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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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.
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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?
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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.
Understandably lost on events in the Middle East is the continuing trial of Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi. The Burmese junta have put Suu Kyi on trial after she allowed a trespassing American to stay on her property overnight, in violation of her interminable house arrest. Since then, she has been subject to harsh prison treatment in the infamous Insein Prison and the typical authoritarian show trial, and international condemnation has been both swift and nigh universal.
Since June began, though, small hints that even the Burmese junta was sensitive to internation impressions were appearing, as the regime allowed the defense team to appeal how many witnesses it could call. Now, her trial has been postpone until the end of the month, with the defense being allowed to call another witness. This does not mean that the trial has suddenly become open and fair; as the British ambassador to Burma, Mark Canning, rightly points out:
This delay suits the government fine. It conveys an impression that the wheels of justice are turning and that there is some doubt about the final outcome. Of course there isn't. Daw Suu* will be found guilty – the only question is the length of the sentence and where she will serve it.
The number of political prisoners has increased by more than 1,000 over the past 16 months. There is no precedent for the acquittal of those accused of serious "political crimes" and certainly not someone of her stature. Comedians, doctors, bloggers, journalists, housewives and aid workers have been packed off to Burma's jails and work camps. They are generally sentenced at short, closed hearings. The unusual thing about this trial is that the status of the defendant obliges a spurious impression of openness.
Still, it's telling that even in a country like Burma, these token gestures at openness and fairness have become required.
STEPHEN SHAVER/AFP/Getty Images
Sometimes the news-cycle fates align nicely to highlight a question deserving of more discussion. Today, that question was what role democracy promotion should play in the Obama administration's foreign policy and how the U.S. should interact with odious but strategically useful authoritarian regimes.
The big story of the day was obviously The Speech, which I thought contained some genuinely moving language on the importance of democracy, but was undercut somewhat by the administration cutting funding for democracy promotion in the very country where he was speaking.
The day's other big story is the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square and China's paranoid clampdown in response. (Sadly, I can't find any mention of the anniversary on the White House Web site.) Then there's also Wednesday's readmittance of Cuba to the Organization of American States over U.S. objections, not to mention the imminent elections in Iran.
With all this going on, it seemed appropriate to spend this morning listening to a great discussion on authoritarianism at the launch of Freedom House and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's new report, "Undermining Democracy: 21st Century Authoritarians" at the Capitol. The report examines five states, China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and Pakistan as examples of a new class of authoritarian government, far savvier and more subtle in their methods than traditional dictatorships. (You can find a summary of the findings as well as an adapted version of Daniel Kimmage's section on Russia on this site.)
The report makes great reading, but the implications of it for U.S. policy are less clear. At this morning event, Robert Kagan, Peter Beinart and, James Traub -- three scholars who approach democracy-promotion from very political perspectives -- wrestled with this question in a panel discussion that got pretty heated at times. The central question was when it is appropriate for the U.S. to cooperate with the new authoritarian powerhouses, with Kagan taken a purist pro-democracy stance and Beinart and and Traub emphasizing the need for trade-offs and cooperation on issues like climate change (in the case of China) and nonproliferation (in the case of Russia.)
It strikes me that this is a bit of a false distinction. All three speakers agreed with the report's premise that the new and more sophisticated class of totalitarian regimes exist as a real and troubling phenomenon and pose a grave challenge to the goal of spreading democracy. They also agreed that these regimes are savvy enough that "engagement" whether economic or political, probably won't lead to meaningful political change. (As Kagan noted, autocrats tend not to give up power except by accident.)
I would also argue that it's neither new, nor particularly worth arguing, that sometimes the U.S. government will have to compromise its democratic values for strategic regions. My colleague Chris Brose recently noted with annoyance that President Obama talks about reaching out to non-democracies as if it's a new idea. Every modern administration has had to cooperate with non-democracies at times. (I would wager that had Robert Kagan's preferred candidate, John McCain, been elected and established a "Concert of Democracies" he'd still be meeting with autocratic leaders, if for no other reason than that we'd still be buying Saudi oil and Chinese manufactured goods.)
At the same time, American voters and leaders probably don't have the stomach for a purely realist foreign policy that discounts democracy and human rights entirely, nor should they.
So is a degree of hypocrisy simply hard-wired into U.S. foreign policy? Unfortunately, it seems so. Hillary Clinton was pilloried at today's conference for saying that human rights should not get in the way of other strategic priorities, but I have a hard time imagining any U.S. administration that wouldn't take this line.
