Sunday's victory by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) appears to be a landslide for Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power there for over two decades. The former Khmer Rouge guerrilla has elevated winning Cambodian elections to an art form, topping Cambodia's four polls since elections began in 1993. Here are some of his techniques:
1. Stoke the fires of nationalism: Hun Sen got a boost from a border dispute with Thailand over an 11th-century Hindu temple. After Cambodia's government secured re-election Sunday, the two countries agreed to pull back troops on Monday.
3. Deliver economic results: Construction, oil exploration, and tourism are driving an upstart Cambodian economy. For many voters, economic success trumps democratic aspirations -- and Hun Sen happily takes credit for every piece of economic good news.
4. Rig the rolls: While the Cambodian People's Party hasn't shied away from outright violence to rig an election, this year's polls have seen a more subtle effort from the ruling party. Hun Sen's rivals claim the CPP deleted thousands of opposition supporters from voting lists.
5. Amend the constitution: A 2006 constitutional amendment replaced a requirement of a two-thirds majority to control parliament with a provision mandating only a simple majority. The CPP no longer needs the support of royalist party Funcinpec as a result.
6. When all else fails, control everything: Incumbents generally have the advantage, but after 23 years in power Hun Sen has entrenched his authority in all aspects of Cambodian politics. As Newsweek's Eric Pape sums up:
But given's near absolute control of Cambodian television, radio, the courts and the electoral structures that validate elections, any meaningful decline in his power would amount to a stunning blow.
The globetrotting documentarians over at Current Vanguard have just posted an interesting new short film from the Philippines, where the primary export is the country's own citizens.
"Destination Anywhere" looks at the 20 million Filipinos who work abroad in fields ranging from housekeeping to medical care. The billions of dollars in remittances they send home every year account for about 10 percent of the Philippines' GDP. While this is generally viewed as positive for economic growth (President Gloria Arroyo has described the overseas workers as "heroes of the republic".) it doesn't do much for the kind of longterm development and savings that could stimulate job creation at home. Plus, as the film's director, Tracey Chang, finds, there are enormous social costs when you consider the Philippines' millions of separated families.
For more on the relationship between remittances, corruption, and poor economic planning, check out "The Remittance Curse" in the current issue of Foreign Policy.
Yesterday's Washington Post Quote of the Week:
And I reminded the president that I am reminded of the great talent of the—of our Philippine Americans when I eat dinner at the White House.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am Gopalan Nair. Today is May 31, 2008 at 10.40am Singapore time. I am at present in Singapore at Broadway Hotel, Room 708, 195 Serangoon Road, Singapore, 218067. The hotel telephone number is is 62924661. My local SingTel telephone number is 83764236. [...]
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew [at left], look here. I am now within your jurisdiction and that of your corrupt police and your corrupt judiciary who will do anything you want of them, however criminal and illegal.
What are you going to do about it?
Turns out, a lot. Police quickly arrested Nair and charged him with insulting Belinda Ang Saw Ean, a judge whom the blogger had earlier accused of "prostituting herself" for Lee Kuan Yew during a hearing at which the former prime minister testified against opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, who was charged with defamation. Judging by comments like these, I think Nair got thrown in the briar patch, so to speak:
I repeat the threat that Lee Kuan Yew had made on day two of the show trial during the last 3 days in the High Court. When asked by Dr. Chee whether he will sue those who write on the Internet defamations against him, I mean defamations in the Singaporean sense, his definitive unequivocal answer was that he will sue them. There is no doubt in the Singaporean sense, I have defamed him and his Prime Minister son, not only in my last blog post but in almost all my blog posts since my blog's inception in December 2006.
The U.S. embassy says it is "monitoring the case closely." Stay tuned.
Money may not grow on trees, but from time to time it does fall from the sky:
That was the scene earlier today in Serang, a town 40 miles outside of Jakarta, where Indonesian businessman and author chose to promote his new book by dropping 100 million rupiahs (more than $10,000) from the sky. By American standards, that's actually a pretty cheap way to get massive global publicity, even if you account for the cost of the plane and pilot.
Give U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates the prize for understatement of the weekend while discussing the tragic situation in Burma:
When asked whether the Myanmar government's actions were tantamount to genocide, Mr. Gates stopped short of that accusation. "This is more akin, in my view, to criminal neglect," he said.
Criminal neglect? You're kidding -- I always thought that Burma's xenophobic junta sponsored some of the best healthcare programs in the world.
Yesterday, two-and-a-half weeks after Cyclone Nargis hit Burma, junta leader Than Shwe finally descended from the remote mountain capital of Naypyitaw to tour cyclone-damaged areas outside of Yangon. He still has not visited the devastated Irrawaddy delta region. The Burmese government also agreed today to accept more aid from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations but is still blocking most aid from Western countries. French and American warships remain anchored off the coast of Irrawaddy, unable to bring food and supplies to shore.
One of the tragic ironies of Burma's glacial response to the disaster has been that they have made the Chinese Communist Party look really good by comparison. Say what you will about Hu Jintao, he was on the ground in Sichuan a few days after the earthquake and the Chinese government has broken sharply with past practice by asking for foreign aid.
Granted, "better than Burma" isn't exactly much of a compliment but the contrast is still striking.
It's getting harder for the Burmese state to hide the truly profound level of its own dysfunction:
The Burmese generals were visible all right. State television showed them handing out boxes of the small amount of aid allowed in from neighbouring Thailand. Unwittingly, it also showed that the Burmese leadership had plastered their own names over the true origins of the food aid to fool their own people into believing that the emergency relief supplies had come from them.
You know things are bad when a military dictatorship can't even get its own propaganda right.
(Hat tip: Reason's Kerry Howley)
Invoking the United Nations' "Responsibility to Protect" clause, the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana joined French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in calling for the international community to aid the population of Burma, even without the consent of their government.
"We have to use all the means to help those people," Javier Solana said before an emergency meeting of EU ministers in Brussels. "The United Nations charter opens some avenues if things cannot be resolved in order to get the humanitarian aid to arrive."
China's veto pretty much precludes a Security Council resolution which is why some, like journalist (and top public intellectual) Anne Applebaum are calling for a new "coalition of the willing" to deliver aid without the junta's cooperation. Applebaum acknowledges that the phrase has been "tainted forever" by its association with the war in Iraq, but she isn't the only one drawing that parrallel. The Christian Science Monitor quoted one Burmese merchant who wondered why his country didn't meet the criteria for humanitarian intervention:
"I want to talk to Mr. George Bush. What are you doing? United Nations, what are you doing? We have no food, no water. This is the worst government in the world. Same as Saddam Hussein. Why you cannot help us?"
Since last week's deadly cyclone in Burma, the nation's ruling military junta has been reluctant to allow aid to enter the country. Since then, trickles of food, water and medicines have been allowed to enter the country, but international aid workers have not. Citing a government that failed to even warn its citizens of the impending disaster, international observers believe that the regime in Burma has neither the will nor the capacity to distribute aid fairly, that corrupt officials are profiting from aid packages, and that the situation created by these conditions threatens to outpace the humanitarian devastation of the 2004 tsunami.
Last week, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner--the founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders)--suggested that the international community and the UN are obligated to intervene in Burma, regardless of the wishes of the military junta, in accordance with the "Responsibility to Protect", or R2P, as outlined by the UN at the General Assembly in 2005. The concept asserts that the international community is obligated to intervene in cases where states fail to protect their populations from "genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."
There are widely varying opinions (pdf) on the legality of the Responibility to Protect. Some argue that it violates the basic concept of sovereignty, while others like the Washington Post's Fred Hiatt, believe as Kouchner does, that the UN is abdicating its responsibility in Burma. Garreth Evans, of the International Crisis Group, offers a more nuanced interpretation in an editorial for The Guardian:
If it comes to be thought that R2P, and in particular the sharp military end of the doctrine, is capable of being invoked in anything other than a context of mass atrocity crimes, then such consensus as there is in favour of the new norm will simply evaporate in the global south. And that means that when the next case of genocide or ethnic cleansing comes along we will be back to the same old depressing arguments about the primacy of sovereignty that led us into the horrors of inaction in Rwanda and Srebrenica in the 1990s."
He admits that if the inaction and neglect of the Burmese government is widely interpreted as a crime against humanity, then there might be room for the principle's application.
But there is no disagreement that the people of Burma can't wait for these issues to be bandied about at the Security Council or across editorial pages. Frustrated nations have a choice to make: either they must defy the wishes of the Burmese junta and send aid workers or airlifts to the Irrawaddy Delta, or they must submit to the regime and send whatever they have in the hopes that it will reach those in need. Regardless, it is clear that moralizing and posturing on the issue is not going to influence many, either in Rangoon or at the UN.
Nearly a week after Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma, the first UN World Food Program and Red Cross planes were finally allowed to land in Yangon today. U.S. military planes carrying supplies are still waiting in Bangkok for permission to fly from the Burmese government.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis continues to worsen. The total number of casualties is anywhere between 23,000 and 100,000 depending on estimates and over 1 million people may have lost their homes. As the arresting images in FP's photo essay "Burma Picks up the Pieces" show, rebuilding after this catastrophe would be a monumental task for any state. For one as repressive and paranoid as Burma, it may be impossible.
While it might seem unimaginable to find a reason for optimism in suffering of this scale, the Burmese people can only hope that the cyclone, and the government's inept handling of it, might be the final blow that brings this odious regime to an end.
The devastating cyclone that hit Burma this weekend, killing perhaps 22,500 people -- 40,000 more are still missing -- seems to have spared the country's new administrative capital, Naypyidaw. Deep in the heart of the country's interior and surrounded by mountainous jungle, the isolated new capital, only unveiled last year, suits the insular military junta just fine. But The Irrawaddy reports that civil servants and military officials, many of whom left family behind in Rangoon, are bucking orders from the junta to stay put. Instead, they've fled to look for lost family members in the cyclone's path:
We left our children in Rangoon, and we should be there with them now," the official said, adding that higher authorities have turned down all requests for leave until after the May 10 referendum.
Many of Burma's bureaucrats have homes in Rangoon, where they lived until the junta suddenly shifted the capital to Naypyidaw in November 2005. Telephone lines and Internet connections in Rangoon, which is still the country’s main commercial center, have been down since Friday.
Military personnel with relatives in the stricken area have also been returning to their homes without permission from their commanding officers.
Perhaps another sign that bungling relief efforts could weaken the junta's control?
Here in the United States, the recently released Rambo hasn't gotten the best reviews; it scored a lowly 35 on Rotten Tomatoes's tomatometer. But among Burmese nationals, it's a huge hit—and inspirational, to boot. Yesterday, a Rambo screening in Singapore, organized by the Overseas Burmese Patriots Group and packed with Burmese expats, sold out all 600 tickets.
In the movie, everyone's favorite former Green Beret, John Rambo, takes on Burma's military junta in an effort to rescue Christian missionaries who have been taken captive. Burmese moviegoers at yesterday's screening broke out in loud cheers and applause at the movie's climax when Sly Stallone saves the missionaries and slays their captors. "Just like Rambo is in the movie, Burma is waiting for a hero or someone to lead the revolution," one audience member told AFP.
The junta has banned the film from being shown in Burma, but that hasn't stopped pirated DVDs from flooding Rangoon. "People are going crazy with the quote 'Live for nothing, die for something'," one Burmese told Reuters, in reference to one of Rambo's gems of wisdom from the film.
Meanwhile, Stallone says he is willing to go personally to Burma to confront junta officials. He has even offered to debate them in front of the U.S. Congress. And I think we'd all love to see that happen.
Rising prices for soyabeans and soya-based products such as tofu have Indonesians steamed:
On Monday, 10,000 Indonesians demonstrated outside the presidential palace in Jakarta after soyabean prices soared more than 50 per cent in the past month and 125 per cent over the past year, leaving huge shortages in markets.
The rapid soyflation, a result of surging Chinese demand, rising oil prices, and ethanol production in the United States, has also hit other parts of the region, such as Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong—all wealthy places that can probably weather the storm.
One country that is probably headed for trouble with rising food prices is not in Asia, but the Middle East. Egypt is the world's second-largest importer of wheat, another commodity that is at all-time highs right now. Egypt subsidizes wheat, flour, and bread, a policy that costs the state about $2.74 billion a year and leads to corruption and economic distortions. The government is reportedly mulling an across-the-board reduction of basic food subsidies, which in the long run would be healthy for Egypt's economy. But everyone in Egypt remembers what happened in 1977 when Anwar al-Sadat tried to cut the bread subsidy: riots in the streets. The Egyptian opposition is demoralized and defeated after more than two years of harsh government crackdowns. Widespread outrage over high prices, however, could be the spark that finally ignites popular unrest.
