After years of largely ineffectual lobbying by human rights groups and the Bush administration, liberal Egyptian politician Ayman Nour has been released from prison for "medical reasons."
Rest assured, President Hosni Mubarak has not suddenly developed a humanitarian streak. Rather, it's likely he's looking to defuse the annual campaign against Egypt's military aid package, which will likely heat up before his visit to Washington in April. And, as the Jeffrey Fleishman suggests for the LA Times, he's probably trying to show goodwill before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's upcoming visit to Cairo.
Of course, our wily pal Hosni first made sure that Nour, who made a surprisingly strong showing in the 2005 presidential election, no longer poses a threat: As a convict, he's barred from running again for a few years.
Most Egypt experts I know believe that Hosni is clearing the field (pdf) for his son, Gamal, who has emerged in recent years as a powerful player in Egyptian politics, but seems to crave democratic legitimacy -- so long as he is guaranteed to win.
Hosni's probably hoping he's done just enough to keep the Obama administration off his back for the next few years. If past is prologue, his latest gambit will work.
UPDATE: Marc Lynch comments:
I'm very happy for Nour and his family, and for the end of the farcical case against him. His release does not come close to reversing the authoritarian trends in Egypt I hope that this does not become an excuse to begin ignoring democratic reform, human rights and public freedoms issues in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world.
More here from a plugged-in, Cairo-based analyst.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
With Kyrgyzstan taking another step toward shuttering the Manas air base, there's increasing speculation that the Obama administration is considering resuming military cooperation with Uzbekistan, which expelled the U.S. in 2005 in the midst of a diplomatic feud over the country's human rights record. Christopher Flavelle writes in Slate:
The shifting landscape around Afghanistan is closing off options for Obama, who must now begin to think about unsavory compromises if he wants to make progress in the Afghan campaign. [...]
President George W. Bush, though largely indifferent to public opinion, could afford to do the honorable thing in 2005 by walking away from an ugly regime in Uzbekistan, when Afghanistan was looking better and the base in Kyrgyzstan was still available. Obama, whose inauguration speech promised that the ideals of rule of law and rights of man "still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake," may have to let his image suffer because he lacks the options of his predecessor.
Obama may still be spared this unpleasant choice. Analysts tell Eurasianet the Kyrgyz move is likely a ploy to get Washington to pony up more cash for the base, though some recent statements from the U.S. military indicate that Kyrgyzstan may have overplayed its hand.
Hopefully the Uzbekistan option is being floated by the Obamans as a bargaining chip with Kyrgyzstan and won't actually come to pass. Kyrgyzstan's not exactly Canada but Uzbekistan is in a class of its own as a human rights abuser and Fred Kaplan's 2005 arguments for why the U.S. should steer well clear of the place still hold.
Given all his encouraging human rights rhetoric, it would be nice if Obama could just minimize his dealings with post-Soviet dictatorships. Besides, his campaign manager and his secretary of state's husband have them well covered.
VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images
Encouraging news from the kingdom:
An expert on girls' education became Saudi Arabia's first woman minister on Saturday as part of a wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle by King Abdullah that swept aside several bastions of ultra-conservatism.
Nora bint Abdullah al-Fayez, a US-educated former teacher, was made deputy education minister in charge of a new department for female students, a significant breakthrough in a country where women are not allowed to drive.
Abdullah also sacked the head of Saudi Arabia's despicable Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the religious police who once prevented a group of girls from escaping a school fire because they were improperly dressed. It's about time. We can only hope the beatdowns will continue until the commission is dismantled entirely.
While other European countries have sharply criticized the U.S. torture of terrorist suspects but balked at the idea of taking in inmates from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Portugal's government has enthusiastically backed the proposal.