Every U.S. administration for the forseeable future will talk about human rights and democracy while at times cooperating with regimes that undermine those principles in the name of economic of security goals. George W. Bush's support of leaders like Vladimir Putin and Pervez Musharraf contradicted his pro-democracy rhetoric yes, but he also didn't really get much out of these relationships.
I believe that Obama is sincere in his "commitment to governments that reflect the will of the people." I also believe that he sincerely believes that putting this commitment aside in the case of Egypt, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, etc. is a strategic necessity that will pay dividends on issues ranging from clean energy to Arab-Israeli peace.
Does it make me uncomfortable that the president who spoke so movingly today about women's rights today spent the day before meeting the king of a country where women are treated as second-class citizens? Of course. But statecraft is a messy business and it's not the inconsistency that bothers me. It's the gnawing (I hope misplaced) worry that he may be setting himself up to fail on both counts.
James Fallows of The Atlantic was in Beijing today, observing the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square confrontation between human rights protesters and the Chinese government. Security was airtight, but that doesn't mean reporters were completely incapacitated:
As reported yesterday, CNN is still blacked out whenever words like "In China today...." or "Twenty years ago in Bei...." come across the airwaves. Whereas BBC TV is airing uncensored footage of tanks in the square twenty years ago and repeatedly using the phrase "Tiananmen massacre." And just as I type, the admirable Quentin Somerville of the BBC is talking, live from Beijing, about the "ruthlessness at the heart of the Communist government." (And just this second, in a Borges-worthy moment, Somerville said that international coverage was being blacked out across China -- so I got to see him saying that I was not able to see him. Still, the general point is true.)"
Yesterday, David Rothkopf described his own experience as an observer of June 4, 1989.
The trial of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who worked for Al Gore's Current TV, started today in North Korea.
The two were arrested in March along the North Korea-China border, apparently reporting on the refugee situation. Pyongyang has charged them with "hostile acts" and espionage. If convicted, they face five to ten years in one of the country's feared labor camps.
North Korea gains some leverage over the U.S. and its allies by holding the women. In the past weeks, the country has stoked tensions by engaging in some serious saber-rattling, testing a series of missiles and a nuclear bomb; it's provoked South Korea to begin fortifying the militarized border and moving warships into better strategic positions.
I'm more and more concerned by the situation, in which Lee and Ling are pawns in a reckless, needless game of military embrinkmanship. The easy answer here is, of course, that North Korea should simply stop testing missiles and join in six-party talks.
But since that situation is unlikely, it's China that needs to step up here. They have the best relationship with Pyongyang, much at stake, and the best opportunity to assuage the tensions.
Posted this one during the Olympics last year but am re-posting in honor of tomorrow's anniversary:
Freedom House's Ellen Bork along with the Weekly Standard's design director Philip Chalk and Tiananmen survivor Tian Jian have created this map for Beijing tourists interested in visiting the sites of the June 4, 1989 massacre of the Tiananmen Square protestors. Each number shows the place where where one of the 176 victims were killed or the hospitals to which their bodies were taken.
Last week, I wrote a post on a quote that lit a conflagration.
Retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, the author of the Abu Ghraib internal investigation, told the Daily Telegraph that he had seen a set of photographs showing "torture, abuse, rape and every indecency"; the Obama administration had agreed to make the photos public, but then reversed its decision three weeks ago.
The blogosphere reacted with typical restraint. One post on the site of The American Prospect, for instance, demanded that Obama release all of the photos, even if they depicted rape, and even if they depicted the rape of a minor. (Wouldn't those photos be a felony to possess?)
At the time, I wondered whether it could really be true: why would Taguba, retired for more than two years, speak for the Obama administration, with which he had no relationship? How did he know which photos of the thousands taken the White House was considering releasing? And why would he give such an incendiary comment to a British publication?
Turns out, the answer's easy: Taguba told Salon's Mark Benjamin on Friday, "The photographs in that lawsuit, I have not seen."
Indeed, Taguba was referring to the Abu Ghraib photographs, which, famously and graphically, show sexual abuse, humiliation, degradation, and beatings. (The photos for which the ACLU filed a FOIA request allegedly show interrogations at facilities like Guantanamo Bay -- nobody outside the military and White House knows for sure.)
That's that, then -- a reminder, not a new story.
But it isn't the end of the much broader and much more important fight over what should happen to such photographs and videos.
On May 20, Senators Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman introduced the "Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009" to Congress. The bill would, in essence, classify all photographs and videos "taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States." No Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, like the one the ACLU filed, could force their release. And the Secretary of Defense could renew the act every five years.
