Iraqi Refugees forced into Prostitution

September 16, 2007

Iraqi Refugees forced into Prostitution

I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought this would be a good post to get back in the swing of things.

One would think that by now people in the U.S. would be experts regarding Iraq. Since George W. Bush talks so much about “bringing freedom” to the Iraqis, saying things like “the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad”, I assume all law-abiding, patriotic citizens should at least know something about Iraq’s culture, its geography, languages spoken, not to mention everything about the daily struggles of the Iraqis. Yeah right, and first thing tomorrow morning, I’m buying a Jaguar for myself and a Porsche for my wife.

It is so incredibly frustrating that the average American is completely ignorant of the current human crisis and refugee situation in Iraq. If this were the 1930’s, with no TV, print, or internet, I would understand, but nowadays information is at the tip of the fingertips, one search engine away.

Take this recent article from WireTap Magazine:

Child prostitution is an increasingly widespread phenomenon in Damascus. Out of economic desperation, Iraqi refugee women and girls are forced into these roles. Frequently, women who have lost their husbands or girls who have lost their fathers resort to prostitution to support their families. And sometimes families that have no other financial resources sell their daughters into the sex industry. It is a tragic and horrifying reality.

There are no official figures as to how many of the Iraqi refugees work as prostitutes. But Hana Ibrahim, founder of the Iraqi women’s group Women’s Will, told The Independent that she puts the figure at 50,000. No one knows how many of the prostitutes are children.

Take a guess if this has EVER been discussed, or at least mentioned, in the mainstream media, with the seriousness this deserves. You certainly won’t hear it from the likes of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. They just don’t to talk about the problems, and even if they do, they certainly won’t address the causes of it:

The increased trafficking and prostitution is yet another result of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. There are roughly 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, perhaps 2 million within the Middle East. UNHCR estimates that 50,000 Iraqi refugees arrive in Syria each month. This situation represents the largest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948 and is currently the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world. Syria has been accepting more refugees without visas than any other country in the world. On Sept. 11, however, the Syrian government announced new visa restrictions that will sharply decrease the numbers of Iraqis wishing to enter Syria.

50,000 Iraqi refugees each month. That’s over half a million last year just to Syria alone. Syria has done a lot for Iraqi refugees, yet you really don’t hear much about it. What you do hear is that Syria might get a can of good ol’ butt whoopin’, shock-and-awe style, if it doesn’t do what the U.S. wants. If George W. Bush really cares that much for Iraq’s people, then he must be bending over backwards helping Iraqis, right? Wrong:

[…]In a July 2007 press statement, Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program, states, “The Syrian authorities have responded very positively to the Iraqis’ needs, but they and the Jordanian authorities should not be left to bear the weight of this crisis alone.” He went on to scold nations who had previously committed to providing financial assistance but had yet to cough up the funds.

But a lack of money is not the only problem. Refugees International underscores that offers from the international community to resettle Iraqi refugees have also been scarce. For example, the United States initially promised it would accept 7,000 Iraqi refugees by October of this year, yet, to date, has accepted only 133. Sweden, which had allowed thousands of Iraqis to resettle, has recently closed its borders to them. The silence of other nations on this issue is deafening.

7,000 measly visas for Iraqi refugees that are fleeing violence, civil war and ethnic cleansing, and of those only 133 have been accepted. Is this the high standard the U.S. currently has in place for the refugees in the very same fucking country it is “liberating”? I mean, give me a fucking break. It’s not like the U.S. has never helped refugees before. In 1975, President Ford brought to the U.S. 131,000 South Vietnamese that had worked for the Americans.