Time's Jeff Israely reports that this is a very personal issue for the country's leaders, many of whom were victims of torture themselves under the country's mid-twentieth century dictatorship:
Former President Mario Soares, who was tortured and eventually exiled for his anti-fascist activities, remembers the interrogations and torture only too well. "I was made to go three days and three nights without sleep," he says of the kind of sleep deprivation tactics that have taken place at Guantanamo. Soares, now 83, has called Guantanamo "the scandal of all scandals" of the Bush administration, and says Europe must now help Obama close it. "Other countries must not be so egocentric," he says.Domingos Santos a longstanding leader of Portugal's Communist party, also knows what's at stake. He was a victim of secret police beatings during the junta's rule. Deprived of sleep and forced to spend days in a tiny windowless cell without a bed, Santos remains an outspoken critic of the U.S. base at Guantanamo. Terrorists need to be punished, he says, but torture is never justified. "We could take some [prisoners in Portugal] on grounds of human rights because of Guantanamo is a cancer which is afflicting society," he told TIME.
Where were you Jan. 30? If you were British tycoon Richard Branson, you spent part of the day at the refugee camp in Davos. Or, to be more exact, the Refugee Run, a simulation mocked by my colleague Josh Keating and aid skeptic Bill Easterly last week. The photos are in:
An "injured" Branson carries a water bowl:
Branson experiences "language incapacity":
Branson's party gets raided:
Branson behind barbed wire:
Photos: PIERRE VERDY/AFP/Getty Images
Even setting aside Turkey's record with its Armenian and Kurdish minorities for a moment, it's a little rich for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be so aghast at the idea of sharing a stage with a human rights abuser.
Almost exactly a year before Erdogan's outburst at Davos, in which he lambasted Israeli President Shimon Peres over Israel's actions in Gaza, he was literally rolling out the red carpet for Sudan's genocidal president and indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir in Ankara.
So when did "killing people" become a problem for him?
As Becky wrote, the fact that Obama picked Rick Warren, America's most popular preacher, to speak at his innauguration shouldn't be all that surprising and probably doesn't say much about his stance on any issues. That said, the anger of gay rights groups at the pick means that Obama is now under more pressure to actually do something meaningful for gay rights as president. One place he could start would be reversing the United States' deplorable decision last week to vote against a historic UN resolution to decriminalize homosexuality.
The resolution was a non-binding declaration "to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention." The Bush administration opposed the measure on the grounds that it could overturn states' decisions on issues like gay marriage. One wonders if they need a refresher on what "non-binding" means.
Joining the United States in opposition were Russia, China, the Vatican, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The latter group claimed that the resolution would lead to the legalization of pedophilia and also tried last week to have sexual orientation removed from a list of unacceptable reasons for summary execution.
The resolution doesn't have the force of law anywhere, but as UN Dispatch's Mark Leon Goldberg writes, previous agreements on women's rights show that "in the long run these kinds of resolutions do help to foster the genesis of new legal norms and new human rights."
If Obama wants to do something to assure his gay and lesbian supporters that he doesn't plan to sell them out, this is an easy one.
Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images
There's good reason that Darfur is a household name. After over five years of crisis, little has improved, and by some measures, things are worse than ever. Now add this to the mix: a report by the Darfur Consortium says that slavery -- the abduction of men, women, and children for physical and sexual labor -- is rampant.
In addition to how despicable slavery already is, (for more on the contemporary slave trade, check out Benjamin Skinner's FP piece from March 2008) this is also another reason to worry about the Darfur crisis' evolution. Just look next door to Uganda and you can see how slavery tears a society apart. There, the abductions of children by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army have forced an underground society of young people who walk miles each day to find safe haven in cities and towns, for fear of abductions in the village homes.
Now, imagine trying to rehabilitate those children. Abducted children -- and now in Darfur, men and women too -- have been robbed of their will, their security net, and their lives. That's a lot of rebuilding, and it means that the conflict is just that much more entrenched. In Uganda, government and neighboring troops have been looking to stop the Lord's Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony since 1986. The 200,000 abducted children have no other sense of normality than this.
If slavery is indeed now a staple of Darfur, as evidence seems to indicate, that means that peace agreements, peacekeepers, and even aid won't be enough to stop the conflict. Peacekeepers, for example, will have to grapple with the presence of civilians among rebels contingents. Peace agreements will need to include extensive emancipation of souls.
The line between the ambiguous sides of this conflict has just become even more blurred.
