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Why Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize Won’t Be Revoked

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HONG KONG — Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who once embodied her country’s fight for democracy, came under increased pressure on Monday to denounce a military operation that has caused thousands of Muslim refugees to flee across the border to Bangladesh.

As protests erupted across the region and a fellow peace prize laureate took to Twitter to confront Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, some wondered whether the Nobel Committee, which conferred the honor on her in 1991, would publicly criticize her or could even revoke the prize.

Demonstrations against the targeting of the Rohingya ethnic group, a persecuted Muslim minority, took place on Monday outside Australia’s Parliament in Canberra. In Jakarta, Indonesia, protesters burned photos of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and lobbed a gasoline bomb at the Myanmar Embassy.

“The world remains silent in the face of the massacre of Rohingya Muslims,” Farida, an Indonesian who organized the protest and uses only one name, told reporters.
The latest violence in Myanmar began last month when Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar military positions, in what they said was an effort to prevent further persecution by the country’s security forces.

The military responded with what it has called “clearance operations.” According to human rights groups, soldiers razed hundreds of Rohingya homes in Rakhine State. As a result, thousands of Rohingya have made the treacherous journey to squalid refugee camps across the border.

Their plight has drawn increased attention — and renewed criticism — from many people around the world, including other Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

“Over the last several years, I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment,” Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani Muslim and the youngest recipient of the award, said in a Twitter post on Monday. “I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same. The world is waiting and the Rohingya Muslims are waiting.”

Last year, several Nobel laureates — including Ms. Yousafzai, Desmond Tutu and 11 other recipients — signed an open letter that “warned of the potential for genocide.”

Both the open letter and Ms. Yousafzai’s Twitter post were met online by critics of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who blamed her for the crisis and called for her prize to be revoked.
Those appeals are particularly poignant given Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s history as a political prisoner. She spent 15 years under house arrest after winning a presidential election in 1988, which the ruling junta at the time refused to honor. Under a constitutional power-sharing agreement, she was appointed state counselor after her party, the National League for Democracy, won in a landslide election in 2015. Still, under the law, she cannot become president and the military effectively controls many of the state’s levers of power.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi has been conspicuously silent on the Rohingya issue, and when pressed by reporters, she has toed the military’s official line, which contends that the Rohingya are illegally squatting inside Myanmar.

“No, it’s not ethnic cleansing,” she said in a rare interview on the subject in 2013.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is not the first Nobel laureate to stir controversy. In the past, activists have called on the committee to revoke the awards of Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama. In 1994, one member of the Nobel Committee resigned in protest when the award was shared among the Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, and the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. The committee member, Kaare Kristiansen, called Mr. Arafat a “terrorist” who did not deserve the prize.

The Nobel Committee, all Norwegian citizens appointed by the country’s Parliament, has never rescinded a prize and will not in Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s case either, said Gunnar Stalsett, a former committee member.

“A peace prize has never been revoked and the committee does not issue condemnations or censure laureates,” said Mr. Stalsett, a former politician and bishop who was a deputy member of the committee in 1991, when Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi received her award.

“The principle we follow is the decision is not a declaration of a saint,” Mr. Stalsett said. “When the decision has been made and the award has been given, that ends the responsibility of the committee.”

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Arts & Culture

Aar Maanta & Minneapolis’s Cedar Cultural Center Win $50,000 Joyce Awards

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Ordway Center for the Performing Arts and the Cedar Cultural Center

Win $50,000 Joyce Awards

Grants Awarded by the Joyce Foundation Will Support New Works Focusing on Diverse Cultures by Musician Aar Maanta and Performer Rosy Simas

CHICAGO, Jan. 17, 2018 —  The Joyce Foundation announced today that two art collaborations – the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts and Rosy Simas Danse, as well as the Cedar Cultural Center and Aar Maanta – have each been awarded a 2018 Joyce Award to activate their respective community engagement artworks in the Twin Cities.

The Cedar Cultural Center will partner with Somali musician, Aar Maanta, to produce what is believed to be the first bilingual album of children’s songs tentatively entitled,Children’s Songs from the Somali Diaspora.

The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts will commission Rosy Simas (Seneca, Heron Clan) to create “Weave,” an intersectional Native dance project that examines the interwoven and interdependent nature of our world.

The 2018 Joyce Awards marks the Joyce Foundation’s 15th year offering the prize. Started in 2003, the Joyce Awards is the only regional program dedicated to supporting artists of color in major Great Lakes cities with the goal of elevating their visibility and recognition in their craft. A distinctive feature of the Joyce Awards is the call for commissioned artists and their host institutions to include a robust community engagement plan as a main component of their projects. Maanta and Simas will engage in community forums, workshops, panel discussions, and one-on-one conversations to create their productions.