We can do a lot better. But I digress. The average American, especially those belonging to that elusive “28%” of the population that still backs Bush in whatever fantasy he spits out of his mouth, doesn’t have a clue as to what an average Iraqi refugee has to live with:

According to the UNHCR, Iraqis arrive with three to five months’ worth of savings. Due to a scarcity both of resources and of housing, they live in overcrowded neighborhoods outside of Damascus, such as Jeremana, often cramped seven to a room with few furnishings. Iraqis are not allowed to work in Syria, so when their funds run out, they are unable to support themselves. Consequently, many work illegally. Yet these jobs are difficult to come by and poorly paid, and workers frequently face discrimination. A report published by UNHCR and UNICEF last year states that an estimated 450,000 Iraqis in Syria “face aggravated difficulties” related to their “ambiguous legal and unsustainable income.” As their savings dwindle, the situation of Iraqi refugees is bound to deteriorate further. Sybella Wilkes, the UNHCR Regional public information officer in Damascus, says that “64 percent of the people who have arrived here have run out of savings.”

Bassam Alkadi, of the Syrian Women’s Observatory, agrees that the economic desperation is leading to an increase in prostitution. “The standard of living for Iraqis,” he says “has gone downhill very quickly.”

Yet according to Dubya, freedom is on the march. Sometimes I wish I were more eloquent so I can convey my thoughts and emotions better, but such is not the case here. The Iraqi refugee crisis is something I, along with others that truly give a damn about human rights, have been discussing since before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. One of my main gripes, though, is the hypocrisy that people have towards all of this. They care about the Iraqis, yet don’t want or don’t care to find out what’s really happening. It is all horseshit. Just admit it – this war has nothing to do with WMDs (guess who still believes that nonsense), democracy, or human rights. The average American does not understand or care much about human rights, and neither does Dubya.

Who are you going to believe, me or the president of the United States? Hint: I have been known to be right on occasion.

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Gardasil studies stopped due to sucess

March 2, 2007

I just found out about this – rest assured I’ll post more about it when details surface:

LONDON, Feb 27 (Reuters) – Clinical trials of Gardasil, the recently launched cervical cancer vaccine marketed by Merck & Co Inc and Sanofi-Aventis SA, are to be halted because of the success of the product.

Sanofi Pasteur MSD, a joint venture of the two companies, said on Tuesday the independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board for two trials had recommended they be terminated on ethical grounds, so that young women on placebo could receive Gardasil.

Gardasil was approved last year as the first vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. GlaxoSmithKline Plc has a rival product called Cervarix in development.

People without scientific or epidemiological training may be confused about this result. For the uninitiated here are some explanations.

People are somewhat familiar with clinical trials, in which the drug is given randomly to one group and a placebo to the other. It is unethical to not give a patient a treatment that we know that works, so in the case of clinical trials we give one group the experimental drug and the other group the established standard treatment – again, it is unethical to not treat patients.

Specifically, these are parallel track phase III studies, one previously completed in females, the other ongoing in older females and in adolescent males, which had not been completed at the time of original licensure.


Violating Iraqi Women – a Courtesy from the U.S.A.

February 24, 2007

This is one of the most disturbing posts I have done. So hard that I don’t even know where to start. Wait, yes I do:

According to Iraqi human rights advocate and writer Haifa Zangana, the first question asked of female detainees in Iraq is, “Are you Sunni or Shia?” The second is, “Are you a virgin?”

Are you Sunni or Shia? Are you a virgin?? In other words, do you remember the first time you got raped? I can’t find this any more appalling.

The mainstream media has ignored Iraq, but the whole fucking world has ignored the plight of Iraqi women under U.S. occupation. Beaten, humilliated and ignored, Iraqi women are among many of the “collaterals” of the U.S. “war on terror”.

The above is from a story from MADRE, an excellent international women’s rights organization. The article is entitled “Iraqi Police Commit Rape—Armed, Trained, and Funded by the US” and you can pretty much see why I’m so outraged by this.

The international news media is flooded with images of a woman in a pink headscarf recounting a shattering experience of rape by members of the Iraqi National Police. Most of the media coverage has focused on her taboo-breaking decision to speak publicly about the assault, but has missed two crucial points for understanding—and combating—sexual violence by Iraqi police recruits.

