Outrage over Uluṟu (Ayers Rock) stripper

From Telegraph:

Climbers at Uluru ignore warning signs at their peril. Photo by en:User:Lee M, May 18, 1998

Alizee Sery, 25, climbed the red sandstone monolith in conventional dress but then stripped at the top to a white bikini, white high-heeled boots and a bushman’s hat.

The images outraged local Aborigines, who regard it as a sacred site and object to tourists climbing it.

Aborigines also object to photos being taken of the areas of the rock, which they call Uluru.

Sery said she had not intended to offend Aboriginal culture with her “strip show”.

“What we need to remember is that traditionally, the Aboriginal people were living naked, so stripping down was a return to what it was like,” she said. “I do not mean in any way for this to offend the Aboriginal culture.”

David Ross, director of the Central Land Council which represents the traditional owners of and the surrounding national park, said the woman was a French tourist and should be deported.

“Too often Uluru is used as a place for individuals to pursue some questionable personal development activities at the expense of Aboriginal law and culture,” he said.

Northern Territory Police said they were unaware of the incident and immigration department officials said they were not able to comment. The singer’s behaviour could constitute a minor offence of disorderly conduct.

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France votes to return Maori heads to New Zealand

Tukukino, an old fighting chief of the Ngāti Tamaterā people of the Hauraki district, North Island, New Zealand, circa 1880

The French parliament has voted to return the mummified heads of at least 15 Maori warriors to New Zealand.

The heads, taken by European explorers in the 18th and 19th centuries, are currently on display in several museums in France.

The decision ends years of debate and is part of a wider discussion in the US and Europe on the restitution of artefacts taken centuries earlier.

The Maoris believed the preservation of the heads kept their spirits alive.

But they became exotic collector items in Europe in the 19th Century, with museum officials saying some men may have been killed for their tattoos.

MPs in France almost unanimously backed the bill to return the tattooed heads, some still with bits of hair and teeth attached, back to their home country.

It is the first time that French legislation has allowed an entire division of museum artefacts to be returned.

Catherine Morin-Desailly, the MP who proposed the bill, said it showed France’s commitment to human rights.

“There are some things which are above art and which should remain sacred,” she told Associated Press.

New Zealand first requested their return in the 1980s but the issue became more prominent in France in 2007 after a city council voted for one head to be sent back.

The decision was later overturned by the French Ministry of Culture, which ruled such a decision could not be taken at local level.

Critics had voiced concerns it might set a new precedent, putting other collections at risk.

Pita Sharples, the New Zealand minister for Maori affairs, said the decision was a “matter of great significance”.

“Maori believe that, through their ancestors’ return to their original homeland, their dignity is restored, and they can be put to rest in a peace among their families,” he said.

The heads will be sent to the Te Papa museum in the New Zealand capital, Wellington, and then returned to tribal groups to be buried.

From BBC

Peru protests – indigenous people march for their rights

lima_police_572575alimaPeruvian lawmakers suspended a controversial law on Wednesday that eased restrictions on lumber harvesting in the Amazon rain forest. Opposition politicians protest during the session in Lima.

lima_parliament_572576aPeru’s Amazonian indigenous peoples have been resisting since last year a plan by President Alan Garcia to use their traditional lands for greater development, typically of oil and gas, but also for logging and biofuel crops.

lima_arrest_572577a

Students joined indigenous people in Lima, Peru to march in their thousands to back Amazon Indians resisting oil and natural gas exploration on their land. Demonstrators hold a banner reading “The jungle is not for sale”.

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SOURCE

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL Human Rights Report

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In its annual report released on Thursday, Amnesty International scolds China and the United States for human rights violations. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, AI head Irene Khan warns that the global economic crisis is leading Western governments to put the push for universal human rights on the back burner.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The past year has been totally dominated by the global recession. That’s even reflected in your annual report. How has it affected the human rights situation around the world?

Khan: We are seeing a catastrophe. After years of going down, the number of people in poverty is growing again. We saw social uprisings across Africa and China — and very harsh repression by governments that left many protesters dead. Food shortages allowed several governments, among others Zimbabwe and North Korea, to use food as a political weapon.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Could that have been prevented?

Khan: Leading governments have been distracted by the recession. Humanitarian crises, like in Darfur and Palestine, do not get the attention they deserve. The poorest are hardest hit by the economic crisis, but all the thought and investment goes to shore up the economy and the banking system in the West. Human rights are put on a backburner.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it surprising to you that Western politicians think of their own countries first?

