For the first time, the United Nation's Human Rights Council condemned violence and discrimination against gays, lesbians, and transgender people today in Geneva. The move-- which was initially put forward by South Africa-- was applauded by gay rights supporters.
The resolution "expresses grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity" and calls for a study by the end of the year to examine discrimination against the gay community.
The U.S. ambassador to the council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, called it a "historic moment" for the United Nations, according to the Associated Press.
Nevertheless, the vote was close-- with the strongest opposition coming from African and Islamic countries. 23 nations voted in favor, 19 against, and 3 abstained.
Here's a rundown of which countries voted which way:
A Bahraini security court sentenced 20-year-old student Ayat al-Qurmezi to one year in prison yesterday. The young woman, infamous for her February recitation of an anti-government poem in Pearl Square, has been found guilty of speaking out against the king and inciting hatred. Her poem has become an international symbol of the Bahraini opposition:
We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery
We are the people who will destroy the foundation of injustice
Don't you hear their cries, don't you hear their screams
Down with Hamad
Al-Qurmezi has been in captivity since March. She was rumored to have been raped and tortured after an alleged phone call was made from doctors at an army hospital in April. Yesterday, a relative confirmed that her face had been shocked with an electrical cable, she was forced to clean the prison bathroom with her hands, and held in a near-freezing cell for days at a time. Ayat al-Ghermezi has incited a rally cry for free speech in Bahrain, where female students, doctors and professors have become targets of government crackdown on civil rights.
She is not the only poet to face such harsh punishments recently in the Middle East. Waleed Mohammad al Rumaishi had his tongue cut out after reciting poetry in support of embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In 2009, civil servant and poet Moneer Said Hanna wrote a five-lined satirical poem about former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and is now serving a three year sentence, as well as paying a fine of over $16,000. Syrian poet, Faraj Bayrakdar, now fuels the revolution from Sweden after enduring over 13 years of torture in prison where he would carve pens from wood splinters and make ink from tea leaves in order to write poetry.
Robert Frost said that poetry is what gets lost in translation, but for Ayat al-Qurmezi and her fellow dissident poets, the message is quite clear.
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In 2008, Yu Keping, the head of China's Central Compilation and Translation Bureau and a professor at Peking University, published an attention-grabbing collection of essays called Democracy is a Good Thing. Coming from a Chinese Communist Party official said to be close to President Hu Jintao, Yu's bold assertion that "democracy is the best political system for humankind" was striking. But so was the fine print: Yu argued in the book that while "it is the inevitable trend for all nations of the world to move towards democracy ... the timing and speed of the development of democracy and the choice of the form and system of democracy are conditional." Among other things, he has resisted the idea that a multi-party political system would be appropriate for China. All of which is to say that Yu is something of a sphinx: As a New York Times profile observed last year, "Even China experts have a hard time determining whether Mr. Yu is a brave voice for change or simply a well-placed shill."
Which makes Yu -- who is in Washington this week -- a particularly interesting person to ask about the current moment in Chinese politics, in which the Communist Party is managing the transition from Hu to his presumed presidential successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, while watching the sudden explosion of anti-government, pro-democratic sentiment in the Arab world with palpable unease. The Chinese government began cracking down on human rights activists, artists, and writers in March, and barred another prominent writer from leaving the country this week.
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On June 29, 1996, the Libyan regime of Moammar al-Qaddafi put down a prison revolt with deadly force, killing as many as 1,200 detainees in cold blood with grenades and machine guns. Their bodies have never been found, and the Libyan government has never fully admitted the massacre at Abu Salim Prison, despite the best efforts of witnesses and human rights organizations to document it in grim detail.
Fifteen years later, relatives of the victims are still demanding justice. On Feb. 15, 2 days ahead of a planned nationwide day of protests, the Libyan regime arrested Fatih Tarbel, an advocate for the Abu Salim families -- sparking outraged demonstrations in the coastal city of Benghazi. The BBC says the crowd was about 2,000 people, and activists on Twitter claim that at least 2 people have died.
It's not easy to report in Libya, and details of the protests remain sketchy and hard to confirm. It hasn't helped that some news organizations, such as the Associated Press, have confused what are doubtless orchestrated pro-Qaddafi protests with the genuine outpouring of anger against one of the world's most odious regimes (at one point, Qaddafi himself even said he might demonstrate against the prime minister).
While it's not clear how far the unrest might spread, the mere fact that people are lifting up their heads in a brutal police state like Libya is an incredible testament to human courage. And the swift fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in next-door Tunisia is a reminder that even the toughest regimes can prove surprisingly brittle once that mantle of fear is lifted.
The most interesting moment in an otherwise subdued -- dare I say dull -- press conference by U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao came when a Bloomberg reporter insisted that Hu answer a fellow journalist's question about human rights.
Hu, blaming the translation, claimed he hadn't heard the question (to audible titters among the assembled press corps). He went on to give China's standard answer on human rights, which is basically, "Blah blah we've always respected human rights (yet we're also improving), China faces unique circumstances as a developing country, we favor dialogue, etc."
He also said that "China recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights," which caught the ear of New York Times reporter Michael Wines, who sees the remark as "a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate."
"Until Wednesday," Wines continues, "recognizing credos like democracy and human rights as 'universal values' had been all but taboo in Chinese political discourse, although China has signed theconvention that enshrines the principle of universal human rights."
"China respects the principle of the universality of human rights," the document states. But it adds: "Given differences in political systems, levels of development and historical and cultural backgrounds, it is natural for countries to have different views on the question of human rights."
That's almost exactly what Hu said. I suppose it's different when the president himself says so with all the eyes of the world upon him, but let's not kid ourselves about whether China has made some profound new commitment to human rights and democracy. For all its very real successes in promoting development, the Chinese Communist Party has no intention of relinquishing its stranglehold on political power anytime soon, if ever. Wake me up when they stop throwing political prisoners in jail, beating people in the streets, censoring the press, and generally evincing little regard for the Chinese people's ability to chart their own future.
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A report released today by the group Physicians for Human Rights details the horrific mistreatment of African refugees who are captured as they try to cross through Egypt and into Israel. The Africans -- mainly from Somalia and Eritrea -- are systematically raped, beaten, burned and then extorted by Bedouin human traffickers before they are sent across the border into Israel. Download the full report here if you want to read in appalling detail about the experiences of a few of these African migrants.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Egyptian government turns a blind eye to these abuses. That's probably because they feel that it helps discourage migration from Sudan, Somali and Eritrea though Egyptian territory. How else does Egypt discourage migrants from trying to use the country as a transit point? A shoot to kill policy. Egyptian security forces have shot and killed more than 85 migrants in Sinai since 2007 by Human Rights Watch's count. Scores more are deported back to their countries of origin, where they are often in danger because of war or threats from the government.
Some of these migrants are asylum seekers, while others are just looking to move to a new country where they can find work and make money. But Israel doesn't want these people as residents any more than Egypt wants them as travelers. Israel repatriated around 150 Sudanese asylum seekers on Monday, according to a report in the Christian Science Monitor. Israel fears that immigration from Africa will take jobs from Israeli Jews and pose a threat to the Jewish demographic majority.
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The Guardian has the (non-WikiLeaked) scoop on an upcoming bombshell of a report by human rights investigators from the Council of Europe, which accuses Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of involvement in a criminal network involved with drug, weapons smuggling and even organ harvesting:
The report of the two-year inquiry, which cites FBI and other intelligence sources, has been obtained by the Guardian. It names Thaçi as having over the last decade exerted "violent control" over the heroin trade.
Figures from Thaçi's inner circle are accused of secretly taking captives across the border into Albania after the war, where a few Serbs are said to have been murdered for their kidneys, which were sold on the black market.[..]
Dick Marty, the human rights investigator behind the inquiry, will present his report to European diplomats from all 47 member states at a meeting in Paris on Thursday.
His report suggests Thaçi's links with organised crime date back more than a decade, when those loyal to his Drenica Group became the dominant faction within the KLA.
It says the group's supremacy over splinter groups in the guerrilla movement enabled them, from 1998, to seize control of "most of the illicit criminal enterprises" in which Kosovans were involved south of the border, in Albania.[...]
Thaçi and four other members of the Drenica Group are named in the report as having carried out "assassinations, detentions, beatings and interrogations". This same hardline KLA faction has held considerable power in Kosovo's government over the last decade, with the support of western powers keen to ensure stability in the fledgling state.
The organ harvesting charge was previously made by Hague Special Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who says she was prevented by political pressure from investigating KLA atrocities during the war. There's also a currently ongoing trial of Kosovan doctors accused of running an organ smuggling ring. The links are still a little murky, but the new report is sure to reignite the charge:
It finds the KLA did hold mostly Serb captives in a secret network of six detention facilities in northern Albania.
Thaçi's Drenica Group "bear the greatest responsibility" for the ad-hoc prisons and the fate of those held in them. They include a "handful" of prisoners said to have been transferred to a makeshift prison just north of Tirana, where they were killed for their kidneys.
The report states: "As and when the transplant surgeons were confirmed to be in position and ready to operate, the captives were brought out of the 'safe house' individually, summarily executed by a KLA gunman, and their corpses transported swiftly to the operating clinic.''
Thaci's party came out ahead in Kosovo's first post-independence parliamentary elections last weekend, but he's still working to form a coalition and I'm guessing the macabre charges might complicate the situation somewhat.
Whether or not the most explosive accusations are substantiated -- the inquiry report carries no legal weight on its own -- reports of the Kosovo government's links to organized crime are not new, even if they've never been so explicitly stated by a high-profile body. The full release of Swiss prosecutor Dick Marty's report on Thursday should be eagerly anticipated in Belgrade and Moscow.
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The attempt by a group of patriotic Chinese scholars to create a Chinese alternative to the Nobel Prize appears to have backfired disastrously today, with the recipient a no-show and the Chinese government distancing itself from their efforts.
The first ever Confucius Peace Prize was awarded to former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan, who worked for closer ties between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China. But Tien wasn't in attendance, largely because no one from the committee had bothered to inform him about it. Instead, the award was given to a young girl described as an "angel of peace."
Who exactly is behind the prize remains a bit of a mystery. The existence of the prize was first announced three weeks ago, though bizarrely, the organizers also claimed they had been preparing for it since 1988 and had been seeking "Confucian wisdom." The organizers at first claimed to have worked closely with the Chinese culture ministry, but the government claims to have nothing to do with the prize and it has received little coverage in state media.
Other nominees for the prize reportedly included Bill Gates, Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Panchen Lama. (The Beijing-approved one, of course.)
