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.
Late last year, my colleague Blake Hounshell and I sat down with Anwar Ibrahim here in Washington, where he was attending a conference on inter-religious understanding. The Malaysian opposition leader (who is #32 one of our Top Global Thinkers of 2009) is today in a very different setting: the beginning of his trial for charges of sodomy that he says are politically motivated. Here are a few excerpts from that interview, including his thoughts on democracy, religion, and being an opposition figure.
FP: One criticism in the United States of the Muslim world is, people will say: the Muslim world is not addressing its own problems; The Muslim world is more likely to blame America for what is going on then to do soul searching about the state of discourse in Islam today. What is your response to that?
Anwar Ibrahim: I just answer, be equally responsible. You can't just erase a period of imperialism and colonialism. You have to deal, you can't erase, for example, the fault lines, the bad policies, the failed policies, the war in Iraq for example, and ambivalence you support dictators inside the top democracy. ...This night [in Malaysia], [there are] emails [circulating within] the national media, the government television network. They will start a 5 to 7 minute campaign: Anwar is in the United States, he is a lackey of the Americans, he is pro-Jew. Period. And they go on with impunity, [as they have done] for the last 11 years. Because they want to deflect from the issue of repression, endemic corruption, destruction of the institutions of governance.
There is a difference. You [the United States] have Abu Ghraib and it is exposed -- and the media went to town. The atrocities in the Muslim world, in our prisons, [and I am] not talking about my personal experience, [are] all knitted up.
What we need is credible voice in the Muslim world, independent. Some liberal Muslims become so American in their views, so Western. I don't think you should do that. Americans need to appreciate the fact that I am a Muslim, there don't need to be apologies for that. But at the same time we must have the courage to address the inherent weaknesses within Muslim societies.
FP: When was it that you first decided this debate between religion was something you wanted to be a part of?
AI: In Malaysia, [this] is so critical. [It's] a multi racial country, a religious country. [There is a] Muslim majority of 55 percent, then Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians of various domination. I grew up being involved in the Muslim youth work, even when I was a student, engaging in this. The Vatican supported the East Asian Christian Conference at the time and we started having these discussions. My initial work in the youth work when I was leading the Malaysia youth counsel which is an umbrella of all the Hindu youth and the Buddhist youth and the Christian youth. I benefited immensely ... we started engaging them. ... Then of course there was tolerance when we hosted a conference; they were mindful of the Hindus were strictly vegetarian or if the Christian organized, they were aware we did not eat pork or drink.
When I was I government the Muslim Christian dialogue was promoted, in fact I supported the program. There was a Muslim Christian center in Georgetown and we went to New Manila University. The majority of the Malaysians non-Muslims are not Christians but Confucianists, so we brought in Professor Tu Wei-ming one of the Chinese scholars of Confucianism from Harvard to come and tell us about Confucianism and we tell him about Islam. There is so much in common between Confucianism and Islam.
FP: How do you balance your life as a thinker and a politician?
AI: People do suggest that, but I quite disagree. Of course you simplify the arguments but the same arguments, the central thesis remains constant but the way you articulate it may differ. People say, Anwar you are opportunistic, how can you talk about Islam and the Quran here and then you talk about Shakespeare there and then quote Jefferson or Edmond Burke. I say it depends on the audience. [If] I go to a remote village, of course I talk about the Quran. In Kuala Lumpur ,and you quote T.S Eliot. If I quote the Quran all the time, to a group of lawyers, I am a mullah from somewhere.
[Some] think because I do court [Islamic votes] these days they think I am a Islamist. [But] you ask the question -- is it true, Anwar, that you are sound and consistent in your views and you are not actually a closet Islamist? I say, Why do you say that? [The] six years [I spent in] prison is not enough? And they say no, but you engage with the Islamists, and I said yes.
President Obama recorded a video message today for the ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz:
We have a sacred duty to remember the twisted thinking that led here—how a great society of culture and science succumbed to the worst instincts of man and rationalized mass murder and one of the most barbaric acts in history.
We have a sacred duty to remember the cruelty that occurred here, as told in the simple objects that speak to us even now. The suitcases that still bear their names. The wooden clogs they wore. The round bowls from which they ate. Those brick buildings from which there was no escape—where so many Jews died with Sh’ma Israel on their lips. And the very earth at Auschwitz, which is still hallowed by their ashes—Jews and those who tried to save them, Polish and Hungarian, French and Dutch, Roma and Russian, straight and gay, and so many others.
But even as we recall man’s capacity for evil, Auschwitz also tells another story—of man’s capacity for good. The small acts of compassion—the sharing of some bread that kept a child alive. The great acts of resistance that blew up the crematorium and tried to stop the slaughter. The Polish Rescuers and those who earned their place forever in the Righteous Among the Nations.
Obama's remarks were very well written, though the sentiment suggested in them was hardly new. Each time a Holocaust anniversary comes around, we hear the same speeches about how these camps stand as a symbol of the human capacity of evil and the duty to prevent it, yet nations are still just as slow to respond to modern-day cases of genocide and atrocity or take steps needed to prevent them.
Writing for Foreign Policy in December, the International Crisis Group's Andrew Stroehlein, who was led international delegations to Auschwitz, suggested that using it as our model for genocide might be the problem:
There is probably no more appropriate single location than Auschwitz-Birkenau for grasping the scope of the Nazi horror. But the unprecedented and unequaled nature of that horror makes it somewhat inappropriate as a useful lesson for preventing genocide today. When you're waiting for something that looks like Birkenau, it's almost too easy to say, "never again."