“These new works will provide storytelling in fascinating mediums for those young and old,” said Ellen Alberding, President of the Joyce Foundation. “It is so important to support these Twin Cities artists and organizations so they can bring to life the diverse stories of the communities their work highlights.”

The competition has awarded nearly $3.25 million to commission 59 new works and collaborations between artists and cultural organizations in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Minneapolis/St. Paul. The $50,000 award is used towards supporting an artist in the creation and production of a new work and providing the commissioning organization with the resources needed to engage potential audiences, new partners, and their surrounding communities at large.

Minnesota has seen the most Joyce Awards winners with 20 of the 59 total awards to date, delivering $1 million in artistic funding.

“The Twin Cities consistently bring forward impressive projects that position artists as community illuminators and problem solvers,” said Tracie D. Hall, Culture Program Director at the Joyce Foundation. “We are not only excited for the work that Aar Maanta and Rosy Simas will produce but also for the impact these projects have the potential to leave behind.”

The Ordway Center for the Performing Arts & Rosy Simas Danse

Rosy Simas is a designer and director of dance, a solo and collaborative performer, and a multidisciplinary teacher, curator and mentor of diverse artists.  A Native feminist, Simas critically centers Native cultural/political persistence while engaging a range of political, social, cultural and personal subjects.

In “Weave,” individual histories will be woven into a performance that envelops the audience in an immersive experience of story, dance, moving image, and sound.  It will be presented in January 2019 as part of the Ordway’s Music & Movement Series.

“Receiving the Joyce Award not only makes possible the Ordway’s commission of ‘Weave,’ but will also support engagements that draw people deeply into both Rosy’s creative process, and the artwork that she and her collaborators create,” said Jamie Grant, President & CEO of the Ordway. “We couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the project, and we are very grateful to the Joyce Foundation.”

“My work furthers an ancestral model of dialogic, peaceful and cross-community-centered direction in my creative process,” said performer Rosy Simas. “Weave will begin in, and return to, community as a way of giving back and remaining engaged with Native people.”

“Weave” collaborating organizations include the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium at St. Catherine’s University.

The Cedar Cultural Center & Aar Maanta

Aar Maanta is a Somali musician whose activism, work and creativity led him to become a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Council (UNHCR), while leading one of the only active live bands in the world that plays Somali music. His work includes the recent UNHCR campaign about irregular youth migration in the Horn of Africa, Dangerous Crossings, for which his song “Tahriib” was reproduced and performed in collaboration with leading artists from Africa.

Working with his band and other musicians from Minnesota, Aar Maanta will collaborate with Somali youth in Minneapolis’s Cedar Riverside neighborhood to write and record the first-ever bilingual Somali children’s album, which will be released and performed live at the Cedar in 2019.

“This project was inspired by the creativity and passion of the young people I worked with during my previous Cedar residencies, and more recently in refugee camps of Horn of Africa,” said musician Aar Maanta. “I am very excited to get to work more closely with Minneapolis youth and children on this project. It will be a groundbreaking collaboration because it will channel their own experiences into a beautiful album that can speak to young Somalis and children in the United States and throughout the diaspora.”

With millions of young Somalis growing up in diaspora communities around the world, the album aims to provide affirmation and connection to the Somali American youth experience.

“The Cedar has been building a cherished relationship with Aar Maanta for many years,” said Jessica Rau, Program & Artistic Director at the Cedar. “Our past residencies with him have been significant and meaningful for all of the people he has reached through his time in Minneapolis. The Joyce Award will deepen this impact by allowing Aar Maanta to collaborate with youth in our neighborhood to produce a tangible album of new work that will reach people around the world and last for generations to come.”

 

Additional 2018 Award Winners

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit will commission a new theatrical work entitled Salt City by poet and playwright jessica Care moore, reflecting on themes of gentrification and cultural erasure, a much-debated effect of the Motor City’s economic revitalization.

Dancer and choreographer, Onye Ozuzu, will be commissioned by Chicago’s Links Hallfor a production that looks at black migration and the city’s unique connections to Haiti and Louisiana.

To view the Joyce Awards’ 15th Anniversary video, please click here.

For more information on the foundation and the Joyce Awards, please visitwww.JoyceFdn.org.

