24 November 2010

Dukot (Kidnapped) - A Movie on Enforced Disappearances in the Philippines

In time for Human Rights Day (10 December), I would like to recommend a Philippine independent film that has gained national and international critical acclaim, including at the Montreal Film Festival, is currently touring the United States, had its European premiere in The Hague (where it was received well) and will screen in London on 04 December 2010. You can find details on how to get a ticket of only £10 with dinner and after-party included on the official invite from the UK chapter of the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines HERE.

The movie is based on true experiences of (many) real activists who were disappeared. Two widely publicised cases are those of farming activist Raymond Manalo as well as Karen Empeño and Sheryl Cadapan along with their companion, farmer Manuel Merino. The two female students from the University of the Philippines College of Social Science and College of Human Kinetics respectively, were interviewing farmers on social conditions and also campaigning against government corruption. Their abduction was even featured in the UK Independent HERE. You can also read about them on the blog of the Philippine Council for Independent Journalism HERE, as pretty much anywhere on the net if you just google.

Below you find the official trailer which. I would have perhaps cut some of the "dating in the dark" scenes and give the people flashed at the end more seconds to establish who they are (which might not be so clear for people not familiar with the context). But since tragic love stories are a popular theme in the Philippines, I am sure it will make the topic more accessible to a commercial audience, once the movie hits Philippine cinemas in early 2011 (after an initial ban). It'll definitely help me mobilise some politically apathetic Filipinos I know for a screening in Vienna this weekend!

"ATD Entertainment’s “Dukot" is Lamangan’s and Ilagan’s enthusiastic but grim foray into the phenomenon of “desaparacidos” (literally, the disappeared) and extra-judicial killings.

This is no small wonder because both Ilagan and Lamangan were, and still are, political activists who "genuinely fight for freedom and democracy."

Because of their personal experiences in the underground movement, they were able to chronicle real and horrifying events on screen.

Their observations, first-hand accounts and participation in the underground movement naturally means a sympathetic (but objective) presentation of the whole situation.

And, amid mass killings such as those in Ampatuan town and the country's slide down various human rights watchlists, the film "Dukot" is very timely.

Left-leaning mass leaders, journalists, community workers or activists turn up dead or are rendered missing.

Families and friends of these victims quickly point to the military, with their "enemies of the state" lists, or the government, with its dislike for the vaguely defined "insurgency", as the culprits.

The practice of taking hapless victims, then torturing and killing them, began en masse during the Martial Law period under former president Ferdinand Marcos. The term used then for the practice was "salvaging."

- Review from Philippine News Conglomerate ABS-CBN. N/B:
The article is much longer but is full of unnecessary spoilers (it basically summarises the whole movie), so I save you the temptation and won't post a link here.

20 November 2010

Cartoons on the Graduate Job Search

One cartoon says more than a thousand words...!

19 November 2010

Returning to Vienna from Camp David (Career Camp)

The other day, I returned to Vienna after altogether four weeks of "career camp" in the UK. Dave, a friend of mine whom I met in the hostel and who now has a flat of his own, offered me his guest room and from day one became my CV guru! I thought my bullet-point CV was pretty much bullet-proof, except for the profile section at the very top perhaps but since I already have 157 versions of my CV and am always open-minded about improvement, I was very grateful for the advice on how to completely convert of my CV from chronological format to skills-based format (a format particularly popular in the UK/US), how to pitch myself in the heading (ie "two years of X experience, speaks three European and three Asian languages") and a few changes on phrasing and how to present any possible weaknesses as strenghts ("If you have a wooden leg, show it!"). It's all about psychology, really. I later found out that all these tricks that Dave had been shown by top managers himself were actually consistent with NLP, so no surprise there.

