Tag Archives: Russia

“Europe’s” worst human rights violators

Council_of_Europe_logo.svgThe European Court of Human Rights  (ECHR) covers all countries in Europe who are members of the Council of Europe, this is currently 47 countries with only 3 “European” countries not signed up which are: Belarus, Kazakhstan and the Vatican City.

Yellow: Founders. Blue: Members.

Yellow: Founders. Blue: Members.

I say “European” because are Russia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan part of Europe? As with my previous post(s), I wouldn’t say so.

Every year the ECHR produces a report on the number of human rights judgements a countries have had against them.

From 2009 (at least) to 2012 Turkey and Russia have been the worst two violators of human rights. That’s right, the most consistently worst countries in Europe for human rights violations are not even proper European countries.

For Russia this is of less concern perhaps as Russia has no European Unions ambitions (either genuine or otherwise) however with Turkey being the number 1 worst country for human rights violations (in “Europe”) from 1959-2012 with a total 2870 judgements against them should the EU even be considering their application?

Turkey’s lack of democracy is highlighted as most violations from the country are due to the ‘Right to a fair trial’ which the government doesn’t give when people stand up against them (such as journalists).

Turkey has no place being in Europe or the European Union with its fight against secularism and constant disregard for human rights.

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The EU; Ukraine and Turkey

EU flagFollowing on from the ‘list of countries with more than 100,000 prisoners as a percentage of their population‘ in which there is one EU candidate country (Turkey) and one ‘Eastern Partnership participant (ENP)’ (and potential EU candidate) (Ukraine).

I won’t go as far as to say that these two countries hold genuine ambitions of joining the European Union but it remains a distinct possibility. With Ukraine the 5th worst in the world and Turkey the 10th it once again highlights both how far these countries have to come and how alien their values are from European ones.

The question once again is, ‘Where does the European border really sit?’ and ‘Should the EU continue strong relations with countries holding opposite values?‘.

European shared values map

Blue: EU. Green: Candidates. Brown: ENP.

Ukraine has been in the news a fair bit lately what with the political tug-of-war the EU and Russia seem to be doing for the loyalty of Ukraine. For those who have been living in cave Ukraine was set to sign a free trade and association agreement with the EU however after pressure from Russia’s Vladimir Putin the agreement has been delayed. The delay has caused much unrest in Ukraine with pro-EU protests getting the capital Kiev.
However with the large prison numbers, many of which can be considered political prisoners (such as the accused former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko) should this be the last connection between the two entities? Sign the trade agreement and that’s it. Until Ukraine can sort itself out and adopt a more democratic approach any further EU/Ukraine agreements should be off limits.

Turkey it seems is forever hitting headlines and tables for all the wrong reasons (many of which I have written about before). Once again Turkey hits the top 10 on the prisoners list, many of which are either journalists or political prisoners. Turkey has such appalling levels of free speech even the mere suggestion of joining the EU should be off limits. Turkey who jails journalists and proponents of free speech and the democratic process, Turkey who treats women as second class citizens and sex objects, Turkey who refuses to recognise the Armenian genocides, Turkey who illegally captured half of Cyprus and the Turkey that is turning away from secularism.

These are not the values and standards of Europe, there is no place within our community for people like you.

Space Ambitious

NASA’s upcoming announcement for their unambitious plans in which they may or may not be seeking international partners got me thinking about what is ambitious, what is not and the relationship between agencies.

If we take ambitious to mean ‘Intended to satisfy high aspirations’ then for me an ambitious space project would mean landing people on the moon, setting up a permanent base on the moon and after that setting off for a manned mission to Mars (one-way or return). That would truly be ambitious.

So with that in mind which space agencies are ambitious? Well I have only found three space agencies that have real plans for a manned mission to the moon (that means actually landing astronauts on the moon) and that is China’s CNSA, Europe’s ESA and Russia’s RFSA. The other ‘major’ players such as NASA, JAXA and ISRO seem to have no real current plans.

While I completely support the major space agencies working together it’s imperative that they plan ambitious missions together, for the benefit of everyone without letting petty ideological/political nonsense get in the way of achieving major goals. If NASA continues to exclude China (especially when the other nations have no problem) from projects such as the ISS then they may very well find themselves losing out as China goes it alone or works with Russia to meet its targets. As the saying goes, keep your friends close and your enemies closer!

Though finally I would like to add that I personally couldn’t care less weather American short-sightedness back-fires on them (again).

6 Months in: Living in China

I have been in China for 6 months now, living and working in a small city east of Xi’an in Shaanxi province. Many of my experiences come from breaks from work where I have been able to visit other parts of this fascinating country.

