket, Josef Kleindienst is talking about his vision of a millionaire's playground that will offer luxury across six exclusive islands. A former Austrian police chief inspector, he set up his own property development business in 1998 and moved to Dubai in 2003.

For his The Heart Of Europe project he plans to build a mile-long climate-controlled, open-air boulevard, which will use chilled air exhaled from the surrounding bars, restaurants and malls to shield pedestrians from the extreme summer heat.

For the sceptics, tempted to view The World as a huge exercise in hubris and hot air, Kleindienst affords a rare Teutonic smile: 'Cold air doesn't rise.'

Dubai's world in numbers

The strikingly designed villas, which will generate their own energy with solar panels, will have underwater aquariums as well as their own private beaches, where residents will be able to moor their luxury yachts. Floating bridges will link the islands and residents will also be able to enjoy boutique hotels and an 'interactive aquarium'.

The 46-year-old businessman and father of four says: 'We've sold 11 of the 20 villas, costing from £1.2 million to £3.9 million. I am aiming to be the first person to live full-time on The World. It will be the perfect place to be.'

By his own admission this would be some achievement as his company came perilously close to going under during the crash. 'It was very stressful. I had to lay off people who were good friends. I had to tell them, "Guys, you have to find another job," but they knew there was no other job to go to. For many people the Dubai dream was over.'

He's bullish about the future, though, and believes that the first stage of the project, involving two of the islands, will be finished within 12 months. He also stresses that, overall, the recession has been good for business, helping drive down his contractors' prices by up to a third and cleaning many of the spivs and speculators out of Dubai.

'Before the crisis came along, which no one expected, you had investors speculating with these islands, buying and then selling them on at a profit. It was the Wild East and more a fish market than a property market. Investors got badly burned.' His faith in the future of Dubai, however, seems premature.

The islands were bought off -plan from Nakheel for between $15 million and $50 million. But since then nothing has happened, with developers reluctant to commit and to forge ahead with their plans, while some question the financial viability of The World itself.

A Live investigation has discovered that one of the largest investors into the project is in serious financial trouble, having filed for protection from its creditors in March. Two British owners are currently in jail in Dubai awaiting trial after being accused of bouncing a multimillion-dollar cheque. Another British company that bought one of the islands has yet to start work, leaving investors to wonder what's happened to their millions of pounds.

Indeed, the way many investors have seen their money disappear has brought an unwelcome focus on the lack of regulation and transparency surrounding many of The World's island owners.

The British property barons Safi Qurashi and Mustafa Nagri bought GB island through their company Premier Real Estate Bureau for $64 million. The pair featured on British television and in Hello! magazine, with Qurashi revealing that he drove a Bentley Silver Spur and shared a 70ft luxury yacht with his business partner, who drove a Mercedes S500. The reasons that Qurashi gave for moving to the Middle East were the weather and 'the high crime rate' back in the UK.

Speaking last year, Qurashi said they had not yet lined up any celebrities for their island but boasted they had a star-studded client base.

'We've had celebrities who have bought other properties from us in the past, actors, sports people and pop stars, real household names.'

The pair predicted that construction would start in late 2009, with 100 villas going up on the island and prices touching $20 million for the top of the range homes.

'It's been said a few times that we're an "odd couple", but Mustafa has a very wise head on him,' said Qurashi. 'I'll go o ff on some crazy idea and he'll just bring me back down to earth, especially financially. We also trust each other. Our business is based on a simple handshake, there's no lawyer's contract.'

Until last year the business was valued at $600 million and they had a roll call of 80 staff . But it seems that like Icarus, London-born Qurashi, the son of a Pakistani immigrant, and Nagri, flew too close to the sun. Both are now being held at Port Rashid police station, close to the heart of old Dubai, after being arrested late last year. They have been accused of trying to bounce a $54 million cheque in relation to a real estate deal. In an interview by telephone, Qurashi has said: 'We have done nothing wrong. We're not criminals, we are victims of the system.'

They are not the only people questioning Dubai's 'system'. Another British owner is Imtiaz Khoda, whose Profile Group bought 'Thailand' for $20 million. Khoda had similarly humble origins as a Dell salesman. He pitched up in Dubai in 1997, and was a multi-millionaire within ten years. Along with an Aston Martin and dozens of sta ff based in one of Dubai's most exclusive business addresses, Khoda rubbed shoulders with boxing world champion Amir Khan, using him to help launch a business development. In a glossy brochure, Profile lays claim to a 'land bank... in excess of $1 billion', with construction having started on a series of luxurious high-rise towers in Dubai's huge and prestigious Sports City development.