Every day, I would go to Starbucks to use the internet (it's free if you get a loyalty card) and stay until they close. I tried local job agencies for local secretary/receptionist/admin jobs, job listings for people interested in charities and development, I contacted people for career advice and networking (development professionals, HR people of humanitarian organisations, high school teachers who taught development professionals, SOAS alumni I have never met, SOAS alumni I used to work with). When I visited SOAS, I bumped into other qualified graduates from my course who have also been looking for jobs in vain and are surviving on hourly temping here and there and were bemoaning their equally frustrating experiences in the current job market. I stopped checking NGO websites directly because they would only advertise for unpaid interns and volunteers anymore. Dave often asked me why I wasn't applying to jobs I am qualified for. It is a good question. I guess I slipped into looking for everything else because that is where the money is and it would allow me a buffer to pursue the kind of job I really want to do. Besides, I assume that at times of economic crisis, recruiters look for people who would be able to do the job of three people and hence raise the eligibility criteria and number of years of experience. Besides, a crucial skill in any job in development is budget management (because many NGOs are donor-funded and the work largely project-based in nature). It is the kind of thing no NGO wants to teach you but every NGO expects you to have. Sometimes, I fulfil all criteria except "proven experience of having managed a budget of £25000 or more". A more senior friend of mine is applying for a job that requires her to have managed a budget of £1m before and ideally, also be fluent in the local language!

The more qualified the job, the more elaborate the job application procedure. And while I have been determined in the past to fill out ten-page application forms, it is quite a frustrating thing to do in series, particularly when in most cases you are already informed in advance that "due to the high number of applicants, we are unable to give any individual feedback". I applied to a local university library, one I have been using practically every day. I did not hear back from them, despite what I believe was a strong personal statement. Libraries in Oxford are generally equipped by part-time staff and I have seen ads with requirements ranging from GCSE (Brookes University) to a desirable degree in library and/or information management (Bodleian Libraries). I had volunteered at a departmental library before, know the collection and reader services of the library I applied to very well because of my related degree and professional experience and still was not even short-listed or contacted.

I also tried local publishing houses as they are some of the largest local employers but it is not surprising that they are not hiring at the moment either. I applied for a job as online customer service assistant for subscriptions, basically helping people who have problems accessing their online academic journals. A no-brainer but still did not get invited for interview.

My first call for an interview with the killer CV was of course, a German-related job. When I got the call, I had laryngitis and it hurt to even croak for a bus ticket, let alone have a self-selling phone conversation with a woman who presented a lot of convoluted information about the role at the pace of a high-speed train when I am in a cafe brimming with people on a rainy day. It was a permanent job as Marketing Executive and probably not a good match anyway. I also received interest to work for a German hearing aid company (never heard back from them) and most recently, a major airline conglomerate which needed German speakers as well. Although I was very interested in the company and its benefits like discount on flights after six months and a bonus for speaking two foreign languages fluently, I was less happy with the fact that it was located in London zone 4, required six (!) days a week of duty and only paid £18000 a year. Considering that it's Christmas soon and I would have only one full day a week to commute to Central London and meet people and that it again is customer service, I decided to give it a pass and return to Austria.

Before my return then, I followed the suggestion of my friend Kat and applied for an internship in Austrian public service (paid at 50% of a civil servant's salary, that is 1000 per month) and did not get that either even though I lived abroad, speak several languages and studied something related just because they prefer someone with an advanced degree (unofficially, ideally a law degree) - or at least that was the official explanation. For political reasons they probably want to promote students who mostly studied at an Austrian national university. And even then, I believe a Master should be entitled to the full salary of a junior civil servant. All this, in my opinion, it is a typical example of the prevailing job market mentality in Austria to put the authority of certificates and diplomas over an individual assessment of the qualities of each applicant and how their diverse experience can contribute to an innovative and dynamic organisational identity. At the same time, the same department discreetly hires secretaries via job agencies which technically, they are not supposed to do. I also know of people who are still working on their Master dissertation and are doing an internship in another department and I know of civil servants who gained an additional degree while working, asked for a raise, did not get it, asked for a promotion, did not get it and had no other choice but to terminate their employment and seek a more fulfilling role elsewhere. And the boss was even surprised!