It seems to me to be a dangerous thing -- to group all photographs of detainees together, and ensure they never see light. This is no longer really about the Abu Ghraib photos; at this point, we know what happened, the perpetrators have been punished. But the Bush administration codified the abuse of detainees in secret prisons. It was systemic, and it was law. And if there are photographs of those interrogations, they should be open to FOIA requests, at the very least.
Back in April, U.S. President Barack Obama said his administration would release photographs of the abuse of detainees in prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq. Here's from the UPI wire story:
The Obama administration, in an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union, said Thursday it will release photos of alleged abusive interrogations.
At least 44 photographs will be released May 28, the Los Angeles Times reported. While details of the photos have not been reported, some are said to show U.S. military personnel pointing weapons at suspected terrorists during questioning.
"This will constitute visual proof that, unlike the Bush administration's claim, the abuse was not confined to Abu Ghraib and was not aberrational," said Amrit Singh, an ACLU lawyer.
The decision was widely applauded at the time; the Obama administration, it seemed, was taking a stand against abusive interrogations and shining a powerful light into some dark corners.
Obama said, "I want to emphasise that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib." He also later said the small number of perpetrators were charged and tried in 2004.
The administration then abruptly changed course, saying it would not release the photographs. The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, explained, "The president believes that the specific case surrounding the damage that would be done to our troops and our national security has not fully been developed and put in front of the court." The ACLU accused the White House of betrayal and stonewalling.
Today -- the day the Obama administration would have been required to release the photos, incidentally -- we may have found out why.
Ret. Major General Antonio Taguba, the author of the Abu Ghraib report, described their content to the Daily Telegraph:
These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency. I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan. The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.
To be honest, I'm not sure I have much to say about this, beyond that it's deeply unsettling, and raises more questions than it answers.
For one, I can't verify that Taguba is speaking about the same set of photos as Obama and the ACLU; I don't think Obama would have agreed to release the photos if the content were so graphic and dangerous, to the coalition forces and to the victims.
Second, I don't know why Taguba, who has been retired for two years, who no longer speaks for the military, gave this interview. The Pentagon has already discredited the paper and said that the description of the photos is inaccurate.
Third, we know of incidences of sexual abuse at Abu Ghraib. If these photos concern new incidences, I hope that all the perpetrators have been court-martialled and tried, already. The "few bad apples" line is only valid if we have confidence in the oversight and governance of U.S. prisons abroad. (Not really a comparison here, but an n.b., that sexual abuse and prison rape is a systemic problem in the U.S.)
And finally, nothing yet from the ACLU on their site. I'll be interested to see what they have to say about this.
Unfortunately, it makes perfect sense: as the world struggles to rebound from the global financial downturn, human rights have taken a backseat. As Amnesty International launches its annual report today, the organization worries: "human rights problems have been relegated to the backseat as political and business leaders grapple with the economic crisis."
So if getting delinquent countries to fix their human rights records was arduous before, now it's downright grueling. There's neither money nor time for addressing the scourge -- even as recession leaves unemployment, cut wages, and even hunger in its path.
It's not hard to imagine what they're talking about -- and here are a few hypothetical examples:
As the unity government in Zimbabwe tries to get on its own feet, it has been applying for aid to supplement increasingly sparse government revenues. With foreign donors feeling rattled by domestic conditions, it will be that much harder to get help.
In Nigeria, where falling oil prices are drying up government revenues hard and fast, the country's army has responded full force to put down insurrection in the country's oil-producing Niger Delta -- to the detriment of thousands displaced.
Or take South Africa, just recently hit by its first real economic downturn in a decade. Xenophobia (particularly against an influx of Zimbabweans looking for work) was already a problem last year, when times were (relatively) good. This year could be even trickier.
The U.N.'s controversial Human Rights Council met today to consider a proposal to investigate claims of human rights abuses by both sides in Sri Lanka's recently concluded civil war. The stakes were high for the council said Mark Leon Goldberg this morning:
Now that the fighting has stopped, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tamils are trapped in concentration camps run by the Sri Lankan military. These camps are off limits to the media and most international humanitarian organizations, like the International Committee for the Red Cross. In a recent trip to the region, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called the IDP camps, "by far the most appalling scenes I have seen" -- this, from a man that has visited Darfur, Gaza, and Eastern Congo, mind you.