CGI image of 'Great Britain' near Dubai

A CGI image of 'Great Britain' at the centre of the 'Europe' section of the world

But its landmark development was 'Jasmine Gardens' on The World, boasting four-bedroom water villas on stilts and lounges that open up on to the sea. Investors were promised a completion date of 2011 but the work has yet to begin.

Khoda's group has been besieged by irate British and Irish investors who claim to have lost tens of millions of pounds. Among them is Asim Ahmad, a businessman from Manchester, who invested £200,000 in one of the Sports City towers that featured in Profile's expensive brochure.

'I kept on having to chase them because I did not even get the original contract,' he says. 'A year later nothing had been built and Profile just disappeared. I have been in touch with quite a few people and we are now going for a joint legal action. Half of those I have been in contact with did not get contracts and those that did have been told that they cannot enforce the contracts because no laws have been broken.

'I put my money in Dubai because I believed it would be safe there, but I feel conned - they've changed the laws to suit themselves.'

Khoda, 38, says: 'We are not in a position to give the money back. We have done nothing illegal. We have complied with the laws and used the money from investors for construction and consultant-related payments. I do understand investors' anger but we are in contact with various groups of investors and we are trying to sort things out.'

Profile investors threatening to sue the company have been joined by those who put money into Irish group Larionovo, which merged with Profile, and collapsed in November 2008. It emerged, according to auditors, that the company's directors Ray Norton and Andrew Brett had allegedly enriched themselves to the tune of €1 million shortly before the collapse by taking out loans.

One investor, who refused to be named, said: 'I've seen projects in Dubai that are little more than pyramid schemes.'

Austrian developer Josef Kleindienst

Austrian developer Josef Kleindienst, who plans to build 20 villas on 'The Heart Of Europe'

Khoda, however, says his development wasn't one of them. 'If we were a pyramid scheme we would hardly get approval from the Dubai authorities.'

German developer Robin Lohmann, who has used Michael Schumacher, Boris Becker and Niki Lauda to promote his projects, is another owner who has been plagued with problems. His company ACI Real Estate is being sued by dozens of investors after several projects were never built. Lohmann was also forced to deny German media reports that he was arrested last year by Dubai police for debts.

Perhaps the most tragic casualty of this saga, however, was John O'Dolan, who committed suicide last year. O'Dolan led the consortium, which included

Norton and Brett, that bought 'Ireland' for €28 million in 2007. He hanged himself in February last year shortly after allegations had emerged against his business partners. Receivers had also been appointed to several of his businesses.

But the suspicion remains that the crisis surrounding The World has yet to be fully played out and that still more victims will emerge. Many owners are understood to have defaulted on their staged payments, with Nakheel forced to renegotiate in order to avoid the project unravelling. Few owners are understood to have paid up in full for the islands.

The lack of transparency in Dubai does not help. Nakheel refuses to reveal the names of the owners or even how many owners there are. Many companies that Live has uncovered would appear to be little more than 'fronts' for the true owners. Since Nakheel is not a listed company its business a airs remain as opaque as The World itself.

The largest investor in The World, for example, has been Oqyana, which bought 22 islands centred on the Australasian archipelago. But its offices in downtown Dubai were empty when visited by Live and no one had left a forwarding address. All the telephone numbers had ceased to work.

Enlarge Brave new world

In fact Oqyana is a front for a Kuwaiti company called Investment Dar, which co-owns Aston Martin and also several exclusive addresses on Park Lane in London. Last year Investment Dar shocked investors with news that it needed up to $1 billion in loans. Last month Live discovered that Dar has filed for Kuwait's equivalent of the American Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors. The news inevitably raises questions about the Oqyana project.

The future of many other projects is similarly uncertain. Rakesh Chandola, who heads the British-based Salya corporation, questions the economic viability of the entire project, saying, 'At the moment the economics do not make it feasible.'

Varun Chaudhary, whose Cinnovation group owns Nova Island, agrees, saying, 'There will be no developments until the market improves. I would expect a minimum of two to three years unless the market miraculously takes an upturn again.'

And there is only a chink of light o ffered by Kuku Gardner, whose company Opulence Holdings owns 'Somalia': 'It is not definite we will be going ahead but we probably will.'