Photo: THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
When Nicolas Sarkozy named Bernard Kouchner as France's foreign minister, we all wondered whether the Médicins Sans Frontières founder could reconcile his passion for human rights with the exigencies of raison d'êtat.
Now, it seems, he's admitted he can't:
"I think I was wrong to ask for a ministry of state for human rights. It was a mistake," Dr Kouchner told Le Parisien newspaper. The remarks were particularly shocking, coming from the co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières and proponent of the "right to intervention" in countries that abuse human rights.
The reason for Dr Kouchner’s regrets? "There is a permanent contradiction between human rights and the foreign policy of a state, even in France," he said.
Photo: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images
The AP reports on a new campaign by musicians, including Rage Against the Machine and Massive Attack, to ban the practice of using loud heavy metal, hip-hop, and even children's songs to psychologically break down detainees for interrogation. Apparently, not every band has a problem with the practice, though.
Bassist Steve Benton of Drowning Pool, whose 2001 hit "Bodies" is a particular favorite of interrogators, had this to say:
"People assume we should be offended that somebody in the military thinks our song is annoying enough that played over and over it can psychologically break someone down," he told Spin magazine. "I take it as an honor to think that perhaps our song could be used to quell another 9/11 attack or something like that."
Having only a vague recollection of these guys, I looked up Drowning Pool's entry on AllMusic.com, which features a picture of the band posing with Barack Obama. I'm guessing that was a very weird meeting.
Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images
This is beyond disturbing:
Lawmakers in Indonesia's remote province of Papua have thrown their support behind a controversial bill requiring some HIV/AIDS patients to be implanted with microchips -- part of extreme efforts to monitor the disease.
Health workers and rights activists sharply criticized the plan Monday.
But legislator John Manangsang said by implanting small computer chips beneath the skin of ''sexually aggressive'' patients, authorities would be in a better position to identify, track and ultimately punish those who deliberately infect others with up to six months in jail or a $5,000 fine.
The idea of implanting anyone with a microchip against their will is bad enough, but I can only imagine the possibilities for abuse on a government panel tasked with deciding which patients are "sexually aggressive" enough to qualify.
When Rwanda's chief of protocol, Rose Kabuye, stepped off a plane in Frankfurt Sunday, she was greeted with an arrest warrant. Kabuye and eight other associates of current Rwandan President Paul Kagame have been indicted by a French court for inciting genocide.
The row between France and Rwanda is about as ugly as a diplomatic feud can get. Rwanda accuses France of supporting the 1994 genocide that left 800,000 dead. France accuses Kagame of inciting the genocide in a bid to win power. Diplomatic ties have been hopelessly severed.
So where does the truth lie?
The timeline looks pretty straightforward: French troops defended and funded the Hutu government of former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana in the years leading up to the genocide. In 1993 those troops left, but when the killing of the Tutsi minority spun out of control, the French again sent soldiers. This time the French "Operation Turquoise" carried a U.N. mandate to create safe humanitarian zones meant to guard the civilian population.
But Rwanda's current government begs to rewrite the details. A two-year investigation with hundreds of witnesses released this August found that more than 30 French government officials were involved in arming Hutu militias and planning the genocide. French troops used the safe humanitarian zones to help Hutu genocidaires escape. The French government was allegedly motivated by a near-paranoia about protecting a pro-French Hutu government from a n Anglophone Tutsi regime.
Then there is the French version: Paul Kagame, a former Tutsi rebel group leader, sparked the genocide of his own volition so that he could come to power.
That is all complicated enough, but here's the messy bit: Both sides probably tell some piece of the truth. The Rwandan investigation is robust and damning, and the French at least raise a good point that Kagame has proven something of an authoritarian in office, with a whole list of human rights abuses under his watch.
Think this is all just ancient history? Think again. The conflict following Rwanda's genocide never ended -- it just moved next door.
At the end of last week, the European Parliament found itself in a tight spot. Having made the courageous gesture of naming Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia this year's receipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the EU had to wonder how receptive would China be at the 43 country Asia-Europe Meeting over the weekend. China's cooperation was critical in addressing the global financial crisis. Meanwhile, the Chinese ambassador to the EU penned a stern letter vowing that Hu's award would "inevitably hurt the Chinese people once again and bring serious damage to China-EU relations."