From March 1942 to late 1944, Birkenau was the largest factory of mass murder in wartime Europe. Every day, trains arrived carrying thousands of people -- mostly Jews, but also Poles, Roma, and others -- and apart from a limited number deemed fit for slave labor, they were sent immediately to their deaths in massive, purpose-built gas chambers. At its peak, Birkenau could kill as many as 20,000 people a day, and in the end, this place was the worst of the extermination camps: The Nazis are estimated to have murdered over a million people here.
It was the mechanization of murder on a scale never before seen, and it stretched far beyond the grounds of this camp. With victims shipped in from all across Europe, this was an integrated system of collection, transport, and execution that covered a continent. It was precisely that sort of industrialization that I feared might inhibit an understanding of mass atrocity among the participants. Walking around Birkenau with these diplomats, some of whom represent states on the edge -- a few perhaps even over the edge -- of mass atrocities right now, I got the feeling some might have missed the point.
The Holocaust was a minutely organized and completely structured -- not to mention disturbingly well-documented -- genocide, miles away from the messy realities of their countries. They could look at the camp and the gas chambers and recognize nothing familiar. In fact, the visit may have only confirmed their belief that their countries were incapable of mass atrocities, when all they are really incapable of is the industrialized method. [...]
This issue goes far beyond a couple dozen participants in a seminar in Poland. I suspect too many people in the wider international community still only recognize genocide in this one most specific sense. They are always looking for Birkenau -- expecting industrialized killing rather than seeing genocide the way it unfolds today. They ignore the evidence that in the right environment, simple machetes can be just as effective as rail networks and gas chambers.
The whole piece is well worth reading. Particularly this week, it's useful to consider whether when leaders say "never again," they mean "never again will Germans kill Jews here" or something more universal.
After months of resistance against international pressure to overturn Uganda's now-notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Uganda's politicians seem to be pulling back. In early January, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni expressed concern that the bill was too harsh and on Jan. 12th noted:
"Because it is a foreign policy issue, it is not just our internal politics, and we must handle it in a way which does not compromise our principles but also takes into account our foreign policy interests."
The U.N. and the U.S. government, along with countries such as Britain, Canada and Sweden, have expressed their strong disapproval of the bill. Their displeasure has had an effect: during a January 19th cabinet meeting, the Ugandan government agreed to form a committee to amend the bill, with cabinet members citing the possibility of aid cuts by Western governments as a chief reason behind their reservations. The bill's author, MP David Bahati, held strong for a little longer. That is, until today when he expressed willingness to change some key clauses of the legislation.
Of course, none of this means that gay Ugandans will be getting a fair shake anytime soon -- especially when 95 percent of those surveyed in the country believe homosexuality should continue to be criminalized.
Although the U.S. government has condemned the bill, the American evangelical influences behind it are widely known. For example, Rick Warren, who advised most of the bill's leading supporters (such as Pastor Martin Ssempa), was barely ahead of Museveni in distancing himself from it. Also heavily circulated were the allegations by Jeff Sharlet that President Museveni, his ethics minister Nsamba Buturo and David Bahati, all have ties to U.S. politicians linked to The Family (a secretive evangelical organization with plenty of political influence).
Now, with human rights activists and journalists fully in the mix, friction over the bill has led to a proxy battle over the U.S.' cultural influence in the region.
WALTER ASTRADA/AFP/Getty Images
China is denying that the $1.2 billion in aid that Vice President Xi Jinping pledged during a visit to Cambodia yesterday had anything to do with the fact that just hours earlier, the country deported 20 Uighur asylum speakers -- a move that Xi praised during the very same visit:
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman defended the deportations Tuesday, called the handling of the Uighurs an "internal affair" and said there were "no strings attached" to the aid package.
"According to my knowledge, some are suspected of criminal cases," Jiang Yu told a regularly scheduled news briefing. "Public security forces will handle the relevant outlaws. Their whereabouts, I have no information to offer you."
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images
It seems like Uganda is taking two steps forward and one step backward
this week in terms of securing human rights for its citizens. Amid
growing debate regarding the national Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the Ugandan parliament unanimously passed
a law which not only outlaws the practice of female genital
mutilation, but imposes a strict punishments of ten year to life-long
sentences for convicted perpetrators.
Not a single parliamentary member spoke against the bill, and Francis Epetait, Uganda's shadow health minister explained the reasoning:
"This practice has left so many women in misery. So we are saying no. We cannot allow women to be dehumanised."So as gender activists celebrate in Uganda, national rights advocates still cringe as the likelihood of the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill looms nearer. The Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law released a statement yesterday to mark International Human Rights day in which they call the pending bill an "unprecedented threat to Ugandan's human rights:
“Uganda today stands at a crossroads. We can either turn further towards an agenda of divisionism and discrimination, and pay the costs in terms of internal suppression of our own citizens coupled with international isolation and marginalization, or we can embrace diversity, human rights and constitutionalism.”
SHAUN CURRY/AFP/Getty Images
For the last few weeks influential U.S. pastor Rick Warren has been under fire from critics for refusing to condemn the proposed draconian anti-gay laws in Uganda -- which would punish homosexual behavior with jail time or even death and punish those who fail to report gays to the authorities -- despite his longstanding involvement in the country and having had one of the main campaigners for the law as a speaker at his church. Warren had previously said, "It is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations."
Of course, there are thousands of evil laws enacted around the world and I cannot speak to pastors about every one of them, but I am taking the extraordinary step of speaking to you – the pastors of Uganda and spiritual leaders of your nation – for five reasons:
First, the potential law is unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals, requiring the death penalty in some cases. If I am reading the proposed bill correctly, this law would also imprison anyone convicted of homosexual practice.
Second, the law would force pastors to report their pastoral conversations with homosexuals to authorities.
Third, it would have a chilling effect on your ministry to the hurting. As you know, in Africa, it is the churches that are bearing the primary burden of providing care for people infected with HIV/AIDS. If this bill passed, homosexuals who are HIV positive will be reluctant to seek or receive care, comfort and compassion from our churches out of fear of being reported. You and I know that the churches of Uganda are the truly caring communities where people receive hope and help, not condemnation.
Fourth, ALL life, no matter how humble or broken, whether unborn or dying, is precious to God. My wife, Kay, and I have devoted our lives and our ministry to saving the lives of people, including homosexuals, who are HIV positive. It would be inconsistent to save some lives and wish death on others. We’re not just pro-life. We are whole life.
Finally, the freedom to make moral choices and our right to free expression are gifts endowed by God. Uganda is a democratic country with remarkable and wise people, and in a democracy everyone has a right to speak up. For these reasons, I urge you, the pastors of Uganda, to speak out against the proposed law.
All well and good, except no one is expecting Warren to comment on every unjust law in the world, just ones in countries where he has an extensive history of involvement, are sponsored by his onetime ally, and concerns a subject that he frequently discusses. After the Ugandan Anglican Church threatened to leave the Church of England, Warren rose to their defense, saying, “The Church of England is wrong and I support the Church of Uganda on the boycott.” So it's not as if he's afraid to wade into Uganda's culture wars.
Warren says that, "some erroneously concluded that I supported this terrible bill, and some even claimed I was a sponsor of the bill." But people only came to these conclusions because of his refusal to comment. Warren might not think it's fair that he was asked about the law, but he's a public figure that many people look to for moral guidance and it shouldn't be an unreasonable demand to expect him to condemn the state-sanctioned murder of innocent people.
Moreover, reports yesterday indicated that the Ugandan parliament had actually removed the most controversial portion of the bill -- the possibility of the death penaly or life infrisonment for homosexuals. So Warren actually waited for the death-penalty provision to be dropped before speaking out against it.
I'm glad that he made this statement and hope that it makes a difference in Uganda, but it's not exactly a profile in courage.
David McNew/Getty Images
Q: “How do you see the current American-Sudanese relations?
A: “For more than ten years, i.e. during the term of the administration of President Clinton then the administration of George Bush, the relationship has been very tense. And there have been many differences and clashes. But of course and thanks to the efforts of General Gration and after president Barack Obama has declared his new Sudan policy, it has became clear that the relationship developed greatly. We are very optimistic. For many years now, the relationship has not improved that much and it is not the best relation. But things are on the right track."
Q: "But many American NGOs are criticizing Obama's policies towards Sudan?"
A: "In the United States as in other countries, there are some parties that want our relations with Washington to deteriorate and wish to give a negative image of Sudan around the world, not only in regard to the Darfur issue but also in other cases. They think that Sudan is an easy target. But we in Sudan will always welcome anyone who wants to work with us peacefully and away from any media commotion. And now under Obama who has decided to open up to everybody and deal with many countries among which is Sudan, I sincerely hope that his efforts will be successful."
Update: This post has been updated to reflect a correction. A wise commenter has pointed out that our Arabic transcript was incomplete. The ambassador, Akec Khoc (not John Akweg) is a member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) -- not the Khartoum government. We regret the error and thank our commentor for pointing this out!
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
The brunt of yesterday's hearing in the House committee about lifting the U.S. travel ban on Cuba came down the following: will allowing American visitors spread word of democracy, or will tourist dollars will just prop up the Castro regime? That is the wrong question according to a a Human Rights Watch report out this week, which documents how the Cuban government uses Orwellian laws to silence dissent and has become more abusive in recent years.
Other governments must also revise their stance towards Cuba with the aim of fomenting human rights, said the report.
Not only have all of these policies -- US, European, Canadian, and Latin American -- failed individually to improve human rights in Cuba, but their divided and even contradictory nature has allowed the Cuban government to evade effective pressure and deflect criticism of its practices."
The report lambasts the United States for allowing Cuba to play David to its Goliath, but it also critiques the ineffective Candian and European policies, and the pedestal/blind eye attitude of Latin American countries, whose silence:
[C]ondones Cuba's abusive behavior, and perpetuates a climate of impunity that allows repression to continue. This is particularly troubling coming from a region in which many countries have learned firsthand the high cost of international indifference to state-sponsored repression."
The ambivalence and outright support for Castro coming from Latin America speaks to the curious distinction people in the region often make between undemocratic regimes of the right and those of the left: those who support the coup in Honduras are the same ones who scream about Castro, whereas those who tolerate Castro are apoplectic about Honduras.
The idea then, as a European Union official said earlier this month, should not be regime change, but rather human rights. Jorge Castañeda, former Mexican foreign minister, urges a similar policy, calling on the U.S., Europe and Canada to work together. In short: the United States must back down and lift the embargo not only to help Cubans directly, but also to uncouple support of human rights from regime change, thus enabling the strong multilateral approach called for by Human Rights Watch.
ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
Earlier today, Yoani
Sanchez posted questions to U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro regarding U.S.-Cuban relations on her blog, Generación Y. Sanchez, who was recently denied a visa
to visit New York City to attend an awards dinner after she was awarded
a Marie Moors Cabot Prize from the Columbia University Graduate School
of Journalism, received a direct response from Obama himself.
Obama addresses each point with steadfast poise, sticking to his administration's usual positions on the topic. He categorizes Cuban affairs as a domestic and foreign policy issue for the U.S. and emphasizes democratic rule, freedom of speech, and human rights, familiar rhetoric from the president. He also does not rule out a visit to the island in the future, not to work on his tan, but rather as a "diplomatic tool":
I look forward to visit a Cuba in which all citizens enjoy the same rights and opportunities as other citizens in the hemisphere.No word yet if Castro intends to reply. However, his mind may be on other things after Human Rights Watch's release of the report "New Castro, Same Cuba," condemning his regime:
In his three years in power, Raúl Castro has been just as brutal as his brother. Cubans who dare to criticize the government live in perpetual fear, knowing they could wind up in prison for merely expressing their views.Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images
Where is the worst place for children to be born in 2009, especially girls? Surprise! Afghanistan. Today, UNICEF published a special report titled State of the World's Children; Daniel Toole, UNICEF regional director for South Asia, told a news briefing in Geneva earlier today:
Afghanistan today is without a doubt the most dangerous place to be born.