'It is the tall poppy syndrome,' says one Nakheel executive. 'Yes, there are problems but they are there to solve. You can count the developers who have said they want out on one hand. Yes, the recession has brought issues. Cash is hard to come by but everyone has these issues.'

On 'Germany', Kleindienst's gamble continues. Tons of fresh sand are being dumped on the island, its slopes now rising up to 20m from the shallow Gulf sea bed. The next stage will be vibro-compaction - a large crane stands ready to literally shake the islands so that the sand is su fficiently compact and stable to build on.

Kleindienst admits that the project will only truly take o ff when The World as a whole reaches fruition and that will only happen when all the developers get moving. 'When these islands are all developed they will become the most expensive real estate in Dubai,' he says.

Many will question whether Mr Kleindienst's gamble will ever pay o ff. If not, then this could well be the end of The World for Dubai. If that happens then perhaps at least Sheikh Mohammed won't mind too much, as he continues to sit back and enjoy the peace and quiet and splendid isolation of Greenland, fishing and reflecting on what might have been.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Americans, I have some bad news for you:

America: The Grim Truth

By Lance Freeman

April 08, 2010 "Information Clearing House" -- Americans, I have some bad news for you:

You have the worst quality of life in the developed world – by a wide margin.

If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.

I know this because I am an American, and I escaped from the prison you call home.

I have lived all around the world, in wealthy countries and poor ones, and there is only one country I would never consider living in again: The United States of America. The mere thought of it fills me with dread.

Consider this: you are the only people in the developed world without a single-payer health system. Everyone in Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand has a single-payer system. If they get sick, they can devote all their energies to getting well. If you get sick, you have to battle two things at once: your illness and the fear of financial ruin. Millions of Americans go bankrupt every year due to medical bills, and tens of thousands die each year because they have no insurance or insufficient insurance. And don’t believe for a second that rot about America having the world’s best medical care or the shortest waiting lists: I’ve been to hospitals in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Singapore, and Thailand, and every one was better than the “good” hospital I used to go to back home. The waits were shorter, the facilities more comfortable, and the doctors just as good.

This is ironic, because you need a good health system more than anyone else in the world. Why? Because your lifestyle is almost designed to make you sick.

Let’s start with your diet: Much of the beef you eat has been exposed to fecal matter in processing. Your chicken is contaminated with salmonella. Your stock animals and poultry are pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics. In most other countries, the government would act to protect consumers from this sort of thing; in the United States, the government is bought off by industry to prevent any effective regulations or inspections. In a few years, the majority of all the produce for sale in the United States will be from genetically modified crops, thanks to the cozy relationship between Monsanto Corporation and the United States government. Worse still, due to the vast quantities of high-fructose corn syrup Americans consume, fully one-third of children born in the United States today will be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives.

Of course, it’s not just the food that’s killing you, it’s the drugs. If you show any sign of life when you’re young, they’ll put you on Ritalin. Then, when you get old enough to take a good look around, you’ll get depressed, so they’ll give you Prozac. If you’re a man, this will render you chemically impotent, so you’ll need Viagra to get it up. Meanwhile, your steady diet of trans-fat-laden food is guaranteed to give you high cholesterol, so you’ll get a prescription for Lipitor. Finally, at the end of the day, you’ll lay awake at night worrying about losing your health plan, so you’ll need Lunesta to go to sleep.

With a diet guaranteed to make you sick and a health system designed to make sure you stay that way, what you really need is a long vacation somewhere. Unfortunately, you probably can’t take one. I’ll let you in on little secret: if you go to the beaches of Thailand, the mountains of Nepal, or the coral reefs of Australia, you’ll probably be the only American in sight. And you’ll be surrounded crowds of happy Germans, French, Italians, Israelis, Scandinavians and wealthy Asians. Why? Because they’re paid well enough to afford to visit these places AND they can take vacations long enough to do so. Even if you could scrape together enough money to go to one of these incredible places, by the time you recovered from your jetlag, it would time to get on a plane and rush back to your job.

If you think I’m making this up, check the stats on average annual vacation days by country:

Finland: 44
Italy: 42
France: 39
Germany: 35
UK: 25
Japan: 18
USA: 12

The fact is, they work you like dogs in the United States. This should come as no surprise: the United States never got away from the plantation/sweat shop labor model and any real labor movement was brutally suppressed. Unless you happen to be a member of the ownership class, your options are pretty much limited to barely surviving on service-sector wages or playing musical chairs for a spot in a cubicle (a spot that will be outsourced to India next week anyway). The very best you can hope for is to get a professional degree and then milk the system for a slice of the middle-class pie. And even those who claw their way into the middle class are but one illness or job loss away from poverty. Your jobs aren’t secure. Your company has no loyalty to you. They’ll play you off against your coworkers for as long as it suits them, then they’ll get rid of you.

