WARNING: this piece contains discussions of rape.
Host Intro: Sex trafficking is a widespread problem for women and girls in Iraq. For sex trafficking victims, currently their voice is silenced under the law, society typically views them as prostitutes, and limited social resources exist once they are free. War News Radio’s Sabrina Merold spoke to Sherizaan Minwala, an expert on the sex trafficking of women and girls in Iraq about how honor codes predispose women to become victims of sex-trafficking, why combating sex-trafficking is not a priority in Iraq, and what could be done to change sex trafficking in the Iraqi legal system and in society.
MEROLD If you’re a woman in Iraq and, for whatever reasons, you’re seen with a boy who is not a close family member, you don’t return home for a night, or you stay in a women’s shelter, the last thing you want to do is go back home. That’s because these all expose a woman or girl to face honor violence at her home, leaving her afraid to return and susceptible to falling into the hands of sex traffickers. When these women and girls are arrested for prostitution, even though Iraq signed into law a comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation in 2012, they are typically convicted and placed in jail. With turmoil and violence in Iraq, the issue of sex trafficking is just not a priority. On the societal level and in the legal system, for change to occur, Sherizaan Minwalla believes we need to reframe how we view women and girls. They are victims of sex trafficking not prostitutes. The problem is, we rarely hear from a girl in this situation.
MINWALLA The laws, the systems, the practices all of that is important but I think starting from the perspective of the victims, hearing their voices and really listening to them is so important. The piece that is so tough is just having compassion for the victims and really understanding how they got there, what they are going through, what keeps them in that situation. I think once we develop that compassion and that understanding a lot can come from that.
MEROLD That’s Sherizaan Minwalla, the Deputy Country Director in Iraq for Mercy Corps, an international development organization based in the United States. In Iraq, honor codes run deep. These traditions – not strictly religious, but common in Muslim societies – mean that an entire family’s reputation is jeopardized by the perceived sexual impurity of any female member. In the eyes of many tribal, religious, and community leaders, killing a woman that has had sex outside of marriage, even in the case of rape, is the best way to restore family dignity. Minwalla believes honor violence leaves women fearful for their safety yet escaping honor violence does not ensure freedom but a high risk of being trafficked into prostitution.
MINWALLA You know if the relationship comes out that puts you at risk. You might be killed by your father or uncle or someone else in the family but then also once you leave home because you are afraid, that puts you at risk. I’ve seen cases where girls have been involved in a relationship. Then they are afraid that they father is going to find out and then the men who they were involved with they ask for help to get away or run away and then they end up taking them to a brothel.
MEROLD Surprisingly, Minwalla says that in many cases, women can’t even trust another woman to help them find a safe way to independence from their families. Women are often complicit in the sex trade, working as middlemen between traffickers and vulnerable populations or even as traffickers.
MINWALLA I have seen those really awful cases where women have been recruited through women’s protective shelters. In 2007, where the director of a women’s shelter was trafficking and abusing and exploiting residents in the shelter along with her husband. I also saw another case of a shelter in Sulaymaniyah. One of the smaller shelters where one of the night monitors recruited a 14 year old girl into trafficking by promising to take her to her parents where she would have a better life and where she could live in a center protected shelter. She called two men who picked them up and raped this young girl and then left her at a brothel.
MEROLD Iraq passed a comprehensive anti-trafficking law in 2012, but the justice system is still stacked against victims of sex trafficking. Women are seen as prostitutes, people that don’t deserve legal representation, rather than the targets of crime. Lawyers have to prove that their clients are even worth defending.
MINWALLA Lawyers would go into court and essentially say that these women and girls were forced into prostitution and that is a defense to criminal activity because under the Iraqi code if you are forced into committing a crime you could claim a legal defense. Then they really need to be able to have quality representation. There is a lot of crimes you will find that the evidence is out there that could bolster their case but nobody is really looking for it and everyone is just complacent. I’ve seen judges who have called clients and lawyers whores in court. It simply requires training of lawyers and lawyers who are willing to put their own reputation on the line when they go into court.
MEROLD Beyond training lawyers, in order to further the progress that is currently been made in dropping cases or finding victims of sex trafficking not guilty, Minwalla believes that judges need to be educated on the issue of sex trafficking.
MINWALLA I think there are some judges who you may never win over but there has definitely been change and the fact that we have seen judges drop charges, not refer cases for trail, find their clients not guilty. I mean I think that is huge progress and so if we could sort of start from where we have seen success and build out from that I think a lot of change can happen.