About The Joyce Foundation

The Joyce Foundation invests in policies, informed by evidence, to improve quality of life, promote safe and healthy communities, and build a just society for the people of the Great Lakes region. The Chicago-based foundation pursues those goals through grants to help prepare the region’s young people to thrive in education, career, and community, and to advance racial equity and economic mobility. The private, nonpartisan foundation centers its grant making in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, and seeks opportunities to collaborate on promising policies in other states or at the federal level. It pursues policy and systems reform in five program areas: Education & Economic Mobility, the Environment, Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform, Democracy, and Culture.  Joyce was established in 1948 by Beatrice Joyce Kean, sole heir to the Joyce family of Clinton, Iowa, which accumulated its wealth in the lumber and related industries. Joyce has budgeted charitable disbursements of $50 million in 2018, on assets of approximately $1 billion. For more information, please visit www.JoyceFdn.org, or follow us on Twitter (@JoyceFdn) or Facebook (/JoyceFdn).

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Health

Somali woman researches health risks of skin-lightening practices

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Ibrahim Hirsi

For some Somali women, having lighter skin tone is the ultimate beauty goal and they use skin products containing dangerous chemicals to reach that goal, according to a new University of Minnesota study.

“To be a beautiful Somali woman, one has to have lighter skin color,” Amira Adawe, co-author of “Skin-Lightening Practices and Mercury Exposure in the Somali Community,” said in a recent interview describing the attitude of some women.

Several Somali women who were interviewed for the study published in July said they mix products that include lemon herbal whitening cream, lulanjina, diana and dermovate — some of which have mercury, a poison that can damage the nervous system, according to the study.

“These chemicals are proven neurotoxins and have been linked to birth defects if used by women during the prenatal period,” stated the study. “Inorganic mercury exposure is associated with rashes, skin discoloration, scaring, secondary bacterial and fungal infections, and even renal impairment and damage to the nervous system.”

The study added: “It should also be noted that mercury … can be transferred from mother to infant through breast milk.”

The Minnesota Department of Health recently tested 27 bleaching products, 23 creams and four soaps. The department found that 11 products contained mercury levels ranging from 135 to 33,000 parts per million. “This has prompted both state and federal health officials to issue warnings about the use of these products,” according to the study.

Although Minnesota law bans beauty products that contain mercury, the study said that immigrants have been smuggling the cosmetics from Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The products are then secretly sold in Twin Cities-area stories.

“This is not practiced by only Somali women,” said Adawe, a health educator at St. Paul-Ramsey County Department of Public Health. “It’s widely used by Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans.”

Skin-lightening practices

There are various reasons some Somali women rub their body twice a day with skin-bleaching substances, the study stated. Some of them use the chemicals to get rid of the facial masks of pregnancy, which are pigments women develop during pregnancy.

These pigments often appear on cheekbones, forehead, nose, forearms and other parts of the body that are exposed to the sun. Women with darker skin are more prone to skin pigmentation than those with fair skin tone, health reports suggest.

The study indicated that women also use skin-lightening products to attract men. “They see having light skin as more socially acceptable and believe it will increase their chances of finding a husband,” according to the study.

Adawe, who was born in Somalia, said she knows many Somali women who use the products. “You can tell who uses it and who doesn’t,” she said. “You can’t mistake it with naturally light-skin people. These creams give people more of yellowish color.”

Adawe said the women who use the products often aren’t open about the practice. “Actually, they’ll deny when you ask them,” she said.

How study began

Growing up in Mogadishu and in Minneapolis, Adawe said she encountered many women who regularly used the skin-lightening products. She said became involved in the study a few years ago after coming across an article about bleaching cosmetics that reportedly contained mercury. Adawe said he began to worry about the health of women she knew who used these products, so she started investigating the issue in 2011.

After several interviews with Somali women in the Twin Cities, Adawe learned that some of the women used products containing mercury. Adawe then took her findings to officials at the St. Paul and Ramsey County health department. Soon after, the FBI raided stores in Minneapolis and found Minnesota-banned skin-lightening products and took action against owners, said Adawe, a public health graduate student at the University of Minnesota.

Adawe’s investigation prompted the study, thanks in part to her professor and mentor, Charles Oberg, who co-authored the research paper.

Public awareness efforts

Adawe’s is working to tell others about the dangers of skin-lightening practices by speaking out at community and educational forums, appearing on radio and television shows, and meeting with leaders and activists of the Somali community.

Adawe also engages in conversations with 244 members of the Somali community on a Facebook page she created named “Skin-lightening practices & chemical exposure among Somali women.”

Members share articles, videos and studies about the risks of skin-lightening practices, and they discuss ways they can help limit such practices.

On June 11, Adawe posted on the page: “To those of you who are scholars or know the Islamic religion well, can you please educate us about what Islam says about skin-lightening practices?”