Which is why we can safely expect Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is no dummy, to ignore U.S. President George W. Bush's latest polite request to move toward "economic openness... and democratic reform."
For a top politician you can't continue in power when you are seen naked."
—Political analyst Ooi Kee Beng, commenting on news that Malaysia's health minister resigned after admitting being the guy in a widely distributed sex video
Politicians usually turn out the elderly vote by scaring them that their benefits will be cut unless they don't come to the polls. But I suppose this is another way to do it:
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Vote-buying is an old practice in Thai politics, but one candidate for December's Thai election has reportedly come up with a new tactic — handing out Viagra instead of cash.
The allegation, made Thursday by a campaign worker against a rival party, comes as rules about handing out favors to voters have become stricter than ever, barring even the distribution of free T-shirts and soft drinks.
Sayan Nopcha, a campaigner for the People's Power Party in Pathum Thai province just north of Bangkok, said the drug used to treat sexual dysfunction in men was being distributed to elderly male voters at social functions.
In Israel, hundreds of thousands of youngsters have been wandering the streets, and it's not because they're skipping school. Rather, it's because the country's public secondary schools have been shut down since their teachers went on strike on Oct. 9 to protest low salaries and poor working conditions. Starting teachers make $600 monthly (less than the rent for a decent one-bedroom apartment in Tel Aviv), and classrooms have 38 to 40 students.
On Monday, Knesset member Avishay Braverman called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to help resolve the situation. "Mister prime minister, Annapolis is important. Finding a solution to this strike is more important than Annapolis," he said, referring to a Middle East peace meeting the United States is arranging in Annapolis, Maryland.
The strike is symptomatic of an educational breakdown that some say will hurt Israel's high-tech industries, which generate 12 percent of the country's gross domestic product and more than one third of its exports. In the 1960s, Israeli kids ranked near the top in international assessments of math and science. By 2002 though, Israel was 33rd out of 41 countries. Additionally, potential math and science teachers have been ditching schools for more lucrative jobs in the high-tech sector.
Israel's education problem extends to universities as well. Up to 3,000 professors have left for jobs abroad in the past decade. Meanwhile, funding for Israel's seven universities has fallen 20 percent in four years, and the number of instructors has held steady, while the number of students has jumped 50 percent in the last decade.
Let's hope Israel's low-paid teachers don't have to resort to what Cambodia's teachers have to do. At schools that are supposed to be free, they have been reduced to charging students "informal fees" to top up their salaries, which can be as low as $30 a month. In a country where one third of the people live on less than 50 cents per day, many Cambodian parents can't afford the fees—which for one student were almost 25 cents per day—and kids have to drop out of primary school.
Are you a journalist who doesn't mind a dose of censorship with your morning coffee? When I say "junta" to you, do you think "stable employer"?
If so, there just may be a job for you in Rangoon. The government-affiliated Myanmar Times is looking for a subeditor, and the job advertisement has to be seen to be believed. You'll really be asking the tough questions.
Sub Editor, Timeout, The Myanmar Times, Myanmar Consolidated Media, Myanmar, Southeast Asia
The Myanmar Times (http://www.mmtimes.com) is published in both English and Myanmar (Burmese) and are leading publications with a readership in excess of 250,000 weekly, but operate under censorship in a challenging media environment. [...]
JOB DESCRIPTION: The subeditor will manage, edit and layout our ‘Timeout’ arts and entertainment section (8 pages), Page 2 (trivia and opinion), Science & Health page and two Travel pages every week.
(Hat tip: New Mandala)
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono released his first music album today. According to Reuters, the CD features ballads and religious songs that the president wrote himself. The former general's talents were not unknown. During his election campaign in 2004, Yudhoyono would occasionally woo supporters with a few songs, and his crooning obviously didn't cost him the presidency.
Another Indonesian general, former Armed Forces Chief Wiranto, is widely expected to run for the presidency in 2009 and may seek to reclaim his title as Indonesia's top singing general. In 2000, Gen. Wiranto released his own CD of ballads that he sings himself. Wiranto indicated that profits from the CD sales would go to help Indonesian refugees from the war with East Timor.