Currently, I am trying to find work as (evening) secretary in chambers and when I had just sent such an application to a friend for review, I found THIS article (in German) describing how some chambers advertise for an experienced secretary with professional attitude who is presentable, fluent in German and English and possesses excellent software skills. The person would be in charge for the entire office management for 30-40 hours a week. Salary: 6€/hour! The Austrian Chamber of Labour (an organisation that represents the interests of employees and consumers but is not a trade union) says that they have had a lot of reports of wage dumping like these and will follow up any cases with "great pleasure". They also say that a lot of students and graduates find themselves in short-term and medium-term insecurity in regards to life-planning as their second degree and eventual entry into a skilled profession gets delayed, not least through the requirement of internships and work placements but also because the administration has announced that it will lower the family benefit age to 24 on January 1st. I couldn't have written the article better myself, it speaks from my heart: I have the impression that I am losing any career advantage I have gained to the crisis. That all the efforts I have put into my career are currently not making a difference. Earlier this summer, I checked ads with migration-related organisations that I would definitely qualify for. Sadly, they advertised a lot of unpaid internships for research projects where technically, they could have also hired paid consultants or one or two permanent junior officers. One of those internships was not only advertised on the organisation's website but also in a student job database, with a salary of 6€/hr. I was surprised it was paid and thought, OK, since this is a job related to migration that I find interesting, rewarding and that will get me further eventually, I would do it for 6€. I went to the lengths of writing an application and even contacting a referee abroad only to find out that in fact, it was a "mistake" in the ad and that actually the full-time internship is unpaid! Now, I like to think that this is a prank of the (student) website administrators on those who employ unpaid staff. There was also a second job where they were looking for an assistant to set up a human rights film festival. The woman who had the pleasure of dealing with the applications sounded clearly frustrated because I probably wasn't the first to tell her that I would only do it if they pay me for my labour. That was in the summer.

Now that Dave was as kind as to print a list of the 30 most commonly asked interview questions complete with suggestions how to go about answering them (and even offered to do a mock interview with me!), and after reading the newspaper article mentioned above, I realised that there is one question that is not on any list: "This job is an unpaid position. Is that OK with you?" While I understand that funding is limited in some cases like small charities, I would like to know how to convince someone to pay you when there is room in the budget except they would rather not spend it on "non-essential expenditures". I went through different scenarios in my head: "That depends. Are accommodation and living expenses included?" or "Sure, where in the office can I roll out my sleeping bag?" or if it were chambers, "Wow. I always thought lawyers earn more than 200 € an hour. I did not know some work for 6 € per hour too." Or bartering, "In exchange, do I get a voucher for free legal representation should I need any in the future?"

The search for a job continues.

17 November 2010

Interview with outgoing UN Special Rapporteur Manfred Nowak

Manfred Nowak, Austrian human rights lawyer and university professor as well as co-founder and Scientific Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Human Rights, gave a public lecture on November 9 at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna to discuss his experiences during the six-year mandate as UN Special Rapporteur of Torture. He is handing over to Juan Méndez, an Argentinian and torture survivor himself who has taught at American University, Georgetown and Oxford. You can find an account of Nowak's work in the Journal of Human Rights Practice, Vol. 1, No. 1, March 2009, pp. 101-119 (downloadable as PDF HERE).

I wish I was able to attend the public lecture. Despite the fact that it was hosted by a veteran national television journalist, there does not seem to be any recording to share with you here either (events at the Diplomatic Academy are sometimes in English). Instead, I found an interview with Austrian broadsheet "Der Standard" on 22 October 2010, translated from German by me below.

"UN human rights protection in huge crisis - UN Special Rapporteur on Torture's harsh judgement on the UN Human Rights Council: 'Obama daily violating UN Convention on Torture'

UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak discusses with reporter Julia Raabe, why there is no torture in Denmark anymore and how the EU fails Greece. At the end of his mandate, the expert also takes on the UN Human Rights Council.

STANDARD: Has there been a global reduction in torture ever since your assumption of office as Rapporteur in 2004?

Nowak: I am afraid not. But it also has not increased. For my visits, I chose countries from all continents and all legal systems, and not only those where I assumed the situation there was bad. My insight is: Torture happens in a signifant majority of countries, only to a different extent. In Greece, which I have just inspected, there were few cases. Singular cases.