Khan: The West is taking a big risk: If the fallout from the global recession is not managed well and more investment doesn’t go to the poorer countries, billions around the world will suffer.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The recession has also sped up the creation of a new global body — the G-20. Your report shows that by including countries such as China and Saudi Arabia, the human rights record of the former G-8 has been severely tarnished. The G-20 is responsible for almost 80 percent of torture and executions worldwide. Was it a good idea to expand the G8?

Khan: The expansion was right, because the G-20 reflects the reality of political and economic power in the world. But it will not be a very effective group of leaders, if it does not develop a common vision of human rights. One of our goals is to bring the two top nations of the world, the United States and China, to develop a common basis. We want the US to sign up to the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and we want China to sign up to UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: A couple of signatures do not result in a common vision. Have you not lost an important ally in the old G-8? After all, the G-8 resolutions, notwithstanding all their imperfections, would uphold certain universal values, the values of Amnesty International. That is now over.

Khan: The question is whether the governments of the G-20 have to come down to the lowest common denominator. We campaign to make all member states commit to the universal canon of human rights, and there are some encouraging signs. China has signed its first action plan on human rights. Asean put in its charter an explicit commitment to human rights.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Chinese action plan adopted in April promises, among other things, to control the death penalty and to let journalists and bloggers work freely. How credible is it?

Khan: There is a big gap between rhetoric and reality. Promises are not enough, we expect deeds. Before the Olympics last year, China opened up a bit. They unblocked some Web sites, including that of Amnesty, but that is now inaccessible again. Also, they have instituted an appeal in death penalty cases, but they remain by far the biggest executioner in the world.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to your annual report, China executed at least 1,700 people in the past year, followed by Iran with at least 346 executions.

Khan: The real numbers in both countries are significantly higher. These are only the cases that we have gleaned from the news and our country sources. There is no official government data on executions, and we do not get access to either country.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the past seven years, the war on terror has played a very important role in your annual reports. It seems that it is becoming less important. Western governments that have been involved in torture or rendition are on the defensive, transparency is the new buzzword. Do you feel vindicated?

Khan: There is a very clear shift in political strategy around the world. We are very happy about the repeated promises of US President Barack Obama to close Guantanamo and other detention centers and to stop the use of torture. The US has led the war on terror, so this reversal amounts to a global climate change. What is still missing, though, is disclosure. There is an unfinished story of accountability both in the US and Europe. We will keep pushing for the full truth of rendition and torture.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Last week, President Obama announced the closure of Guantanamo. But he did not rule out the practice of preventive detention. Some prisoners might still be held indefinitely without a trial — only it would happen on US rather than Cuban soil.

Khan: This is very worrying. Obama has been alarmingly ambiguous on the issue, hinting at some new legislation. But incarceration without a trial can never be within the rule of law. We are asking the government in Washington to release all innocent prisoners from Guantanamo and to try the rest in a US court. The government should show some confidence in its own justice system.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to the Pentagon, up to 14 percent of former Guantanamo inmates have gone back to terrorist activities. Can the Obama administration afford to release prisoners who cannot be convicted of a crime, but are considered too dangerous to be free?

Khan: A liberal democracy has to run that risk. Only a court, not a government, can determine whether a person is dangerous or not. If someone cannot be found guilty, he should be set free.

SOURCE

Culture wars – An Anti-Semite for UNESCO?

Farouk Hosni

Egypt’s Culture Minister Farouk Hosni is a leading candidate to take over UNESCO in the fall. An alliance of intellectuals and Jewish groups from France, Germany and Israel are up in arms over the possibility due to remarks made by him perceived to be anti-Israeli.

It’ll soon be time for a new boss at UNESCO, the world’s pre-eminent cultural preservation organization. But German cultural and Jewish groups are worried about the candidate currently favored to win the top spot: Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni.

In a statement released on Monday, the German Culture Council — an umbrella organization of cultural organizations in Germany — expressed concern over Hosni’s candidacy due to his history of anti-Semitic statements.

“Choosing Farouk Hosni as the new director of UNESCO would be a mistake,” said Olaf Zimmermann, head of the Culture Council. UNESCO is on the verge of putting into practice the Convention on Cultural Diversity. A responsibility like that shouldn’t be trusted to someone who hasn’t fully internalized the ideals of UNESCO.”