The jurors refused to acknowledge that the prize had anything to do with imprisoned activist Liu Xiaobo, who will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia tomorrow, or even mention his name. But the official prize announcement did take some gratuitous shots at puny little Norway:
China is a symbol of peace, meanwhile it owns the absolute power to uphold peace. With over 1 billion people, it should have a greater voice on the issue of world peace. In essence, Norway is only a small country with scarce land area and population, but it must be in the minority in terms of other relatively large numbers concerning the conception of freedom and democracy. Hence, the selection of the "Nobel Peace Prize" should open [sic] to the people in the world instead of engaging in "minority" type of the [sic] so-called presumption. Because it is unable to stand on the highest point of the whole human being, but also difficult to represent the viewpoint of most people, which could be inevitably biased and fallacious.
As usual, the good folks at Next Media Animation had the last laugh.
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Are we surprised to learn, via WikiLeaks, that American diplomats in Colombo blame Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his top officials for the massacre of tens of thousands (by most estimates) of Tamil civilians during the final months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war? The goods are in a Jan. 15 cable sent by U.S. Amb. Patricia A. Butenis on the eve of Sri Lanka's presidential elections (which Rajapaksa won handily). Butenis was assessing the country's ability to come to terms with the atrocities committed in the protracted conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group, which was defeated in May 2009 after nearly three decades of fighting.
In May, the Sri Lankan government announced plans to launch a "truth and reconciliation commission," modeled on South Africa's post-Apartheid investigation, to look into the brutal last phase of the war, in which large numbers of Tamil civilians were trapped between the government and rebel troops. Human rights groups aren't exactly holding their breath for the results of the ongoing inquiry, led as it is by the same government that was allegedly responsible for most of the carnage. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and International Crisis Group -- which released a sweeping and damning report on the war crimes in May -- all turned down invitations to participate. Butenis, it turns out, was similarly nonplussed, writing:
There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General [Sarath] Fonseka.
This last observation gets headline treatment from the Guardian, and it is notable for Butenis's willingness to name names. But the State Department has been fairly clear, albeit more diplomatic, about what it thinks happened in the spring of 2009, in a report released in March:
The government's respect for human rights declined as armed conflict reached its conclusion. Outside of the conflict zone, the overwhelming majority of victims of human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings and disappearances, were young male Tamils, while Tamils were estimated to be only 16 percent of the overall population. Credible reports cited unlawful killings by paramilitaries and others believed to be working with the awareness and assistance of the government, assassinations by unknown perpetrators, politically motivated killings, and disappearances.
An August report from State also (cautiously) expressed concern about the integrity of the government's commission. In short, Butenis's assessment is generally consistent with what humanitarian workers on the ground in Sri Lanka at the time of the conflict thought State's position was -- one that may not have been shared by American defense and intelligence personnel, who were believed to be less squeamish about the military campaign against the Tigers.
I asked Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director for ICG, about the cable. He says it contains few surprises:
It's certainly consistent with how the embassy and the State Department are looking at the situation. They knew bad things happened -- they're calling them "alleged" war crimes, but I think in a quiet moment they would say they were war crimes. They recognize that that happened. But they don't think there's the space internally for it to be addressed. So I don't think we're learning a whole lot new. What would tell us more, and what will be more interesting, and where the issues are a bit more gray, is what happened during the war -- what did the U.S. government know, and what did it do, or not do, to prevent the worst abuses and suffering?
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Of the 140 Chinese activists and dissidents invited by Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo to attend next month's cerermony in Oslo, it appears that only one is planning to attend, and he's not even in China:
Wan Yanhai, who fled to the United States in May after increasing official harassment of his AIDS advocacy group, is the only person on that list to confirm his attendance.
"I heard many people on the list were put on a blacklist and were not allowed, or their family members not even allowed, to leave China. It's a horrible situation," Yanhai told AP by phone from Philadelphia, where he lives.
"It could be like I become the only person from that list who will be there," Wan said. "That will be interesting."
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This morning the U.N.'s new umbrella agency for women's rights issues elected its board members. The election had attracted controversy because two of the candidate countries were among the world's most notorious abusers of women's rights, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
This morning, with strong lobbying from the United States, Iran's election to the board was blocked. Human rights groups had strongly opposed Iran's election, pointing in particular to the recent death sentence of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for the crime of adultery.
The 54 countries who sit on the UN’s Economic and Social Council did, however, accept the membership bid by Saudi Arabia, where women are forbidden from driving and barred from many public places.
In fact, according to the U.N. Development Program's own Gender Empowerment Measure, Saudi Arabia is actually a worse country for gender equality than Iran. Neither does particularly well, but of the the 93 countries ranked, only Yemen scores lower than Saudi Arabia.
Iran's candidacy for the 41-member executive board had been part of a slate elected by the Asian region while Saudi Arabia was selected for one of the spots reserved for "donor" nations. Not a particularly auspicious start for an important new body.
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The Christian Science Monitor reports that France is planning hold a meeting in Brussels to develop a common European policy on whether to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo:
China's G20 negotiator Cui Tiankai last week said states that attend the award ceremony honoring Mr. Liu must be ready to "accept the consequences." Liu is currently serving an 11-year sentence in China for "subversion" in co-authoring "Charter '08," a manifesto promoting basic human rights and political reform.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told French RTL radio this morning that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Mr. Hu discussed human rights on top of signing $20 billion in trade deals. Mr. Kouchner added that, "I hope France will be represented at the prize-giving ceremony in spite of Beijing's warnings," but said France would be "consulting its European friends for a common response."