MEROLD Although change could happen, a consequence of the ongoing volatile security situation in Iraq is that the Iraqi government, donors, and policy makers disregard the importance of implementing change and developing a response to sex trafficking. In Minwalla’s opinion, it does not make sense to wait and respond once the security situation is resolved because sex trafficking and security are greatly interconnected. Syrian refugees pouring into the northern region of Kurdistan have added to instability. These populations, Minwalla says, easily get caught in existing trafficking webs.
MINWALLA Again, there is a lot of trafficking in Kurdistan so when these refugees came they were already walking into a situation where the environment existed that could exploit their vulnerabilities. Of course when refugees don’t have money or resources and they are vulnerable you always end up finding these situations where poor women and girls are trafficked.
MEROLD For women that manage to get their case cleared or dismissed and escape sex trafficking, they still can’t return home. Their purity and honor have been lost. The few shelters that exist for these victims are hardly safe. Even some Ministry of the Interior guards tasked with policing shelters could be linked to traffickers. Minwalla believes that addressing legal issues is important but a long-term social service program is also needed to provide victims with safe shelter and figure out long-term solutions so they do not end up being recruited back into trafficking. Currently, the resources in Iraq are so limited that the focus on victims of sex trafficking is very minimal. Yet, according to Minwalla, change can slowly begin by simply having compassion for the victims of sex trafficking and being willing to listen from their perspective, as victims, and hear their voices.
For War News Radio, I’m Sabrina Merold.
This week on War News Radio, “Control and Conflict.” First, we learn more about the origins of the conflicts in Ukraine and Venezuela. Next, we interview two anti-war activists about their role in the 1971 FBI break-in in Media, Pennsylvania. Then, we hear from a Swarthmore student about her experiences studying abroad in the Middle East. Finally, we talk to an expert about the problem of sex trafficking in Iraq. Stay with us.
Allison Hrabar: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Allison Hrabar.
Henry Zhang: And I’m Henry Zhang. Tensions rose between pro-Russian and pro-Western protesters in Ukraine this week following the collapse of the government under Viktor Yanukovych. Pro-Russian separatists brawled with supporters of the new government outside the regional parliament in Simferopol, the capital city of Crimea. As protests escalated, Russia suspended its financial and political support for Ukraine and moved naval forces to the region. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov vowed that Russia would not intervene militarily in Ukraine. The country, however, recently began surprise military exercises in the Crimean peninsula. The recent tension in Crimea has demonstrated the potential challenges that Ukraine’s new government will have to confront. The ethnic, religious, and political diversity of the region has historically bred conflict, and the political instability of the country may only increase the likelihood of violence.
Hrabar: Anti-government protest leaders in Venezuela have refused to enter peace negotiations with President Nicholas Maduro, continuing to demand his resignation. Demonstrations have persisted in and around the capital city of Caracas, after two weeks of violent clashes between government forces and protesters, leaving 14 people dead and 147 injured. Opposition leaders, including Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed politician Leopoldo Lopez, have accused Maduro of failing to control inflation, crime, and food shortages throughout the country. Although United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has formally called for an end to the violence, protesters on both sides show no signs of ceasing demonstrations.
Zhang: Tensions between security forces and anti-government protesters in Thailand continued to escalate this week. At least four people were killed–including three children–and more than 50 were injured in clashes with police officers in the capital city of Bangkok and in the northeastern Trat province. President Yingluck Shinawatra condemned the violence and labeled the conflict, quote, “terrorist attacks for political gains.” The protesters, however, allege that the demonstrations are merely a response to government crackdowns imposed last month. Despite a recent court decision ruling the protests non-violent, both protest leaders and government officials have acknowledged the inevitability of future violence. Suthep Thaugsuban, the leader of the protest movement, has threatened to use violence if the police infringe on the rights of protesters, while ruling officials have expressed willingness to kill protesters who continue to defy the government.
Hrabar: North Korea fired four short-range missiles into the East Sea earlier this week. Although spokespeople for North Korea have not released any information about the motivation behind the test launch, the incident coincided with the beginning of joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea. In the past, North Korea has protested annual South Korean military exercises–which they perceive as rehearsals for future invasions–by launching similar short-range missiles. Unlike in past years, however, tension has actually diminished between North and South Korea in recent months. Last week’s reunion of family members separated during the Korean War has inspired optimism about an improvement in relations between the two countries. This week’s launches do not seem likely to disrupt this trend. Many foreign policy experts have noted that the fairly routine tests are purely symbolic and do not pose a direct military threat to South Korea.
