Joy at slave's return to Uganda

Sara Aisha Abdul Hakim at Entebbe Airport with her children (Photo: New Vision newspaper -
Sara, now in her 30s, was kidnapped at the age of five (Photo: New Vision)

A Ugandan mother and daughter have told the BBC about their joy at being reunited this week after 26 years.

Five-year-old Florence Kampi was kidnapped at her father's funeral by a family who used her as a slave.

She was taken to Yemen where she was eventually rescued by a Tanzanian oil worker who, after he paid the family money, was allowed to marry her.

"I feel so happy," she said about the reunion. Her mother said, "I burst out crying... but they were tears of joy."

Language is now a barrier for the pair as Florence, now called Sara Aisha Abdulhakim, speaks Swahili and Arabic.

I don't know what God has in store for us, what matters is we are together
Sesiriya Biryeri

Her mother, Sesiriya Biryeri, speaks Lesoga, the local language in the eastern Ugandan district of Iganga.

"We have a few people here helping with translations from Swahili to Lesoga and vice versa; it is a nice confusion," Ms Abdulhakim, who arrived in Uganda on Wednesday with her four sons, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Her return was organised by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) - who she contacted at her husband's suggestion.

“Language is a big problem for her," Alia Hirji, Uganda's IOM programme officer, told the Ugandan New Vision newspaper.

"We shall help her re-integrate socially and economically," he said.

Ms Abdulhakim says her happiness will be complete when her husband can join her.

He returned to Tanzania earlier in the year to look after his ill father, who died last month.

Meanwhile, Ms Biryeri says she will do her best to learn Swahili.

"I don't know what God has in store for us, what matters is we are together," she said.

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I confess - I'm a die-hard Trekkie

Majel Barrett as I recall her

Trek creator's widow dies aged 76

Actress Majel Barrett Roddenberry, the widow of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, has died aged 76.

She died of leukaemia on Thursday at her home in Los Angeles, her family said in a statement.

The actress, who featured in nearly every Star Trek TV show and film, nurtured the legacy of the sci-fi series after her husband died in 1991.

She recently finished her role as the voice of the USS Enterprise computer in the new Star Trek film, due out in May.

Barrett Roddenberry was involved in the Star Trek universe for more than four decades.

She played the dark-haired Number One in the TV show's original pilot, The Cage, but was recast as the blonde, mini-skirted Nurse Christine Chapel for the series, which launched in 1966.

During this time, she was romantically involved with creator Gene Roddenberry, and the couple married in Japan after the show was cancelled in 1969.

'Vital role'

She went on to play smaller roles in all five Star Trek TV spin-offs and many of the Star Trek movie incarnations. She is perhaps best known, however, as the voice of the ship's computer.

Barrett Roddenberry helped keep the franchise alive by inspiring fans and attending a major Star Trek convention each year.

"My mother truly acknowledged and appreciated the fact that Star Trek fans played a vital role in keeping the Roddenberry dream alive for the past 42 years," her son Eugene Roddenberry Jr said in a statement on the official Roddenberry Web site.

"It was her love for the fans, and their love in return, that kept her going for so long after my father passed away."

The website added that in lieu of flowers, the family have asked for donations be made to two animal rescue charities.

The actress is survived by her only son, Eugene.

A public memorial is expected to be scheduled for sometime after Christmas.

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Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK)

Ain o Salish Kendro (ASK), is a legal aid and human rights resource centre. It provides free legal aid to the poor- women, workers and child workers. It has a special consultative status with UNECOSOC. ASK is a membership organisation, started by nine founding members (4 women and 5 men). ASK's legal activism has led to public campaigns and advocacy in defense of individual and group rights within a framework of democracy. Besides providing free legal aid, ASK seeks to create awareness of legal and human rights so as to empower citizens to negotiate their rights. It is committed to campaigning for reform of discriminatory and repressive laws to eliminate systemic social, legal and political discrimination.