As Iraqi women’s organizations have documented, sexualized torture is a routine horror in Iraqi jails. While this woman may be the first Iraqi rape survivor to appear on television, she is hardly the first to accuse the Iraqi National Police of sexual assault. At least nine Iraqi organizations as well as Amnesty International, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq and the Brussels Tribunal have documented the sexualized torture of Iraqi women while in police custody. These include Women’s Will, Occupation Watch, the Women’s Rights Association, the Iraqi League, the Iraqi National Association of Human Rights, the Human Rights’ Voice of Freedom, the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Iraqi National Media and Culture Organization. […] And the United Nations special investigator on torture is reporting that torture in Iraq is worse now than under Saddam Hussein

Where is the outrage? It is not like these abuses have not been documented. They have been extensively documented – click on any of the links above and you will find plenty of references and eye-witness accounts. Why is the U.S. mainstream media ignoring this whole issue? I know it is kind of touchy, but that is why you are in the news business – to discuss and highlight serious issues, and bring to light those that need attention, not to “discuss the ramifications” of Britney Spears shaving her head.

Take this horrowing account from June 2006. All emphasis is mine:

MALTREATMENT AND PROOF: On 20 April 2004, Abdul-Bassat Turki, the first Iraqi minister of human rights, gave an interview to The Guardian on the condition of female prisoners in Iraq. Turki had recently resigned from his post in protest against the human rights violations committed by American forces and Paul Bremer’s determination to ignore his reports and to refuse him permission to visit Abu Ghraib.

Turki told the Guardian that he had warned Bremer repeatedly of the abuses of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, but that Bremer had consistently ignored all warnings. In December 2003, a month before the US military mounted its own secret investigation into Abu Ghraib, Turki phoned Bremer to complain of the treatment of female detainees. “They had been denied medical treatment. They had no proper toilet. They had only been given one blanket, even though it was winter,” the former minister said.

[…]One of the rare occasions in which Anne Clwyd, the British human rights envoy to Iraq, was moved to speak out about human rights violations after the invasion was when she learned of the arrest and subsequent torture of a 70-year-old woman, whose torturers forced her into a makeshift bridle and then mounted her like a donkey.

[…]Hoda Al-Ezawi relates that she was kept in solitary confinement for 156 days. Then her sister was arrested and thrown into the cell with her, along with the corpse of their dead brother. Among the other types of torture inflicted upon her was to be kept standing for more than 12 hours straight while subject to continual threat and intimidation. US forces and the Iraqi National Guard arrested Al-Ezawi along with her two daughters, Nora, 15, and Sara, 20, on 17 February 2005 on the charge of supporting the resistance.

Ali Al-Qeisi, the man whose torturers thrust a bag over his head, forced to stand on a crate as they coiled wires around him and then photographed producing the picture that has become a worldwide symbol of the occupation and the horror of Abu Ghraib, recalls his anguish at hearing the screams and cries of female detainees. “Their food was brought into their cells by naked men,” he relates, adding, “we felt helpless as we listened to their screams, unable to do anything but pray to God Almighty.”

[…]Suheib Baz, a cameraman for Al-Jazeera, told The Independent that he had personally seen a 12-year-old girl being tortured: “She was naked, and crying out to me for help while being beaten.” He also relates that prison wardens would photograph these horrors.

[…]This is the tip of the iceberg. A report published by the Iraqi National Association for Human Rights on 29 October 2005 found that women held in Interior Ministry detention centres are subject to numerous human rights violations, including “systematic rape by the investigators and to other forms of bodily harm in order to coerce them into making confessions”. The report added that prisons fail to meet even the most basic standards of hygiene and that the women were deprived of facilities as fundamental as toilets. The Ministry of Justice has confirmed the accuracy of the report.

In such circumstances, it is insult to injury that female detainees are often forced to sign a paper prior to their release in which they testify to being properly treated. The purpose of this affidavit is to silence them and deprive them of recourse to litigation in the future.