After eight years since the U.S. invasion, this is just one more incentive to encouarge the Obama administration to make a decision on its role in the region.
More optimistically, the reports highlights signatory countries of the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child who have shown marked improvement, including India, Serbia and Sierra Leone.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
According to opposition parties in Ethiopia, nearly 450 of their members have been jailed, as part of an effort by the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) to secure national elections being held this May. One opposition party reports that seven of its members have been murdered for political reasons during the course of this past year. The allegations fit Ethiopia's history of violent repression, including arrests and harassment of dissenting students and teachers.
During Ethiopia's last elections, held in 2005, widespread protests led to violent clashes with police, with about 200 protestors killed and many opposition leaders jailed. The ruling party, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, said that the crack-down was simply to maintain law and order, and to stave off widespread ethnic conflict. Members of the opposition said it was a means of denying opposition parties electoral success.
The ruling party's bid for electoral dominance has certainly been effective -- during last year's local and bi-elections, the EPRDF and affiliated individuals lost only three seats, out of nearly 3.6 million contested seats. This past January, the government took another step towards consolidating its power by essentially outlawing human rights work and curtailing freedom of association. And according to a Reuters news analysis, the EPRDF's dominance is bolstered by a general sense that the West "would be comfortable with Meles staying on - as long as he remains a loyal ally in the volatile Horn of Africa and liberalises his potentially huge economy."
Even so, former Ethiopian Minister of Defense Seeye Abraha characterizes his country as a dormant volcano. A recent statement posted by the opposition party Ginbot 7 makes it abundantly clear that tensions remain high:
[One type of nation] is composed of countries that are ruled by corrupt tyrants whose governance is characterized by gross human rights abuse, economic polarization, ethnic conflict and political intolerance...almost all of these dictators have become turn coat democrats and hold sham elections to satisfy the demand of donor nations. The reality, however, is that they never respect election results, or care for democracy. A perfect example of one such government is the illegitimate regime of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia that deviously preaches democracy, but has ruled the country with an iron fist for the past 18 years."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slammed an effort by Islamic countries to ban religious criticism last week.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference pressured the U.N. Human Rights Council to ban defamation of religion, like this cartoon that inspired the measure. Secretary Clinton fired back, "Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion," she said. "I strongly disagree."
Although she is opposed to the negative depictions of certain faiths, a blanket ban of discourse isn't the right path, she said; instead countries should focus on tolerance.
Her statement came as the State Department announced its annual report on international religious freedom. The OIC has 56 member states, 18 of which were listed in the report as "countries where violations of religious freedom have been noteworthy."
ADAM JAN/AFP/Getty Images
Just six months ago, the Kremlin declared "mission accomplished" in settling the restive, largely-Muslim region of Chechnya, and pledged to withdraw at least half its troops stationed there. Russian soldiers have allegedly resorted to brutal tactics in the decade-long effort to subdue the region, including the systematic beating and raping of Chechen civilians, widespread detention and torture, and the murder of human rights and opposition activists.
But the Kremlin has claimed victory in the regional struggle time and time again, and the most recent claims of success seem as wrong as ever; yesterday the Georgian Daily reported that "Moscow is planning to increase the number of units in the North Caucasus military district by a factor of four, according to officers there..." The plans come amidst an escalating Islamic insurgency in Ingushetia, the region bordering Chechnya to the west.
There's no doubt that the Kremlin is facing a protracted struggle. Doku Umarov, one of the most prominent members of the insurgency (who has been reported dead on a number of occasions) released a lengthy statement in 2007 on the Al-Qaeda affiliated website Kavkaz Center, in which he declared Muslim rule:
I reject all laws and systems established by infidels in the land of Caucasus.
I reject and declare outlawed all names used by infidels to divide Muslims.
I declare outlawed ethnic, territorial and colonial zones carrying names of "North-Caucasian republics", "Trans-Caucasian republics" and such like.
I am officially declaring of creation of the Caucasus Emirate...
We will relentlessly wage war on everyone who will oppose the establishment of the Sharia, Inshaallah. And those who openly violate that which was established by Allah and scorn the Islamic religion should not think that we will leave it unpunished. That is a serious delusion."
Photo: KAZBEK BASAYEV/AFP/Getty Images
The World Economic Forum posted the 2009 Global Gender Gap Report today, its yearly survey of gender inequality based on economic, political, educational and health factors. For the first time, two African nations entered the top 10 rankings: South Africa at #6 position (up from #22 in 2008) and Lesotho in the #10 slot (up from #16 in 2008).
The increased ranking for South Africa is due to increases in parliamentary and ministerial positions for women under the new government. Lesotho holds its strong position thanks to its lack of gender gap in health and education services.
These advances for South Africa may come as a surprise to many who feared for women's empowerment in South Africa following the May election of President Jacob Zuma, a practicing polygamist and accused rapist.
The World Economic Forum reports that two thirds of countries surveyed have made reduction in their gender gaps since 2006. However, the United States fell four spots since last year, coming in at #31 on the list. It looks like the death of macho due to the global recession may not be occurring as quickly as some expected. In any case, the United States is not alone in its loss of gender equality; Germany, the United Kingdom and France also saw declines in their rankings since last year.