ASK's strategies to access justice focus on:
Creating Awareness of Legal and Human Rights
Providing legal support and social support
Advocacy for Reform

Visit ASK's website

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Heroine: Humayra Abedin, M.D.

NHS doctor saved from forced marriage gets court safeguards
Peter Walker and agencies, Friday 19 December 2008 13.41 GMT

An NHS doctor tricked into returning to Bangladesh, where her parents held her captive and forced her into a marriage, won high court protection today from any renewed attempts to remove her from the UK.

Humayra Abedin, 32, a Bangladeshi national from Upton Park, east London, returned to Britain on Tuesday after being held by her parents for four months. Today, she said she had spent much of this interned in a psychiatric hospital being given anti-psychotic drugs against her will.

After today's hearing, she urged other women trapped in forced marriages to come forward. "Don't give up hope – there is hope." Abedin was eventually freed by a court in Bangladesh. Earlier this month, the high court in London issued an order for her release under the Forced Marriage Act.

Today, Mr Justice Coleridge issued a series of orders obliging Abedin's parents to not remove from the UK, harass her or threaten her. "I shall grant further orders to protect Dr Abedin and prevent her being removed from this country again without her consent," the judge said in his ruling.

Abedin was separately seeking an annulment of the marriage, which would take weeks, her lawyer, Anne-Marie Hutchinson, said.

Abedin, who came to Britain six years ago to study and now works as a GP, reportedly went to Bangladesh in the summer after being falsely being told her mother was ill. She was then held against her will and, in mid-November, was forced to marry a man chosen by her parents.

The doctor said today she spent much of this time held in a psychiatric hospital. "I was held there for three months and forced to take medication, anti-psychotic drugs, which made things worse," she said.

She said she had been "always monitored by four or five guards and was not free to leave the property" — her passport, tickets and other documents were taken from her. She was injected against her will "with what she believed to be mood stabilisers and anti-psychotic drugs".

She said she wanted to "get back to my normal life, start my job", and insisted she bore no ill will against her mother and father: "They are my parents, they are still my parents. I do not have any bad feelings against them, any grudges."

Abedin is believed to have raised the alarm by sending a text message saying: "Please help me. My life is in danger." She also called her long-term boyfriend, a Hindu who works as a software engineer. The couple live together in a house in Upton Park.

The 2007 Forced Marriage Act was designed to protect vulnerable individuals coerced into legally binding partnerships. Most cases dealt with by the Foreign Office's forced marriage unit involve families with Asian connections. The department has so far helped in 180 such disputes overseas.

Hutchinson has said there are believed to be around 300 to 350 similar cases affecting British women.

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Parents drugged, bound and gagged doctor in forced marriage bid December 19, 2008

An NHS doctor was imprisoned, drugged, bound and gagged before being forced into marriage in Bangladesh, it emerged today, as a British judge issued an order telling her parents not “to pester, harrass or intimidate” her.

Dr Humayra Abedin, 32, was held captive for four-and-a-half months by her family and was forced to marry while under the influence of drugs. She was freed by a court in Bangladesh and returned to Britain on Tuesday.

In the High Court in London this morning, Mr Justice Coleridge issued injunctions against Dr Abedin’s parents, a paternal uncle and the man she was forced to marry.

He declared that it was “vitally important for the message to be understood in those communities where this kind of behaviour is sanctioned” that the courts will act “swiftly and decisively” in cases were there had been such a “gross abuse of an individual’s human rights”.

Outside court Dr Abedin said: “I’m very happy to be back, but I’d like to get back to my life. I’m looking forward to starting my job.”

She said she was grateful to the support she had received from the media and told others in her position: “Don’t give up hope. There is hope.”

Dr Abedin came to Britain in 2002 to take a masters in public health at Leeds University. A year later she moved to London to train as a GP at Whipps Cross hospital. She had been due to became a registrar at an East London surgery this summer.

In court, Dr Abedin’s lawyer, Hassan Khan, read from a statement describing how she flew to Bangladesh in August, believing that her mother was very ill.