STANDARD: So instead, you have expressed shock at the refugee situation there.

Nowak: The detention conditions are catastrophic. 90% of all arrests of irregular migrants in the EU this year happened in Greece. Therefore, I demand from the EU to suspend the Dublin II Convention (whereby immigrants can be deported in the EU country into which they first travelled) and not to send anyone back to Greece but instead to conduct the asylum process itself.

STANDARD: Is Athens overwhelmed or is there bad faith behind it?

Nowak: The Greek are entirely overwhelmed. The new administration is really willing to change something. But it needs financial and other assistance from the EU. They require open reception centres, access to the asylum process etc. Sending Frontex by itself is not enough. Generally, the Dublin II Convention has to be reviewed on the long run. It is a completely unfair system which overwhelms some countries and treats these unfairly.

STANDARD: Are there also particularly exemplary countries?

Nowak: Denmark, including Greenland, is the only among the 18 countries I visited, in which I did not find any torture or related accusations. It confirms that every government can eliminate torture, if it really wants to. This also includes to penetrate the corps mentality and to not cover for anyone anymore if a detainee is tortured. It is still like that in Austria: If there is an accusation of torture, the first thing the Ministry of Interior does is to say: Nothing of it is true. Instead of declaring that they do not know and will investigate. In Denmark, the detention conditions were also better than in any other countries.

STANDARD: Is there a connection between detention conditions and torture?

Nowak: Of course. A main problem is that the public does not know what happens behind closed doors - and maybe does not even want to know. The predominant opinion is: Whoever finds themselves behind bars is there for a reason. But in reality, this is often entirely untrue. In a modern penal system, the detainee is deprived of his personal freedom but his/her detention conditions should resemble those outside in order to easier resocialise them. This is the reason why Denmark has such a low reoffense rate. In contrast, you have countries with archaic thinking, such as all ex-Soviet countries, China but also the US: Whoever is sentenced should suffer.

STANDARD: About the US: You were very optimistic at the start of the Obama administration that a lot will change and that Guantanomo will be closed, as announced. This did not happen. Are you disappointed?

Nowak: He probably really wanted to close Guantanomo within a year. Congress, state governors but also European governments made it as hard as possible for him. But a practice of torture as during the Bush administration, really does not exist anymore. That he did succeeded in.

STANDARD: Does this mean that you are not aware of any actual cases of US citizens?

Nowak: No. But the Obama administration is accused - rightly so, I believe - handing over detainees from US detention in Iraq to the Iraqi authorities well aware that they will be tortured there. What I most criticise Obama for, is that there is no review of human rights violations from the Bush administration. There is and has been no reconciliation with the past, even if the body of evidence is extensive. Legally speaking, Obama is thereby daily violating the UN Convention Against Torture and other international conventions.

STANDARD: As Special Rapporteur, you have to await invitation by the respective country - which is not always given, as in Zimbabwe where you were refused entry at the airport, or in Iran. Doesn't this mean that you risk not solving the most recent cases of torture?

Nowak: Of course, I would have liked to visit many countries with pressing suspicions of systematic torture, like Egypt or Syria or in fact, many Near Eastern and North African countries. But Equitorial Guinea belongs to the same category as Zimbabwe or Egypt. I was in Nepal during an ugly time, in Sri Lanka at the height of the conflict between the military and the Tamil rebels - and I have detected terrible torture methods.

STANDARD: Why do some countries agree to meet you? Don't they risk criticism?

Nowak: Uruguay is an example of the ideal case: The new administration wanted an independent evaluation. It knew that the situation was not good but they wanted to change it. The prison conditions were horrible. My recommentations to immediately close certain prison sections was ordered three days later by presidential decree. Countries like Equitorial Guinea and Nepal likely still hope that I do not find out the whole truth. Or the pressure of regional communities on them is too large.

STANDARD: Did it happen a lot that countries tried to hide something?