Hosni, an artist by trade, has been Egypt’s Culture Minister since 1987. He is known for being a liberal voice in Egyptian politics, opposing the veil for Egyptian women for example. But he has also made anti-Israeli statements in the past. Last year, he said he would “burn Israeli books in Egyptian libraries.”

Charlotte Knobloch, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in an interview on German radio that due to his “clearly anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli statements” Hosni should be “disqualified” for the position.

With the decision coming up in October, Hosni’s candidacy has become a hot issue in France, Germany and Israel. Last Friday, three Jewish intellectuals — including Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel — wrote an open letter questioning Hosni’s suitability for the position. “We must, without delay, appeal to everyone’s conscience to keep UNESCO from falling into the hands of a man who, when he hears the word ‘culture,’ responds with a book burning,” the letter read.

According to Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, the issue got more complicated after news leaked that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to support Hosni’s candidacy in a secret deal with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

SOURCE

Open Letter Concerning the Recent Firing of the University of Pennsylvania Museum Researchers

SOS

Please support this action and sign the petition here

To:  ARCHAEOLOGISTS AND THE CONCERNED COMMUNITY AT LARGE

To whom it may, it should or it would concern,

We the undersigned, academics and graduate students who are engaged with the future of archaeology, are deeply troubled by the recent announcement of the termination of eighteen research specialist positions at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the abolishing of those research positions, and the shutting down of their associated laboratories and centers such as MASCA (the Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology). We understand this gesture as a wholesale dismantling of the research mission of the University Museum, which has been at the forefront of international archaeological studies since the museum’s foundation in 1887. We would like to bring to public attention that this is a historic decision in the long-term history of the University Museum, and we reject that this is simply a strategic tightening of the belts at the time of a financial crisis, as it has been widely claimed by the Museum administrators in the popular media.

Our main concern is related to the long-term identity and mission of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. We are confident that University administrators are aware of the University Museum’s unique status as a research institution that has carried out many historically significant archaeological projects, most notably in the Middle East, the Mediterranean World, and Mesoamerica. In this way, like the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, the University Museum has uniquely characterized itself, as stated on the museum’s own website, as a research institution to “advance understanding of the world’s cultural heritage” (see the Museum’s mission statement). We understand the dismantling of the research infrastructure of the Museum as a drastic surgical gesture, a decisive act that will discontinue the possibility of future archaeological research in the above-mentioned fields. We hope that the Museum administration, the Provost, and the President understand the long term responsibilities and the consequences of this historic decision.

Many of these researchers, such as Patrick McGovern, Kathleen Ryan, David G. Romano, Simon Martin, Barbara J. Hayden, Philip G. Chase, and Naomi Miller are high-profile senior researchers in their respective fields. They have contributed to the intellectual environment of the University and the greater archaeological discipline with their research, their numerous publications, and teaching for many years. We feel that the firing of these researchers in this financially strained environment is unfair since they may not be easily employed elsewhere at this time with their laboratory and facilities needs. Additionally, the administration’s financially motivated decision not only violates academic ethics of respect to such scholarly accomplishments and intellectual labor, but also ignores the institutional memory of the University Museum all together. We urge the University of Pennsylvania and the University Museum administrators to reconsider their decision, to find ways to restore and fund the research positions, and to rehire for next year the research specialists who are now to be laid off.

We would like to remind the administrators that universities are not for-profit businesses, rather they are institutions of research and teaching whose component parts need to be supported and protected, especially in tough financial times. While calling for the reinstatement of the researchers, we also recommend the establishment of a Archaeological Research Grant Support Office in the University Museum. This will encourage the units to become more financially self-sustaining while at the same time provide guidance and grant-application support for the research specialists to alleviate some of the burden that comes with the arduous process of preparing grant applications. In addition, one of the criticisms directed at such research positions has been their disconnection from the teaching environment at Penn. We suggest then that it would be helpful to redefine these positions with greater interaction with students, some teaching responsibility, and greater public outreach.

We would like to reiterate that the discontinuation of eighteen research positions at the University Museum and the abolition of research centers and laboratories very well might be an irreversible decision for the future of archaeology both at Penn and in the broader field. Furthermore, this is undeniably a reversal of the original mission of the University Museum, as a research institution that supports both public intellectuals and contributes to the scholarly understanding of human past.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned