The devastating cyclone that hit Burma this weekend, killing perhaps 22,500 people -- 40,000 more are still missing -- seems to have spared the country's new administrative capital, Naypyidaw. Deep in the heart of the country's interior and surrounded by mountainous jungle, the isolated new capital, only unveiled last year, suits the insular military junta just fine. But The Irrawaddy reports that civil servants and military officials, many of whom left family behind in Rangoon, are bucking orders from the junta to stay put. Instead, they've fled to look for lost family members in the cyclone's path:
We left our children in Rangoon, and we should be there with them now," the official said, adding that higher authorities have turned down all requests for leave until after the May 10 referendum.
Many of Burma's bureaucrats have homes in Rangoon, where they lived until the junta suddenly shifted the capital to Naypyidaw in November 2005. Telephone lines and Internet connections in Rangoon, which is still the country’s main commercial center, have been down since Friday.
Military personnel with relatives in the stricken area have also been returning to their homes without permission from their commanding officers.
Perhaps another sign that bungling relief efforts could weaken the junta's control?
The BBC quotes Black Eyed Peas star Will.i.am as rejecting a boycott of the Beijing Olympics because it isn't right to "punish a whole country." Fair enough. The Black Eyed Peas are planning to gig in China in June.
But then, Will.i.am, who says the events in Tibet are "messed up," suggests a far more radical tack:
If America really wants to make a difference, it should stop importing China's products and pay back its debt."
What we have here, folks, is the fallacy of the excluded middle. There's actually a lot the United States can do in this here. For some more coherent thoughts on how to pressure Beijing on human rights, check out the new Web exclusive by William F. Schulz, the former head of Amnesty International USA.
A shipment of ammunition, rockets, and mortar bombs en route from
Although the An Yue Jiang is expected to return to China, a South African paper, News24, reports that a second arms shipment from China is scheduled to arrive by air in order to "expedite the delivery and to circumvent the controversy around last week's shipment by sea." The story also claims that both orders, placed by the Zimbabwean government, were finalized just days after
The arms shipments brings to light the hazards of
Take, for example, the dam being built at Imboulou in
From weapons to shoddy cement, the Chinese-Africa deal is looking more like a recipe for disaster every day.
From weapons to shoddy cement, the Chinese-Africa deal is looking more like a recipe for disaster every day.
From Shanghaiist comes this disturbing story of a young American attacked by a mob of angry Chinese outside a Carrefour store in Zhuzhou, Hunan Province, on Sunday night:
Last night [Sunday, Apr. 20] around 7pm my friend was attacked by a mob of about 150 people outside the Carrefour in Zhuzhou, Hunan.... When leaving Carrefour some of the crowd started shouting at him and he tried to say he didn't have anything to do with the Olympics, but 3 men started to push him and then he was hit in the back of the head at least 3 times. He started to run, and the mob chased him. He jumped into a cab, but the mob surrounded the car and started shaking and rocking it. The cab driver was shouting at him to get out. Then they started hitting the car. The crowd was shouting "kill him! kill the Frenchman." He called the Field Director while in the back of the car. The cab driver abandon the car when he saw police coming. Two police made there way though the mob and managed to drive the cab away. The Field Director alerted.... The police got him another cab and he took it from Zhuzhou to the field director's home in Changsha. He spending the night here in Changsha and is likely leaving China as soon as possible.
The French supermarket chain has been under siege in China over the past week. And it's hardly alone. A similarly disturbing, though less violent, episode took place last week right here at home -- at Duke University -- when a 20-year-old freshman from China who had tried to encourage dialogue between Chinese student demonstrators and a smaller group of Tibetans found her personal information published on the Internet. Hundreds of thousands of angry and threatening posts appeared on Chinese Web sites. Back in China, the student's parents were threatened and had to go into hiding.
It's all part of an increasingly scary rise in nationalism on the mainland. According to the IHT, Beijing has encouraged such nationalistic fervor to run amok by easing up on restrictions on online forums in recent weeks. If true, that news is disturbing. Because in just a few months, 500,000 foreign tourists will begin arriving in China for the Olympics. What kind of welcome are they going to receive?
(Hat tip: Passport reader hdp)
Uganda is being held in suspense right now as Lord's Resistance Army commander Joseph Kony continues to delay signing a peace agreement that would bring an end to one of the world's longest-running conflicts.