So, in all, this meeting is an important test of the Human Rights Council. A few weeks ago it proved able to authorize an investigation of alleged human rights abuses in Gaza committed by Israel and Hamas during Operation Caste Lead. Should the council vote against action on Sri Lanka it opens itself to familiar accusations that there are double standards when it comes to Israel--which is a charge that may become more resonant should member states maintain that the situation in Sri Lanka is a wholly internal matter undeserving of the attention of the Human Rights Council.
Well, we appear to have an answer:
China, Cuba, Egypt and 26 others on the 47-member council voted in favor of a resolution that described the conflict as a "domestic" matter that did not warrant outside interference. The council also supported the Sri Lankan government's decision to provide aid groups only with "access as may be appropriate" to refugee camps.
Twelve mostly European countries opposed the resolution after failing to get support for a resolution that criticized both sides.
All in all, the implications of this vote for the image of the human rights council itself, as described by Mark, were probably larger than those for Sri Lanka. The HRC regularly condemns Israel's actions, (thanks largely to the fact that the Palestinians, unlike the Tamils, enjoy a good deal of international support) but the possibility of condemnation doesn't seem to be much of a factor in Israeli government decision making. I can't imagine it would be that much different for Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government appears to still be fighting with remnants of the Tigers.
This afternoon, the Senate Democrats blocked the $80 million the Obama administration requested to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and relocate the people imprisoned there. The New York Times explains:
Mr. Obama, who on Thursday is scheduled to outline his plans for the 240 detainees still held in the prison, has faced growing pressure from lawmakers, particularly Republicans, to find a solution that does not involve moving the prisoners to the United States.While Democrats generally have been supportive of Mr. Obama's plan to close the detention center by Jan. 22, 2010, lawmakers have not stepped forward to offer to accept detainees in their home states or districts. When the tiny town of Hardin, Mont., offered to put the terrorism suspects in the town's empty jail, both Montana senators and its Congressional representative quickly voiced strong opposition.
This might be a good thing.
Why? Senators have a clear reason to withhold the funding. As members of Congress, they answer to their home districts -- and the detainees pose the ultimate case of NIMBY. Some are arguing that the detainees are highly dangerous and the Obama administration hasn't proven it can keep Americans safe. (I'm not so sure. If there's one thing the U.S. does well, it's incarceration.) The NYT again:
Senate Democratic leaders insisted that they still supported the decision to close the prison, were simply waiting for Mr. Obama to provide a more detailed plan, and had acted to avert a partisan feud that would only serve as a distraction and delay a military spending measure, which is needed to finance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and some other national security programs through Sept. 30. Mr. Obama had requested the $80 million be included in that bill.The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, indicated that the administration expected that Congress would eventually release the money to close the camp and he suggested that the concerns of lawmakers would be addressed on Thursday, when Mr. Obama presents a "hefty part" of his plan to deal with the detainees.
And I think, perhaps, the Senate might not be acting as a block to the Obama administration as much as an aide to its ambitions. It hasn't yet figured out where to send the Gitmo prisoners, or how to try them, or whether to repatriate them. That's going to take time. (The Thursday announcement will be particularly interesting now.)
If the Senate Democrats withhold this funding, the Obama administration gets to scapegoat Congress for any future delays, while also getting to figure out the best way to proceed -- the best way to ensure U.S. safety, use U.S. resources, and deal with this enormously complex problem.
With European media attention focused on Moscow for this weekend's Eurovision Song Contest finals, Russian gay rights activists are planning a major demonstration on Saturday and it's quite to get ugly. Officially, the Moscow city government is required to let the march go forward, but mayor Yuri Luzhkov who has described gay people as "satanic" and "weapons of mass destruction," has banned it anyway.
A similar march in 2007 turned violent after the demonstrators were attacked by counterprotesters, and more of the same is expected this year:
Few are optimistic that the rally will go off without trouble. "Groups of fanatics and extremists will be roaming the streets in the centre of Moscow looking for people to beat up," Nikolai Alekseev, the organiser of the Slavic Pride rally, told the Guardian. "Nobody will care. Moscow police will do nothing to protect them." Asked whether gay British fans should avoid travelling to Moscow this Saturday, he warned: "Everybody has to make their own choice. But they won't be safe."
That Eurovision has a wide gay following isn't much of a secret, even in Russia. "Lots of gays and lesbians are fans of Eurovision. It's a very gay event," Alekseev said.
Russia's far-right and orthodox Christian groups yesterday made it clear they plan to given their own uncompromising response to any gay manifestation. "We won't allow this satanic gathering," Nikolai Dovydenko, the organiser of last week's anti-gay picket told the Guardian. "We don't want Moscow to become Sodom," he remarked. "It's an affront to Russian society and to our spiritual peace."
