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Daily Archives: October 28, 2008

Woman wins case against Niger for slavery

by Boureima Hama*

West African judges yesterday fined the state of Niger the equivalent of 15,000 euros for failing to protect a woman sold into slavery aged 12, in a landmark ruling with implications across the region.
The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States recognised that the young woman, Adidjatou Mani Koraou, now 24, had been "a victim of slavery" and held "the Republic of Niger responsible for the inaction" of its administrative and legal services, according to a ruling read out by a court official.
Judges fined Niger 10 million CFA francs. The woman's lawyers had claimed five times' that amount in damages.
It was the first time the ECOWAS regional court had been asked to rule on a case of slavery, and its verdict will be binding on all member states.
The plaintiff, a Niger national, sued the government of her vast, largely arid country on the southern edge of the Sahara for failure to enforce anti-slavery laws.
She was sold into slavery as a 12-year-old for the equivalent of 330 euros in the south of the country, and over the next decade she was forced to carry out domestic and agricultural work.
She also lived as a sexual slave or sadaka to her master, who already had four wives and seven other sadaka, according to the NGO Anti-Slavery International, which has backed her case.
Adijatou "served her master and his family for 10 years. She was never paid for her work and lived in a state of complete submission to her master, being subjected to regular beatings and sexual violence.
"Her circumstances fall squarely within the longstanding internationally accepted definition of slavery," the organisation said in a statement released ahead of the hearing.
The case has widespread implications for other West African states, such as Mali and Mauritania, where slavery is widely practised, according to anti-slavery activists.
Malian human rights organisation Temedt said earlier this year that "several thousand" people were living in slavery or slave-like conditions in the country.
Concerted pressure forced the government of Niger to introduce anti-slavery legislation in 2003, with a maximum penalty of 30 years in jail.
Anti-Slavery International says that in spite of this, there are still at least 43,000 slaves in the country.
"They are born into an established slave class and are made to do all the labour required by their masters without pay, including herding and cleaning … They are denied all rights and choice," it says.
According to some estimates from activists, the number is closer to 800,000, in a country of 12 million people, but this had been vehemently denied by the government, which in 2007 launched an inquiry to determine the extent of slavery. The results have yet to be made public.
Anti-Slavery International said the ruling would have a "wide-ranging impact on slavery and human rights issues beyond Niger."


Syria protests at US ‘war crime’ over deadly raid

by Roueida Mabardi*

Syria protested vehemently yesterday over what it said was a US attack on a border village that left eight civilians dead, with the official press branding it a "war crime."
"The American forces from Iraq committed cold-blooded murder," the government newspaper Tishrin wrote. "They committed a war crime in killing eight Syrian civilians in a quiet village."
Official media reported that American helicopter-borne troops from Iraq launched an assault on a building site Sunday in the village of Al-Sukkiraya, which lies just eight kilometres from the border.
The US military in Iraq said in a statement it does not have "any information" on the the incident, which if confirmed would be the first of its kind into Syrian territory.
Damascus has summoned the official US and Iraqi representatives in protest, the official SANA news agency said, describing the dead as a father and his four children, a couple and another man.
Syrian state television broadcast pictures of the scene, showing a building site with bloodstains on the ground, and the bodies of victims lying in the morgue.
"Four American helicopters violated Syrian airspace around 1645 (1445 GMT) on Sunday. American soldiers attacked a civilian building under construction and fired at workmen inside, causing eight deaths," official media said.
"Syria condemns and denounces this act of aggression and US forces will bear the responsibility for any consequences," SANA quoted an unidentified official as saying.
"Syria also demands that the Iraqi government accept its responsibilities and launches an immediate inquiry following this dangerous violation and forbids the use of Iraqi territory to launch attacks on Syria."
Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was due in London for a visit yesterday.
"This American aggression illustrates the stupidity of the administration of (US President George W.) Bush," Tishrin said. "The Bush administration must acknowledge the war crimes it has committed in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria."
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman Commander Darryn James said there was "no response" from the US Department of Defence.
The Iraqi defence ministry has also refused to comment.
US commanders say Syria is the main transit point for foreign jihadists crossing into Iraq and have blamed Damascus for turning a blind eye to the problem but Iraqi officials have said Syria has been boosting border security.
Al-Sukkiraya is on the Euphrates river across the border from the Iraqi town of Al-Qaim, a stronghold of Al-Qaeda and other insurgents. US commanders have regularly said the area around Qaim is a transit point for foreign fighters.
"I heard shooting, I ran to get my son and they shot me," one woman lying in a hospital bed told Syrian state television in footage aired yesterday.
"I was fishing and I saw four helicopters. They started shooting like the rain," said another man, his arm in a bandage. "I saw eight soldiers coming out (of a helicopter) with weapons… I tried to flee and I was hit."
Last month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told Bush that Iran and Syria — long targets of US blame over the deadly unrest in the country — no longer pose a problem.
However, on October 16 Iraqi forces arrested seven Syrian "terrorist" suspects at a checkpoint near the city of Baquba, a hub of Al-Qaeda fighters, the Iraqi defence ministry said.
Syria's first ambassador to Iraq in 26 years took up his post in Baghdad this month, marking the official end of more than two decades of icy relations.
On September 28, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed she had met her Syrian counterpart to discuss Middle East peace efforts despite renewed criticism from Washington over Syrian policies.
Their talks came after Bush slammed Damascus in an address to the UN General Assembly, saying regimes like Syria and Iran "continue to sponsor terror."
Washington has also accused Damascus of failing to give adequate cooperation to the International Atomic Energy Agency in its investigation into a mystery facility bombed by Israel in September last year that US officials have charged was a nuclear plant.