Of course, you don’t have any choice in the matter: the system is designed this way. In most countries in the developed world, higher education is either free or heavily subsidized; in the United States, a university degree can set you back over US$100,000. Thus, you enter the working world with a crushing debt. Forget about taking a year off to travel the world and find yourself – you’ve got to start working or watch your credit rating plummet.

If you’re “lucky,” you might even land a job good enough to qualify you for a home loan. And then you’ll spend half your working life just paying the interest on the loan – welcome to the world of American debt slavery. America has the illusion of great wealth because there’s a lot of “stuff” around, but who really owns it? In real terms, the average American is poorer than the poorest ghetto dweller in Manila, because at least they have no debts. If they want to pack up and leave, they can; if you want to leave, you can’t, because you’ve got debts to pay.

All this begs the question: Why would anyone put up with this? Ask any American and you’ll get the same answer: because America is the freest country on earth. If you believe this, I’ve got some more bad news for you: America is actually among the least free countries on earth. Your piss is tested, your emails and phone calls are monitored, your medical records are gathered, and you are never more than one stray comment away from writhing on the ground with two Taser prongs in your ass.

And that’s just physical freedom. Mentally, you are truly imprisoned. You don’t even know the degree to which you are tormented by fears of medical bankruptcy, job loss, homelessness and violent crime because you’ve never lived in a country where there is no need to worry about such things.

But it goes much deeper than mere surveillance and anxiety. The fact is, you are not free because your country has been taken over and occupied by another government. Fully 70% of your tax dollars go to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon is the real government of the United States. You are required under pain of death to pay taxes to this occupying government. If you’re from the less fortunate classes, you are also required to serve and die in their endless wars, or send your sons and daughters to do so. You have no choice in the matter: there is a socio-economic draft system in the United States that provides a steady stream of cannon fodder for the military.

If you call a life of surveillance, anxiety and ceaseless toil in the service of a government you didn’t elect “freedom,” then you and I have a very different idea of what that word means.

If there was some chance that the country could be changed, there might be reason for hope. But can you honestly look around and conclude that anything is going to change? Where would the change come from? The people? Take a good look at your compatriots: the working class in the United States has been brutally propagandized by jackals like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Members of the working class have been taught to lick the boots of their masters and then bend over for another kick in the ass. They’ve got these people so well trained that they’ll take up arms against the other half of the working class as soon as their masters give the word.

If the people cannot make a change, how about the media? Not a chance. From Fox News to the New York Times, the mass media in the United States is nothing but the public relations wing of the corporatocracy, primarily the military industrial complex. At least the citizens of the former Soviet Union knew that their news was bullshit. In America, you grow up thinking you’ve got a free media, which makes the propaganda doubly effective. If you don’t think American media is mere corporate propaganda, ask yourself the following question: have you ever heard a major American news outlet suggest that the country could fund a single-payer health system by cutting military spending?

If change can’t come from the people or the media, the only other potential source of change would be the politicians. Unfortunately, the American political process is among the most corrupt in the world. In every country on earth, one expects politicians to take bribes from the rich. But this generally happens in secret, behind the closed doors of their elite clubs. In the United States, this sort of political corruption is done in broad daylight, as part of legal, accepted, standard operating procedure. In the United States, they merely call these bribes campaign donations, political action committees and lobbyists. One can no more expect the politicians to change this system than one can expect a man to take an axe and chop his own legs out from underneath him.

No, the United States of America is not going to change for the better. The only change will be for the worse. And when I say worse, I mean much worse. As we speak, the economic system that sustained the country during the post-war years is collapsing. The United States maxed out its “credit card” sometime in 2008 and now its lenders, starting with China, are in the process of laying the foundations for a new monetary system to replace the Anglo-American “petro-dollar” system. As soon as there is a viable alternative to the US dollar, the greenback will sink like a stone.

