Human Rights

Catalonia declares independence from Spain

Irishman in Barcelona: ‘We’d be happy to live in a Republic of Catalonia’

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Opinion: I want no part in a regime that hospitalises peaceful people who just want to vote

We spent from 5.30am on Sunday morning at the local library, or biblioteca, less than 100m from my home in Sant Cugat del Vallès, a town of 87,000 just over the hill from Barcelona. My partner and her father are from the French part of Catalonia, or Catalunya Nord, as it’s known. None of us could vote in the independence referendum, but after the authoritarian behaviour of the Spanish authorities in recent weeks, we wanted to help protect the voting centres.

As the sky slowly brightened outside, people chatted, read books, tried to sleep. Others had tea or coffee, or ate from the massive buffet of snacks that had appeared on a table. The Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, had visited the voting centres to check what was going on, then left. Everyone was prepared to block any seizure of voting materials, but I don’t think anyone was expecting the violence that the day would bring.

By 9am, the ballot box had appeared and the voting centre had been set up. We were all outside by now, protecting the door, looking in the window and applauding as the first vote was cast.

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We Just Want to Vote - Franco ReturnsDuring a pre referendum social event in Placa Octavia, Sant Cugat del Valles, with dancing and other traditional activities, including castellets, the human towers, pro independence activists question the actions of th

Catalonia: We Just Want To Vote

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“We just want to vote”

This is the message, in English, that many Catalans have been sending out to the rest of Europe, in the run up to this Sunday’s planned independence referendum.

Most Catalans, or more correctly, most people, who can vote here want to have a say, in what the Catalan Generalitat (regional government) has said will be a binding vote. Depending on which polls you read, less than half of voters want independence. While these stats are widely reported, I did read a poll today that suggested there would be 63% or more turnout and an 83% yes vote.

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Admit nothing, blame everyone, be bitter

The Blame Everyone Game

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I cycled through the city, dodging broken cobblestones and feckless drivers. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a shapeless process was churning on human rights and the shameful geopolitical tug-of-war that is driving the deplorable treatment of the refugees trying to reach Europe.

I paused at a crossroads. An image of a postcard flashed into my head. A postcard I received from my friend Donal, years and years ago. A black and white image showing two hands barely meeting across a map, with three commandments in red strips overlaid:

  • Admit nothing
  • Blame everyone
  • Be bitter

That card, I thought.

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At Culletons Gap, Wexford, Ireland

Welcome, Earthlings

At Culletons Gap, Wexford, Ireland

The beach at Culleton’s Gap, Curracloe, Wexford. Christmas Eve, 2012.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a café in Brussels (where hundreds of refugees are camped in parks, understandably turning down government dormitory accommodation). I’m Irish. I live here, for now. I migrated here, but I’m not a refugee. But look at the history of the Irish diaspora, or that of your own country. Look at how many people in your family or friends are descended from or connected someone who was displaced by war or crushing economic pressures, and think, did any of these people – the Syrians stranded on the beaches of Kos, or arriving in Munich ever dream they would become refugees?

Last week, as I nestled my dozing two-month old son in my arms, my mind kept drifting back to the photograph of Aylan, the three-year old Syrian boy who perished on Turkey’s shores, after his family’s attempt to reach Greece, and the European Union. I shed a tear, for the unfairness of it all. For the father of Aylan, who had lost his entire family. In thanks for the health and safety for our little boy. In anger, and shame for being part of a system that forces small kids to cross the sea at night, unreliable boats, or push through razor wire in order to claim their basic human rights.

Europe, and some of the wider world, seems to have woken up to some sense of the enormity of the current refugee situation, following the publication of the publication of the Aylan images. It’s not that I or others, were unaware of the Syrian war – as many Europeans are – but perhaps we all assumed that someone, somewhere was taking care of the problem – after all, that’s why we pay our taxes, right?
Read More »Welcome, Earthlings

Chinese Zombie Ships

Return of the Chinese Zombie Ships

This article was first posted on the “Defending our Oceans” blog by Greenpeace on April 6th, 2006. That site has been retired, but here’s the original on the Internet Archive.

Last week, we told the story of the Chinese zombie ships of West Africa – this week we went back, and interviewed the men on board.

The Chinese fisherman clears his throat and gives a nervous glance to his right. “When I’m fishing I will be busy – it will be easy to forget”.

We’re standing on the deck of one the shattered ‘zombie ships’, theLian Run 16, anchored 120km from the coast of Guinea. 38-year-old Jia, a lean, hardy man with sad eyes and a ready smile, is telling us how, five days ago, he said goodbye to his wife and 11-year old son, Xinyi. The next time he sees them, his son will be 13. It’s easier to forget, it seems, than torture oneself.

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Chinese Zombie Ships

Happiness: The Chinese zombie ships of West Africa

This article was first posted on the “Defending our Oceans” blog by Greenpeace on March 29, 2006. That site has been retired, but here’s the original on the Internet Archive.

We’re in the big African Queen inflatable, cruising alongside an anchored trawler. It’s more rust than metal – the ship is rotting away. The foredeck is covered in broken machinery. The fish deck is littered with frayed cables, and the mast lies horizontally, hanging over the starboard side. A large rusty Chinese character hangs on railings above the bridge, facing forward. It reads ‘happiness’.

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