It should be noted, here, that the first question that is put to female detainees is: “Are you Sunni or Shia?” The second is, “Are you a virgin?”

Of course, this is all the work of a “few bad apples”. Basically, the U.S. has turned a blind eye towards everything that is going on in Iraq. It is not only causing these atrocities, it is fomenting, paying for them, and then ignoring them. Does the Bush administration think people are stupid, that we can’t fact-check what the say, and especially, what they don’t say?

It’s no surprise that we’re hearing allegations of rape against the Iraqi National Police, considering who trained them. DynCorp, the private contractor that the Bush Administration hired to prepare Iraq’s new police force for duty, has an ugly record of violence against women. The company was contracted by the federal government in the 1990s to train police in the Balkans. DynCorp employees were found to have systematically committed sex crimes against women, including “owning” young women as slaves. One DynCorp site supervisor videotaped himself raping two women. Despite strong evidence against them, the contractors never faced criminal charges and are back on the federal payroll.

Owing young women as slaves. A videotape by a supervisor raping two women. Giving them a blank check so they can continue to do whatever it is they do. Aren’t these war crimes? Again, where is the outrage? Why isn’t ABC news, CBS, NBC, Fox News (yeah, right), or CNN covering this?

I’m not overly religious, but do believe we eventually have to pay up what we do on Earth. I can’t even fathom how many lifetimes we are going to need to “repay” these atrocities. Then again, hell is too good for some evil bastards.

Hell is too good for some evil bastards


HPV: maybe it is women’s fault (Cartoon of the Day)

February 20, 2007

Bad news

(From Nick Anderson, Houston’s Chronicle’s excellent editorial cartoonist)

Ah, so what is it gonna be, conservative idiots? As a future doc, this picture sums up my feelings quite nicely.

Given all the brouhaha over HPV and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s order to implement a mandatory vaccination program for all school-age girls in Texas, I found an interesting nugget that has been largely ignored:

First lady’s influence?

Also, a spokesman indicated that first lady Anita Perry’s strong support for the vaccine may have played a role in the governor’s decision. A former nurse and the daughter of a doctor, Anita Perry works for an organization dealing with sexual assaults.

“I know they have discussed it, and it’s something they both feel very strongly about,” said Press Secretary Robert Black.

But some who oppose the bill have suggested that a political contribution from the vaccine-maker influenced his decision.

So his wife, a former health professional, may have had a bit to do with it. Do I buy that? Sure, why not – but lots of first ladies are involved in humanitarian and educational endeavors as well. If politicians actually listened to their wives a little, things would be a lot better in ALL countries.


Women: wear chastity belts to prevent sex-crimes

February 18, 2007

Postings have been quite slow around here… have been busy studying and fighting a nasty URTI. I’m afraid postings will suffer in the next couple of months, at least until June, when my baby is born.

But on with another story. Normally I roll my eyes and don’t bother with asinine stories, but this one is just too much:

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Women should wear chastity belts to prevent rape, incest and other sex crimes, a prominent Islamic cleric in northern Malaysia was quoted as saying Friday.

Abu Hassan Din Al Hafiz, speaking in the northern state of Terengganu, said chastity belts could protect women from a growing number of sex crimes in Malaysia, The Star newspaper reported.

The best way to avert sex perpetrators is to wear protection,’ Abu Hassan told a crowd of followers. My intention is not to offend women but to safeguard them from sex maniacs.’

Yes Mr. Cleric, women must wear chastity belts… is it too much to ask to educate the men over there that women should not be raped? I’m using the word “men” loosely here, people who rape women and children are beasts, not humans. This seems to be a concept that men worldwide don’t get: you CANNOT rape a women just because you feel like it. It is in the books you morons – rape somebody and you are going to jail, pure and simple. And if a woman is raped, it is NOT her fault:

Religious leaders in Malaysia’s conservative north have in the past blamed sexual attacks on women wearing provocative clothing and make up.

Just in case you don’t know what a chastity belt is, here is a pic. I’m sure the cleric won’t mind.