Nowak: Kazakhstan was a master. I was constantly under surveillance. In the prisons, everything had just been painted. The Potemkin villages were bizarre, at times: In a women's penitentiary, the women were not allowed for four days to sleep in their freshly made beds because they did not know when we would come and wanted everything to look nice. The detainees were intimidated, we constantly were confronted with lies and the same prepared answers. It was a great effort to convey to the detainnes that our conversations really were confidential.

The Chinese were extremely efficient in surveillance, including our mobile phones. Victims who were supposed to come to Beijing to meet us were taken out of the train in Shanghai. The wife of a detainee was taken from her work place, the children from school and moved out of Beijing. I threatened three times to abort the mission if this did not stop. Eventually, it did work but I had to raise huge efforts in this cat and mouse game.

STANDARD: You started your work at the time of the Human Rights Commission. Since 2006, there is the Human Rights Council Austria is now also applying to. Has anything changed?

Nowak: I see the UN human rights protection in huge crisis. Actually, the Human Rights Council was supposed to act upon the expertise of independent experts. But the better we (the Rapporteurs) do our work, the more we are criticised by countries - due to political agendas. That is completely absurd. Those countries that violate human rights the most have the council majority. The UN must reform its human rights organs profoundly if it does not want to embarass itself permanently.

STANDARD: What has to change?

Nowak: For my mandate, I demand a convention for the rights of detainees, which are pretty bad. Particularly important is also to ratify the Additional Protocol to the Convention of Torture and in doing so, to enable better prison access. Generally, I demand the creation of a global court of justice for human rights which even supersedes the competencies of the European Court of Human Rights. This could change a lot of things."

(Find the original HERE)

Biography of Manfred Nowak
Biography of Juan Méndez

12 November 2010

Universally Challenged: “Quiz answers that prove Britain really is dumbing down”

As a continental European proud of her free quality secondary education, it has always been a mystery to me why in a country as supposedly economically developed as the UK, the general knowledge of the average population can be as shockingly non-existent as can be its command of its native language, let alone its knowledge of any second language. Parallels with Bush Jr.'s visit to the obscure “country” of Africa come to mind, as well as getting asked by an English lady in the academic section of a book shop how to spell “catastrophe”, only to see it misspelled with y at the end on the cover page of The Times (yes!) the very next day. You also wouldn't believe how many people in England believe I'm from Australia or who ask me what language is spoken in Austria. Or the times I went to my London GP (London having a very different socio-economic composition than most cities in the rest of the UK) and was treated with an attitude of “What would YOU know?” when, being used to the more collaborative patient-doctor partnership in continental Europe, I demanded more detailed and comprehensive information than “I can see too that this is sore. Go back to Boots and buy this over-the-counter pain killer. I don't even get why you came to see a doctor. Is there anything else I can do for you?” (in essence). I won't even start with home improvement standards or health and safety notices. Or the BA student who did not know that Northern Ireland was one of the four states of the country she is a citizen of ("I have wondered why it is always on the map in the weather forecast").

All of this is hilariously demonstrated in a dedicated book called “Universally Challenged” by Wendy Roby*, featured in an article by the Daily Mail on 11 November 2010 titled “Quiz answers that prove Britain really is dumbing down”.

The article says, “Despite ever-improving school exam results, proof of how Britons are dumbing down can be seen every day in the embarrassingly wrong answers given on television and radio quiz shows. TV show QI has even conducted its own quiz on the streets of Britain and found that we are, broadly speaking, a nation that doesn't make full use of its brain power. Now, a new book has collected some of the funniest and most witless quiz show answers...”

I was shaking with laughter when I read the excerpted examples and am still amused by them!

Host: Of which hot drink is “eat” an anagram?
Contestant: Hot chocolate?

Host: Was the Tyrannosaurus Rex a carnivore or a herbivore?
Contestant: No, it was a dinosaur.

Host: What is the name given to the condition where the sufferer can fall asleep at any time?
Contestant: Nostalgia.

Host: Name the German national airline.
Contestant: The Luftwaffe.

Host: Do you know where Cambridge University is?
Contestant [laughing]: No, geography is not my strong point.
Host: There's a clue in its title.
Contestant: Er... Leicester?

