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Uyghur battles to escape painful past while rebuilding life in Albania

Abu Bakker Qasim ARTC Tirana (5)

South China Morning Post, 28 September 2013. Abu Bakker Qassim was tortured in China and wrongly incarcerated in Guantanamo – but is finding a semblance of peace in a small Balkan state, writes Jo Baker For a loaded question, it gets an understated reply. “Back in time?  I would tell myself not to get involved in politics,” says Abu Bakker Qassim, wryly. “Not unless I knew what I was doing.” Meeting in the leafy, low-lying Albanian capital, this one of Tirana’s more politically controversial residents is now far from the Americans who held him incommunicado at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp for more than four years. He is far too, from the Pakistanis who sold him and others of the Uyghur ethnic minority to the Americans for 5,000 dollars ... Read the full article

At Rio+20, diverse women leaders bring ground realities to the forefront

UN Women, 20 June 2012 The Women Leaders’ Forum, a discussion between civil society, government and public sector representatives with UN heads of agencies, has broadened the dialogue on gender equality and sustainability at Rio +20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainability. Organized by UN Women in collaboration with the Government of Brazil and other partners, the day-long event highlighted the central role of women in sustainable development, and the ways that robust policies can  improve women’s lives by reducing poverty, advancing their economic opportunities, and protecting them from adverse health and environmental challenges. It also highlighted the inequalities that continue to slow global progress towards a green economy and a protected environment. Delivering the opening and closing remarks, UN Women’s Executive Director Michelle Bachelet stressed the critical role of the women’s movement. “Twenty years ago, the Rio ... Read the full article

Master of the House: Architect Wang Shu

Discovery Magazine, May 2012.  Chinese architect and Pritzker winner Wang Shu may draw from the spirit of traditional architecture, but with enough depth and ingenuity to keep the clichés at bay He calls his studio ‘Amateur Architecture’. His work is anything but. This year, China’s Wang Shu was lifted from the relative quiet of his small practice in Hangzhou by a heavyweight panel of his peers, hailed as a “virtuoso” and presented with architecture’s equivalent to an Academy Award: a Pritzker. And yet just as Hollywood has its naysayers and anti-heroes, the Chinese architect is emerging as a kind of anti-designer.  “Design is an amateur activity. Life is more important,” he has said. “The Amateur Architecture studio is a purely personal architecture studio; it should not even be referred to as an architect’s office.” The likelihood of him accepting ‘starchitect’ status and all the ... Read the full article

Five Questions for Shishir Chandra: Men’s Action for Stopping Violence against Women (MASVAW)

Say NO-UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, 28 March 2012 Shishir Chandra is a community organizer with Men’s Action for Stopping Violence Against Women (MASVAW) in Uttar Pradesh, India, an alliance of individual men and organizations that are committed to reducing gender-based violence through education and advocacy. Here he talks about the struggle to challenge gender roles for both men and women in India, and why he believes that young men can and should step up to the challenge.   1. Why do you think it’s important for young people to get involved in these issues? Although gender equality is such a burning issue, not many youth in India get an opportunity to get involved in advancing gender equality. Young men and boys all over India have had many difficult experiences regarding gender ... Read the full article

AHRC Urgent Appeals: Theory and Practice

*This text can be found on the AHRC Urgent Appeals homepage. It was written for civil society, across Asia. A need for dialogue Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, and gender equality, among many others. Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to ... Read the full article

Defamation of religions at the UN: The current consensus

Taken from 'Defamation of Religions: International Developments and Challenges on the Ground' for the SOAS International Human Rights Clinic Project and the Cairo Institute on Human Rights Studies (2011) As now established, international support for the OIC-sponsored resolutions has been waning since a high point in 2006, despite the minor concessionary changes in language. This section aims to establish the present consensus on the concept at the UN, both in the reception of the resolutions in the past year and through the expressions of official opinion via various other UN fora. The 2010 resolution at the HRC in March 2010 saw its lowest margin yet, placing it just four votes from defeat: 20 states in favour and 17 against. Although a small number of states moved to abstain after holding positions against the resolution, no new states chose to support it. Both ... Read the full article

Architecture Week

Berlin Hauptbahnhof - Lehrter Bahnhof

Find my full series of articles written for this US-based publication here, including on Steven Holl's Linked Hybrid in China, Norman Foster's Beijing Terminal 3, China's emerging generation of architects, Alaska's Museum of the North (also covered for TIME), and Berlin's Grand Central Station.