But the summit came and went and no such damage was done. China agreed to back more vigorous regulatory reforms, and said nothing more about the Hu issue. So where was the pressure? If indeed it's an outrage that the EU should cast a spotlight on a man who has "libeled the Chinese political and social systems, and instigated subversion of the state, which is a crime under Chinese law," then the meeting would have been a perfect occassion for China to brandish some new-found might.
But China seems to have lost its stomach for these tiffs lately. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's meeting with the Dalai Lama in September 2007 was met with similar threats to block German companies from doing business in China. But the only punitive measures that China took were to boycott a few meetings in Germany and cancel a handful of ministerial visits. Token efforts at best and trade certainly didn't suffer. Ditto for Canada after Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit with the Dalai Lama last year.
Saving face is important for China. But while the government clearly finds foreign criticism humiliating, it doesn't want to put a blight on its future in the global economy, of which it aspires to be a heavyweight player. It's also possible that China is just tallying up its resentments for the right moment. If one day China is in a secure enough position to wield economic and political leverage over Europe, it may not be as conciliatory because of the slights it has received along the way.
Photo: Pool/Getty Images
There are more slaves on the planet today than at any time in human history. But a landmark case in West Africa this week should give thousands of them a rare dose of hope. A court in Niger found the country's government guilty of failing to protect the rights of Hadijatou Mani, a 24-year-old woman sold into slavery at the age of 12.
Mani says she was sold as a young girl to a man for $500 and forced into domestic and agricultural work for a decade. Her master raped her repeatedly, and she bore him three children. She was freed in 2005 and, with the help of Anti-Slavery International, brought the case against the government for failing to protect her. In the judge's decision, he ordered the government to pay Mani about $20,000.
Niger officially abolished slavery in 1960, but the practice persists throughout the country, with an estimated 43,000 people enslaved. There are believed to be tens of thousands more in bondage across West Africa. Niger's government repeatedly contends that it does all it can to eradicate the practice, but this is the first time a court has held it responsible for looking the other way. There's little chance of thousands more slaves being so lucky as to be freed and rewarded, but if this compels the government to enact (or enforce) more stringent laws, all the better.
Photo: Boureima HAMA/AFP/Getty Images
Tonight, the organization Human Rights First will give out its annual Human Rights Awards in New York. One of the honorees is 24-year-old Russian activist Oleg Kozlovsky. In 2005, Kozlovsky helped found Oborona (Defense), a youth democracy movement modeled on Serbia's Otpor and Ukraine's Pora, the student groups that played a critical role in those countries' democratic revolutions.
For his troubles, Kozlovsky has been arrested more than a dozen times, served three prison sentences, and spent the 2007 Russian presidential elections at a remote military base after being illegally conscripted into the Army. (As a university student, he should have been exempt from the draft.)
Kozlovsky was in Washington yesterday and kindly agreed to stop by FP's offices to talk about the future of the Russian opposition movement and how the financial crisis will affect the Putin regime:
So far, the impact of the crisis on Russian politics hasn't been that huge because it hasn't really affected a lot of Russians. However, it's clear that the crisis is going to affect more people in the coming months so what we can expect is that people will understand that the economic stability that was, in their minds, connected to Putin's rule, is over.
This is a very bad signal for Putin because his support was mainly based on the economic growth that we experienced for 10 years. This is a chance for the democratic opposition to explain to people how this crisis is connected to the policies that have been conducted for eight years and the political system that we have now, particularly the corruption, lack of rule of law, and lack of property rights... However cynical it may sound, we need a crisis in Russia to wake people up.
Unfortunately, this is hardly what ordinary Russians hear from their mass media, which in recent weeks has been reassuring viewers that Russia can weather the storm and that any problems are the fault of the United States. How can groups like Oborona cut through the filter?
It's hard to get the message out. We mostly have to communicate with people directly through street actions ranging from graffiti paintings to big protest rallies like the dissenters march. We are also quite active on the Internet, where the majority of our potential audience resides because we mostly work with well-educated youth.