First port of call was Mudanjiang in north-east China, not far from the Russian border, this was a brief stop over from the train that left Vladivostok (RU). This seemed (at the time) at be a magnificent place a busy, bustling city, heavily populated with seemingly everything available that one could want. This view was in part due to have come from Russia where (outside of Moscow & St. Petersburg) there is nothing but abject poverty, people living in tin sheds spending their time drunk (possibly because alcohol and cigarettes are the only things affordable).

One thing that I found really strange was, at night, a well dressed woman (maybe in her thirties) carrying a baby (not with a man or friends) approached us (my girlfriend, a German friend that we made on the train and myself) smiling, making the baby wave at us and wanting us to hold the babies hand (she didn’t speak English and we don’t speak Chinese). A woman with a baby (or otherwise) would never approach a stranger or strangers at night in the UK, it would be deemed too dangerous. In China, here and elsewhere, it feels very safe from other people, no-one wants to harm you, they want to be your friend, shake your hand, see you smile and move on, no strings attached.

We got a taxi from the train station to the city centre (about 5-10 minutes drive) the train attendant paid 5 Yuan (47 UK pence) 47p! I knew I was going to like this place!

Places visited so far:

Mudanjiang – Nice introduction, good food and shops, not much else.

Harbin – Beautiful, European style city, well worth a visit any time of the year.

Guangzhou – Huge city, can be a bit overbearing at times as well as polluted, plenty to see and do.

Guilin/Yangshou – Stunning scenery, a must see for everyone, watch out for ‘tourist prices’

Xi’an – A lot to see and do, easy to get around and reasonably priced, could happily spend a lot of time here.

Food:

Some is great, some is crap. Prices range massively, large portion of noodles with egg and beef in a small restaurant can cost from 3.5 Yuan (under 35 pence). Hot pot at a fancy restaurant can cost up to 80 Yuan (just under 8 pound).

China does noodles and rice dishes extremely well along with Chinese dumplings and some other specialities. China is clueless when it comes to chocolate, coffee and bread (that isn’t sweet), which is a real shame as back in the UK they are some of my favourite things!

Some ‘street food’ is delicious and cheap, some will give you (me!) food poisoning.

Transport:

China’s transport system is generally very good, fast, efficient and cheap. A one-way hard sleeper bed on a 17 hour train journey (not the cheapest ticket available) costs 323 Yuan (under 32 pound). However, one journey (a 37 hour one) where all beds and seats were booked meant our ticket was standing only! Too many people can make some trains a living nightmare, standing for 37 hours is a joke, I slept on newspaper in the gangway between the two isles of seats (I wasn’t the only one either). What is even more bizarre and irritating is the train staff trying to sell you crap every half an hour, from torches to key-rings to cuddly toys.

If you suffer from a nervous disposition it would be wise when taking any form of transport on the roads to keep your eyes closed! They are crazy drivers, traffic lights and green men (safe to cross the road) mean very little, near misses happen on every journey and often we will find yourself staring at oncoming traffic while the driver is smoking and using their mobile phone.

Health & Hygiene:

One of the major drawbacks for living in China is the health and hygiene issues, polluted skies, dusty streets, dirty food preparation leading to food poisoning.

Almost on a daily basis I will see babies shitting in the streets and people throwing up by road side trees. Meat is often not refrigerated and left on benches all day (sometimes in direct sunlight) waiting to be bought either by businesses or individuals. Fish and other animals are at times skinned and/or gutted while it is still alive, both on the streets and in supermarkets!

In this 6 months I have had food poisoning twice, diarrhoea for a month and the flu. Drugs in the pharmacies are generally weak and ineffective.

People & Culture:

There are many great things about China but number one is the people, whether it is in the workplace, in shops/restaurants or just on the streets on China, the Chinese people are amazing. Having been to around 20 different countries and China being the third that I have lived in I can honestly say that the Chinese people are the friendliest, most helpful, genuine, want for nothing people I have ever met. It really does seem, especially in the smaller less touristy places that it makes their day just to see you, to say ‘ni hao’ (hello) and shake your hand.

At times it can feel like the place revolves around you, you walk down a street and everyone either smiles at you, says hello or wants to get your QQ (Chinese version of MSN) number.

Other:

For some people there are other issues that can irritate, such as not being able to access certain websites though this doesn’t effect me as all the ones I wish to access I can, Though it would be nice if the broadband services were faster and a little more reliable. All things considered (for a foreigner) this is an awesome place to live short term though long term people will prefer somewhere physically healthier.