On arriving at the family home “she was manhandled into the property by a number of people and immediately locked into a room,” the statement read. “She was always monitored by four or five guards and she was not free to leave the property. Her passport, tickets and other documents were taken from her.”

She was able to alert friends in Britain via text message, and a Bangladeshi human rights organisation called Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) came looking for her at the family home.

This prompted her family to confiscate her phone and try to send her away with people claiming to be police officers. “Following her repeated refusal to go with them, her hands were tied behind her back and her head was covered with a cloth,” the statement says.

Screaming for help, she was “physically manhandled” into an ambulance. “Two of the people in the ambulance gagged her by placing their hands over her mouth to the extent that at one point she believed she would suffocate because she could not breath. She then decided there was no point in screaming further because she feared for her life.”

Dr Abedin was then taken to a psychiatric hospital in Dhaka where she was injected daily with mood stabilisers and psychiatric drugs. She remained there for almost two months.

“By that time she was in a complete state of despair, her spirit was broken and she felt there was no means by which her position could be resolved. She felt helpless.”

Isolated from the outside world, she was told that she had lost her job in Britain and could not return. Her parents told her they wanted her to wed Dr Khondokar Mohammad Abdul Jalal, whom she had previously declined to marry.

On November 14, she was taken to the Khulna area, where, still under the influence of drugs, she “entered into a marriage ceremony against her will and under duress”.

By early December, ASK had obtained a court hearing, but Dr Abedin was “told by her parents that if she said she wanted to go to the United Kingdom both her mother and her father would be put in prison and she would be placed in police custody”.

“Dr Abedin states that although she is an intelligent and educated woman, by then her spirit and will had been so worn down that she believed what she was being told.”

Last Sunday the court in Dhaka ruled that she must be freed. Dr Abedin “retains a natural love for her parents despite their treatment of her,” the statement said. “She does not wish for her parents to suffer any punishment for what has been done by them to her. She is an only child.”

Dr Abedin’s solicitor, Anne-Marie Hutchinson, said of the case: “The profile it has received means that other people will feel that they can come forward and seek the relief that, as Mr Justice Coleridge said, they’re entitled to.” She said Dr Abedin would seek to have her marriage annulled in Britain and had no plans to return to Bangladesh.

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The Glory That Was Greece From a Female Perspective

Published: December 19, 2008
A show at the Onassis Cultural Center examines the role of women in ancient Greece.

It’s funny, given American political ideals, that our museums offer so few major exhibitions of ancient Greek art. The Met had one called “The Greek Miracle: Classical Sculpture From the Dawn of Democracy,” but that was in 1993. It was an expensive, blockbustery thing that told a story we already knew, and one that is only partly true: that Western culture, or whatever is good about it, was a Greek invention.

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Metropolitan Museum of Art

Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens A container for oil made in the fifth century B.C. is among the objects on display as part of a new exhibition at the Onassis Cultural Center in Manhattan. More Photos »

Some of us asked at the time why the curators, who had been handed loans of almost mythic status — the “Kritios Boy,” the “Grave Stele of Hegeso” — did so little with them. The show could have been an opportunity to break scholarly ground: to examine the role of class in ancient Greece, or to consider the lives of women and children, or to reconsider what classicism means as a value-laden historical concept. What we got was art-survey boilerplate.

Two years later the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore mounted a show on women in ancient Greece, impressively. And now New York has one too. Moderate in size, efficiently presented and somewhat stiffly titled “Worshiping Women: Ritual and Reality in Classical Athens,” it is not at the Met or any other museum but at the Onassis Cultural Center in Midtown, a kuntshalle-style space, now almost a decade old, devoted to Hellenic culture.

As conceived by its two curators — Nikolaos Kaltsas, director of the National Archaeological Museum of Greece, and Alan Shapiro, professor of archaeology at Johns Hopkins University — the show’s intention is twofold: to present a nuanced view of a still-elusive subject, and to correct, or at least revise, existing misconceptions.