A French Foreign Ministry official separately told the Monitor that an upcoming meeting in Brussels will center on two questions: whether it is appropriate to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony, and if so, "whether ambassadors should attend, or should it be at the level of charges d'affaires."
"We have weeks and weeks to decide this," the Foreign Ministry official said adding that a Brussels meeting is set to take place in coming days.
As countries who have hosted the Dalai Lama have learned, China is deadly serious about "the consequences" for these types of gestures. But to not attend the ceremony or to put on an awkward show of sending a lower-level official would be the definition of what Vaclav Havel referred to as "soiling one's pants prematurely." It would signal to the world that with Kouchner on his way out, Sarkozy's government has indeed given up on human rights entirely.
Update: Good news. Looks like they're going.
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Life in Iraq isn't easy (and hasn't been for a while), but it's still rare to find community leaders imploring Iraqis to leave their home country. But that's exactly what Archbishop Athanasios Dawood of the Syriac Orthodox Church is doing.
"I say clearly and now -- the Christian people should leave their beloved land of our ancestors and escape the premeditated ethnic cleansing," Dawood said in a prepared statement to CNN. "This is better than having them killed one by one." In other interviews, Dawood, who lives in London, evoked the word "genocide" to describe the treatment of Iraqi Christians.
Fifty-eight people were killed in an attack on an Iraqi church last Sunday.
With the exception of the massive exodus of Iraq's large Jewish minority after the creation of Israel in 1948, there was little sectarian violence in Iraq before the U.S. invasion in 2003.
"You know, everybody hates the Christian. Yes, during Saddam Hussein, we were living in peace -- nobody attacked us. We had human rights, we had protection from the government but now nobody protects us," the archbishop told the BBC. "Since 2003, there has been no protection for Christians. We've lost many people and they've bombed our homes, our churches, monasteries."
Eden Naby and Jamsheed K. Chosky wrote in Foreign Policy last week that there may not be a Christian population left in Iraq by the end of the century. Iran, which also has a (shrinking) Christian minority, is suffering the same fate.
But it isn't only from those countries that Middle Eastern Christians are leaving. Long-time Middle East journalist Robert Fisk pointed out last month (before the massacre in Baghdad) that Christian populations are shrinking across the region, from Palestine to Lebanon to Egypt. "This is, however, not so much a flight of fear, more a chronicle of a death foretold," Fisk writes. "Christians are being outbred by the majority Muslim populations in their countries and they are almost hopelessly divided."
In Michigan, Iraqi Christians rallied today, calling on the United States to put a stop to violence against their coreligionists.
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has affected every aspect of society in that country. As many people have written, the U.S. government seems to have been wholly unprepared for what lay ahead in Iraq. It's hard to imagine that George W. Bush, with his own deep Christian faith, expected the catastrophe in store for Iraqi Christians.
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Last week we listed some items that are growing in popularity among China's increasingly wealthy middle class, along with some of the impacts of these recent obsessions, including jade. One major consequence not included in the list is the fact that China's passion for jade has been criticized by both human rights groups and the U.S. government for financing Burma's military dictatorship.
Brian Leber, a Chicago-based jeweler involved in efforts for an industry-wide boycott of jewels from Burma, wrote in to remind us that the Southeast Asian country is not only home to one of the world's most repressive regimes, it also has millions of kilograms of jadeite -- the most expensive and most sought after jade in China.
U.S. trade sanctions on Myanmar that specifically targeted the military junta's trade of jadeite have apparently done little to quell the Chinese appetite for the fine gem: According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, jadeite from Myanmar has, unlike other gems, continued to be "primarily purchased, processed, and consumed by China."
A fair amount, apparently. Just not for very long. Andreas Fuchs and Nils-Hendrik Klann of Germany University of Geottingen looked at 159 countries' trade patterns with China between 1991 and 2008 to see what effect a high-level meeting with the Dalai Lama had on bilateral trade. Here's what they found:
Empirical evidence confirms the existence of a trade-deteriorating effect of Dalai Lama
receptions for the Hu Jintao era (2002-2008). However, we find at best weak evidence to support the existence of such an effect in earlier years. While our results suggest that systematic trade reductions are only caused by meetings with heads of state or government, no additional impact is found for meetings between the Dalai Lama and lower-ranking officials. As a consequence of a political leader's reception of the Dalai Lama in the current or previous period, exports to China are found to decrease by 8.1 percent or 16.9 percent, depending on the estimation technique used. Furthermore, we find that this effect will have disappeared two years after a meeting took place. Analyzing disaggregated export data, 'Machinery and transport equipment' is found to be the only product group with a consistent negative effect of Dalai Lama meetings on exports across samples and estimation techniques.
"Meet with him and we will temporarily reduce our machinery and transport equipment imports!" doesn't sound like the scariest of threats.
The pattern seems similar to what happens with defense ties. China halted its military exchanges with the United States in January in response to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, but there are strong signs now that these ties will soon resume.
One way to read this is that President Barack Obama was right last year to postpone his meeting with the Dalai Lama until after a summit with Chinese leader Hu Jintao. If you know diplomatic relations are going to take a temporary hit, why not postpone it until a more convenient time. On the other hand, the fact that the punishments China inflicts on its trading partners don't seem to last that long lends credence to Vaclav Havel's argument that "When someone soils his pants prematurely, then [the Chinese] do not respect you more for it."