Dutch contestant "The Toppers," have threatened to boycott the finals unless the march is allowed to go on, proving that their heart's in the right place, even if their musical taste is most definitely not.
It's a big week for gay rights events in Russia. On Tuesday, two women (flanked by a crowd of reporters) attempted unsuccesfully to register the country's first same-sex marriage. It might be tempting to hope that this is the beginning of an attitude shift in Russia, where casual homophobia is rampant, but it's probably way to early to say for sure.
Another question: if Russia can't even host the world's kitschiest song contest without an international diplomatic incident with Georgia and gay fans fearing for their safety from bigoted thugs, what are the 2014 Olympics going to be like?
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
I breathed a great sigh of relief with the Iranian government's announcement of the release of journalist Roxana Saberi, who Tehran convicted of spying for the United States.
Saberi was initially arrested in January for buying a bottle of wine. When in custody, officials realized she had no press credentials (which had been revoked in 2006). Her trial lasted only an hour, and she was sent to the infamous Evin prison with an eight-year sentence.
And, joining Spencer Ackerman here, I hope that Saberi's release will draw attention to the plight of two other imprisoned journalists: Euna Lee and Laura Ling of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's Current TV.
North Korea has held the pair incommunicado since the end of March. The Wall Street Journal reports:
U.S. officials have said less about Ms. Lee and Ms. Ling than they have about an American reporter, Roxana Saberi, who was recently convicted of espionage in Iran. The strategy is partly a gamble that not provoking the North Koreans may lead to a speedy resolution, analysts say, but it's also a sign of the increased uncertainty in dealing with Pyongyang.
U.S. officials have said little about the journalists' situation, but have indicated they aren't making progress with Pyongyang. A person not in government who is familiar with the situation said that North Korea isn't talking to the U.S. at all.
Here's from a McClatchy story (h/t Andrew Sullivan):
North Korea appears to be holding the women in a protocol house in Pyongyang.
"The rumor was that they are being housed at one of the guest villas," said Han S. Park, a University of Georgia expert who was visiting North Korea as part of a private U.S. delegation after the women were captured. Park told CNN International that the North Koreans scoffed at any suggestion that the Americans were receiving harsh treatment.
"They laughed. 'We are not Guantanamo.' That's what they said," Park said.
Still, it's a worrisome situation. Washington has far more dialogue and slowly warming relations with Tehran. More importantly, both governments had something at stake in ensuring the Saberi incident didn't become the Saberi fiasco.
Not so with Lee and Ling, and the U.S. and North Korean governments. Even if the Swedish diplomat who conducts relations for the U.S. managed to negotiate for their release, he'd have few obvious carrots or sticks to reach for, and the DPRK would have little reason to be magnanimous.
I also hope the U.S. considers releasing or charging the foreign journalist it has in custody in Iraq. The U.S. says that Reuters photographer Ibrahim Jassam, arrested in a raid on his home in September, poses a threat to security and continues to hold him -- despite an Iraqi court ruling this winter that he should be freed.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
UN Dispatch's Mark Goldberg wrote for The New Republic yesterday that Sri Lanka -- the first humanitarian crisis to unfold entirely under the new administration -- has been handled more or less well. His point is an excellent one: the United States has pushed to delay an IMF loan to the country until certain conditions are met. "With this move, the Obama administration has, literally, put its money where its mouth is," Goldberg writes.
All true, and a good start. As Goldberg admits, it's just that: a start. Still, several points are left dangling.
First, the Sri Lanka crisis didn't start during Obama's administration; it's been going on for literally decades. This most recent episode has been brewing since the government ended a 5-year truce with the Tamil Tiger rebels in early 2008. Since then, the government has pushed the war into a final phase, vowing to finish the job this February in an independence day address. But the short point is: the U.S., and everyone else, has had a long time to see the current crisis coming. It was no surprise -- or should not have been.
The United Nations missed that chance, despite the strong statements coming from governments, on occasion. As Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group recently wrote for FP, the Security Council's "relative silence is a matter for growing shame with each passing day." Much of the hold up has come from lobbying to member states, by the government of Sri Lanka, he says. And that proves, "how much weight effective council action would have." In other words: the government was nervous for what could have been.
Finally, while the lack of IMF loan will hurt, we should be under no illusions that Sri Lanka cannot get money elsewhere. The country has recently turned away from its traditional creditors and looked to other sources of cash and military expertise - think China and Pakistan.
So how did Obama do? Yes, not bad. But the conundrum of Sri Lanka will take much more fixing.
PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images
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