But while Oborona and similar groups have successfully built a dynamic online community, translating this into real-world activism is more difficult:
It is really two different things to be politically active online and do something offline. For example, a blogger and activist from Oborona was persecuted in the city of Kemerovo in Siberia for posting some entries on his blog that were actually reports on the activities of the police and FSB [Federal Security Service]. For that he was charged with distributing extremist information and may face up to two years imprisonment. We started a campaign in his defense and in a matter of a couple of days we gathered about 500 signatures. However when we organized an offline street action in Moscow for him we only managed to gather about 15 people and half of them were organizers.
All the same, some recent victories have given Kozlovsky hope. One recent campaign was inspired by an unlikely event, the cancellation of a certain foul-mouthed American cartoon:
The government tried to take the license from a TV channel called 2X2 for broadcasting South Park. The series was considered extremist by a court ruling in Russia, but the channel is very popular with Russian youth. Some of this channel's fans organized a protest rally against its closing and the government decided not to pull the license. It only took several days for the civil activists to solve this problem and many of them were participating in such a campaign for the first time in their lives. Many of them didn't believe they could change anything. Such small campaigns are very important for building Russian civil society.
The South Park revolution? Has a nice ring to it.
Mo Ibrahim is a rare breed of African billionaire. On a continent far too often associated with the Mobutu Sese-Sekos and Charles Taylors of the world (whose fortunes came from commodity wealth, skimmed gracefully off the state budget), Ibrahim did it differently. A Sudanese telecoms entrepreneur, he earned his respect and big bucks as a businessman.
Now Ibrahim has set himself on a far more difficult task: fixing African governance and changing the continent's culture of corruption. A politician in Nigeria once described it to me like this: In a continent where so many are poor, when you see the chance to secure a financial future, you take it. Unabashedly, many politicians have done so. In 2006, Transparency International estimated that $140 billion of misappropriated African money was invested abroad.
Ibrahim just may have found one of those rare strategies that is perfectly suited to the problem. Need an incentive for good governance? How about the more than $5 million that the Mo Ibrahim Foundation now offers to its yearly prize winner, a head of state who has recently left office. The qualifications are simply good behavior: attention to economic development, human rights, public health, transparency, rule of law, and security.
It's still nothing compared to the potential payoffs for corrupt leaders, (during my time in Nigeria, a former governor was arrested for having amassed $35 million in foreign accounts, though his official salary was just $25,000 a year) but it is a well-earned reward for those who resist this path. This year's winner, former Botswanan president Festus Mogae, oversaw economic growth and enormous progress in battling the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS patients.
The prize has been criticized by some for rewarding behavior that should just be expected as something extraordinary. But the most important aspect the prize has is not the reward itself, but the chance to tell the other story about African leadership -- to the continent itself and to the world. As Ibrahim explained to the New York Times, we all know about the Mugabes of Africa, but they're only part of the story.
Hugo Chávez didn't agree with Human Rights Watch's assessment of Venezuela's fall from democratic ways, released in a 230-page report today. He didn't agree that he has "undermined freedom of expression," or that he has undertaken an "aggressively adversarial approach to local rights advocates."
So, with no apparent sense of irony, he kicked out the Americas director of HRW, José Miguel Vivanco (shown here leaving a press conference in Caracas).
Chávez's Ministry of Foreign Relations, quoted in the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, said in a statement that Human Rights Watch had illegally intervened in Venezuela's sovereignty. But more importantly, he called the organization an agent for the interests of the United States government, "cloaked in the robes of defending human rights, deploying an unacceptable strategy of aggression."
Alrighty then! According to Human Rights Watch, that's pretty much the standard Chávez reaction when he senses criticism a-brewin'. Clearly, they are on to something.
The makers of this week's map want to remind visitors to Beijing of the violent history lurking behind the glitz and glamor of the Olympic Games. 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 fall's Saffron Revolution was the probably the closest the country has come to mass protests since that fateful day when hundreds of thousands of Burmese took to the streets to call for democracy: 8.8.88.