Hat tip: Marginal Revolution
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EU High Representative Catherine Ashton is planning to contact the Cuban government for talks aimed at normalizing ties, following the recent release of dozens of poltical prisoners. The move also comes after the EU Parliament voted last week to award Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to imprisoned Cuban dissident Guillermo Farina:
The EU's policy since 1996 has been to make contacts with Cuba conditional on progress made in human rights. But Spain is leading calls to soften that position after it and the Catholic Church successfully convinced the Castro regime to release dozens of political prisoners.
In recognition of those calls, also supported by France and Italy, ministers meeting in Luxembourg asked EU High Representative Catherine Ashton to examine options for a resumption of political contacts, diplomats said.
'It is essentially about sending a couple of officials to Cuba,' Italian deputy foreign minister Alfredo Mantica told reporters. He stressed that beyond agreeing on the exploratory mission, no softening of the EU's policy was decided. Mantica explained that the issue would be taken up again once Ashton reported on her efforts.
Opposition to the proposal at the EU Foreign Ministers' meeting was led by Germany, Sweden, Poland, and several other formerly communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Last week on FP, Anya Landau French called on the United States to make a similar overtures.
Also worth a read is this account of the contentious and occasionally ugly political debate that led to Farinas receiving the Sakharov. If only the Nobel had the same level of transparency.
As if the pressure was not mounting enough on India's mismanagement of the upcoming Commonwealth Games -- highlighted recently by a FP photo essay -- CNN uncovers fresh evidence that child labor is being extensively used to "beautify" and build for the games.
Knowledge and reports of the practice have been documented from early on this year, but the Indian government is apparently not completely aware of what is going on at its own construction sites. According to the CNN article,
"The [government] minister... went on to say that ‘she had wished' somebody would have come and told her of the allegations."
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A new study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association questions some traditional gender notions surrounding sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It found that sexual violence against civilians in the eastern DRC is indeed horrifyingly widespread. Most notably, both men and women reported being victims of sexual violence-23.6 percent of men surveyed and 39.7 percent of women. Additionally, this study was the first to ask about perpetrators' genders in conflict-related sexual violence. 41 percent of female and 10 percent of male survivors reported that their attacker was a woman.
This study was an attempt by researchers to add some needed depth to current understanding of sexual violence in the DRC-a part of the world commonly known as "the ground zero of rape" where sexual violence is used as a weapon of a war that first began in 1994 and has since killed millions of people, even after a 2003 peace treaty.
The typical language surrounding rape in the DRC-"Stop raping our greatest resource: Power to the girls and women of Democratic Republic of Congo," for example-asserts that women are the abused and men the abusers. Atrocities in the DRC have gained attention recently as writers and activists, including the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, have noted that fighting over minerals in the Congo have turned smart phones into "blood phones."
Previous studies have only provided anecdotal reports and often only evaluated already identified survivors of sexual violence. Because of social stigmatization many survivors (especially male) face in reporting violence, rates of non-report are as high as 75 percent, and may be higher in conflict areas, according to the study.
With a mission to assess the wider impact of sexual violence in eastern Congo, American researchers went door-to-door with a 144-question survey administered to 998 adults (593 female and 405 male) in North and South Kivu provinces and the Ituri district. It asked about basic demographic information (including education, health care access, and past and current substance abuse), as well as lifetime exposure to sexual violence, combatant experience, and opinions on women's roles in society, and justice for sexual violence. Respondents were asked if they had ever been forced into sexual slavery, sexual abuse type (including rape and attempted rape, molestation, and gang rape), and about the identity of the perpetrator, number of attackers, and consequences of the attack. They were also assessed for symptoms of PTSD, depression, and other types of mental illness.
This area has a long history of forced recruitment into armed groups. Twenty percent of those surveyed reported personal combat history-both men and women performed the same tasks within armed groups, except for sexual slavery (women were more than twice as likely to be victimized here than men). The majority of sexual violence reported was conflict-related, disputing some recent studies that have shown civilian-perpetuated sexual violence is on the rise.
"We can no longer think that sexual violence is just violence against women perpetrated by men, it is about everybody," study author Lynn Lawry, of the International Health Division of the U.S. Department of Defense, told the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). Action and advocacy combating sexual violence needs to include men and boys, a statement echoed by a paper from Sweden's NordicAfrica Institute published in May, which criticized "the invisibility of men and boys as victims of sexual and gender-based violence."
Some NGOs have disputed the study, saying that while there were male victims of sexual violence, statistics on female perpetrators are too low to be conclusive. For example, according to IRIN, Ciarán Donnelly, head of the International Rescue Committee in the DRC, noted that it was "unclear whether women kidnapped by armed groups and forced to perform sexual acts on others were listed among the perpetrators." The study's methodology has also been called into question-interviewers had to avoid currently active combat zones.
The study was funded by the DOD's Africa Command, the International Medical Corps, and McGill University.
In a summer full of sports news, from the World Cup to LeBron James, the event currently taking place in Cologne, Germany is particularly unique: all its participants are gay. The Gay Games, organized by the Federation of Gay Games, is a quadrennial gathering of LGBT athletes, featuring competitions in everything from bodybuilding and bowling to squash and swimming to cultural exhibitions in cheerleading and music. This year's Games began on July 31 and will end with a marathon, finals in badminton, basketball, soccer, and volleyball, and closing ceremonies on Saturday, August 7. Around 10,000 athletes from more than 70 countries are participating, although the majority of participants come from Germany and the United States.