Zhang: Syrian armed forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed at least 175 rebels in an ambush earlier this week. The majority of the rebels killed and injured in the assault were members of the Al Qaeda-backed Nusra Front. Several combatants, however, were foreigners from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, and Qatar, affiliated with the Salafi Jihadist Liwa al-Islam group, according to a report released by the Syrian state news agency SANA. The assault was one of the deadliest attacks on rebel forces by the government during the three-year conflict, underscoring the sectarian divide between Sunni and Shi’ite groups in the country. Sunni factions have spearheaded much of the rebellion against former president Bashar al-Assad’s regime, while Assad has found Shi’ite allies in Iran and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group.
Hrabar: The Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group threatened to retaliate after Israeli warplanes struck one of its military positions near the Lebanese-Syrian border this week. Hezbollah released a statement condemning the attacks, saying, quote, “The resistance will choose the time and place and the proper way to respond to it.” Israel has neither directly confirmed nor denied the attack. Although Israeli jets have bombed Syrian targets several times during the current Syrian conflict, this could be the first strike by Israel on Lebanese territory since the Lebanon War in 2006. Hezbollah has allied with both Iran and Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad and has sent thousands of fighters to the country to back Assad’s regime.
Zhang: At least 14 people were killed in an attack on a medical facility in the South Sudanese city of Malakal this week. Patients at the facility were shot in their beds while attackers looted and set fire to the building. Violence continues to escalate throughout the country as government forces and rebel factions clash over oil-rich territory. According to a statement released by the aid group Doctors Without Borders, Malakal is not the only city in which hospitals have been targeted. Two facilities run by Doctors Without Borders in other cities were looted and destroyed this week as well. The violence has caused the organization to re-examine their operations in the country, in order to ensure the safety of their staff and patients.
Hrabar: At least 29 students were killed this week in an attack on a Nigerian boarding school by the Islamist militant organization Boko Haram. At a federal college in the northeastern Yobe state, the assailants separated the male and female students before shooting dozens of the male students and setting several buildings on fire. None of the female students were harmed. The assault was the fourth attack on a school by the group in less than a year. Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” has targeted public education institutions throughout the country as part of its campaign against the secularization of the school system.
Zhang: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.o-r-g. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Aneesa Andrabi, Caroline Batten, Jay Clayton, Anita Desai, Joelle Hageboutros, Sabrina Merold, Jerry Qin, Zoey Werbin, Tyler Welsh, and Chloe Wittenberg. I’m Henry Zhang.
Hrabar: And I’m Allison Hrabar. Until next time, thanks for listening.
Aneesa Andrabi: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Aneesa Andrabi.
Caroline Batten: And I’m Caroline Batten. This week marks the highest death toll in Ukraine since anti-government protests began in the fall. The BBC reports that 75 people have died since Wednesday, as violence between armed riot police and protesters grows in the capital city of Kiev. The European Union announced Thursday that it would impose visa bans, asset freezes, and other sanctions on specific Ukrainian officials responsible for deaths. The U.S. State Department has already announced that it is banning the visas of 20 unnamed Ukrainian officials. Protests began in November when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych reversed a planned trade deal with the EU and drew closer to Russia. Previously, the EU advocated dialogue and compromise, rather than sanctions.
Andrabi: 10 people were killed and 130 wounded in two simultaneous suicide bombings in Beirut. The bombs detonated in front of an Iranian cultural center, located in a neighborhood held by the Lebanese militant organization Hezbollah. An Al-Qaeda affiliated Sunni extremist group, known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Brigades oppose Hezbollah’s active military support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as Iran’s financial contributions to the Assad regime. The Brigades justified the act as, quote, “retaliation for Iran’s party fighting alongside the criminal regime in Syria.” The attack is the latest in a series of bombings in the city, as violence from the Syrian civil war continues to spill over into Lebanon.
Batten: Leopoldo Lopez, the leader of Venezuela’s anti-government Popular Will party, turned himself in to government authorities this week. The charges against Lopez include terrorism and arson, in connection with recent protests in the capital city of Caracas. The protests, primarily caused by serious social and economic problems within the country, have heightened criticism of the socialist regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Maduro faces allegations that he is stifling free-speech and scapegoating political opponents by imprisoning Mr. Lopez. The president, however, maintains that Lopez’s fascist agenda poses a serious threat to the country’s security. Before surrendering to the police, Lopez made a statement denying that he had incited the violent protests. Meanwhile, the United States continues to deny claims that they are aiding the Venezuelan anti-government movement.
