Sunday, June 17, 2012

EURO 2012

For the past one week or so, similar to millions of other people, I have been enjoying the group stage of Euro 2012. I love football and try my best to watch games of the World Cup or the Euro Cup, but as a result of my increased involvement in the field of human rights and my particular interest in trafficking in persons, I have recently discovered a different side to two of the biggest sport events in the world. 

Kathryn Farr is definitely correct when she observes, “It is almost a truism that wherever sizable groups of men congregate away from their homes and families – whether to fight or to seek refuge from fighting, to keep the peace, to work, or to play – demand for prostitution increases”. In her book, she focuses on armed conflicts and the resulting abuse of women and young girls on a large scale, whether before, during, or after the conflict. Her statement, however, could certainly be applied to events happening in the absence of an armed confrontation. By emphasizing patriarchal structures, Farr acknowledges that the devaluation of the feminine and exultation of the masculine lead to wide-spread prostitution and rape. What she highlights is that both rape and the use of prostitutes are thought to be inevitable, if not normal, behaviors of men, especially in the excitement of an event that brings out what society considers male characteristics: aggression and power. To satisfy the high demand for sexual services during times of a major event, the criminal organizations do not shy away from resorting to violence, force, and coercion to make sure there are sufficient numbers of women to meet the demand. 

Sexual abuse is what shocks the general public, but it is not at all the only form of human trafficking that permeates major sport events. During the 2010 World Cup, for example, there were several reports about child labour used to make the necessary for each game soccer ball. Further, thousands of men were brought from surrounding countries to assist with the construction of venues and the upkeep of fields. When the euphoria of the World Cup subsided and the sounds of vuvuzelas dissipated, many of these men were left with no payment and no opportunity to even return to their home nations, which only made them more vulnerable and perfect targets for future exploitation. 

The issues with exploited or forced labor certainly apply to any major event, sport or otherwise (see: EUROVISION). The problem is not simply that exploitation takes place in order for millions to enjoy a game; the problem is that such abuses are considered a necessary and inevitable aspect of such events and that there is not much that could be done to prevent them. Fortunately, many are starting to talk about and expose these violations and it would soon be hard for those responsible to dismiss and ignore them.

-       Krasi

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Torture Part Deux

As I mentioned in a previous post, spring quarter 2012 is almost over (almost because I still have one last paper to polish and submit...) and I am quite ready for summer. Before that happens, however, I think I should add some reflections from the seminar on torture I completed. I can honestly say that I wish I had not seen some of the pictures and films presented during the seminar, but I understand why it is important that we do see them and acknowledge them.
Several years ago I watched a documentary on the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster of 1986. The purpose of the documentary was to reveal a step by step description of what exactly went wrong. What made an impression on me was the fact that the disaster happened because everything went wrong. It was not simply a human error, it was not just one person’s error, it was not just one safety device failing. The breakdown of all the elements in the chain allowed the disaster to happen. Similarly, the practice of torture occurs not because one person has a particular taste for violence or because there is a failure in the system. Everyone must participate, either as a torturer, as a sanctioner, or as a bystander. 

As the Chilean novelist Ariel Dorfman points out, the type of regime has no relevance to the use of torture; rather, as long as those in charge are able to present a worthy goal of some ultimate freedom and security, the act of torture will be accepted and condoned by the majority. How the act is presented to the world highly relies on the point of view. Depending on whose side a person is on, torture can either be a great violation of human dignity or the ultimate expression of patriotism in the pursuit of security to the homeland. 

Orwell portrays the danger of such distinctions and in his work Animal Farm stresses that considering the behavior one engages in, the label of that behavior is irrelevant to the outside observer. If all nations, regardless of how democratic they are, choose to employ torture to ensure security, the line between us and them is erased and if a true outsider were to look through a hypothetical window, he would not be able to distinguish between enemy and friends because without the knowledge of who is “us” and who is “them”, all humans would look the same to him as far as the practice of torture is concerned. 

The fact that there is no difference between the so-called enemies and ourselves when it comes to disrespecting the law, each other, and humanity in general should be known to most people. However, we are used to pointing fingers at others and finding rationalizations for actions that would easily be regarded as despicable if committed by the enemy. A cultural shift is indeed in order if we are to stop ignoring what goes on in our own neighborhood before we start searching for criminals in the town across the river (or ocean). Until we realize that language is a means of controlling one’s thoughts and ideas, it will be hard to acknowledge that there is no difference between a dictatorial “enemy” torturing our combatants and our combatants “harshly interrogating” the enemy under the sanction of democracy. 

 - Krasi

Monday, June 4, 2012

Summer 2012

I just submitted two of the four final papers I have due for spring quarter 2012 and I am trying to find the motivation to finish the other two by Friday and have my first year as an International Human Rights student officially completed. Yep, it is certainly time for a summer full of adventures, a great internship, and some well-deserved rest!

Even though the majority of the Korbel students are off to pursue wonderful opportunities at a variety of international internships all over the world, some of us are staying locally in Denver and are looking forward to having some nature time. With the Rocky Mountains nearby, the expectation is that this is not to be a difficult goal to achieve. In addition, I am not giving out details, but there is an amazing road trip in the works and the number of national parks visited by me is about to grow:)

Hiking, camping, and mountain-exploring are not the only items on the summer agenda, however. Starting on June 14, I will begin my internship at the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking and become directly involved in the fight against human trafficking by contributing as a research assistant and an advocate. Hopefully, the relationships built and the information acquired will also be fundamental to the completion of my HTC research project. 

Between the adventurous trips and productive work, enjoying shows and films that have nothing to do with genocide, war, or torture, reading at least some of the books on my to-read list, researching internship opportunities in DC, and contributing to this blog are other activities I am determined to engage in. Oh yes, it is time for great two and a half months of summer!

Just need to finish the remaining two papers first…

-          Krasi

Friday, June 1, 2012

International Children's Day

I can attest to the fact that holidays and opportunities for celebration were not in short supply when I was growing up. However, there was one day every year that was by far the most exciting and expected holiday by any kid in school. No, I am not referring to my birthday and the opportunity to eat my mother’s homemade cake and other scrumptious desserts:). That day was definitely one of the highlights during the school year, but what I am focusing on in this post is Children’s Day celebrated on June 1st

On that day, school was out and we all got to play our preferred games outside. My favorite event of the day, however, was when teachers would bring out color chalk and let us draw what we wanted to on the street. A whole street would be blocked off so each child could have all the space to create his or her masterpiece. This was no ordinary experience as the opportunity for sidewalk drawings, common today, was not really an option when I was a kid. 

Fun fact: all drivers are supposed to drive with the lights on June 1st to signify extra alertness when it comes to child safety.

No matter how old I become, I will always keep memories of a great childhood with me, June 1st will forever be Children’s Day and bring out wonderful recollections of summers spent outside running and laughing, playing dodge ball or jumping jacks, chasing each other in wide-open fields, as well as of winters spent sliding down hills on pieces of plastic and getting soaked from the snow melting on our clothes. Good times! I have no idea what children nowadays do to have fun, but from what I hear, it is not even close to what I was fortunate enough to have. 

And here is my absolutely favorite childhood song from the 1981 Bulgarian film Unexpected Vacation. Sorry if you don’t speak Bulgarian:)

Happy Children's Day to all of you still kids at heart!

-          Krasi