Winning Ways

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, 22 April 2011 Since Architecture for Humanity first made its mark in 1999 with a competition to design transitional housing for returning refugees in Kosovo, it has used designers’ competitive streaks to its advantage. Its competitions have produced the ultimate mobile health clinic for AIDS victims in Sub-Saharan Africa, a factory to connect indigenous chocolate producers in the Ecuadorian Amazon with the global marketplace, and many more. Each competition has garnered fame and funding, showing in travelling exhibitions and drawing a range of panellists, from architect Frank Gehry to actor Cameron Diaz. The blueprints are uploaded on the Open Architecture Network (www.openarchitecturenetwork.org ) for use across the world, while the winning prototype is funded and built. This may present an interesting challenge for the 2011 competition, which will ask architects to repurpose disused military installations for ... Read the full article

Manor in the works

The Balancing Barn, MVRDV Architects

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, 4 March 2011 Philosopher Alain de Botton is bent on revitalising British ‘comfort’ architecture For those who live in it, and visit it, British architecture is a wellspring of nostalgia. Spare a thought for the landscape here and you will likely envisage Georgian manor houses amid rolling hills, or perhaps the sooty brick-and-mortar of Sherlock Holmes’ London. And while this has long been good news for the tourist board, for writer and popular philosopher Alain de Botton, it is an endless source of frustration. “Liking modern architecture is a kind of sect here,” the Swiss-born de Botton complains from a cosy brickbound office in north London. “It’s like witchcraft, or something slightly unusual. Because Britain industrialised so fast there’s a tremendous desire for history. But there’s a reason things become history.” As a writer, long based ... Read the full article

Case studies: Blasphemy laws in Pakistan

Taken from 'Defamation of Religions: International Developments and Challenges on the Ground' for the 2010 SOAS International Human Rights Clinic, with the Cairo Institute on Human Rights Studies. SECTION 3: CASE STUDIES FROM THREE OIC STATES The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has a majority Muslim population, and has passed some of the world’s strictest national laws on blasphemy and the defamation of religion. Its provisions are established in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), its Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and its constitution. Many of these provisions were introduced or strengthened between 1977 and 1988 during the reign of military dictator Zia ul-Haq, known for his ‘Islamisation’ of the country, mostly under martial law. The following section gives an overview of Pakistan's laws on religious defamation and blasphemy, including recent amendments, and aspects of the national debate on the repeal of the legislation. ... Read the full article

Publications

Human rights, law and development Online The Asia Sentinel: www.asiasentinel.com The Asian Human Rights Commission: www.humanrights.asia The Historical Justice and Memory Research Network at the at The Swinburne Institute for Social Research, Australia: www.historicaljusticeandmemorynetwork.ne Human Rights Monitor Quarterly for the International Service for Human Rights: www.ishr.ch Groundviews, Sri Lanka: www.groundviews.org The Guardian: www.guardian.co.uk Open Democracy: www.opendemocracy.net The Social Science Research Network: www.ssrn.com The Sri Lanka Guardian: www.srilankaguardian.com Say-NO-UNiTE (UN Portal): http://saynotoviolence.org/ The World Politics Review UN Women: www.unwomen.org Books, Journals, Reports and Newspapers Article 2, Hong Kong Criminal Law Reform and Transitional Justice: Human Rights Perspectives for Sudan, (as sub-editor), Ed. Lutz Oette of the Redress Trust, UK Ethics in Action, Hong Kong The Jakarta Post The International Crisis Group (Reports), Brussels The International Service for Human Rights (Report), Geneva  The Law and Society Trust Review, Sri Lanka The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Design/Travel Online Architecture Week: www.architectureweek.com Juli B: www.julib.com  Smart Travel Asia: www.smarttravelasia.com Time Magazine: www.time.com Books and Guides Fodor's Guide to Hong Kong 2011; Shopping chapter, USA BC Restaurant ... Read the full article

Between the lines

T11 Bali3

South China Morning Post, 1 November , 2009 Bali has become home base for the pan-Asian literati With its old craft culture, mildly bohemian cafes and array of misty hilltop vistas, Ubud in Bali seems to have grown almost to fit its twin industries of art and tourism; travelers here have been feeling the pull of poetry, paint and drama for decades. But where this reputation had always been more of a well kept secret or a nice surprise, it is now official: bottled, capped and priced for the greater good each October, as the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. Now for four days every autumn the town’s venues – its museums, restaurants, bars and yoga studios – become host to professional wordsmiths and their fans as they grapple with literary themes over thick Bali-grown coffee. Sound good? Well it is, mostly. With its ... Read the full article

A Great Dame

Jane

  September 2010, The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Veteran British actress Jane Seymour shares about life beyond Bond, her run-ins with Cantonese cuss words, and her recent renown as a Hollywood 'cougar' Guys and dolls I started out with a speech impediment and flat feet – I had to practice my Rs and take dance lessons. I ended up dancing with the Kirov Ballet at Covent Garden, hurt myself and became an actress by default. I started with a James Bond movie at 20 and I clearly didn’t know what I was doing. I finished that and went into theatre and shocked the newspapers, who kept saying I’d failed miserably because I was now being paid 12 pounds a week playing Nora in Ibsen’s Doll House instead of being a movie star... I just felt that I had a lot to ... Read the full article