The Irrawaddy, the best source of news on Burma, has a special issue today commemorating the '88 uprising. They are reporting that many people in the capital donned black clothing to mark the anniversary today, and that plainclothes police were out in force. All the while, conditions in the delta where Cyclone Nargis hit hardest remain dire, with little to no government or foreign aid coming through.
Once middle-aged British intellectuals started paying to be waterboarded, it was only a matter of time before the controversial interrogation technique became a tourist attraction. Just next to the famous amusement park in Brooklyn's Coney Island, visitors can now experience the new "Waterboard Thrill Ride":
It looks at first like any other shuttered storefront near the boardwalk: some garish lettering and a cartoonish invitation to a delight or a scam — in this case there’s SpongeBob SquarePants saying, “It don’t Gitmo better!”
If you climb up a few cinderblock steps to the small window, you can look through the bars at a scene meant to invoke a Guantánamo Bay interrogation. A lifesize figure in a dark sweatshirt, the hood drawn low over his face, leans over another figure in an orange jumpsuit, his face covered by a towel and his body strapped down on a tilted surface.
Feed a dollar into a slot, the lights go on, and Black Hood pours water up Orange Jumpsuit’s nose and mouth while Orange Jumpsuit convulses against his restraints for 15 seconds. O.K., kids, who wants more cotton candy!
Artist Steve Powers, the installation's creator, intends it to be a provacative political commentary but -- this being Coney Island -- some visitors seem to find it legitimately entertaining.
It's truly disgusting that this freak-show huckster is making a buck by depicting torture for entertainment while the U.S. government is actually practicing these techniques. That's Fox's job!
Earlier this month, the International Criminal Court charged Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir with genocide for atrocities committed in the ongoing Darfur conflict. Proclaiming his innocence, Bashir responded in the way that any peace-loving leader concerned over his citizens would -- by threatening to murder even more people.
The ICC's announcement was by no means binding. The United Nations Security Council has split over a proposal by Libya and South Africa to prevent Bashir's indictment. The United States, Britain and France appeared to be quite skeptical of this plan, but South Africa has argued that prosecuting Bashir would jeopardize African Union efforts at peacekeeping in the region. South African President Thabo Mbeki explained that the peace process "require[s] very serious input by Bashir" and said "it doesn't help at this time to be considering these indictments."
The only thing less surprising than South Africa's president trying to give a free ride to someone who has committed war crimes against his own people is that they're joined on this mission by the humanitarians in Beijing. China's envoy to Sudan warned last week that the ICC's steps and Bashir's indictment could imperil the peace process in Darfur.
This logic actually makes sense. Bashir, China, and passive African leaders have been instrumental in the implementation of Darfur's genocide, so it follows that they play an active role in solving it, and it's even more important that they avoid repercussions for their actions.
"Expressing concern" is one of the more weasly examples of diplo-speak. It informs the world that a government does not approve of something that is going on while making it explicitly clear that they don't actually plan to do anything about it. Various countries have been "expressing concern" for years over the ongoing massacre in Darfur without much in the way of action to back it up.
This statement from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao in response to the International Criminal court's indictment of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide sets a shocking new standard for chutzpah though:
"China expresses grave concern and misgivings about the International Criminal Court prosecutor's indictment of the Sudanese leader. The ICC's actions must be beneficial to the stability of the Darfur region and the appropriate settlement of the issue, not the contrary."
With the Olympics less than a month away, China is unlikely to take any actual action to block the indictment; hence the "grave concern."
While the G8 leaders met today and agreed on targeted sanctions against the illegitimate government of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, some folks in the United Kingdom have finally started to take action in a supremely British way.
Two weeks ago, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) severed ties with Zimbabwe's cricket team in late June following a request from Gordon Brown that Zimbabwean cricketers be banned because of the country's human rights violations. Replacing Zimbabwe as England's first opponents next summer will be Sri Lanka, which isn't exactly a beacon of stability or nonviolence either. Unfortunately, Zimbabwe will not be banned from the International Cricket Council (ICC), which is currently holding its annual meeting in Dubai, despite Zimbabwe Cricket's close ties with Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.