While the United States was running up crushing levels of debt, it was also busy shipping its manufacturing jobs and white-collar jobs overseas, and letting its infrastructure fall to pieces. Meanwhile, Asian and European countries were investing in education, infrastructure and raw materials. Even if the United States tried to rebuild a real economy (as opposed to a service/financial economy) do think American workers would ever be able to compete with the workers of China or Europe? Have you ever seen a Japanese or German factory? Have you ever met a Singaporean or Chinese worker?

There are only two possible futures facing the United States, and neither one is pretty. The best case is a slow but orderly decline – essentially a continuation of what’s been happening for the last two decades. Wages will drop, unemployment will rise, Medicare and Social Security benefits will be slashed, the currency will decline in value, and the disparity of wealth will spiral out of control until the United States starts to resemble Mexico or the Philippines – tiny islands of wealth surrounded by great poverty (the country is already halfway there).

Equally likely is a sudden collapse, perhaps brought about by a rapid flight from the US dollar by creditor nations like China, Japan, Korea and the OPEC nations. A related possibility would be a default by the United States government on its vast debt. One look at the financial balance sheet of the US government should convince you how likely this is: governmental spending is skyrocketing and tax receipts are plummeting – something has to give. If either of these scenarios plays out, the resulting depression will make the present recession look like a walk in the park.

Whether the collapse is gradual or gut-wrenchingly sudden, the results will be chaos, civil strife and fascism. Let’s face it: the United States is like the former Yugoslavia – a collection of mutually antagonistic cultures united in name only. You’ve got your own version of the Taliban: right-wing Christian fundamentalists who actively loathe the idea of secular Constitutional government. You’ve got a vast intellectual underclass that has spent the last few decades soaking up Fox News and talk radio propaganda, eager to blame the collapse on Democrats, gays and immigrants. You’ve got a ruthless ownership class that will use all the means at its disposal to protect its wealth from the starving masses.

On top of all that you’ve got vast factory farms, sprawling suburbs and a truck-based shipping system, all of it entirely dependent on oil that is about to become completely unaffordable. And you’ve got guns. Lots of guns. In short: the United States is about to become a very unwholesome place to be.

Right now, the government is building fences and walls along its northern and southern borders. Right now, the government is working on a national ID system (soon to be fitted with biometric features). Right now, the government is building a surveillance state so extensive that they will be able to follow your every move, online, in the street and across borders. If you think this is just to protect you from “terrorists,” then you’re sadly mistaken. Once the shit really hits the fan, do you really think you’ll just be able to jump into the old station wagon, drive across the Canadian border and spend the rest of your days fishing and drinking Molson? No, the government is going to lock the place down. They don’t want their tax base escaping. They don’t want their “recruits” escaping. They don’t want YOU escaping.

I am not writing this to scare you. I write this to you as a friend. If you are able to read and understand what I’ve written here, then you are a member of a small minority in the United States. You are a minority in a country that has no place for you.

So what should you do?

You should leave the United States of America.

If you’re young, you’ve got plenty of choices: you can teach English in the Middle East, Asia or Europe. Or you can go to university or graduate school abroad and start building skills that will qualify you for a work visa. If you’ve already got some real work skills, you can apply to emigrate to any number of countries as a skilled immigrant. If you are older and you’ve got some savings, you can retire to a place like Costa Rica or the Philippines. If you can’t qualify for a work, student or retirement visa, don’t let that stop you – travel on a tourist visa to a country that appeals to you and talk to the expats you meet there. Whatever you do, go speak to an immigration lawyer as soon as you can. Find out exactly how to get on a path that will lead to permanent residence and eventually citizenship in the country of your choice.

You will not be alone. There are millions of Americans just like me living outside the United States. Living lives much more fulfilling, peaceful, free and abundant than we ever could have attained back home. Some of us happened upon these lives by accident – we tried a year abroad and found that we liked it – others made a conscious decision to pack up and leave for good. You’ll find us in Canada, all over Europe, in many parts of Asia, in Australia and New Zealand, and in most other countries of the globe. Do we miss our friends and family? Yes. Do we occasionally miss aspects of our former country? Yes. Do we plan on ever living again in the United States? Never. And those of us with permanent residence or citizenship can sponsor family members from back home for long-term visas in our adopted countries.

In closing, I want to remind you of something: unless you are an American Indian or a descendant of slaves, at some point your ancestors chose to leave their homeland in search of a better life. They weren’t traitors and they weren’t bad people, they just wanted a better life for themselves and their families. Isn’t it time that you continue their journey?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Obama Admits He Is a Muslim

Mindanao - Shattered Lives
Mindanao has been annexed to Philippine since 1948. Historically, Mindanao was never part of so-called Philippine. With aggression (similar to Israel regime) by Manila regime, the local Mindanao people is now minority and the so-called Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) only covering not more 30% of the whole Mindanao island.