It's probably safe to say that if Kony operated in the Northern Hemisphere, he'd be considered the world's most dangerous terrorist. Throughout the LRA's 22-year rebellion, it has killed more people than al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah combined, and abducted thousands of children to serve as child soldiers or "wives" for top commanders.
Kony ran the LRA like a religious cult, aimed to create a government based on the 10 commandments and consulted regularly with a "spirit council" that included a dead Chinese general. He's also just one of the zealots and hate-mongers profiled in this week's FP list, "The World's Worst Religious Leaders."
Here's hoping this dark chapter in African history is finally coming to an end.
Kosovo is one step closer to full statehood. Today, its assembly officially adopted a new constitution declaring Kosovo a democratic, secular, multiethnic state. Right from the start, the constitution makes clear that Kosovo will not be partitioned nor will it be joining a Greater Albania. From Article 1:
The Republic of
Per recommendations from U.N. Special Envoy to Kosovo Marti Ahtisaari, the constitution also includes an entire chapter spelling out the rights of and provisions for Kosovo’s minority groups, including parliamentary seat allotment. Twenty of the assembly’s 120 seats shall be reserved for minorities, each of whom are guaranteed a respective minimum number of seats as follows:
the Roma community, one (1) seat; the Ashkali community, one (1) seat; the Egyptian community, one (1) seat; and one (1) additional seat will be awarded to either the Roma, the Ashkali or the Egyptian community with the highest overall votes; the Bosnian community, three (3) seats; the Turkish community, two (2) seats; and the Gorani community, one (1) seat. . ."
Bet you didn’t know that Kosovo even had an ethnic Egyptian community.
Pieter Feith, head of the EU-led supervisory office in Kosovo, has already approved of the new constitution, but Kosovo's U.N. mission (UNMIK) has been less than eager to react. In 1999, U.N. resolution 1244 granted UNMIK the authority to administer Kosovo until the Security Council could agree on a more lasting solution. But because Russia has blocked all efforts to pass a new Kosovo resolution, UNMIK now lacks the mandate to actually hand over their authority to Kosovo’s fledgling government, new constitution or not.
The former prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, was acquitted Friday on charges of murder, torture, rape, and the cruel treatment of prisoners during his years as a commander in the Kosovo Liberation Army. At the end of the war in Kosovo, Haradinaj turned his military following into a political party but was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former
On Friday, a panel of judges found Haradinaj not guilty, but on the basis of insufficient evidence. Before announcing the final verdict, the panel noted:
The Chamber encountered significant difficulties in securing the testimony of a large number of witnesses. Many cited fear as a prominent reason for not wishing to appear before the Chamber to give evidence. In this regard, the Chamber gained a strong impression that the trial was being held in an atmosphere where witnesses felt unsafe, due to a number of factors.”
And by “a number of factors,” they mean death threats, the suspicious killing of the prosecution’s lead witness (and his son and nephew), and a general sense among Kosovars that the international community is more than happy to turn a blind eye to the grimmer actions of a man it sees as a key partner in regional peace.
The Haradinaj trial and verdict point to the precarious nature of any foray into international justice. Once again it seems politics has stood in the way of justice and has done so, per usual, at the expense of those whom the court should serve: the victims.
Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has an op-ed in today's Guardian in which he predicts that President Robert Mugabe is about to bring the hammer down to maintain power after last week's election, the results of which have still not been released:
Adept at stealing elections from the hands of voters, Mugabe is now amassing government troops; blocking court proceedings where we have attempted to seek an order simply for the electoral commission to release the final tally of the March 29 poll; raiding the offices of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC); and casting a pall of suppression and gloom over the country. The feared militias, made up of misguided activists and the same war veterans who pushed for and benefited from the disastrous land confiscations from the late 1990s, are being mobilised. This can only mean, despite some earlier evidence to the contrary, that sanity has been discarded along with truth in the offices of Zanu-PF.
Tsvangirai goes on to promise Mugabe that he need not fear prosecution if he steps down.
Mugabe, predictably, is going back to one of his favorite tactics by raiding the country's few remaining white-owned farms and accusing white farmers of trying to regain their lost property amid the election chaos:
"Land must remain in our hands. The land is ours, it must not be allowed to slip back into the hands of whites," President Mugabe told a crowd gathered at a funeral of his wife's uncle.