Awil Egal, a group member, replied: “Islam has forbidden men or women to change the creation of Allah: Skin color, hair color and the likes. ”

Egal added: “Using cosmetics, creams and other things that are made from chemicals or impure substances and which may have dangerous side effects is definitely haram [forbidden]. It is also another form of deceiving that can create mistrust between people.”

Other members wrote simple lines of encouragement. Khadijo Abdi, for instance, posted: “Beautiful people, leave your skin as God intended!”

Adawe is optimistic the Somali community will understand the risks of the chemicals. And with social media, she said, she’s even more hopeful that the people will be informed faster.

“Everybody is on Facebook and Twitter these days,” Adawe said. “Social media is a great tool to use for spreading awareness on issues like this one.”

Adawe said there are significant numbers of Somali women satisfied with their natural skin tone and don’t consider using the skin products.

“It all depends on their confidence and level of education,” Adawe said. “Uneducated people tend to use these products more often.”

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Crime

Somali-American girls battle families to send Portland molester to prison

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Defendant Hassan Noor was led out the Multnomah County Circuit courtroom in handcuffs by a sheriff's deputy on Dec. 12, 2017. Noor is scheduled to be sentenced in February. (Aimee Green/The Oregonian)

The intense pressure to keep quiet began almost immediately after four girls reported that they’d been molested by a well-known member of their community: You’re lying. Take it back. Change your stories.

Two of the four girls did.

But after a trial last month, a Portland judge found Hassan Mohamedhaji Noor – a 46-year-old married father of six and member of the local Somali immigrant community — guilty of sexual abuse, including for targeting the two girls who recanted.

In a strongly worded statement, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Leslie Roberts made clear that the urge to hide abuse by squelching the voices of victims happens in all kinds of settings, not just within a Portland immigrant community that numbers about 8,000.

“It is familiar in the history and reality of many communities near to home and far from it,” Roberts said.

Child sex abuse is a relatively common crime. An estimated one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

But child abuse experts say most cases go unreported for some of the very reasons two of the young women in this case may have felt compelled to back down. Victims fear they won’t be believed and often are embarrassed to talk about what happened.

They’re also concerned that the person who abused them will carry out threats to hurt them or they worry that their family or community will ostracize them. Some even feel guilt over sending someone they once liked to prison. One victim also that in her Somali-American community, girls and women were made to feel like they couldn’t speak out against men.

The four-day trial opened a rare window into this maelstrom of emotions as Noor’s crimes and the vigorous campaign to cover them up were aired in open court.

The trial also came at a time of national reckoning over sexual harassment and abuse, beginning with the explosive allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and followed by accusations of sexual misconduct by dozens of high-profile men in politics, media and entertainment.

The judge didn’t cite the current climate but she did single out a culture of silence and said she believed the girls’ families were among those pushing hard for them to retract their statements.

They valued the “fraudulent appearance of propriety” over the importance of protecting women or children, she said. The judge explained that it was her job to see past that to uphold her court’s commitment to justice.

‘IT’S A SENSE OF DENIAL’

Noor was a respected member of Portland’s Somali-American community – known as a loving father and husband and a devout Muslim who prayed five times a day. He supported his large family by working full-time as a Lyft driver.

He was a success story – a man who immigrated from Somalia about 20 years ago and built a life for himself from scratch.

The allegations against Noor surfaced months or years ago – when each of the four girls confided in trusted adults.

They described a similar set of circumstances leading up to the abuse: Noor would have them massage his legs, work their way up to his thighs and ultimately touch his genitals when they were as young as 12 or 13, they said.

Each also said they were urged to say nothing. They told investigators that family members and community members claimed that speaking about the abuse would bring shame to them and their families. That no men would want to marry them after learning they’d been. That it was up to Allah to decide Noor’s punishment.

The girls didn’t talk to police until last year for various reasons.

The Oregonian/OregonLive generally doesn’t name victims of sexual abuse and isn’t describing how Noor knew the girls to protect their identities.

When Noor was arrested in March, news quickly spread through his community.

The accusations were so disturbing that some people simply couldn’t believe them, said Musse Olol, president of the Somali American Council of Oregon.

“It’s a sense of denial — just like with any shameful act, any criminal act, anything bad that the community wished did not happen but sometimes happens,” Olol said.

But Olol said he told people to let the court system handle the case, and he condemned the abuse.

“This is not something the community condones, or thinks is acceptable at all,” he said.

CASE FACES UPHILL BATTLE

Although the prosecution’s case against Noor seemed straightforward in the beginning, it grew more complicated when Noor’s two youngest victims – now ages 16 and 18 – recanted.

Compounding matters, although the two other victims stood by their stories, Noor was indicted for sexually abusing only one of them. That’s because the statute of limitations had passed for the oldest one, now 23. She was allowed to testify, but Noor couldn’t be convicted of abusing her.