Chastity Belt


Hell Just Froze Over – Mandatory HPV Vaccination in Texas?

February 3, 2007

Did hell just froze over because of Texas?

Yes my friends, apparently hell just froze over:

HOUSTON, Feb. 2 — Texas on Friday became the first state to require all 11- and 12-year-old girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

Averting a potentially divisive debate in the Legislature, Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, signed an executive order mandating shots of the Merck vaccine Gardasil as protection against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, starting in September 2008.

Mr. Perry’s action, praised by health advocates, caught many by surprise in a largely conservative state where sexual politics is often a battleground.

“I had no idea; I was absolutely caught off guard,” said Representative Jessica Farrar, Democrat of Houston, who sponsored a bill to require the vaccinations starting this September. “Normally, the governor does not take things like this upon himself, although I’m glad he did.”

If you live in Texas and see some snow falling, it is not due to global warming, it is because Gov. Rick Perry – a stalwart conservative republican who is against abortion and stem-cell research – finally recognized that doing the right thing is not such a hard thing to do:

“Requiring young girls to get vaccinated before they come into contact with HPV is responsible health and fiscal policy that has the potential to significantly reduce cases of cervical cancer and mitigate future medical costs,” said Mr. Perry, who was re-elected to his second full term last November.

And it is official as well:

It is Republican Gov. Rick Perry who issued an executive order directing the state’s Health Human Services Commission (HHSC) to get ready to administer the HPV vaccine in girls at noted ages before they enter sixth grade.

The order, effective September 2008, also directs HHSC and the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to “make the vaccine immediately available to eligible young females through the Texas Vaccines for Children program for young women ages 9 to 18, and through Medicaid for women ages 19 to 21,” says the statement of the governor’s office on its website.

See? It wasn’t that hard. Good for you, Gov. Perry. So every parent must vaccinate their school-aged girls with Gardasil, right? Wrong:

Under the order, girls and women from 9 to 21 eligible for public assistance could get free shots immediately. The governor’s office said parents could opt out of the school program “for reasons of conscience, including religious beliefs.”

Ahh, I see. So at least he didn’t completely screw over his conservative friends. I wonder what is the point of having a mandatory vaccination program if parents can opt out because of religious beliefs, but I digress. Time and education will eventually replace misinformation and stereotypes.

But I wonder, did Gov. Perry did this out of the goodness of his conservative heart, or because the scientific evidence finally convinced the guy? If by “scientific evidence” you mean “my former Chief-of-Staff, who is now a lobbyist for Merck, told me this would mean truckloads of money for them and for me”, then yes, he was convinced:

Is Perry’s order politically motivated? No one knows. But, USA Today has reported today that Perry has several ties to Merck, the maker of the HPV vaccine, and Women in Government, a not-for-profit organization comprised of state woman regulators, which some watchdog has claimed is too cozy with Merck.

Media has reported that Women in Government is quite active in promoting the Merck’s vaccine, which analysts say is positioned to make Merck more than billion dollars a year. According to USA Today, Mike Toomey, Perry’s former chief of staff, serves as one of the drug company’s three lobbyists in Texas. Perry’s current chief of staff’s mother-in-law, Texas Republican state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, is a head of Women in Government.

“Perry also received $6,000 from Merck’s political action committee during his re-election campaign,” USA Today says.

Ah, now everything seems to make sense. A conservative politician from Texas is opposed to everything this vaccine stands for, and knows he can lose his conservative base over this, but he can make up those votes from the other side, and make a ton of money for his friends at Merck in the process.

Now let me play Devil’s Advocate for a moment. Is there a conflict of interest here? Very likely. But are Gov. Perry’s actions regarding mandatory HPV vaccination wrong? Well, no. Merck does make the damn vaccine, and a generic will not become available in a long time. This vaccine represents a huge leap forward for women’s health. At around $400 for 3 shots over an 8-month period, it is expensive, and most health plans will NOT cover it. But while preventing cervical cancer is morally and medically correct, it is not exactly sound fiscal policy:

Mr. Perry says it makes sense to use the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer which would otherwise cause a large burden on medical expenditure. But does this mandatory inoculation of the HPV vaccine really save medical costs?