Fr. Roberto C. Layson, a Parish Priest of Pikit, North Cotabato during the Interreligious Dialogue Conference in Bali, Indonesia said “in Mindanao, when you ask a Muslim boy what he wants to become when he grows up, he tells you that he wants to become a rebel to fight the military. When you ask a Christian boy what he wants to become when he grows up, he tells you that he wants to become a soldier to fight the rebels”.

There is one NGO actively supporting the displaced people of Mindanao, ACT Malaysia.

You can support our brothers and sisters in Mindanao, please visit ACT Malaysia

Below is the Amnesty International Report.


“We inherited an age-old conflict in Mindanao, exacerbated by a politically popular but near-sighted policy of massive retaliation. This only provoked the other side to continue the war.”

- President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during her State of the Nation Address, 27 July 2009



Yet another round of fighting between the Philippine government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has ended on 29 July 2009. The 2008-2009 hostilities, which displaced more than 750,000 persons in total and led to numerous human rights abuses, officially ended with an agreement to resume peace negotiations. One year after renewed violence between government security forces and armed groups, Mindanao is finally beginning to see a possible end to the unrest and uncertainty— and perhaps even an end to the 40-year armed conflict.

Their lives shattered by the armed conflict, hundreds of thousands of people in the Central Mindanao region of southern Philippines faced the risk of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests, displacement and burning and destruction of their homes at the hands of the Philippine armed forces, MILF fighters, and local militias. With no means of making a living, the people have become dependent on aid.

In May 2009 the Mindanao conflict was identified as having the highest number of new internally displaced persons worldwide 1 and having “the most neglected displacement situation” 2 in 2008.

Many displaced people, as of the end of July 2009, have still been unable to go back to their villages. They live in fear and uncertainty in overcrowded camps, with their relatives, or in makeshift shelters on roadsides. Unable to tend to their farms, they have become dependent on food rations and other aid. For many large families the food rations are not enough, and family members have been forced to go back to their villages to forage for food or something to sell, risking their lives in the process. In June 2009, the Philippine government discouraged aid agencies from giving large quantities of food to displaced persons, in an effort to prevent food from being diverted to the hands of the MILF or sold to traders. 3

With a ceasefire now in place, both parties to the conflict must, as a matter of urgency, ensure the safe return to their homes of the more than 240,000 internally displaced persons. 4 They should also cooperate in facilitating a comprehensive, impartial and thorough investigation into all allegations of grave human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law during the recently concluded hostilities. It is vital that those whose lives have been shattered by the abuses achieve justice promptly as armed conflicts, often borne out of perceived injustices, feed on unresolved grievances that arose from a history of conflict and many years of failure to hold to account perpetrators of grave human rights abuses.

Fighting escalated in August 2008, after the Philippine Supreme Court delayed formally signing the “Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain”, a document which would later increase the autonomous territory of Muslim Mindanao. In response, MILF fighters launched attacks against civilians, and fighting between the security forces and the MILF intensified. In October 2008, the Supreme Court ruled the Memorandum unconstitutional. Fighting continued as the government forces conducted military operations in an effort to pursue MILF commanders who have led the attacks.

The armed conflict in Central Mindanao, which was officially between the Philippine government and the MILF, was further aggravated by violent acts by other armed groups, privately-armed militias and powerful feuding clans.

The Philippine government declared a Suspension of Military Operations and the MILF declared a Suspension of Military Activities as of 23 and 24 July 2009, respectively. At the same time the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) stated that the pursuit of MILF commanders Ameril Umbra Kato, Abdullah Macapaar and Ali Pangalian and their fighters continues, and the military will remain involved in the operations, in support of the Philippine National Police (PNP), who will, in case of their capture, serve them their warrants of arrest for criminal acts such as murder, arson and robbery. Amnesty International calls on the Philippine government to ensure that such joint police-military pursuit operations do no result in further human rights violations in Central Mindanao 5 and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). 6

In the context of the armed conflict, Amnesty International and other human rights monitors and humanitarian workers have reported on cases of arbitrary arrests, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, enforced disappearances, political killings, house destruction as well as diversion and prevention of access to aid.