Unsurprisingly, the bottom of the list remained largely unchanged from last year with Yemen, Chad, Pakistan, Benin, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran continuing to boast the world's worst gender gaps.
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
Followers of Latin American politics awoke in June to a familiar, if long-absent, nightmare: A president forced out of his house in pyjamas and onto a plane into exile. Yet, despite the death of 19-year-old-protestor Isis Obed soon after, the Honduras coup did not follow the region's old pattern of terror and disappearances.
Instead, human rights groups report a low, but constant level of violence towards protestors, which seems to be having a demoralizing effect without raising terribly strong reactions from the internal and international communities. A member of the Organization of American States' human rights group explained:
We did not find people disappeared like you'd have seen 20 years ago ... [The de facto government will] detain 100, 150, 200 people at a march and put them in a detention facility. They will only beat up a dozen of them. In the meantime, it's enough to break up the demonstration and make people a little more careful about going out next time.''
Nonetheless, the human rights situation is far from innocuous. Human rights groups in Honduras claim that between 10 and 15 people have died as a result from run-ins with the armed forces, several bodies have been found under suspicious circumstances. The most recent death is that of union leader Jaire Sanchez, who died this weekend from a bullet wound received at a protest. Dozens of other defenders of Zelaya claim to have been threatened.
The de facto government has been blocking investigations into abuses, making corroboration more difficult, according to Human Rights Watch, which has urged the international community to reject any deal that involves amnesty for human rights violations. Here's how the OAS mission describe the situation back in August:
[A] pattern of disproportionate use of public force on the part of police and military forces, arbitrary detentions, and the control of information aimed at limiting political participation by a sector of the citizenry. This resulted in the deaths of at least four persons [at that time], dozens of injuries, thousands of arbitrary detentions, the temporary shutdown of television channels, and threats and assaults against journalists."
In the face of an OAS delegation to investigate possible violations, de facto President Roberto Micheletti finally made good yesterday on a promise to reopen two opposition broadcasters shut down 22 days ago.
It has become a nightmare of a different sort, the negotiators probably feel it's the kind where you're running but just can't seem to stop going in circles, as the clock ticks down to the Nov. 29 elections, scheduled before the coup and which many countries have promised not to recognize if an agreement between ousted President Zelaya and Micheletti is not reached soon.
YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, the debate was whether a great artist should be forgiven for his great sins.
This week the question is whether or not to allow artists to portray sin. Plans for a film version of Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez's book "Memories of my Melancholy Whores" were scrapped after an NGO director said she would sue the author and producers for attempting to justify pedophilia.The movie had financial backing from the Danish and Spanish governments, as well as the Mexican state of Puebla where it would be filmed. The movie would poetically portray child prostitution as natural "which would lead to the normalization of the phenomenon," argued the director of The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The story, of a 90-year-old man who decides to treat himself to a 14-year-old virgin as a birthday present, does not precisely argue that this would be a healthy relationship, however, and fellow Nobel literature prize winner J.M. Coetzee finds a redemptive aspect to the novella.
But, what with Scotland Yard descending into the Tate Modern last week to urge the removal of a Richard Prince piece showing a nude 10-year-old Brooke Shields, perhaps the backlash of Polanski's case means we can no longer explore the evils of desire, even in art. Even if he were alive then, Nabokov would have no hope of winning the Swedish prize this Thursday.
IVAN GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images
It's cartoon Wednesday here at Passport. Three editors at the Uganda weekly The Independent, including editor-in-chief and FP contributor Andrew Mwenda, were summoned by police over a political cartoon in last week's magazine. The cartoon, seen above, implies that President Yoweri Museveni is beginning a strategy to rig the elections scheduled for early 2011. Uganda is one of the few self-proclaimed democracies to retain criminal libel laws which can be used to prosecute journalists. However, the sedition law is currently under appeal to the Supreme Court and no prosecutions are allowed to move forward. (Freedom House rates Uganda "partly free.")
For four hours, 10 officers of the Media Crimes Department of Uganda's Criminal Investigations Directorate questioned the editorial decisions of Managing Editor Andrew Mwenda, Editor Charles Bichachi, and Assistant News Editor Joseph Were of the bimonthly newsmagazine The Independent, according to defense lawyer Bob Kasango. Were was told to return for further questioning on Saturday, while Mwenda and Bichachi were ordered to return on Monday, according to local journalists...
Officers pressed the trio over the motive and production of an August 21 cartoon spoofing Museveni's controversial decision to reappoint members of the embattled electoral commission to supervise the 2011 general election. The Supreme Court ruled that in the 2005 election the electoral commission did not adhere to its own rules and allowed irregularities including bribery, ballot-stuffing, and voter disenfranchisement.
The second spot on the list alludes to the treason charges against opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who was brought to trial in late 2005 at the same time he was the main candidate opposing Museveni's reelection. Olara Otunnu, a former U.N. official is thought to be another possible challenger in 2011.
The third item, Kiboko squads, refers to violent groups of men that attacked anti-government protesters in 2007 and were since linked to Museveni's government by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, among others.
Museveni is expected to face a serious challenge in the 2011 elections if the opposition can unite behind a single candidate. My sources in Uganda say he personally was very angry about the cartoon, leading to the questioning.
But still, a cartoon?
Press intimidation is fairly frequent in Uganda, but most international donors tend to look the other way as Uganda is relatively stable overall.
But seditious cartoons? Really? That can't be good for aid dollars.
Full disclosure: I know all three editors well and worked at The Independent in 2008. Shortly before I arrived, a more dramatic incident occurred with government forces actually arresting several journalists at the magazine, raiding the office and seizing files and disks alleged to contain "seditious materials." No charges were filed.