On the opening day of trial, a standing-room-only crowd of members of the Somali community filled the courtroom gallery. The 16-year-old took the stand first.

Deputy District Attorney Amber Kinney chose her words carefully. She knew the girl had changed her story. She needed to get the teen’s original statements on the record.

Kinney played a 911 recording of the girl — the call that had set the case in motion nine months earlier.

“I was molested,” the girl can be heard saying, before stating that it was Noor and describing the abuse.

The prosecutor stopped the recording. “Who was that calling 911?” Kinney asked.

“Sounds like my voice, but I was lying,” the girl responded.

The prosecutor noted that the girl also repeatedly told her story to others: a patrol officer, a child abuse investigator with the Oregon Department of Human Services, a police detective and ultimately a grand jury.

But the girl offered a startling explanation: She had been under the influence of “black magic.”

“I wasn’t in my right state of mind,” she said on the witness stand. “It is as if I wasn’t speaking myself.”

The 18-year-old who recanted also testified that she, too, had been controlled by black magic. She now insisted that Noor had never touched her – that she’d slept over at Noor’s house to visit with his children many times over the years without incident. She said Noor was a good man.

The prosecutor contrasted the young woman’s testimony to her statements at a recorded interview earlier this year with child abuse investigators.

“Do you remember saying that you hate him so much?” Kinney asked.

“I don’t hate him,” the young woman said.

Kinney asked her whether her mother was in the courtroom watching her testimony.

“Right there, behind you,” the young woman answered.

The prosecutor asked: Was there anyone else she knows in the courtroom?

“I see my auntie, my cousin, uncle, grandpa,” she responded. But she said they weren’t there to pressure her to keep quiet. Instead, she said, “They all came for Hassan, and us. To support us.”

‘DON’T TELL ANYONE ANYTHING’

The two other young women testified that they had refused to change their stories even though their families disowned them.

The most emotional account came from the 20-year-old, who said Noor repeatedly made her touch his genitals when she was 11. She told her parents after encountering him trying to molest one of her siblings, she said.

She said her parents distanced the family from Noor, but didn’t call police. She said she remembers her father telling her that the abuse could never be reported.

“He basically started crying,” she said. “And he was like, ‘I know what (Noor) did to you was wrong, but, you know, what can I do? What can I do? Your reputation is going to be ruined if I say something, if I fight him.’”

She said a few years later, her parents forgave Noor, and he was allowed to be around her again. The abuse resumed, she said, this time with Noor approaching her from behind and pressing himself against her.

“In the Somali community, the men have more power than the women,” she said. “…The girl, she is supposed to suffer. She is supposed to be quiet and just bear what happened to her.”

She eventually ran away from home and several years ago told workers at a Portland youth shelter about the abuse. According to court papers, workers with the state Department of Human Services investigated by interviewing her, but it’s unclear if they spoke to Noor. They didn’t notify police, and closed the case for lack of evidence, according to court records.

This past spring, police spoke to the young woman, and she willingly took the stand at the trial.

“So justice shall be served,” she said. “That man is the man who ruined my life.”

She said she hasn’t been able to attend school and quit her job because of stress. She also said she and her parents are no longer speaking. Both of them testified that she was dishonest.

‘ONLY AN ANIMAL WOULD DO SUCH A THING’

Noor didn’t testify. But he told Portland police Detective Nathan Tobey during a recorded interview that all of the allegations against him were made up, according to the detective’s testimony.

Tobey said Noor claimed that Somali women come to the U.S. knowing they can have power over men by conjuring up false stories of being beaten, inappropriately touched or raped. Noor said it was impossible that a Muslim man like himself could have molested children.

“He said, ‘Only an animal would do such a thing,’” Tobey said. “He said … ‘Only a person without religion could do such a thing.’”

Tobey said Noor explained that at least one of the girls had stopped praying five times a day and evil had taken hold of her.

Noor is scheduled to be sentenced in February.

He faces a minimum prison term of 6 ¼ years if he serves the sentences at the same time. But he also could get a maximum of more than 68 years — 6 ¼ years for each of the 11 charges of first-degree sexual abuse against him.

As Roberts announced her verdict, Noor revealed no visible emotion. As deputies handcuffed him and led him out of the courtroom, he smiled slightly and shrugged at the crowd of spectators who gathered around him.

Some of them could face criminal repercussions in the case.

Prosecutors said they’re investigating the possibility of charging adults in the victims’ lives with the felony crime of tampering with a witness, based on the allegation that they tried to silence the young women.

— Aimee Green

agreen@oregonian.com

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