The main misconception is the notion that women had a universally mute and passive role in Athenian society. It is true that they lived with restrictions modern Westerners would find intolerable. Technically they were not citizens. In terms of civil rights, their status differed little from that of slaves. Marriages were arranged; girls were expected to have children in their midteens. Yet, the show argues, the assumption that women lived in a state of purdah, completely removed from public life, is contradicted by the depictions of them in art.

Much of that art is religious, which is no surprise considering the commanding female deities in the Greek pantheon. Like most gods in most cultures they are moody, contradictory personalities, above-it-all in knowledge but quick to play personal politics and intervene in human fate. Four of them make in-depth appearances here.

Athena comes on as a striding warrior goddess, armed and dangerous, avid as a wasp, in a tiny bronze statuette from the fifth century B.C. This is the goddess who, in “The Iliad,” egged the Greeks on and manipulated their victory against Troy, and the one who later became the spiritual chief executive of the Athenian military economy.

Yet seen painted in silhouette on a black vase, she conveys a different disposition. She’s still in armor but stands at ease, a stylus poised in one hand, a writing tablet open like a laptop in the other. The goddess of wisdom is checking her mail, and patiently answering each plea and complaint.

Artemis is equally complex. A committed virgin, she took on the special assignment of protecting pregnant women and keeping an eye on children, whose carved portraits filled her shrines. She was a wild-game hunter, but one with a deep Franciscan streak. In one image she lets her hounds loose on deer; in another she cradles a fawn.

But no sooner have we pegged her as the outdoorsy type than she changes. On a gold-hued vase from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg she appears as Princess Diana, to use her Roman name, crowned and bejeweled in a pleated floor-length gown.

Demeter was worshiped as an earth goddess long before she became an Olympian. Her mystery cult had female priests, women-only rites and a direct line to the underworld. And although you might not expect Aphrodite, paragon of physical beauty, to have a dark side, she does.

She was much adored; there were shrines to her everywhere. And she had the added advantage of being exotic: she seems to have drifted in from somewhere far east of Greece, bringing a swarm of nude winged urchins with her. But as goddess of love she was unreliable, sometimes perverse. Yes, she brings people amorously together, but when things go wrong, watch out:

“Like a windstorm/Punishing the oak trees,/Love shakes my heart.”

So wrote the poet and worshiper of women, Sappho, who knew.

Click to go on reading this NY Times article

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Betancourt reflects on captivity

Ingrid Betancourt and Alan Johnston
Correspondent and ex-candidate compare notes about their hostage ordeals

By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Paris

In a room overlooking the banks of the Seine, in Paris's famous old city hall, the Hotel de Ville, I was waiting to meet Ingrid Betancourt.

Her story has captured people's imaginations everywhere.

She was the Colombian presidential candidate kidnapped by rebels, and held in the depths of the jungle for more than six years.

When the army finally rescued her in July, she emerged from captivity as one of the best-known women in the world.

As a journalist, I would have welcomed the chance to talk to Ingrid Betancourt under any circumstances.

But for me, this would be more than just another interview.

I learnt... how weak we are in front of group pressure - how we can even see people saying exactly the opposite of what they feel because they are afraid
Ingrid Betancourt

As it happens, I was held hostage at the same time as the Colombian.

I was kidnapped last year in Gaza by a group called the Army of Islam.

And in our very different prisons, half a world apart, our guards gave us both battered old radios.

Through the BBC's broadcasts, in my cell, I had followed Ingrid's story. And later I learned that, in her jungle hideout, she had followed mine.

When Ingrid opened the door in Paris and walked in we embraced, and then sat down and began to talk - one kidnap victim to another.

Almost straight away I told her that of course my experience could hardly be compared to hers. I was freed in less than four months, and she was forced to endure all those years under much harsher conditions.

And yet there were things that we shared.