A Brit Above

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, 25 June 2010 British designer Tom Dixon brings his glam rock style to Hong Kong It isn't often a designer has to rein in his vision for Hong Kong's high-end club scene. Yet as Tom Dixon surveys his latest landscape, he has a few lingering regrets. Tazmania Ballroom in SoHo, the latest nightclub from the creators of Dragon-i, already boasts geometric wall buttresses, clustered globular chandeliers and brass pool tables, with imitation book shelves in white plaster that give it an ironic scholarly tone. Yet, "I was thinking water dripping down granite, and moss on the walls", Dixon laments. "And there was going to be a small fish and chip shop. But there wasn't enough ... Read the full article

Walls of Fame

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, 10 May 2010 For four decades Maya Romanoff has been leading interior fashion into realms both bizarre and beautiful Brace yourselves: tie dye is back and it is trying to take your home by sneak assault. Wall-ware emperor Maya Romanoff may be best known for surfaces swathed in Swarovski crystals and tortoiseshell, but he has marked his brand’s new milestone with a nod to simpler times, when he was largely known as the man who could tie dye a wall. Celebrating four decades, the brand’s Anniversary Collection brings back the psychedelic patterns of its seventies debut, but contemporized and camouflaged with colours by New York-based designer Amy Lau. It is a nostalgia being indulged. New York’s Museum of Art and Design ... Read the full article

The World’s Forgotten

‘The World's Forgotten', Asia Sentinel Hong Kong, 19 April 2010, reprinted as an Op-ed in the Jakarta Globe, Indonesia Millions of detainees across the globe remain in filthy, crowded and unsanitary prisons (See online version here) As the UN's top investigator into torture and punishment prepares to end his term later this year, he has focused on a group people whom he has long called the globe's "most vulnerable" to discrimination and to neglect. Detainees, says Dr Manfred Nowak, have become the world's forgotten. The theme has become central to the Austrian professor's six-year tenure, and in the most recent session of the Human Rights Council this March he strongly reiterated his call for a new convention to protect them. Where other forms of discrimination are strongly represented in global social movements, the plight of those considered "criminal" tends ... Read the full article

A Luang Prabang guide

For Smart Travel Asia, written in 2007, regularly updated. First you have to get to Laos. Then you can enjoy the incredible temples, the charm, shopping, and laid-back lifestyle, not to mention some fine Luang Prabang boutique hotels. THERE IS a reason why Luang Prabang remains the town that time forgot. It’s bloody hard to get to. Snuggled well in the treacherously undulating northwest of Laos it was, until recently, served by just two alarming modes of travel. The first was Lao Airlines – a carrier essentially blacklisted by the US Embassy, the UN, and other companies that prefer their employees whole. The second was a punishing ten-hour bus journey from the capital Vientiane, at the mercy of bandits, and a million sharp turns. Yet the lure of gilded spires, ... Read the full article

Philippines Massacre: ‘They Made a Monster’

January 8, 2010, Guardian Weekly, UK Reprinted in the Sri Lanka Guardian For an uncut version of the interview, click here. (Link coming soon) Joseph Jubelag narrowly escaped the November massacre in Maguindanao, the Philippines, which claimed the lives of 57 people – 31 of them fellow journalists. They were allegedly murdered by a candidate for governor, part of a ruling family dynasty accused of war lordism. Jubelag expects the trial to bring a backlash against the private militias that are allowed to be kept by politicians for reasons of national security, as well as against President Arroyo for her past protection of the notorious clan. In the Philippines, local governments are allowed to ... Read the full article

The China Challenge

Prestige, Hong Kong, October 2009 US-trained designer Lyndon Neri had a hard time getting used to the mainland, but now he's revelling in the challenges. Though passion is imperative in any good designer, it can be taken too far. This is something Lyndon Neri learned on the day he accidentally collapsed his own lungs. “I wasn’t well and I hadn’t slept for three days straight. So I spent two days in hospital then went straight back into studying again,” chuckles the designer of his breakdown at Harvard. “It probably wasn’t the best approach.” Back then the man who would later co-found the Neri and Hu Design and Research Office in Shanghai had been throwing himself full tilt into his thesis, about a pocket of a Californian Chinatown ... Read the full article

Full Steam

October 2008, Discovery Magazine, China Jo Baker takes the waters in Taipei   The air was dark and tinged with cool, old trees struck dramatic poses against the night sky and below them, a near-naked elderly man waxed lyrical about the stars. “This is a good place,” he said, a blue towel twisted jauntily around his head. “Out in the open air with the stars, the moon. It’s a very good way to relax.” The scene was a hopping Friday night at a Taiwanese public hot springs; the place, a sleepy town called Xin Beitou, just north of Taipei. When the Japanese gave up Taiwan after World War II they left a number of lingering legacies, among them great sushi and a penchant for orderly queues. But their ... Read the full article