Host: In sport, the name of which famous racehorse was the word “murder” spelled backwards.
Contestant: Starter gun.

Host: What is Hitler's first name?
Contestant: Heil.

Host: What is the capital of Italy?
Contestant: France.
Host: France is another country. Try again.
Contestant: Oh, um, Benidorm.
Host: Wrong, sorry, let's try another question. In which country is the Parthenon?
Contestant: Sorry, I don't know.
Host: Just guess a country, then.
Contestant: Paris.

Host: With whom did Britain go to war over the Falklands?
Contestant: Err...
Host: It's a South American country.
Contestant: Iran.

Host: In which European country is Mount Etna?
Contestant: Japan.
Host: I did say which European country, so in case you didn't hear that, I can let you try again.
Contestant: Er... Mexico?

Read some more on the original Daily Mail article or get the book - I definitely know it will be on my Christmas wish list this year! ;)

*Universally Challenged refers to the long-running TV quiz show University Challenge where universities compete against each other. It is quite popular with UK students. You can stream the episodes on BBC iPlayer HERE (at least within the UK). This week: Oxford Brookes vs. University of the Arts London. See also its Wikipedia article HERE.

09 November 2010

"Quantum Gradnamics": What would Schrödinger say?

Yes, this is how I see it sometimes...! :D
Click on the image to appreciate the other half of the comic that got cut off in Blogger.

More hilarious comics on: http://www.phdcomics.com

02 November 2010

A few inspirational thoughts on Halloween/All Soul's/Día de los Muertos

Once again, it’s All Soul’s Day and therefore a perfect opportunity to celebrate life and perhaps even a preview skim of the much dreaded annual review towards the end of the year. Who knows, after reading this, you might have an epiphany about something you always wanted to do. In that case, congratulations! You still have eight weeks to turn this year around for you!

In essence, today is a reminder to live our lives to the fullest. There are many different ways to do that. For some, fulfilment comes with starting a new family or going somewhere they have never been before or mastering a new skill. Reach your full potential. Live your dreams. Do something that that increases happiness in the world, ideally something peaceful that will inspire others.

I like to think there are two kinds of success. The first is what is conventionally interpreted as career success. The second kind of success is about personal satisfaction, about living the life you want, surrounding yourself with people you love and giving your love to others. Although I am only vaguely familiar with his work, Deepak Chopra’s famous Spiritual Laws of Success might be a good guide for you to start out (and yes, they are on YouTube).

Take a moment, make yourself comfortable with a cup of tea (or coffee, whichever is your preferred poison) and think, really think about the following questions. I have taken these from a book misleadingly called “Getting Past OK: The Self-Help Book for People Who Don't Need Help”. The book’s title really is a misnomer because it does not tell you how to deal with people other than you who won’t accept your advice. I for example thought at first it was about how to deal with people at work who need help but always decline it. Rather, the book is about identifying in what direction you want to improve your life beyond the “just ok” level. It really reads itself quite fast and is more of a hands-on checklist than a spiritual impulse. The author is the guy who got credited with developing MS Word, Richard Brodie. I would love to quote the elaborations on each question but since quoting in blogs is kind of a legal grey area in terms of Fair Use, I will respect intelectual copyright and suggest you get your local library to stock this book - or give me a ring.

# What do you want? The trick is to focus on the experiences rather than the thing itself.

# What have been the greatest successes of your life so far?

# What is it about other people that you admire?

# What are some things you enjoy that don’t fit into the mainstream of life?

# What are your most important values? What ideals do you hold highest, honestly?

# What did you really enjoy doing as a kid at play?

# Describe your ideal job.

# Describe your ideal relationship.

# Write about what life is like from the point of view of your favourite pet.

And from myself: What legacy would you love to leave your children? What would you be proud of to be remembered for? Some say that writing your own funeral speech, as morbid as it sounds, can help you figure that out. I bet you feel much more alive afterwards! To quote Patrick Jane in The Mentalist: "My way? Cathartic and life-affirming!"

You live only once. Think about that.