The Independent, Uganda
Whatever you say about Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, the guy is comfortable making big promises:
Every year the economy suffers losses but also sees gains and no one knows what's going to happen tomorrow. The only thing I can say is that we'll fully rebuild Chechnya and solve every social problem. Chechnya will be the most successful region in Russia and the world.
Has no interest in feigning sympathy for his recently deceased enemies:
[Recently murdered human rights activist Natalia Estemirova] never had any honor or sense of shame. And still I appointed her head of a [civil society advisory] commission with the mayor of Grozny as her deputy. I wanted to be objective about addressing the issue. But she didn’t like it. She would say stupid things. I told her, "You're a woman, and we're trying to do something for the people. But if it doesn't work, don’t blame us."
And little shame in sucking up to the boss:
By lowering his status [by stepping down as president], Putin again showed his strength and that he's a servant of the people. But that doesn’t change my attitude toward him. I'd still give my life for him.
RFE/RL: Would you like to see Putin become president again?
Kadyrov: Very much. I want Putin to be president of Russia for life.
Check out the whole unbelievable interview with Radio Free Europe, especially Kadyrov's explanation of how human rights groups and violating his human rights by saying such nasty things about him.
A new government scheme has recruited a group of Saudi women to work locally as housemaids for the first time in the country's history. The thirty women, aged 20 to 45, passed a stringent application process and underwent intensive training before they were given contracts in homes across Jeddah.
The Ministry of Labor only permitted Saudi women to find jobs in domestic services two years ago. Work in the sector has been long stigmatized, thought of as "demeaning," and thus almost exclusively undertaken by economic immigrants.
Migrant workers currently constitute at least 67 percent of the Saudi Arabian workforce, though less conservative estimates place that figure anywhere between 85 and 90 percent. Most economic immigrants come from South and Southeast Asia and fill positions in the services and health sectors as nurses, maids, nannies and drivers. Despite strict labor laws and visa requirements, the Kingdom has come under repeated criticism for allegations of abuse leveled against foreign nationals and as a hub for human trafficking for those in service industries.
Jay Director/AFP/Getty images
Two days ago, the Chinese government expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with the visit of exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer to Japan. The Japanese government (whose record on Chinese human rights issues is not particulary strong) chose to let the visit go ahead anyways, despite China's assertions that Kadeer helped spark the riots in Urumqi earlier this month (an accusation Kadeer has denied).
What China probably feared most has happened: Kadeer said today in Tokyo that "The nearly 10,000 (Uighur) people who were at the protest, they disappeared from Urumqi in one night." Kadeer called for an internation investigation to uncover more about the riots. China claims that 197 people died in the riots, with a further 1,000 detained.
While China's attempts to pressure other countries (and a movie festival in Australia) over the Uighurs have been pathetic, one point should be made in its favor: the Western media response has been rather curious - numerous publications are carrying the quotes, but none that I've seen mention any further proof, even from Kadeer herself, whereas the AP account before her visit to Japan noted that "China has not provided evidence" of Kadeer's alleged role in the riots. This is not to question Kadeer's account (China's reputation for forging the facts when advantageous is well-established), but to ask: why merely repeat her words? 10,000 people in one night is a serious accusation by any country's standards, and similar claims about other countries would not (and do not) get the same benefit of the doubt.
TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems pretty quick to throw the g-word at China, considering his own country's historical sensitivities:
"The incidents in China are, simply put, a genocide. There's no point in interpreting this otherwise," Erdogan said.
It's not exactly that simple. There's a case to be made that China's suppression of the Uighurs combined with it's efforts to build the Han population in Xinjiang constitute genocide under the 1948 convention, which includes "Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" as part of the definition. But this is a pretty broad interpretation, especially considering that the local Han population has been suffering attacks as well.
It's also surprising to see a Turkish president so willing to use the word genocide this freely. Turkey has charged quite a few people over the years -- including the country's most famous author -- with insulting Turkishness for saying similar things about the massacre of Armenians after World War I or the killing of Kurds in more recent years. Erdogan himself has attacked proposals that Turkey apologize for historical wrongdoings.
Is this really a conversation he wants to start?
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
After today's meeting between Russian opposition leaders and visiting U.S. President Barack Obama, former deputy prime minister turned anti-Putin campaigner Boris Nemtsov -- who was also recently a candidate in Sochi's bizarre mayoral election -- held a conference call with journalists to give his take on the President's visit. Nemtsov had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning urging the United States not to forget Russia's democratic opposition in the midst of the "reset." Overall, he seemed pleased with the tone Obama had struck:
He believes not only the existing government but in the Russian people. He understands that not only Putin and Medvedev represent Russia, but also the opposition including the democratic opposition represent Russia and business community represents Russia. ...He understand that "reset" is very, very complicated and very difficult task with the existing government of Russia, on the other hand, he understand that America and Russia face huge problems, for examples the Taliban in Afghanistan or North Korean missiles, or Iran threat etc. and no matter who is in power he has to connect.
I was curious what Nemtsov thought of the discussion of democracy in his speech at the New Economic School today, in which he seemed to emphasize the rule of law and fighting corruption over political inclusion or human rights:
He said that in 21st century, the only chance to be successful it to be democracy and be a country or rule of law. This is against Putinism, this is against the authoritarian style of regime we have now....He also spoke about the recognition of borders and and sovereignty of countries. Of course this is about Georgia, and it potentially about Ukraine. I think he did it very openly and made it clear for everybody, for Putina and Medvedev too.
Nemtsov says he understands that Obama has to take concerns other than democracy into account:
"The problem of the democratization of Russia is my problem and the problem of my friends and political colleages. This is not -- fortunately or unfortunately -- Obama's responsibility. I don't think the U.S. can help us to establish democracy."