The first games took place in San Francisco in 1982, founded by openly gay decathlete Tom Waddell, who died of AIDS in 1987. According to the Games' official website, 1,350 athletes participated in 11 different sports during the 1982 event. The New York Times published the results of men's wrestling, however, with a policy against the word "gay," referred to them as part of the "Homosexual Games."
This year's games include participants from less-than-gay-friendly countries including Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, and Zimbabwe. According to The Guardian, many of these participants have had to use false identities due to fears of persecution at home. Thorsten Moeck, a member of the organization committee, told The Guardian that the Games are an attempt to signal "that the exclusion of gays and lesbians, especially in the sporting world has to end." Moeck pointed to Mexico's participating soccer team, who are among those keeping their identities secret, noting that the Cologne Games are a "unique opportunity" for them to be part of a gay community.
While the gay rights battle in the U.S. has centered most recently on DADT and marriage equality, Amnesty International released a report on Sunday showing that 76 countries consider merely being gay punishable by law. In seven of these countries, same-sex acts can warrant a death sentence. That number contrasts with only 53 countries whose anti-discrimination laws apply to sexuality and 26 that recognize same-sex marriage.
The House of Saud is living the dream. While most Middle Eastern regimes make up all sorts of excuses for throwing activists who raise inconvenient issues in jail -- "endangering security" and "undermining national unity" are favorites -- the Saudis are admirably honest. Mekhlef bin Daham al-Shammary, a prominent Saudi human rights activist who has been critical of the kingdom's anti-Shiite policies, was jailed on the charge of "annoying others" on June 15.
No, the crime of annoyance does not appear to be written down anywhere in Saudi Arabia. The charges against Shammary may stem from an article he wrote rebuking another columnist for harsh attacks against the Iraqi Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
More than a month after his imprisonment, Shammary still has not been brought before a judge. If he ever is, one can only hope that he is impolite -- perhaps even annoying.
Given how stubbornly Kim Jong-Il appears to be weathering his reportedly grave illness, you might think North Korean healthcare is more or less intact -- even the Dear Leader must get a boost from modern medicine. But a chilling report released today by Amnesty International is an all-too-clear reminder that the luxuries (or in this case, just the bare necessities) of royal treatment in Korea are a far cry from the horrors of everyday existence: based on the accounts of 40 North Korean defectors and health professionals, Amnesty investigators reveal just how backward the country's healthcare system truly is.
Drained of the most basic -- and most important -- resources (everything from pills to power), hospitals in North Korea are barely functional. Doctors make their rounds by candlelight, and patients endure major operations without even the mildest anesthesia. And that's only if the ailing can make it to a hospital in the first place: many patients must make many-hour treks to consult with their inept doctors -- appointments that invariably spell further trauma. One interviewee describes his harrowing amputation (anesthesia-free, of course):
Five medical assistants held my arms and legs down to keep me from moving. I was in so much pain that I screamed and eventually fainted from pain," said the man, identified only by his family name, Hwang. "I woke up one week later in a hospital bed.
Under North Korea's official health care program, all citizens are entitled to free medical treatment -- and state officials insist they truly receive it. Yet World Health Organization figures give the country a failing grade: North Korea spends less than one dollar per person per year on health -- a meager sum that makes it the world's worst performer. First-person accounts in the report only confirm this picture. According to one defector and former doctor:
People in North Korea don't bother going to the hospital if they don't have money because everyone knows that you have to pay for service and treatment.
Without the right bribes - cigarettes, alcohol, or just plain cash -- most Koreans don't stand a chance. In short, says the doctor: "If you don't have money, you die.''
PHILIPPE AGRET/AFP/Getty Images
Two words sum up Argentina's national stance towards the atrocities committed under the 1976-1984 military dictatorship: "Nunca más" -- never again. But while the junta remains firmly in the past, the effects of its clandestine crimes remain potent in the present. The national outcry, the investigations conducted by the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared, and even the tireless marching and protesting by mothers of "desaparecidos" on Mayo Square have failed to yield information on what happened to the estimated 30,000 victims of state-sponsored abuse.
But last month, after being hidden beneath floorboards for 34 years, a secret list emerged to give some Argentinians what they thought they might never get: answers.
Throughout its rule, the military junta enforced a meticulous policy of destroying all their documents. But apparently it wasn't meticulous enough: one accused subversive named Juan Clemente escaped from his detention center with 259 pages of the military government's records. Clemente feared divulging the papers would cost him his life, and so kept them hidden underneath his house for over three decades; but a new safeguard from the witness protection program and a sense of urgency elicited from the imminent verdict of the Tucuman trial has motivated him to bring them forward.
Certainly with the lack of available evidence, the incriminating notes -- easily attributed to junta operatives by the flagrant signatures on each page -- will bolster the case against the four Dirty War perpetrators on trial. The new evidence could even be to thank for a more just verdict come July 8.
But perhaps the list has delivered an even greater form of justice: some reprieve for those left oblivious as to the fates of their abducted loved ones. Families of the Dirty War's "desaparecidos" have flooded into the courts to examine the papers -- even the sadistic notes on intelligence operations, torture sessions, and the victims' decrepit physical states.
The families were also able to access the pages in which the junta took stock of their victims, recording their names in the left columns and the outcome of their detentions in the right. For some of those reading, two letters beside their loved one's name -- DF, or "disposition final" -- may bring both heartbreaking finality and bittersweet relief.
DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images
China's Xinjiang province is known mostly for being a hotbed of separatist violence and government crackdowns on free speech. But not all the news coming from Western China is bad: just days after Beijing ended a controversial 10-month Internet blackout there, President Hu Jintao announced an ambitious aid package to bring the region's per-capita GDP up to the national average. The goal is to complete the project in as little as 10 years, and to help meet the deadline, provincial governments are getting involved:
More specifically, 19 relatively affluent regions including coastal and
central provinces and big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen,
will pipe support into different areas of Xinjiang during the next 10
years. In addition to financial aid, efforts will also be made to
improve employment, education and housing conditions for the poor in the
If your knowledge of Chinese geography is as rusty as mine, check out this neat color-coded map that highlights the participating provinces and breaks down their expected contributions.
Porfiriy / http://www.thenewdominion.net/1740/color-coded-guide-to-eastern-provinces-to-xinjiang-economic-aid-pairing/
In the much-discussed cover story of this weekend's New York Times Magazine, Lynn Hirschberg profiles M.I.A., née Maya Arulpragasam, the British-by-way-of-Sri-Lanka musician whose third album comes out later this summer. It's an interesting piece (even if its subject doesn't think so), not least because it's the first celebrity profile I've read that begins with a thorough parsing of Sri Lankan dissident politics. The subject comes up because a frequent touchstone in M.I.A.'s music is her father's resume: He was as a founder of the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS), a militant group with ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization that helped lay the groundwork for the modern Tamil statehood movement before being superseded by the more violent Tamil Tigers.
Although her father never actually had anything to do with the Tigers, M.I.A. championed the organization's cause (albeit sort of vaguely) throughout its guerrilla war with government forces in northern Sri Lanka, a war with few good guys. (By happenstance, M.I.A.'s own ascent to popularity over the course of her first two records happened mostly between the breakdown of peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers in 2006 and the rebels' defeat in 2009.) Her support is a matter of considerable annoyance to activists concerned with bringing about some sort of lasting peace on the island. "It's very unfair when you condemn one side of this conflict," Ahilan Kadirgamar of the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum tells Hirschberg. "The Tigers were killing people, and the government was killing people. It was a brutal war, and M.I.A. had a role in putting the Tigers on the map. She doesn't seem to know the complexity of what these groups do."
Hirschberg mines this vein unsparingly -- you know the knives are out when a writer pulls the old take-a-radical-artist-to-a-fancy-restaurant trick:
Unity holds no allure for Maya - she thrives on conflict, real or imagined. "I kind of want to be an outsider," she said, eating a truffle-flavored French fry. "I don't want to make the same music, sing about the same stuff, talk about the same things. If that makes me a terrorist, then I'm a terrorist."
A whole genre of art is, by association, coming in for a drubbing here: the venerable agitprop tradition in which M.I.A. has positioned herself. In music, the legacy runs back through Public Enemy, who championed Louis Farrakhan, and the Clash, who called their classic 1980 album Sandinista!; elsewhere, you've got Warhol's Mao paintings, of course, and pretty much everything Jean Luc Godard has ever said. It's different from the standard political peregrinations of artists and celebrities in that the art is inextricable from the politics, and from their audaciousness -- the Clash record would have sold somewhat worse if it had been called Social Democrat!
This is the line in the sand between the postmodern chilliness of M.I.A.'s radical politics and, say, the heartfelt socialism of Woody Guthrie -- the aesthetic of conflict, rather than any particular policy ambition, is the point. To Hirschberg, it suggests an unflattering comparison:
Like a trained politician, [M.I.A.] stays on message. It's hard to know if she believes everything she says or if she knows that a loud noise will always attract a crowd.
I think this is a more damning indictment of politics than it is of M.I.A. -- whose music is, all things considered, pretty great, if not quite up to the precedents of London Calling or It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Stitching an aesthetic out of politics is at the end of the day pretty harmless; assembling a politics out of aesthetics, not so much.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley today defended the administration's decision to send a consulate officer as a representative to the inauguration of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, currently under indictment for war crimes:
Crowley acknowledged that the level of US representation was even below that of other nations, who sent their ambassadors or deputy chiefs of mission to Thursday's inauguration.
"It was a reflection of our relations with Sudan," Crowley told reporters.
When asked whether sending someone at all gave support to Beshir, who faces war crimes charges, Crowley replied that the United States had work there as it pressed for full implementation of a fragile 2005 peace deal.
He also said the inauguration was not just for the president but also for the first vice president, Salva Kiir, the chairman of Sudan People's Liberation Movement, who holds the post under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
So if it was too embarrassing to send someone higher up, why send anyone at all? Sending a consulate officer just gives Bashir some measure of legitimacy while making the U.S. look like it's trying -- unsuccessfully -- to avoid embarrassment.
Yesterday, I spoke with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris about the serious allegations of war crimes documented in an International Crisis Group (ICG) report released last week. The foreign minister argued that the report was poorly sourced and politically motivated. But today, ICG president and CEO, Louise Arbour, took on those claims.
Arbour points out that the Sri Lankan government has yet to truly respond to the substantive question raised by ICG's investigation. (Indeed, the foreign minister did not do so during our discussion.) More, Arbour continues, "the government is resisting terribly the idea of an international investigation -- purportedly on the basis that this amounts to a form of neocolonialism." (Right again. The foreign minister confirmed that he told U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon not to interfer with Sri Lanka's government commission investigation of the matter because "there would be public resentment because that attitude would seem patronizing.")