Andrabi: One person was killed and 77 were injured this week during a riot at an Australian immigration detention center in Papua New Guinea. The uprising reportedly began after refugees broke free from the center, marking the second bout of unrest at the camp this week. Located on the remote Manus Island, the camp is one of several offshore centers for asylum-seekers immigrating to Australia, by way of dangerous sea voyage from Indonesia. In recent months, the Australian government has taken a firm stance against immigration, and such processing centers are an attempt to deter asylum-seekers from entering the country. Conditions of the detention camps have long been the subject of criticism from human rights groups and United Nations agencies, and many have called for closure of the camp on Manus Island in response to this week’s violence. Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, however, has insisted that the government plans to continue its policies and keep the detention camp in operation despite the unrest.
Batten: Rebels attacked an oil town in northern South Sudan earlier this week, leaving at least 10 people dead. The incident marks the first outbreak of fighting since the rebels and the government signed a ceasefire agreement in January. Thousands have been killed and over 800,000 people have been displaced since the conflict began last year. The assault on the oil fields may motivate future peace talks. Because oil is a crucial economic resource for South Sudan, any disruptions to the supply present a threat to the security of the country. It remains unclear, however, when negotiations between the two sides will resume. Although talks were due to begin last week, they have been delayed by rebel demands for the release of senior political officials by the government and neighboring Uganda.
Andrabi: Violent anti-government protests continued this week in Thailand. Five protesters were killed and 65 were injured in clashes with police forces in the capital city of Bangkok. The incident came in the wake of a recent civil court ruling that deemed the protests non-violent, and thus banned the use of government violence to disperse protesters. Over the last several months, thousands of demonstrators have called for the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They have alleged that Yingluck and her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have exercised too much control over the government through their decade-long rule over the country. The protesters have advocated for the construction of an unelected people’s council to replace the Parliament. Electoral change in the country, however, has been slow. Although Yingluck held elections last December in an attempt to appease opposition groups, large-scale boycotts of the election rendered its results inconclusive.
Batten: Gold miners were trapped while illegally working in an abandoned mine near Benoni, South Africa. Two bodies have been found, and 24 men were rescued and given medical attention before being arrested. Fearing punishment, many workers initially refused to exit the mine. The workers claimed that a competing group placed boulders at the entrance of the mining shaft to trap them inside. Conflicts between opposing mining groups have become increasingly common in South Africa. Illegal mining is on the rise throughout the country, posing health and safety risks for the miners and costing the industry over 500 million dollars per year. Unemployment is now at 24 percent in South Africa, forcing many to risk joining these illegal operations. The South African Parliament has considered legalizing access to abandoned mines, but costs of bringing the mines to acceptable safety levels may be prohibitive.
Andrabi: 455 Indian workers died in Qatar between 2012 and 2013, according to a report released by the Indian Embassy in Doha. Qatar is home to 1.2 million migrant workers, and is commonly criticised by international human rights organizations for inadequate labor conditions. The recent figure has prompted concern from advocacy organizations such as Amnesty International, which is pushing for labor reform in Qatar. Though the International Trade Union Confederation insists that the death rate is unusually high, Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee claims that the figure is reasonable given the size of the Indian community. Since FIFA awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup in 2010, migrant workers have played a growing role in Qatar’s development. Whether FIFA will respond to the reports of inhumane labor conditions remains to be seen.
Batten: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.o-r-g. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Nora Bailin, Anita Desai, Amy DiPierro, Joelle Hageboutros, Allison Hrabar, Sabrina Merold, Dylan Okabe-Jawdat, Jerry Qin, Will Sullivan, Tyler Welsh, Zoey Werbin, and Chloe Wittenberg. I’m Caroline Batten.
Andrabi: And I’m Aneesa Andrabi. Until next time, thanks for listening.
Kai Richter: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Kai Richter.
Rachel Yang: And I’m Rachel Yang. Russia has rejected a United States-backed draft resolution for humanitarian aid to Syria. Instead, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that his country’s draft focuses on condemning terrorism. The Syrian opposition has long been wary of the word “terrorism”, which the government often defines as any armed resistance to its rule, including by groups supported by opposition delegates. Russia’s draft also leaves out plans for a transitional government, a key section championed by the United Nations mediator at these talks. Violence in Syria has spiked since talks began in Geneva three weeks ago. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that nearly five thousand people have died in that time–the highest death toll since the conflict began.
Richter: This week, representatives from Taiwan and China held their first direct talks since the states split after the 1949 civil war. At the meeting, the representatives agreed to maintain regular, formal communication. Since the split, the Chinese government has kept missiles pointed at Taiwan and has threatened to attack if Taiwan declares formal independence. The vast majority of Taiwan’s inhabitants still, however, oppose reunification with China. Recent developments may suggest a better relationship for the future. President Ma Ying-jeou came to power in 2008 in Taiwan and eased restrictions on cross-strait travel. In that time, trade has doubled between the island and the mainland. However, Ma has become increasingly unpopular at home, which may make additional progress difficult before the upcoming elections in 2016.
