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
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
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."
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
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.
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
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