Peiris meets with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday. Here's hoping that the secretary's staffers have kept up with the debate and read the report in question. Shelling civilians, hospitals, and humanitarian operations -- as well as blocking aid to those who need it -- are not exactly allegations that can be overlooked by the world these days. At least, let's hope not.
Michael Posner, the Obama administration's top human rights official, has become the latest target of right-wing ire. At issue is Posner's recent remark about Arizona's controversial new immigration law, which he made during a press briefing Friday about the U.S. human rights dialogue with China:
QUESTION: Did the recently passed Arizona immigration law come up? And, if so, did they bring it up or did you bring it up?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We brought it up early and often. It was mentioned in the first session, and as a troubling trend in our society and an indication that we have to deal with issues of discrimination or potential discrimination, and that these are issues very much being debated in our own society.
Posner, a heretofore obscure State Department official, is getting ripped by the likes of Rush Limbaugh ("How the hell do all these wackos end up in the administration?"), John Hinderaker ("What an idiot!"), and the New York Post ("Posner shames America"), and it's not hard to see why. Setting aside the immigration issue, conservatives don't like it whenever Americans criticize their own country's human right record, let alone in a way that could be construed as granting "moral equivalence" to a repressive place like China.
Posner clearly wasn't doing that, but I have to wonder what U.S. officials really think about this human rights dialogue. And how does the conversation actually go? U.S. official: "We think China should improve its human rights record." Chinese official: "Thanks for your input. I'll tell Hu Jintao right away! How come we didn't think of this sooner?"
But let's have a grownup discussion about this.
JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
The State Department's 2010 Human Rights Report examines abuse and discrimination the world over, featuring China, Iran, and... Western Europe?
Europe is not exactly at the forefront of one's mind when thinking of places with poor human rights records. But creeping into European society are widespread and insidious anti-Muslim sentiments, says the report. These prejudices are increasingly visible across the Continent, with numerous cases last year highlighting the issue. The document puts it rather bluntly: "Discrimination against Muslims in Europe has been an increasing concern."
The biggest headline grabber was the Swiss ban of minaret construction, passed by a significant majority (57.5 percent in favor) in a popular referendum. (Notably, the ban was opposed by majorities in parliament and the Federal Council, but still won handily.) Compared to its bigger neighbors, Switzerland has a relatively tiny Muslim community, and there are only four minarets in the entire country -- making the ban mostly symbolic. But the message, another contribution to the growing trend of Swiss hostility towards Muslims, resonated. The report further stated,
Islamic organizations have complained that authorities in many cantons and municipalities discriminated against Muslims by refusing zoning approval to build mosques, minarets, or Islamic cemeteries.
Switzerland was hardly the only country the Report criticized. France's anti-headscarf laws were criticized, as was French President Nicolas Sarkozy's claim that burqas are "not welcome" in France. In the Netherlands, right-wing politician Geert Wilders is cited for frequently stoking anti-Muslimsentiments
Iran's drug squad commander pointed out in January, that narcotics forces had seized 340 tons of drugs and arrested 170,000 ‘drug dealers' in the previous nine months -- what amounted to a new record for the Islamic Republic. What Iranian officials are less likely to point out is the other record they've hit in the past few months: Iran now has the largest number of imprisoned journalists in the world. By the end of February, (a month in which 12 journalists were arrested), the number rested at 52 -- a third of the global tally and more than double China's total of 24.
The information is detailed in a new report compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ adds that its count "does not include more than 50 other journalists in Iran who have been imprisoned and released on bail over the last several months." By arresting any who challenges the regime's authority, it seems as though Iranian officials are working overtime to usurp the 1996 record of 78 jailed journalists set by Turkey.
Although it seems to have fallen out of the news cycle ever since the disappointing Feb. 11 protests, Iran's still-alive opposition movement has yet to leave the attention of the Obama administration; an LA. Times article today reports that the administration is preparing to change the focus of its Iran policy from negotiations to greater support for the opposition as well as enforcing sanctions.
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
The status of Middle Eastern women has improved over the last five years, contradicting common perceptions of veiled, powerless individuals, according to Women's Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance, a study released today by Freedom House. Nonetheless, significant resistance to the advancement of women's rights remains across the region, and many roadblocks have yet to be removed.
Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, highlighted the encouraging signs across the 18 countries surveyed:
There are more women entrepreneurs, more women doctors, more women Ph.Ds, and more women in universities, than ever before.
Progress was made in fifteen countries, with Kuwait, Algeria, and Jordan making the greatest leaps, while only Iraq, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories saw reversals in women's rights. Women are increasingly able to vote and run for office (Kuwait, in particular, is a noted example, having elected four women to parliament in 2009 despite only receiving the franchise four years earlier), family laws were modified in several countries to make women more equal partners with their husbands (but some provisions remain unenforced), and the number of women in universities continued its steady climb -- in some countries, significantly more women are enrolled in higher education institutions than men.
The advancements are a marked improvement, yet on the whole women are often deprived of basic human rights and subject to indiscriminate violence. Honor killings, in particular, remain a major problem: Only two countries, Jordan and Tunisia, offer protection under the law against domestic violence. None of the 18 countries surveyed had any legal recourse for women who were victims of spousal rape.
Given the mixed trends, the question of women's rights in the Middle East has become increasingly complex. Windsor sums it up nicely, with a quintessentially uneven example:
Women in Saudi Arabia are allowed to earn law degrees, but not to appear in court on behalf of their clients.
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