There was the terrible guilt at having caused our families to suffer because of the risks we had taken.

"Oh yes," Ingrid said. "I felt it a lot."


Betancourt and Johnston discuss their experiences of being held hostage

Psychological battle

And she talked of how she heard that her father had died soon after she was kidnapped.

Ingrid Betancourt embraces her family after her release in July 2008
I wanted to think, one day I will see this like my past and I don't want to be ashamed and I don't want my children to be ashamed of me. That was very important
Ingrid Betancourt

She had found a scrap of newspaper in the camp where she was being held with other hostages.

Desperate for something to read she had smoothed it out, and then saw a picture of her father's coffin.

"It's a guy with the same name," she told herself. "It cannot be my father. It's not my father." But it was.

There were tears in her eyes as she remembered.

I asked Ingrid what she had learnt about human nature in captivity.

"I learnt everything about human nature," she said. "I learnt for example how weak we are in front of group pressure - how we can even see people saying exactly the opposite of what they feel because they are afraid."

I remember my time in Gaza mostly as a vast psychological battle. It was a constant effort to try, as I used to say to myself, to keep my mind in the right place.

Ingrid has talked of the same struggle as being the fight to keep her "head above water".

And it seemed that for both of us there was a critical point at which we accepted that we might not be freed for a very long time. Then we tried to adapt psychologically to that dreadful reality.

"Once I admitted that I was there for a long time, then I began to look at my surroundings in another way," Ingrid said. "Like, 'this is my world and I'm going to be here for a long time'."

Then came the fight to try to hold on to your self respect.

I told her I used to think to myself that one day my kidnapping might end, and that I must attempt to do my best - if at all possible - not to behave in a way that I would be ashamed of later.

"Yes!" she said. "That's the point, that was exactly… That was always my perspective.

"I wanted to think, one day I will see this like my past and I don't want to be ashamed and I don't want my children to be ashamed of me. That was very important."


But we differed in one major way.

I am grateful to the many people who I know were kind enough to pray for me when I was lost in Gaza.

But actually, I was not praying myself.

A photo of Ingrid Betancourt, from a video seized from captured Farc rebels
I have thought lots about all of this, and I've decided that there are things that will never be brought to the surface - that have to stay in the jungle
Ingrid Betancourt

I would hear on the radio of war and bloodshed in places like DR Congo, and I felt that if God was not intervening to spare the innocent there, I could not see quite why He might intervene for me.

I struggle to believe that God closely manages our individual lives.

But Ingrid's faith seems to have been a huge factor in her survival.

She said that I had simply not asked the right questions about God, and that it was our connection with Him that made us human.

He was not creating the ills of the world, she said. Mankind had been given free will, and it was to blame.

She said that not to believe, and to be cynical, was to take the easy path in life.


Ingrid talked too of forgiveness.

She was forgiving her captors, she said. With some of them it was easy, but with others that was not the case.

She spent huge amounts of time in chains, and when I mentioned the noise that they make when you move, tears came to her eyes again. Some things, she said, she was not ready to talk about.

And of whatever physical abuse she may have suffered she said: "I have thought lots about all of this, and I've decided that there are things that will never be brought to the surface - that have to stay in the jungle."

But she was delighted to remember that moment when the Colombian army managed to set her free.

"Oh my God! I tell you, it was a physical reaction! It was a physical sensation and it was so overwhelming that I screamed!"

It was "a long, long, long scream", Ingrid said.

And all too soon our conversation was at an end. She had to go on to a lunch that a gathering of Nobel Prize winners was giving in honour of the Irish rock star, Bono. That is the world in which she moves.

As she was leaving, I said: "Stay out of trouble."

She smiled. "You too," she replied.