Yang: A military transport plane crashed in a mountainous eastern province of Algeria earlier this week. 77 passengers were killed and the only survivor remains in critical condition. The aircraft was carrying military personnel and their families to the northern city of Constantine when it crashed. The Algerian Defense Ministry cited, quote, “unfavorable weather conditions and storms accompanied by snow in the region” as the cause of the crash. The recently uncovered black box of the plane containing the pilot’s final communications may shed more light on the events leading up the accident. Earlier this week, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika declared a three-day mourning period to commemorate the victims of the tragedy.
Richter: According to a report released this week by the Human Rights Watch, Sudanese and Egyptian police forces have colluded with human trafficking groups to kidnap and extort Eritrean refugees over the last ten years. Hundreds, if not thousands, of refugees fleeing their oppressive home government have been kidnapped, tortured, raped, and killed by traffickers in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. Despite attention to this issue by numerous human rights groups, Egyptian officials have arrested only one person for participation in the attacks–an accomplice of a trafficker. Officials in the Egyptian government stated that they were attempting to control crime in the Sinai peninsula, but human rights activists have noted that the number of trafficking victims has only increased in recent months.
Yang: Earlier this week, representatives from the United Nations and Amnesty International declared the mass Muslim exodus from the Central African Republic an ethnic cleansing. The country’s minority Muslim population has recently been the target of violence by Christian militias. Many of these militias have blamed the Muslim community for the rise of the Seleka rebel group, which came to power in March 2013 and committed abuses against Christian citizens. Human rights experts have expressed fear that the discrimination against Muslims will soon snowball into a full-blown genocide. 2.5 million Muslim individuals have been displaced, and attacks against those who remain have only grown more common. Interim President Catherine Samba Panza, however, rejected the ethnic cleansing label. Instead, she suggested that the, quote, “security problem” be solved by increasing the international peacekeeping presence in the country.
Richter: Anti-government protests in Venezuela turned violent this week. Security forces fired rubber bullets at student demonstrators in the capital city of Caracas. The protest marks the latest in a string of opposition efforts against Nicholas Maduro’s government. The goal of the opposition efforts, according to opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, is to gain support for a 2016 referendum to bring down Maduro’s administration. In particular, Lopez cited rampant corruption, crime, and supply shortages as the key failings motivating the protests. Since Maduro entered office, Venezuela has had rising crime rates and significant economic problems, with a scarcity of staple products and an annual inflation rate over 50%. Last year’s elections signaled a deeply divided Venezuelan public, with Maduro winning by only one and a half percent of the vote.
Yang: Protests and burnings of government buildings began in Bosnia and Herzegovina last week in response to the sale of four state-owned companies to private owners that resulted in mass layoffs. Protests were precipitated by unemployment rates hovering around 40 percent, as well as widespread reports of regional government corruption. The average monthly Bosnian salary is less than 350 euros, while local parliamentarians make up to 3,500 euros–the highest salary in the region. Although some reporters have characterized the conflict as ethnic, most indicators point to socioeconomic disparity. Over the past week, protests of local governments have occurred in dozens of cities across the country, and some reports have even deemed the movement “the Bosnian Spring.”
Richter: A 3-year old girl from Kabul was diagnosed with polio this week, marking the first appearance of the disease in Afghanistan in twelve years. The case has since been traced back to neighboring Pakistan, where the virus is far more widespread, particularly in the tribal border areas. Today, there are just three countries in the world in which polio is endemic–Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. In Pakistan, polio vaccination became highly politicized after Dr. Shakil Afridi used a vaccination campaign as his cover for helping the United States Central Intelligence Agency locate Osama Bin Laden. In recent years, Taliban militants in the country have made frequent attacks on vaccination teams, accusing them of working with American spies. In response to the diagnosis, Unicef, the Ministry of Public Health, and the World Health Organization have launched a campaign to vaccinate tens of thousands of children in Kabul to prevent further spread of the disease.
Yang: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.o-r-g. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Nora Bailin, Anita Desai, Amy DiPierro, Joelle Hageboutros, Sabrina Merold, Dylan Okabe-Jawdat, Jerry Qin, Will Sullivan, Tyler Welsh, Zoey Werbin, and Chloe Wittenberg. I’m Rachel Yang.
Richter: And I’m Kai Richter. Until next time, thanks for listening.