In light of Obama's cautious response to the Iranian election, and the subsequent criticism of this position, I asked Nemtsov is he belives it is useful for the democratic opposition to have Obama speak out forcefully on their behalf:
I think that Obama as president of the biggest democracy in the world has to speak about that and he did in his speech today. I think it was absolutely clear for everbody. I don't think that Putin will be very excited after his speech...[When he discussed] rule of law, free speech and free elections, it is absolutely clear to Putin and Medvedev and everyone in Moscow what he is talking about.
Yes, it was quite cautious, I agree. But I think this is the good way. If you come to another country like a boss, like a teacher: "Guys, you did terrible here, now I explain to you how to do, how to run the country, how to move forward because I am a great American president and I know how to proceed," I think that such a strategy is not good.
But if you say very frankly and friendly: "Guys, remember, the authoritarian style is the wrong way. Not just for the state but for you," it looks more promising.
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images
Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation commission reccomended several days ago that a number of politicians, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, be banned from politics for a period of 30 years because of their past support for warring factions in Liberia's civil war. A World Bank veteran and Africa's first elected female head of state, Sirleaf is a darling of the Western media and aid community and some commentators are just shocked, shocked to realize that she's something other than a saint.
Blogging from Liberia, Chris Blattman advises everyone to take a deep breath and get real:
Sirleaf openly supported at least two rebel movements -- Charles Taylor's attempt to overthrow President Doe in 1989, and LURD's invasion to oust Charles Taylor a decade later. The TRC is condemning these actions--not something you'd expect human rights advocates to disbelieve, let alone protest.
Of course, it's not clear that there is a Liberian over the age of six who hasn't supported one rebel group or another the past twenty years. If they were all banned from politics, there wouldn't be a local left to run the place.
Not that it matters. The TRC has no teeth. I don't know the legal details, but the idea that the Commission can bar the President from politics seems laughable. Oh, did I mention that the TRC judges (a) laughably bad at their job, and (b) have political interests themselves?
But was dear Ellen unjustly maligned? Please. The outside world paints Sirleaf as an angel and Charles Taylor as a demon. Black and white politics are easy to digest. But there are no angels or demons in politics anywhere, least of all Liberia. Ellen is not the noble cherub you think. Taylor is not the black devil you fear. The truth of the matter, as always, is more subtle.
Bruno Vincent/Getty Images
Being gay in India carried the risk of a lifelong prison term, reports the ILGA's May 2009 world map of gay rights. At least five other countries -- Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran -- substitute the death penalty in place of imprisonment. Only six countries afford gay couples marriage with full legal rights: South Africa, Spain, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and Canada.
Correction: The new measure approved by India applies only to the country's capital, New Delhi.
Leading up to today's meeting of the African Union in Libya, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been a sore point for Sudan's president Omar Bashir, who was indicted by the ICC last July for war crimes related to violence in Darfur. His indictment has led to protests against the court in Khartoum like one pictured above on May 27, 2009.
Bashir, along with other AU leaders like Libya's Moammar Gadhafi have criticized the court's focus on Africa, and even gone as far as to propose in advance of the AU meeting that states should withdraw from the Rome Treaty which established the court.
Pushing back, however, have been advocates of the ICC including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. In an op-ed yesterday in the New York Times, he defended the court against its African critics:
It doesn't look like the AU will actually decide anyone should withdraw, but the ICC is still under fairly heavy fire from other areas. A recent article in the World Affairs Journal bytwo Darfur experts, Julie Flint and Alex de Waal blames the ICC's controversy and dysfunctional dynamics on its Argentine lead prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. In particular they criticize his handling of the Bashir indictment and his continuing to push for a genocide charge that was rejected as too thin by ICC judges. As the Washington Post's Colum Lynch reported yesterday, there is significant concern that Moreno-Ocampo's efforts could undermine peace negotiations in Sudan.
One must begin by asking why African leaders shouldn’t celebrate this focus on African victims. Do these leaders really want to side with the alleged perpetrators of mass atrocities rather than their victims? Is the court’s failure to date to answer the calls of victims outside of Africa really a reason to leave the calls of African victims unheeded?Moreover, in three of these cases, it was the government itself that called for ICC intervention — the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Uganda. The fourth case, that of Darfur, was selected notby the international court but forwarded by the U.N. Security Council.
The I.C.C. represents hope for victims of atrocities and sends a message that no one is above the law. That hope and message will be undermined if the African Union condemns the court because it has charged an African head of state. The African Union should not abandon its promise to fight impunity. Unless indicted war criminals are held to account, regardless of their rank, others tempted to emulate them will not be deterred, and African people will suffer.
But with so much scorn and a suspect arrested for only one of its outstanding warrants -- former Congo rebel commander Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo -- the ICC needs help if it is to accomplish its mission of discouraging impunity. Even if no one withdraws (and Chile joined this week), few governments have thus far been willing to take much actionon the ICC's behalf. For now, it remains stuck with limited funding and no enforcement mechanism.
To preserve the ICC's relevance, the trial of Gombo will need to go very well, and some sort of progress will be needed on the Bashir case. What are the odds either of these will happen?
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
Human Rights Watch has issued a statement asking for the removing of contentious proposals in a draft bill before the Rwandan parliament. Health and human rights director Joe Amon said that if enacted, the law would require the forced sterilization of mentally disabled persons, mandatory HIV/AIDS testing for couples who plan to wed, for married individuals at his or her spouse's request, and for children or incapacitated persons for whom it is deemed "necessary" without their consent. He said:
While Rwanda has made notable progress in fighting stigma and responding to the AIDS epidemic, and has pledged to advance the rights of persons with disability, forced sterilization and mandatory HIV testing do not contribute to those goals. These elements of the bill undermine reproductive health goals and undo decades of work to ensure respect for reproductive rights.