And the list of world leaders known to belt out a few notes is not restricted to Indonesia:
Let's just hope that Hillary Clinton doesn't get any ideas from all this singing.
"There is no Asia... Asia is a eurocentric concept."
That's how Lanxin Xiang somewhat bluntly began a recent discussion of the security implications of Asia's rise. Xiang, a professor at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, was participating in a conference Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute titled "Asia 2012: Security Challenges and Opportunities for Development." A major undercurrent was the topic of Asian identity, i.e. whether there are common Asian interests that override individual national priorities. Europeans have been growing gradually more integrated for most of the postwar era, but "Asian regionalism" is still a relatively new concept.
Clearly, not all Chinese scholars share Xiang's skepticism about the rest of Asia. (He also stated that China is not rising, it is merely "restoring its historical position.") Da Wei of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations said that while he and other Chinese intellectuals had previously been skeptical of Asian regionalism, multilateral cooperation over issues like 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and SARS had changed their minds and that, "among scholars, a common Asian identity is developing."
A large part of the problem is the lack of multinational organizations that could from the basis for regional partnerships. ASEAN and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are two possible candidates, but the event's keynote speaker, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, sees potential in the Group of 6, formed to negotiate North Korea's nuclear program as a future framework for pan-Asian cooperation and negotiation with the United States:
If one day we reach a peaceful settlement on the peninsula, that might be the right time to elaborate this idea of a broader multilateral structure for security in Asia.
That's a big if. Most of Negroponte's presentation was fairly unsurprising State Department boilerplate about "working with our Asian allies." China itself may inadvertently end up being the biggest driver of Asian regionalism, as other powers unite to counterbalance the rising hegemon. There are already some signs of this dynamic in ASEAN. This may also explain why Masafumi Ishii of the Japanese embassy in Washington seemed particularly bullish on India, the new kid on the block among Asian superpowers. He said in his presentation:
Japan is the past. China is the present. India is the future.
Mike Nizza reports that sea piracy is on the rise again after a brief dip in attacks. Piracy is especially a growing problem off the coasts of Somalia and Nigeria. Here's one thing Nizza misses, however, in citing an otherwise-interesting piece in National Geographic:
The National Geographic article recognizes the sea-crime decline in the Straits of Malacca, but then says “it is unclear how long the cash-strapped Indonesian navy will maintain its current level of vigilance.” Not to mention that navies are built and trained mainly for war, not for policing shipping channels.
We're not exactly talking about a blue-water navy here. Think dinghies, not destroyers. In any case, keeping shipping channels safe and open is definitely within the purview of sovereign navies. Remember Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary pirates?
As for the formerly pirate-infested Straits of Malacca, part of the problem was that the Indonesian navy was likely complicit in many of the pirate attacks in the first place. As an article in Strategic Comment, the journal of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, put it in 2004, "anecdotal evidence suggested that elements of these same under-funded security forces (the Indonesian Navy and Marine Police) might also at times have been complicit in maritime crime." That's carefully hedged, but it's worth noting that when Indonesia decided to professionalize its navy, the problem declined dramatically—in part because naval personnel no longer needed to depend on piracy to earn a living.
More here in a first-person account by Indonesian journalist Andreas Harsono.
A quick Google search reveals that many media organizations are still reporting that China is Burma's largest trading partner. It fits with a popular narrative about the Chinese: That they support dictatorships around the world and enable the worst kinds of human-rights abuses.
In general, it's true that the Chinese aren't so keen on letting human rights get in the way of ye olde national interest. But at least when it comes to official trade (the black market may be a different story), it's just not true that China is Burma's closest trading partner. Thailand, not China, is the number one destination for Burmese exports, according to the CIA World Factbook:
Exports - partners: Thailand 49%, India 12.8%, China 5.3%, Japan 5.2% (2006)
Thailand generates 20 percent of its electricity using Burmese natural gas, and the Thais are expanding their use of Burmese hydroelectric power. (Read all about it in today's List: Burma's Economic Lifelines.) But nobody seems to be focusing on the Thais for enabling the junta, instead wringing their hands about China's mythical all-powerful influence. Which is not to say that Thailand can influence Burma's xenophobic, paranoid rulers either.