Stoking racial tensions has worked for Mugabe in past times of crisis, but the fact that election results have still not been released and he is accusing his own handpicked election commission of "errors and miscalculations" is probably a sign that Mugabe did much worse than expected. Mugabe's "father of the nation" routine is going to be harder to pull off this time. Short of resorting to brute force on a massive scale, it's hard to see how he gets out of this one.
Chinese security guards and Turkish police arrest an Uighur Muslim protestor during the Olympic torch ceremony, on April 03, 2008. A group of some 200 Uighur Muslims demonstrated against China before the Olympic torch ceremony near one of Turkey's most famous touristic destinations. Turkish police kept demonstrators away from the site where athletes planned to begin running with the torch through the city.
China said yesterday it had restored order to the heavily Tibetan areas of Western China. Now, it turns out, that claim may have been a bit of an exaggeration. London's Times is reporting from Sichuan that as many as 1,000 paramilitary police opened fire late last night on a group of several hundred monks and other protesters, killing eight and wounding dozens:
Chinese paramilitary police have killed eight people after opening fire on several hundred Tibetan monks and villagers in bloody violence.... Witnesses said the clash – in which dozens were wounded – erupted late last night after a government inspection team entered a monastery in the Chinese province of Sichuan trying to confiscate pictures of the Dalai Lama.
Here's the background:
Officials searched the room of every monk in the Donggu monastery, a sprawling 15th century edifice in Ganzi, southwestern Sichuan, confiscating all mobile phones as well as the pictures. When the inspectors tore up the photographs and threw them on the floor, a 74-year-old monk, identified as Cicheng Danzeng, tried to stop an act seen as a desecration by Tibetans who revere the Dalai Lama as their god king. A young man working in the monastery, identified as Cicheng Pingcuo, 25, also made a stand and both were arrested. The team then demanded that all the monks denounce the Dalai Lama... At about 6.30 p.m., the entire monastic body marched down to a nearby river where paramilitary police were encamped and demanded the release of the two men. They were joined by several hundred local villagers, many of them enraged at the detention of the 74-year-old monk Cicheng Danzeng, who locals say is well respected in the area for his learning and piety. Shouting 'Long Live the Dalai Lama,' 'Let the Dalai Lama come back' and 'We want freedom,' the crowd demonstrated until about nine in the evening. Witnesses said that at around that time, as many as 1,000 paramilitary police used force to try to end the protest and opened fire on the crowd.
Watch for more trouble when the Olympic torch comes to London this weekend.
Facebook has become Shaitan incarnate for many preachers in Saudi Arabia, not least of all because six in 10 users of the social networking site in the country are women. This apparently makes Saudi men nervous. Influential cleric Sheikh Ali al-Maliki, for instance, has derided Facebook as a "a door to lust" and warned against "the accession of women to it."
Now, it appears, some Saudi men are taking matters into their own hands. London's Daily Telegraph reports:
A young Saudi Arabian woman was murdered by her father for chatting on the social network site Facebook, it has emerged. The unnamed woman from Riyadh was beaten and shot after she was discovered in the middle of an online conversation with a man...."
Shocking, but then again we're talking about a country that arrests American women for sitting with their male colleagues at the local Starbucks.
NBC Sports Universal Chairman Dick Ebersol says viewers of the network's coverage of the XXIX Olympiad shouldn't expect a lot of superfluous reports on political protests and whatnot. NBC is planning 3,600 hours of television and Internet coverage of the Games, but Ebersol says NBC Sports will cut to news about unrest "only if it interferes with the competition or hinders athletes from getting to the competition." It's a policy that is not dissimilar from that of the Chinese state media, which spent all of yesterday pretending that the protests in Athens never happened.
As Anne Applebaum points out in today's Washington Post, we always expected this kind of "see no evil" behavior from the Olympics' corporate sponsors. But the media? There was always the danger that, with the Games being covered primarily by sports reporters ill-equipped to handle the complexities of modern day China, the political angle would be under-covered or simply ignored. Which is why this comment by Ebersol is concerning:
I believed in July of 2001 and believe today that the I.O.C. gave the Games to Beijing because it was really important for them to take place for the first time in the largest nation in the world. As it relates to the mysteries of China, including human rights, I believe giving the Games to China shines a light on a part of the world that wouldn't otherwise exist.”
China's human rights record is hardly a "mystery." Check out the U.S. State Department's country report on the subject, which lays out Beijing's dismal record in no uncertain terms.