In recent years Rwanda has made not simply strides but rather leaps in combating HIV/AIDS. UNAIDS figures reveal a dramatic drop in national adult HIV prevalence, from nine percent in 1990 to a little under three percent in 2007.
Essentially, Rwanda's efforts to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS need to be decoupled from any attempts at compulsory sterilization or testing. If undertaken in a widespread manner or as part of systematic practice as the bill intends, forced sterilization is regarded as a crime against humanity by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to which Rwanda is party. Rwanda has also signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol as of December 15, 2008.
Deputy speaker of the Rwandan parliament Damascene Ntawukuriryayo has subsequently denied the existence of the bill.
Brent Stirton/Getty images
With euphoria about the magic of Twitter starting to wear off, analysis of Iran is turning toward what will actually happen to the regime.Two key questions are: 1) Will the security forces unflinchingly support the regime? and 2) When (if ever) will they shoot at demonstrators?
Unsurprisingly ahead in the first line of questioning, National Interest editor Nikolas Gvosdev wrote yesterday about what he has not heard out of Iran, essentially, information about the things that actually matter for revolution: police defections, army sympathies, behind-the-scenes talks, and economic impacts.
Protests are the energy behind any “color revolution” but what makes them successful in the end is when the security services say they will be neutral and key elites negotiate the terms of change—as happened in Georgia and Ukraine and Lebanon.
As Neil McFarquhar reported in the New York Times, very little has emerged so far about potential divisions in the security services. And, as FP blogger Stephen Walt wrote after reading the NYT article:
If the Basij, Revolutionary Guards, and other security elements remain willing to follow orders -- and that seems to be the case so far -- then Iran's current leaders will remain in charge.
Iran's military and theocratic leaders knew some time ago that regime survival could eventually depend on military control. AEI's Ali Alfoneh observed in a report from September, 2008 (via Andrew Sullivan) that Iran's leaders took explicit steps for "internal security" issues more than a year ago. Specifically, the elite Revolutionary Guards, tasked with protecting Iran's government, became more focused on internal deployments than external security. Additionally, the less-vetted but politically loyal Basij militiamen were increasingly integrated into normalized forces.
Assuming that security forces remain loyal and that protests continue, the next question is will confrontations turn even bloodier? Shadi Hamid observes that while Iran's crackdown on protesters has been vicious,
it has not reached the level of brutality that we've seen elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly in countries like Syria (1982) or Algeria (1991-2), where the opposition was literally massacred en masse or rounded up and put in desert concentration camps.
In the calculation of the current regime, Hamid concludes, the costs of such explicit violence still outweigh the alternatives.
A final point, however, is that as Iranian forces try to disband and discourage protests, the regime may not be able to dictate exactly how violent its enforcers get, even if it does not order them to open fire. Ohio State political scientist John Mueller argued in a relatively well-known article in International Security, "The Banality of Ethnic War" (.pdf), that mass violence in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia was less the result of "ancient hatreds" than was often previously alleged.
[Instead] the violence seems to have been the result of a situation in which common, opportunistic, sadistic, and often distinctly nonideological marauders were recruited and permitted free rein by political authorities.
Tasked with harming civilians, Mueller notes, formal security agents like those in the army and police often refuse, as they did in Yugoslavia, and it is paramilitary groups that do much of the damage.
Applying this to Iran, while joining the Basij may open some social and political doors (and not as many as the Revolutionary Guards), it may also be an outlet for the more violent and power-hungry types to feel important. Does anyone really think the regime ordered a sniper to shoot a nonthreatening unarmed girl? Or that it ordered other beatings to go as far as they have? The more Iran's current rulers rely on and arm paramilitary groups like the Basij, the less hierarchical and organized control they have over what happens on the streets. No matter what Obama says.
From an L.A. Times article on the still atrocious human rights situation in Zimbabwe:
Amnesty International said Thursday that serious human rights abuses continue in Zimbabwe and criticized members of President Robert Mugabe's ruling party, saying they regard violence as a useful political tool."Ending attacks on human rights defenders, lifting restrictions on the media and allowing public protests do not require more money. They only require political will," she said in a statement.
After a six-day trip to Zimbabwe, the group's chief, Irene Khan, dismissed the government's explanation that it lacked the funds to make improvements on human rights.
This raises a question though, which is also very pertinent given the events in Iran this week: is it cheaper to have a dictatorship or a democracy?
At first glance, Kahn's statement makes intuitive sense. Allowing demonstrators to protest, journalists to write what they want, and NGOs to function is cheaper than monitoring and suppressing them. Police states cost money.
But as Paul Collier points out, if you're a dictator, the problem with making your country more democratic is that you might lose. And if you don't want to lose you have to keep your population happy, which generally costs money. Why spend your hard-earned tax revenue/natural resource wealth/foreign aid money on schools and hospitals when you can just buy new batons for your riot police and send the rest to your Swiss bank account?
For what it's worth, this NationMaster table doesn't show much of any correlation between regime type and government spending as percentage of GDP. There are some very expensive totalitarian regimes (Cuba: 57 percent of GDP) and some very cheap ones (Turkmenistan: 13 percent of GDP). Zimbabwe's percentage is quite high, but the fundamentals of the country's economy are so completely screwy that this probably doesn't mean much of anything.
Still, though, I think Kahn's statement is wrong. The Zimbabwean state is currently set up with the primary goals of repressing its citizens and accumulating wealth for elites. Converting it into a democracy whoe goal is promoting the welfare of its citizens is not going to be cheap.
This is not to defend Mugabe's regime or any other authoritarian state. But those of us rooting for democratic change, whether in Harare or Tehran, need to understand the costs, both economic and political.
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