The junta, you see, is exactly the kind of odious regime that thrives on keeping its population cut off from the international economy. With a gross domestic product of only $9.6 billion, Burma essentially has a subsistence economy like that of North Korea. The country exports very little of value—just $3.56 billion, according to the official numbers. (By comparison, the GDP of the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area was nearly $348 billion in 2005.)
What about imports? China is number one here, followed by Thailand:
Imports - partners: China 34.6%, Thailand 21.8%, Singapore 16.2%, Malaysia 4.7%, South Korea 4.3%
But again, we're talking about 34.6 percent of a very small number, merely $1.98 billion annually. Sure, China could cut off its weapons sales, but the junta would find other willing sellers. Do people really want China to cut off its exports of "fabric, petroleum products, fertilizer, plastics, machinery, transport equipment; cement, construction materials, crude oil; food products, edible oil" to the Burmese? The already impressive black market would simply expand.
Another misconception I've seen is about Burma's energy resources. Burma has a relatively small amount of natural gas, but the truth is, Burma is a net importer of oil. The rising price of imported diesel and gasoline is what prompted the "Saffron Revolution" in the first place, remember?
Bottom line: Be very skeptical when reading accounts of how China, or any country, can put meaningful pressure on the junta. To say nothing of this insanity from Bill Kristol, who calls for "limited military actions, overt or covert, against the regime's infrastructure".
Researchers at the American Association for the Advancement of Science say they have used satellite images provided by the U.S. Government to confirm massive human rights abuses in eastern Burma:
A new analysis of high-resolution satellite images -- completed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) -- pinpoints evidence consistent with village destruction, forced relocations, and a growing military presence at 25 sites across eastern Burma where eye-witnesses have reported human rights violations.
The research by AAAS, offers clear physical evidence to corroborate on-the-ground accounts of specific instances of destruction. It is believed to be the first demonstration of satellite image analysis to document human rights violations in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
"Eighteen of the locations showed evidence consistent with destroyed or damaged villages," [project director Lars] Bromley reported. "We found evidence of expanded military camps in four other locations as well as multiple possibly relocated villages, and we documented growth in one refugee camp on the Thai border. All of this was very consistent with reporting by multiple human rights groups on the ground in Burma."
But forget the dry science talk, Hollywood's Sylvester Stallone, who has just returned from filming the latest Rambo sequel along the Thailand-Burma border, has hinted that his crew may have captured some of the atrocities on film. Stallone called Burma "a hellhole beyond your wildest dreams" and says he is now struggling with the question of whether he ought to be "making a documentary or a Rambo movie."
I witnessed the aftermath - survivors with legs cut off and all kinds of land mine injuries, maggot-infested wounds and ears cut off. We saw many elephants with blown off legs. We hear about Vietnam and Cambodia and this was more horrific.... This is full scale genocide. It would be a whitewashing not to show what's over there. I think there is a story that needs to be told."
Maybe Burma just found its Brangelina.
I was gratified to read the recent comments of Doru Romulus Costea, who heads the United Nations' widely derided Human Rights Council. In an interview with Le Temps, a Swiss newspaper, Costea admitted that the Council had so far "failed" to handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict evenly, and said he agreed with U.S. President George W. Bush that, as Costea spun it, "It is necessary to constantly improve the functioning of the Council."
The AFP's summary of the interview (which was conducted and published in French) adds this context:
[The Council] has held four special sessions, three of which have concerned the Middle East and have ended up condemning Israel. The fourth related to Sudan, and one is planned next week following the crackdown on dissent in Myanmar.
It's important to remember that it's the 47 member states that make up the Council, not the U.N. itself, that is the source of the problem. Consider today's comments by Louise Arbour, the U.N.'s top human rights official. She urged the council to hold Myanmar's generals accountable for their actions and support a European Union resolution stating that the Council "strongly condemns the continued violent repression of peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar, including through beatings, killings and arbitrary detentions and urges the government of Myanmar to exercise utmost restraint and desist from further violence against peaceful protesters."
The vote is due to be held later today, and it will be a key test. If the Council can't sign on to this, what, then, is its purpose?
(Thanks to Passport reader OA for sending this one along.)
President Bush concluded his remarks several minutes ago, and I just got my hands on the text of his speech. Several of the foreign names in the draft include handy phonetic pronunciations. Want to talk like the president? Here's how to do it:
Oddly, there are no training wheels in the draft for the toughest name of all: that of Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, which I can't even pronounce.