All of this talk of shining a light on China reminds me of the way corporations -- automakers, banks, oil -- talked about doing business in apartheid South Africa back in the 1970s. Their pretense was the same one that NBC and the Beijing Games' corporate sponsors are employing today: that engagement encourages change from within. A quarter of a century later, in 2002, the victims of apartheid filed multi-billion dollar class-action lawsuits against IBM, Ford, Citigroup, British Petroleum, and other multinationals for collaborating in a crime against humanity. At least some firms, such as BP, defended their South African operations by arguing that they demonstrated to white South Africans that integration and profits can go hand-in-hand.
In the face of Beijing's quashing of political dissent, what will NBC and the other corporations that have gotten into bed with Beijing be able to say in defense of themselves? NBC paid nearly $900 million for the right to broadcast the Olypmics and China is already censoring its coverage. If that isn't enough to dispel any "mysteries" of authoritarianism, what is?
This morning's Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Greece was disrupted by protesters from the Paris-based media rights groups Reporters Without Borders. The bad publicity was exactly the kind of thing that Beijing was hoping (unrealistically) to avoid in the run-up to this summer's games, but also highlights a growing debate in France over whether the country should take action to voice its disapproval of China's human rights record.
RSF (the organization's French acronym) has proposed that France boycott the Games' opening ceremony. A poll published in today's Libération newspaper and sponsored by RSF found that 53 percent of respondents liked the idea of President Nicolas Sarkozy skipping the event. A separate poll in the sports magazine L'Equipe had nearly identical results. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he found the idea "interesting" last Tuesday but then quickly backtracked several hours later:
There are a lot of good ideas that can't be put into practice [...] When you're dealing in international relations with countries as important as China, obviously when you make economic decisions it's sometimes at the expense of human rights," he added. "That's elementary realism."
Sounds like somebody got a talking to. This isn't the first time that Kouchner's idealism has taken a back seat to his boss's more pragmatic priorities, and it raises some questions over whether the left-wing, former head of Doctors Without Borders is only in Sarkozy's government as liberal-internationalist window dressing. Sarkozy, for his part, has offered to make France a facilitator for negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama. It's a start, but as the protests inevitably grow throughout this spring, it's going to get harder to stick to the middle ground.
Update: Speaking on Tuesday, Sarkozy would not rule out the possibility of boycotting the ceremony, saying, "All options are open and I appeal to the Chinese leaders' sense of responsibility." Perhaps he's keeping an eye on the polls.
Saturday's presidential election in Taiwan is fast approaching, but until the last few days, the outcome had seemed fairly predictable. The Kuomintang (KMT), which favors better relations with Beijing, appeared to have a lock on the presidency after voters voiced their disapproval of current President Chen Shui-bian's more confrontational stance during January's legislative contests.
Now, many analysts are wondering if China's ongoing crackdown in Tibet is going to help Frank Hsieh, the candidate from Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP is certainly seeking to capitalize, upping its anti-mainland rhetoric and warning that Taiwan could suffer Tibet's fate if the KMT wins. Ma Ying-jeou, the KMT's candidate, has pushed back, saying, "Tibet is under mainland China rule, and Taiwan is not" and that the comparison "hurt Taiwan's status."
In the end, I'd still bet Ma will be able to pull it out after a bitter campaign (at a DPP rally on Sunday, the education minister accused Ma's father of "screwing" his adopted daughter). But the situation in Tibet may push Ma to be a lot less friendly to Beijing than he originally intended to be -- and those hoping for a reduction in tensions across the Taiwan Strait may be sorely disappointed.
(Hat tip: China Digital Times)
What do Chinese authorities have to say about recent events in Tibet? They call the Dalai Lama's description of a brutal crackdown "ridiculous" and attribute the deaths to the rioters, maintaining that law enforcement personnel were not lethally armed while restoring order. Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao laid down the law Monday:
[T]he riot exposed once again the separatist inbeing of the Dalai Lama clique and the hypocritical and fraudulent nature of its so-called 'peace' and 'non-violence' allegations. Any attempts to split the motherland are firmly opposed by Chinese people of all ethnic groups including the Tibetan compatriots, and are doomed to failure."
Liu [also] said...a dozen atrocious incidents of attacking Chinese diplomatic missions overseas by 'Tibet independence' forces have sprung up. They were organized and planned by the Dalai clique to split China."