On a related note, Steve James, a former cricketer and coach who is now a columnist for The Telegraph in London, (so he may may know more about cricket than I do) writes that Zimbabwe should not be competing with cricket powerhouses like India, England or the West Indies, not for political reasons, but because the team is plain awful.
As a big sports fan, it's great to see athletes and athletic organizations doing the right thing, even when world leaders and politicians turn a blind eye to tragedy. Particularly given that the Olympic games this summer are an example of the exact opposite effect: an athletic organization ignoring obvious human rights violations for its own personal gain. (Read John Hoberman's provocative piece on athletics, politics and the International Olympic Committee in the current issue of FP).
Then again, there's also times when politics and athletics are mirror images of one another (think Alex Rodriguez and Eliot Spitzer).
At a live video conference sponsored by Freedom House today, members of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change and a number of civil society groups gave updates on the unfolding political standoff with President Robert Mugabe. MDC's chief spokesman George Sibotshiwe, who has been lobbying from the sidelines at the African Union summit in Sharm El-Sheik, called in to say that although unanimous AU action against Mugabe may be impossible, a number of countries, particularly in West Africa, were pushing the MDC's cause.
Sibotshiwe said the MDC is looking for a permanent AU envoy to Zimbabwe, since the mediation efforts of South African President Thabo Mbeki have been disappointing (to say the least):
We're pushing for the apointment of a permanent envoy from the African Union to assist -- diplomatically we have to say "assist" -- President Mbeki. But what we actually need is for the AU to take control of the mediation efforts. You can't get rid of President Mbeki at this stage, but we need someone who is permament, someone who is not a head of state, because what we are finding is President Mbeki has been having to deal with the problem of Zimbabwe part time.
The panelists also discussed the idea of forming a Zanu/MDC "unity" government, which Mbeki and others have proposed. This would presumably be along the lines of the compromise reached after Kenya's disputed election earlier this year. Speaking from Johannesburg, Xolani Zitha, director of the NGO coalition CRISIS, dismissed the idea as "a good deal for Zanu" but not the Zimbabweans who want them brought to justice. I asked Zitha whether a resolution of the crisis would have to include Mugabe and his cronies being brought to justice. He responded that it was high time the African community stop treating Mugabe with "kid gloves":
If the African Union and SADC [Southern African Development Community] are very soft on Zanu-PF, they lend it legitimacy... It's a very sticky situation. The AU and SADC need to set a precedent for how they deal with the impunity of Robert Mugabe. They don't have a record of condemning Robert Mugabe. They've shown him respect -- respect that he doesn't deserve -- to the point where he feels he can work his way out without being taken to task.
All the participants were still hopeful that a political compromise could be reached but noted that with inflation in the millions, conditions are ripe for civil unrest. The last thing the AU wants is the violent overthrow of Mugabe, but years of defending him while Zimbabwe deteriorated may have made it all but inevitable.
The strident op-ed attributed to Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in yesterday's Guardian made headlines around the world (and led yesterday's Morning Brief) with its unusually strong call for international intervention to oust Robert Mugabe. Today, however, the Guardian has removed the piece from the Internet and published a letter from Tsvangirai disavowing its arguments:
An article that appeared in my name, published in the Guardian (Why I am not running, June 25), did not reflect my position or opinions regarding solutions to the Zimbabwean crisis. Although the Guardian was given assurances from credible sources that I had approved the article this was not the case.
By way of clarification I would like to state the following: I am not advocating military intervention in Zimbabwe by the UN or any other organisation. The MDC is committed to finding an African solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe and appreciates the work of the [Southern African Development Community] in this regard.
There's been no explanation from the Guardian as to how the original op-ed was obtained or who actually wrote it. The NYT's Mike Nizza has more on the strange retraction.
For more on the international community's response to Mugabe, check out what former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz has to say in a new exclusive interview with FP. Wolfowitz, who has had a bit of experience with military intervention, favors a softer approach for Zimbabwe.
After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.
I can't speak to the legalities here, but I have a question for readers on the politics. Does throwing around charged phrases like "war crimes" help or hurt Taguba's cause?