In March 2009 Amnesty International visited Mindanao, including the cities of Davao, Cotabato and Iligan, and the provinces of North Cotabato and Maguindanao, to obtain updated first-hand information about the human rights situation there. The organization gathered reports from local human rights monitors, humanitarian workers, the military, the MILF, the Philippine Catholic Church, local and international non-governmental organizations and the media. This report is a follow-up to “Shattered Peace in Mindanao: The Human Cost of Conflict in the Philippines” (AI Index: ASA 35/008/2008) published by Amnesty International in October 2008.

This report focuses on the situation of internally displaced persons and human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in the context of the armed conflict in Maguindanao province, which was the stronghold of the MILF and one of the centres of the armed conflict for most of its duration. Amnesty International interviewed victims, their families and witnesses as well as members of civil society in the province. Some of the cases raised in this report were taken from interviews and documentation by independent humanitarian workers and community human rights monitors.

Amnesty International does not take sides in armed conflicts generally, including conflict between the Philippine government and the MILF. In the context of armed conflict, the organization concentrates on documenting and campaigning against human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, no matter who commits them.

Amnesty International’s concerns

Where armed conflict is prolonged, increased suffering and hardship invariably follow. Armed conflicts have, more often than not, been the breeding ground for mass violations of human rights.

All parties to an armed conflict are obliged to comply with international humanitarian law, and in particular Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which prohibits any attacks on persons “taking no active part in the hostilities,” and the Second Optional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions which contains similar provisions. Moreover, international human rights law applies in war just as in peace time. Amnesty International calls upon the parties, most notably the Philippine government and the MILF, to explicitly show commitment to putting an immediate and unconditional end to all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including but not limited to, attacks targeting civilians, indiscriminate attacks, burning and destruction of civilian properties, arbitrary arrests, torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, enforced disappearances and unlawful killings, including but not limited to political killings. 7

The Philippine government must ensure the protection of civilians affected by the conflict, particularly displaced persons. It must also ensure that displaced families are provided with sufficient food, access to potable water and free medical treatment.

The Philippine government and the MILF must fully cooperate to facilitate prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into allegations of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law. Reports of the investigations should be made public. Perpetrators, irrespective of rank, must be brought to justice in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness, and victims must be ensured reparations.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The failure of both the Philippine military and the MILF to ensure that their forces comply with international law during the 2008 – 2009 conflict has resulted in human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. The lack of a neutral human rights monitor respected by both parties to the conflict has meant that effective investigations and bringing the perpetrators to justice has not occurred.

The presence of armed groups and privately armed militias, and localised attacks between feuding clans, has aggravated the already volatile and complex situation. At the centre of the armed conflict are the lives of the hundreds and thousands of civilians who have been displaced. Dependent on aid, with no sure prospects of livelihood, no safe communities or sometimes even standing homes to go back to, theirs is an uncertain future.

The recent suspension of hostilities provides a much-awaited respite for the conflict-affected population. The re-opening of the peace talks provides the Philippine government and the MILF with an important opportunity to put human rights at the heart of their new round of negotiations. Just like other armed conflicts in the world, the Mindanao armed conflict has fed on unresolved grievances that arose from a history of conflict. These grievances are often about grave human rights abuses, and historically, perpetrators of these abuses have not been held to account.

Amnesty International makes the following recommendations to the Philippine government, the MILF and the international community.


To the Philippine authorities

1.The government security forces, comprising the AFP and government-armed paramilitaries, such as the CAFGU and CVO, must immediately cease all violations of human rights and take all measures necessary to ensure they are not repeated in the future.

2. The Philippine government, especially the Department of National Defence with regard to members of the government security forces, should initiate prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into reports of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

n Witnesses and families of the victims should be protected from violence, threats or any other intimidation and those under investigation should be suspended from any position where they can exert power or influence over them.

n Individuals identified by the investigation as responsible, including those with command responsibility irrespective of rank, must be brought to justice in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification for committing serious human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law.

n The reports of these investigations should be made public.

n Victims must be ensured reparations in accordance with international standards. Such reparation must include restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

3. The Armed Forces of the Philippines must demonstrate its commitment to human rights, by providing its human rights office with the resources needed to effectively investigate all cases of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations perpetrated by the government security forces, including but not limited to, destruction of civilian houses and property, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, unlawful killings including political killings, and torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

The AFP human rights office must be given the mandate and sufficient capacity to conduct the detailed and impartial investigations itself, and not only rely on investigations done by regional commands on their own men.