To hear the Chinese government and state-run media tell it, the Dalai Lama is a terrorist mastermind described in terms reminiscent of U.S. rhetoric on Osama bin Laden. They accuse the spiritual leader of directing his international gang of terrorists to provoke ethnic separatism and disrupt the Olympics. Someday, Chinese leaders might regret their sad attempts to marginalize their best hope for resolving the Tibet situation peacefully.
(Editor's note: Please see update at bottom.)
If you were gay and your country hanged your partner for homosexuality, wouldn't you be justified in fearing that your government would be coming for you next?
That's the position that a young Iranian is in. Nineteen-year-old Mehdi Kazemi came to Britain to study. While there, he learned that his boyfriend back in Iran had been executed after confessing to being in a relationship with Kazemi. Officials had also visited Kazemi's parents' house with an arrest warrant for him.
Kazemi did the logical thing. He applied for asylum. Britain denied it on the grounds that gay people in Iran aren't systematically persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation. Since then Kazemi has made it to the Netherlands, but his asylum petition there was recently rejected on the grounds that people can plea for asylum in only one European Union country.
Currently, Kazemi risks being deported back to Britain, which may send him back to Iran, a country that has executed at least 4,000 gay people since 1979's Islamic Revolution, according to one estimate. Sixty members of the European Parliament have signed a petition requesting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to overturn the decision to deny asylum.
Kazemi isn't the only gay person in this predicament. An Iranian lesbian in Britain, Pegah Emambakhsh, was also denied asylum and faces deportation to Iran, where Iranian gay-rights groups say her partner has been sentenced to death by stoning.
These cases are rather ironic. Iran pays for sex-change surgery for transgender people. Additionally, the first rock group it officially approved was Queen, which was headed by Freddie Mercury, a gay man of
Iranian Persian ancestry (by way of his Parsi roots). More importantly, though, if the facts of these cases are correct, it's utterly shameful that Kazemi and Emambakhsh were denied asylum.
UPDATE (March 17): Britain has stopped deportation motions against Medhi Kazemi. His case is being reconsidered.
Jonathan Farrar, an acting assistant secretary in charge of the U.S. State Department's annual human rights country reports, had this to say Tuesday about China's unexpected removal from the list of the 10 worst human-rights offenders:
Countries in which power was concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers remain the most systematic human rights violators. Here we would cite North Korea, Burma, Iran, Syria, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Eritrea and Sudan. Some authoritarian countries that are undergoing economic reform have experienced rapid social change, but have not undertaken democratic political reform and continue to deny their citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. China remains a case in point.
Looking at the list of countries above -- all of whom have terrible human rights records -- I have to wonder: Why not Saudi Arabia, where there is no formal constitution, women have very few rights, and "there is no legal recognition or protection of religious freedom"? Is Iran really worse than China, which has "tens of thousands of political prisoners," according to the report? At least Iran has contested politics, even if the hardliners always seem to win these days. All of which is to say that State's criteria are pretty fuzzy, as is understandable given the unquantifiable nature of many of the issues in question. So why have the ranking at all?
Major international events often impose enormous burdens on poor and minority communities. Roughly 1.5 million people, for instance, will be displaced by the Beijing Olympics. For the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea forcibly evicted 720,000 people while the homeless population was detained in the city's outskirts. The 1996 Atlanta Games uprooted about 30,000 poor residents, and Sydney, Athens, and other Olympic cities witnessed similar social dislocations. But New Delhi has taken its "preparations" for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, kind of a mini-Olympics involving current and former British colonies, a step further: by arresting and imprisoning beggars.
Delhi's Social Welfare Department is organizing "cleanup operations," the Christian Science Monitor reports:
Every morning, it dispatches nine vans from its Beggar Raid Team. Each carries three plainclothes men, who scan the crowded streets of bullock carts, cows, motorbikes, cycle rickshaws, newspaper hawkers, and stray dogs for ragged people pleading for money.
"Since the end of last year, we've been told to increase the numbers we arrest," says Anand Pandey, a civil servant known as a "raid officer" ...
Warrants are not necessary for arresting beggars. Once picked up, they are tried in the city's Beggars' Court. Those whom Mr. Pandey calls "first-time offenders" often go free with a warning. Others are incarcerated until friends or family scrape together the money to pay their bail of about 3,000 rupees (about $75). Many are locked up in "beggars' homes" – dedicated jails – for a minimum of one year and a maximum of 10, the latter being the same penalty given for violent robberies. If they are "blind, a cripple or otherwise incurably helpless," according to the law, beggars can be locked up for life.
