Freedom, freedom, freedom. How many times did the person passing as president use this word in his 2005 State of Dis Union speech? It turns out that millions of people across the globe are far from free. I don't just mean economically, politically and socially disadvantaged or marginalized, but actually enslaved or forced into labor without relief or compensation. During the latter years of the Clinton presidency, the plight of contemporarily-enslaved black Africans did briefly pierce the mainstream media bubble. Several nations in particular, Mauritania and Sudan, which is now hovering in and out of international attention because the genocide in its Darfur region, often received harsh criticism for abetting or overlooking the forced enslavement of people in the respective countries. In fact, Mauritania has engaged in diplomatic and military skirmishes with Senegal, its neighbor to the south, over abductions of Senegalese and other black Africans for enslavement and forced labor purposes.
Yet the problem of enslavement and forced labor goes far beyond Mauritania and Sudan. Numerous reports over the years have pointed to forced labor in China, Myanmar, Haiti, and many other nations. According to the International Labor Organization's 2005 report, 9,490,000 people--or around the the population of New Jersey--are believed to be in forced labor situations in Asia and the Pacific alone; over 12,000,000 people total across the globe are in various forms of bondage or forced labor.
This upcoming Saturday, the MIT Center for International Studies will host a "Symposium on Forced Labor in the Global Economy." This gathering marks a collaboration between the BBC World Service Trust and the Program on Human Rights and Justice at MIT's Center for International Studies, and BBC and WBUR, one of the local public radio stations, will tape several programs as part of the event.
The lineup of speakers includes some major activists and scholars, including Jean Robert Credet, a former child slave in Haiti who now teaches at the University of Cincinnati; Columbia University-based philosopher Jagdish Bhagwati; Terry Collingsworth of the International Labor Rights Fund; and Kevin Bales, director of Free the Slaves.
Anyone can attend to attend this special event, which will include the taping of WBUR's On Point program, which will air during the week of May 16, 2005 (between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m. in the Boston area), and a BBC World show, which will air the MIT debate on Saturday, May 21, 2005, and later offer the tape to public television stations in the U.S. (check local listings for airdates and times). Those in the Boston area who want to attend should RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617.253.8306). The event will run from 9 am to 12 pm at 9:00 a.m. at MIT's Kresge Auditorium (Building W16). MIT World, the university's video-on-demand site, will also be broadcasting the programs.
Speaking of Haiti, Yvon Neptune (pictured at right), the former Prime Minister under democratically elected-but-illegally deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is being illegally detained in a Haitian prison, and has been on a hunger strike since February 20, 2005. He was recently rushed to the hospital in critical condition, and some news sources state he is close to death. Neptune is alleged to have masterminded the slaughter of anti-Aristide supporters in the coastal city of St. Marc on February 11, 2004, just before President Aristide left the country, but Neptune has vigorously denied this charge. At the time of the incident pro-and-anti-Aristide forces were clashing frequently, so it is possible that Neptune did not have a direct hand in the deaths.
Still, though Neptune been in prison since June of last year, he has not been officially charged with any crime. Haiti's Constitution bars such summary imprisonments without charge. Neptune has said he will not eat unless he is cleared unconditionally and released; as he starves to death, Haiti's interim prime minister and ally to the current American administration, Gerard Latortue, who has presided over a steadily worsening public and political situation, dithers. The U.S., which may have aided the coup-plotters and insurrectionists, and which flew Aristide out of the country, has not pressed the interim government to act either way.
The Miami Herald's editorial page came out yesterday on behalf of releasing Neptune, before it's too late.
U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), who recently visited Neptune, issued the following statement: "The conditions that I observed in the prison where Prime Minister Neptune is being held were deplorable. Prime Minister Neptune was weak and could only speak in a whispering voice. He insisted that he had been jailed without justification and that he had committed no crime. He has not been allowed to go before a judge to challenge his confinement as required under the constitution of Haiti, and he believes he has been targeted to be killed."
If Neptune's plight matters at all to you, please contact your Congressional representatives, and urge them to act. As far as I know, the current Secretary of State has not discussed the turmoil in Haiti publicly since she took office.
Recently I got the following e-mail, which I am reproducing verbatim (the language is Tobin Klinger's):
May 3, 2005
From: Tobin J. Klinger
University of Toledo, Public Relations Office
Historic African-American Studies Conference Lives on in Cyberspace
In February 2003 a group of scholars converged on New York City's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for what would be an important three-day dialogue about the past, current and future of black studies around the globe.
While the participants and panelists were among the nation's leaders in the study of African-American culture, the gathering came and went. Until now, that is.
Thanks to a groundbreaking collaboration between eight universities, the entire event can now be accessed by anyone with a computer and the World Wide Web.
Each institution, including The University of Toledo, Central Michigan University, The College of New Jersey, Florida State University, Knox College, Northeastern University, Seton Hall University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has posted its share of the more than 60 hours of conference audio and video, which can be accessed through a single Web site: www.eblackstudies.org. The site is now live and will be available for use by scholars and the general public from any location in the world at 12 p.m., Wednesday, May 4.
The conference, "The State of Black Studies: Methodology, Pedagogy and Research," was co-sponsored by the Schomburg Center, the CUNY Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and Caribbean, and Princeton University.
"This has never been done before," said Dr. Abdul Alkalimat, director of Africana Studies at The University of Toledo. "The passion and cooperation that each of the participating institutions has displayed for keeping this conference and this discussion alive has been overwhelming."
Twenty-seven sessions in all, this is the largest undertaking of its kind, according to Alkalimat, who led the project. Previously, the UT professorled a similar project with the audio from a conference on civil rights leader Malcolm X in 1990.
'"This is much bigger," remarked Alkalimat. "Those visiting this site can virtually re-live the event. The subject matter here is as relevant today as it was in 2003. Through this collaborative effort, we are able to disseminate this knowledge that had previously only been available to conference participants."
"This kind of knowledge based on a virtual experience should be available to everyone," said Alkalimat. "Today's technology allows us to make that a reality and lets thebrowser participate in the discussion. This is a perfect example of a group of scholars using the Internet with that thought in mind."
For more information, contact Alkalimat at 419.530.7252 or email@example.com.