4. The government should ensure the safety and well being of internally displaced persons, in accordance with international law and standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

n In particular it must ensure that the lives of displaced persons are not at risk of direct or indiscriminate attacks or other acts of violence.

n It must provide or ensure the provision of, as a minimum, adequate food and potable water; adequate shelter and housing; appropriate clothing; and essential medical services and sanitation.

n It must grant unimpeded access to all areas under its control to humanitarian actors so that they may reach internally displaced persons and other civilians at risk without further delay.

n It must, in cooperation with the displaced persons, implement a sustainable and comprehensive plan of action for their safe and voluntary return to their villages, in conditions that allow returnees to live without threats to their security and under economic, social and political conditions compatible with human dignity. This includes provisions for adequate food, housing and livelihood upon resettlement, as recommended by the DOH-UNICEF-UNWFP in their joint nutrition and food security assessment of the internally displaced persons.

n It should ensure that their property and other rights are fully restored, and in the case of destroyed or inaccessible property, that they receive adequate compensation, irrespective of their return to their place of permanent residence.

5.The Philippine government must take responsibility for the security of all civilians residing in areas affected by the conflict regardless of their religion, political affiliation, or ethnicity. Specifically, it must take concrete steps to protect Philippine Muslims, otherwise known as Moros, from reprisal attacks and other violations, particularly by members of the government security forces.

6. The Philippine government should prioritise the establishment of an office of its national human rights institution in ARMM, starting with the issuance of an executive or administrative order which permits this. The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines should then re-establish office/s within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, to make the agency accessible to victims of human rights abuses. The ARMM regional government must fully cooperate to support this effort.

7. The national government, particularly through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, in consultation with ARMM regional officials and civil society, should establish a culturally accepted mechanism of monitoring, investigating and bringing a just end to abuses perpetrated by privately armed militias, feuding clans and other armed groups in their practice of rido, to facilitate governance that is based on the rule of law in the conflict-affected region and to prevent localised clashes that could escalate into heavy fighting.

8. The Philippine senate, as a matter of priority, must ensure that the Anti-Torture Bill and the Anti-Involuntary Disappearance Bill fully accord with international human rights law, in particular the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Convention against Torture, and expedite the approval of the proposed legislations before the end of the next session.

9. As a matter of priority, the Philippine state should ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and to make the declarations required under Articles 31 and 32 of the Convention, thus recognizing the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to consider communications from individuals and state parties.

10. The Philippine government should implement urgently the recommendations contained in the 2008 UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions’ report and 2009 follow-up report on the Philippines which remain unfulfilled.

11. The Philippine government should extend an open invitation to the UN Special Procedures to visit Central Mindanao, in particular the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, who have both requested to visit the Philippines several times.

Recommendations to the MILF

1. The MILF should publicly declare a commitment to respecting the human rights of all peoples and immediately order its fighters, followers and supporters to cease all acts that constitute to human rights abuses, particularly in the context of the armed conflict.

2. The MILF must ensure that its fighters, followers and supporters adhere strictly to their obligations under international humanitarian law by clarifying to its fighters, followers or supporters, irrespective of rank, that IHL violations would not be tolerated, particularly attacks on civilians and civilian properties or objects, and indiscriminate attacks. Members suspected of committing violations must be removed from any positions where they may repeat them.

3. The MILF must cooperate with the Philippine government in facilitating joint investigations of allegations of grave abuses and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and bringing to justice perpetrators of such abuses, in a civilian court, through proceedings that comply with international standards of fairness.

4. The MILF should divulge the results of its investigations of the attacks on civilians perpetrated by three of its commanders in August 2008 and the punishments which it stated that it has imposed on those it found to be responsible.

Recommendations to the International Community

Amnesty International calls on the international community to support measures for independent human rights monitors to document reports of abuses by the parties to the conflict, with the aim of improving compliance with international human rights law and humanitarian law in particular with regard to protection of civilians. Specifically:

1.Amnesty International calls on multilateral organizations such as the Organization of Islamic Conference and the European Union, which have both expressed interest in supporting the peace process, to give assistance in establishing international monitors of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed in the context of the armed conflict.

2.Amnesty International calls on the international donor community to support the expansion of independent local human rights monitoring teams, in order to have more systematic and coordinated documentation and reporting of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the conflict-affected areas.