As to substance, the main news in the speech was Bush's call for economic sanctions against the leaders of Burma's (very odious) military government "and their financial backers." Bush also announced "an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights--as well as their family members." The intent of all this is "peaceful change" in Burma.
Can new sanctions on Burma be targeted so easily? I have my doubts. Economic issues are what drove Burma's monks into the streets in the first place, and even the most carefully calibrated sanctions could hurt a lot of ordinary Burmese citizens. And with a crackdown looming, it doesn't look like Burma's general's were impressed by Bush's move. They're betting that the United States, the United Nations, and the media will lose interest in this story. And they may well be right.
UPDATE: It should be noted that, despite the best efforts of his speechwriters, President Bush did end up botching a few pronunciations. FP's Joshua Keating caught the president flubbing Aung San Suu Kyi (though he quickly recovered) and "Kerzigstan". He did manage a nice rolled "r" on "Peru," however.
Here are three short mp3 clips from his speech:
In an effort to kick-start its nascent space program, Malaysia is set to launch its first space-bound national into orbit on Oct. 10. In addition to the usual scientific studies and research assignments, the government of the predominantly Muslim country wants to make sure that its novice angkasawan (Malay for astronaut) does not forgo his duties as a devout Muslim. Thirty five year old Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor (who is a doctor and part-time model), was chosen from among 11,000 eager hopefuls to accompany two Russian cosmonauts on a ten-day mission in the International Space Station. While he has been fasting for the month of Ramadan throughout his training, the strains of a zero-gravity environment might mean our astronaut will have to adjust his daily rituals during the mission. For a practicing Muslim who prays five times a day, would he have to pray 80 times every 24 hours, since the ISS will be circling the Earth 16 times each day? Plus, figuring out where Mecca is while you are in space must be no easy task.
In order to avoid confusion, Malaysia's Department of Islamic Development laid down some guidelines on how to observe Islam correctly while in space. For example:
During the prayer ritual, if you can't stand up straight, you can hunch. If you can't stand, you can sit. If you can't sit, you should lie down.
The guidelines also include useful tidbits on what to do if there is no water for washing rituals, or on the ill-fated chance that there is a death on board. And Malaysian Science Minister Jamaluddin Jarjis recently declared that Muszaphar is allowed to postpone his fasting until he returns back to earth.
So as he prepares to be his country's first galaxy representative, the thoughtful Muszaphar plans on bringing Malaysian food on board to share with his Russian shuttle cohabitants. But don't worry, he says:
We've made sure it's not very spicy so the Russians can eat it very well.
I asked Brian Calvert, a reporter for Voice of America Khmer in Washington, to weigh in on today's news that a key lieutenant of the notorious Pol Pot had finally been taken into custody. Here's Brian's take:
The indictment and detention Wednesday of Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's chief lieutenant in the Khmer Rouge, for war crimes and crimes against humanity is the most significant action taken so far by a bedeviled tribunal that was established more than a year ago.
Whether or not his arrest will spell justice, and for whom, remains to be seen.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP
Nuon Chea, also known as Brother No. 2, was flown by helicopter Wednesday morning from his home in the mountains of northwest Cambodia and questioned in Phnom Penh, the capital, by judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the official name of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Nuon Chea has said he will happily face a trial. But it’s not because he regrets his actions. Rather, he sees a trial as a chance to exonerate his role in the Khmer Rouge, which called itself Democratic Kampuchea. In his view, Pol Pot’s regime was only defending the Cambodian people from Vietnamese agents and American bombs.
In reality, the Khmer Rouge used the fear of a Vietnamese takeover and of U.S. fighting in Indochina as fuel for their insurrection. After they took power, as many as 2 million people starved to death or were executed. The legacy of that regime and the civil strife that followed its ouster has been a war-battered people, a devastated infrastructure, and a country that still hasn't recovered.
Nuon Chea is widely believed to be a chief architect of the regime's murderous policies. According to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has been gathering evidence in Cambodia for potential trials for a decade, Nuon Chea held posts as deputy secretary of the Cambodian Communist Party's Central Committee and as a member of the Party's Standing Committee, the bodies most responsible for policies of the regime.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP
Given Cambodia’s bloody history, it may be hard for many to imagine why it has been so difficult to bring Khmer Rouge figures like Nuon Chea to justice. The joint tribunal has struggled since its inception, hamstrung by bickering among U.N.-appointed international jurists and their Cambodian counterparts. Nuon Chea is only the second man to be taken into court custody. Since July, the courts have been holding Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his revolutionary name, Duch, the head of S-21, Cambodia's infamous torture center. Also known as Tuol Sleng, it's now a genocide museum for tourists.