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Still more on would-be Senator C. Kennedy: J. Warner puts in her two cents

I, for one, am starting to root for CK - after all, there should be some compensation for being a Kennedy. Being rich, famous and politically influential can never make up for the tragic losses that family has suffered (her father's assassination marked my entire life - it happened just before my 8th birthday - though the trauma was somewhat mitigated by Obama). Apart from that, I'm sure she'd do a great job. - SG

Op-Ed Guest Columnist

Getting Beyond Camelot

Caroline Kennedy is, by all accounts, a smart, decent and very capable woman. There is no reason why she shouldn’t enter politics and why she couldn’t have a good shot at winning an election.

That doesn’t mean she should be handed Hillary Clinton’s soon-to-be-vacated United States Senate seat.

Running for office and getting a high-class government handout are two very different things.

I suppose Caroline can’t be blamed entirely for having a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the fine line between deserving accomplishment and political entitlement. In 1960, when her father was elected president, vacating his seat in the Senate, he wanted his brother, Ted, to take his place. But Ted was too young to serve. So the Kennedy camp convinced Foster Furcolo, the Massachusetts governor, to appoint Benjamin Smith, an old college friend of Jack’s, “to keep the seat warm” until Ted turned 30 and could run in 1962.

“I’m putting someone in. I want to save that seat for my brother,” Jack openly said, according to Adam Clymer’s “Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography.”

But J.F.K. did sometimes worry, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin told me this week, that the public might sour on the idea of a Kennedy family dynasty.

The early 1960s were more indulgent times. In 2008, however, I’m not sure we can afford to extend excessive amounts of public generosity to the wealthy and well-connected. It doesn’t strike me as desirable or — for New York Democrats in particular, and even for Caroline herself — very wise.

We are living in a moment when all the machinations, the corner-cutting, the inside deals, mutual back-scratching and indifference to the larger world of our nation’s wealthiest and most interconnected have led us straight into the ground. We’ve just elected a president who’s sworn to clean things up. We’re in the middle of a political-appointment fiasco in Illinois.

With lawmakers and taxpayers eyeing bonuses and corporate jets with angry incredulity, we’ve arrived, after years of worshipping the very wealthy, at what could be a very positive time of reckoning. This change could go a long way toward restoring people’s faith in the fairness and decency of our leaders and institutions.

In keeping with the times, it would be an appealing act of humility if Caroline Kennedy aimed her first shot at politics a bit lower — say, at the House of Representatives. Perhaps she could run for Representative Carolyn Maloney’s seat if Maloney were, as she and her supporters would like her to be, named to Clinton’s Senate seat.

A number of major national women’s groups have endorsed Maloney for that position. Their leadership has been uncharacteristically quiet since Caroline entered the fray. But Marcia Pappas, president of the New York State chapter of the National Organization for Women told me, politely: “We can have a number of people who are qualified and we have to be very respectful of people and their talents, but when it comes down to it, we have to be grown-ups. We think this position should go to someone who’s paid her dues, who’s done the work.”

That’s the operative word: “work.” I do think that the next United States senator from New York ought to be someone who has worked for the honor. Clearly, Caroline can’t, for the sake of her political viability — or her likability with people like me — suddenly remake herself into someone who has worked for a living. But at this point, with so many people struggling so arduously just to get by, any effort at all would be appreciated. True campaigning — at the appropriate time — would prove her mettle pretty fast.

It might even be liberating. It can’t be fun to live your life defined — in the pubic eye at least — by your tragic past. At age 51, having still to be the “lucky little girl with a pony and an impossibly handsome father,” our “tragic national princess,” as The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus put it last week, can’t be too great, no matter how many strangers say they like you. (“I like her ... There’s magic in the Kennedy name that attracts power and support and love,” wrote radio host Rob Kall on The Huffington Post.)

Such love is a bit unseemly. Even embarrassing. “Confusing Politics With the Lifetime Channel,” Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog headlined the subject this week.

Caroline doesn’t have to be a fairy-tale princess anymore. She can be her own white knight, vaulting the Kennedys proudly into the 21st century, if only she plays by the rules and waits her turn.

Judith Warner writes Domestic Disturbances, a column at David Brooks is off today.

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