On average, a 5-year treatment for a case of cervical caner would cost $11,000, early studies show. For a 5-year span, about 5800 new cases of the disease are expected to be diagnosed in Texas, which means the medical cost for five years is 63.8 millions or 12.8 million a year.

In Texas, there are about 6.31 millions people now under age 18, meaning the number of girls who are required to receive the HPV vaccine each year is about 0.35 million. The total number of girls to receive the vaccine is 1.76 million, meaning that Merck can rake in 630 million dollars in five years or 126 million dollars in the vaccine sales in Texas alone with Mr. Perry’s order.

The cost for the first year would be double the price tag as girls both at age 11 and 12 will receive the vaccine. The calculation is based on the price of the vaccine at $360 per girl.

It seems that this state mandatory vaccination can save about 700 women’s lives a year in Texas at a cost of 126 million dollars a year spent on the preventive vaccine. These 700 women would otherwise need 7.7 million dollars for treatment of their cervical cancer.

Perry’s order can save some women’s lives, but it does not save money.

I am not saying that vaccinating women with Gardasil is not worth it – it is. It does make sense from a public health point of view, because cervical cancer it is the second most common cancer in women after breast cancer. Gardasil, the HPV vaccine, will definitely be most valuable in the developing world, where most women don’t have access to a yearly PAP smear. But the big fight, the one that will set the precedents for other countries to follow, is taking place in the United States and Texas, of all places, just landed a knockout blow.


Top 10 Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2006

January 11, 2007

Severe malnutrition still a problem

This great report comes from Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medicins Sans Frontieres, one of the best humanitarian organizations around, and winners of the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize as well.

According to the press release of the article:

New York — The staggering human toll taken by tuberculosis and malnutrition as well as the devastation caused by wars in the Central African Republic (CAR), Sri Lanka, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are among the “Top Ten” Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2006, according to the year-end list released today by the international humanitarian medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

The ninth annual list also highlights the lack of media attention paid to the plight of people affected by the consequences of conflict in Haiti, Somalia, Colombia, Chechnya, and central India.

“Many conflicts worldwide are profoundly affecting millions of people, yet they are almost completely invisible,” said MSF Executive Director Nicolas de Torrenté. “Haiti, for example, is just 500 miles from the United States and the plight of the population enduring relentless violence in its volatile capital Port-au-Prince received only half a minute of network coverage in an entire year.”

According to Andrew Tyndall, publisher of the online media-tracking journal The Tyndall Report, the 10 countries and contexts highlighted by MSF accounted for just 7.2 minutes of the 14,512 minutes on the three major U.S. television networks’ nightly newscasts for 2006. Treating malnutrition, tuberculosis, and Chechnya were mentioned, but only briefly in other stories. Five of the countries highlighted by MSF were never mentioned at all.

These issues were given all of 7 minutes of airtime – how noble of the mainstream media, which prefers spending its time say, badgering a Senator over a poorly executed joke.

In no particular order, here is the top ten. You can read the entire report here by the way, but the links below correspond to the specific sections of the report. You can read the whole thing, or just what interests you.

Somalia – Somalis Trapped by War and Disaster
Central African Republic – Fleeing Violence in the Central African Republic (CAR)
Tuberculosis – Increasing Human Toll Taken by Tuberculosis
Chechnya – Consequences of Bitter Conflict in Chechnya
Sri Lanka – Civilians Under Fire in Sri Lanka While Assistance is Limited
Malnutrition – Effective Strategies for Treating Malnutrition Not Implemented
Democratic Republic of Congo – Congolese Endure Extreme Deprivation and Violence
Colombia – Living in Fear in Colombia
Haiti – Violence Rages in Haiti’s Volatile Capital
Central India – Clashes in Central India