In case it weren't already clear, the organizers of this summer's Olympics would rather you not protest against China during the games. The Bejing Organizing Committee has posted a set of 57 dos and don'ts for foreign visitors to the games, which include a ban on "religious or political banners or slogans at Olympic venues."
Strangely for a document aimed at foreigners, it's only available in Chinese, but the New York Times reports that other "don'ts" include defacing the Chinese flag, holding unsanctioned demonstrations at Olympic venues or anywhere else, and bringing printed materials critical of China into the country. The International Olympic Committee has yet to respond but it seems unlikely that they will deviate from their general policy of spinelessness.
Looks like Sen. Dick Durbin may be taking up the flag of the late Rep. Tom Lantos when it comes to bashing the operations of tech companies in China. Ars Technica's Nate Anderson reports on today's hearing before Durbin's Judiciary subcommittee:
Yahoo, Google, and Cisco all trekked over to the Senate today to sit for an hour under the grandfatherly, but strangely stern eye of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). The subject was 'Internet freedom,' but this turned out to be code for 'censorship in China....' Durbin [was not] convinced, though, that multinational corporations were truly doing as much as they legally could to avoid censoring information.... After Google's Nicole Wong claimed that engagement with China was better than isolation, Durbin said that the answer reminded him of corporate arguments regarding apartheid in South Africa.
Durbin told tech executives to expect some legislation in the Senate similar to the Global Online Freedom Act, which would hold U.S. companies liable for helping foreign governments censor the Net. A recently unearthed PowerPoint presentation in which Cisco Systems executives appeared to be keen to help Chinese officials in censoring the Web (one phrase referred to "combating Falun Gong evil cult and other hostile elements") could give the bill legs.
For over a week now, Johannesburg has been struck by a wave of violence directed at migrants from neighboring countries. Currently the death toll stands at 22, but as riots continue today in the Reiger Park area, that number will continue to rise. So will the number of people who have been forced from their homes, which has by now entered the thousands. South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki made a plea for an end to orchestrated violence in impoverished settlements, as the government debated whether to call in the army to combat the violent mobs. So far, control of the rioting has been left up to the police, who, although they have already arrested nearly 300 people, appear overwhelmed by the situation and have seen little abatement in the xenophobic crime wave.
Zimbabweans make up a large percentage of the immigrants in South Africa, and are estimated to number up to three million in that country. As the human rights situation in Zimbabwe deteriorates, and thousands more flee post-election violence, intimidation and disastrous economic hardship, that number is likely to increase. But according to an editorial yesterday in the Financial Times:
It would be wrong to think this explosion of xenophobia is simply the reaction to uncontrolled immigration. It is also the result of rising food prices, falling living standards, unemployment of 30 per cent and above, and a government perceived as deaf to the plight of the poor."
Indeed, there are deeper issues underlying the anger spilling over in Johannesburg. Not least of which are the growing food insecurity in the nation, a broken system for handling refugees and total failure of Mbeki's government to seek political solutions to the crisis in Zimbabwe. The South African Institute of Race Relations today released a statement outlining nine policy failures of Thabo Mbeki's government including failure to maintain the rule of law, lack of border control, slowing economic growth, poor service delivery and failures of foreign policy. It seems that although Mr. Mbeki's current problem is how to put a stop to maurading mobs, prevention of future flare-ups will require both vast policy reform and more than a little soul-searching.
Nearly a week after Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma, the first UN World Food Program and Red Cross planes were finally allowed to land in Yangon today. U.S. military planes carrying supplies are still waiting in Bangkok for permission to fly from the Burmese government.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis continues to worsen. The total number of casualties is anywhere between 23,000 and 100,000 depending on estimates and over 1 million people may have lost their homes. As the arresting images in FP's photo essay "Burma Picks up the Pieces" show, rebuilding after this catastrophe would be a monumental task for any state. For one as repressive and paranoid as Burma, it may be impossible.
While it might seem unimaginable to find a reason for optimism in suffering of this scale, the Burmese people can only hope that the cyclone, and the government's inept handling of it, might be the final blow that brings this odious regime to an end.
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