The courts are investigating at least three more suspects for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but their names have not been released.
Will there be justice for the Khmer Rouge's victims? We just don't know. The U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, Joseph Mussomeli, recently told VOA Khmer that over the next one or two years, "we'll have at least, I would guess, somewhere around a dozen people being brought up on charges of genocide."
"There were hundreds of people who were guilty of genocide, but, frankly, you have to draw the line somewhere," he added. "You can't have the trial last for 20 years or 30 years, you can't spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the trial, but you have to find at least the most responsible for genocide and bring them to trial, and I think we are now on the way to doing that."
We'll know soon enough if he is right.
The number one ranked U.S. Women's Soccer team was very nearly embarrassed yesterday when they were forced to come back from behind against North Korea to tie 2-2 at the Women's World Cup in Chengdu, China. Football-ignorant Americans might be forgiven for not knowing that the hermit kingdom even fields an international team, but the North Korean women are actually ranked number five in the world. This is also not the first time North Koreans have distinguished themselves in the pitch. In a classic Cinderella story, the 1966 men's team tied Chile and beat heavily favored Italy to advance to the quarterfinals of the World Cup where they very nearly upset Portugal as well, winning many international fans with their aggressive style of play. North Korea's then-leader Kim Il Sung had these words of encouragement for his team:
Europeans and South American nations dominate international football. As the representatives of the Africa and Asian region, as coloured people, I urge you to win one or two matches.
Surprisingly, the normally effusive Korean Central News Agency of DPRK devoted only a one sentence blurb to the women's team humbling the country's greatest international rival. Kim Jong Il has also failed to comment. Dear Leader is known to be an avid sportsman however, having apparently scored 11 holes-in-one the first time he played golf.
In Thailand, children are given playful nicknames that stick with them through adulthood. Traditional nicknames have included Yaay (Big), Moo (Pig), and Dam (Black).
But in a rapidly changing, globalized world, more parents want "modern" nicknames for their kids—names that derive from TV, Hollywood, and other foreign influences. Some kids have been nicknamed Mafia and Seven (as in 7-Eleven). One teacher has students named Tomcruise, Army, God, Kiwi, and Gateaux (yes, that's the French word for "cakes"). A survey of students in one city found that the most popular English nickname was Ball—possibly after famous Thai tennis player Paradorn Srichaphan—with Oil and Bank following behind.
As often happens when globalization spurs cultural change, some people are working to preserve traditional culture. The Thai Ministry of Culture is putting together a booklet of thousands of old-fashioned Thai nicknames. As the aforementioned teacher explains it, however, "Thai names are from 20 years ago."
Thai purists shouldn't be sweating too much, though. This allure of the "modern" may just be a phase. In many parts of the world, people eventually come around: They want to rediscover their long-lost "roots" or find a way to assert their identity. In the United States in the early 1970s, for example, African-Americans began choosing names that were distinct from those of Caucasians. As much as people yearn to be part of a larger group, they also have a counteryearning to be seen as unique individuals.
A Tamil-language newspaper in Malaysia has had its printing permit suspended for one month as punishment for publishing an image of Jesus that many Christians, as well as people of other faiths, found offensive.
The picture depicts Jesus holding a cigarette and what looks like a can of beer. The caption accompanying the image translates roughly as "If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits them." The picture appeared as part of the newspaper's regular "thoughts for the day" feature, which spotlights quotes from famous leaders and philosophers.
Last year, two Malaysian newspapers got shut down after publishing offensive cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed—the notorious ones that were the subject of protests from Nigeria to Indonesia. In the case of the Jesus image, some Malaysian Christians have demanded that the newspaper that published it, Makkal Osai, receive the same treatment.
At least one Malaysian Christian blogger, however, believes that shutting down civic discourse isn't consistent with the principle of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). I would add that at the very least, it isn't consistent with the principle of free speech, which requires us to defend the right of people to say things that offend us deeply.
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