The city is also creating a "beggar database" to hold the photographs and fingerprints of offending beggars, so that "habitual" panhandlers can be convicted more easily. Already, during the past year, 2,537 beggars have been arrested and 1,133 convicted. Many of the city's beggars are elderly, ill, or amputees, and have little chance of finding regular work.
Let's face it, the city is arresting and locking up these beggars for no reason other than that they are poor. "Many of these people have no option but to beg. To arrest them without even providing the infrastructure that guarantees them the most basic needs is appalling," Anand Kumar, a human rights lawyer in New Delhi, told the Monitor. With such cruel and regressive attitudes toward the poor, New Delhi's efforts to portray itself as a modern "world-class city" for the Commonwealth Games are doomed to fail -- at least in the eyes of human-rights campaigners around the world.
Zhao Baige, the Chinese vice minister of family planning, announced yesterday that though the details still need to be ironed out, the government would like to gradually amend its controversial one-child policy. The system today is much more fluid than the original name intended. In practice, rural families and ethnic minorities can have more than one child, as can urban couples who are both from one-child familes. For the most part, so can families with money
In its desire to stay in power, perhaps the Communist Party is following Richard Cincotta's advice about mature populations giving rise to democracy. The more mature the Chinese population gets, the more stable society becomes which can yield a definitive, lasting transition to democracy.
This one-child policy amendment may be an attempt to assure a robust, young generation whose workforce wages will pay for the aging generation; but the higher proportion of youth would also create the unsettledness necessary to prevent democracy. It could be an act designed to draw diplomatic brownie points ahead of the Olympics by easing one of the most intrusive government policies still in place. As controversial as the system has been, population control has definitely been an important factor in curbing poverty and fostering development. It will be interesting to see what the Chinese government's new target will be for a sustainable population in the next century.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently reached a shocking conclusion: Blogging is a "legitimate form of personal expression."
In the run-up to the Olympic Games, we've all heard about the Chinese government's restrictions on bloggers' freedom of expression, but not as many people seem to be aware of the blogging bans the IOC itself has imposed on Olympic athletes. In 2004, for the Athens games, athletes and coaches were not permitted to write firsthand accounts or maintain online diaries (a.k.a blogs). Posting personal videos and photos online was banned, too, unless permission was obtained first.
The IOC's brilliant rationale for gagging the athletes then: Protecting the interests of companies holding broadcasting rights comes first. (As if an athlete's blog is a direct competitor to an NBC sports commentator.)
This year, though, the IOC seems to have finally seen the light. Sort of. In Beijing, athletes can blog, as long as they follow some simple rules:
My hunch is that as the Internet evolves and people become more tech savvy, some of these rules will prove tough to enforce. People will find ingenious ways to evade them; even at earlier Olympics, athletes are reported to have blogged "illegally." The IOC will learn sooner or later that trying to control people's online activities is a task of Olympic proportions.
Here's some tone-deaf moral equivalence from New York Philharmonic Director Lorin Maazel that's bound to get some tongues wagging:
People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw bricks, should they? Is our standing as a country -- the United States -- is our reputation all that clean when it comes to prisoners and the way they are treated?"
Maazel made the remarks on the eve of his trip to North Korea. But if Maazel was hoping to impress his Pyongyang hosts, he failed. The North Korean press has already decided it prefers the music of Dear Leader:
The Philharmonic will give its highly anticipated, 90-minute concert Tuesday evening. But on Monday, the official KCNA news agency had on its Web site an article discussing the superiority of traditional North Korean music to western music, extolling such native pieces as the piano concerto "Song Devoted to Comrade Kim Jong Il."
We've finally gotten to the point where it's entirely plausible that the next U.S. president will have had a black father, a white mother, and a half-Asian sister. America has finally moved beyond race, right?
Not so fast. All you have to do is look to my hometown, "liberal" Boulder, Colorado, as this week's Exhibit A of how screwed up the United States still is when it comes to race. At the University of Colorado, a columnist for a student newspaper wrote that Asians should be rounded up with an "extra-large butterfly net," "hog-tied," forced to drink and eat sushi with a fork, and ordered to dance until their spirits are broken. Lovely, eh?
The university has issued an apology. So have the editors of the paper. They claim the column was meant to be a satire and a commentary on racism. But the column was never clearly labelled as a satire, and the columnist's writing skills are so poor, that... well, let's just say he will be getting employment at neither a reputable paper nor at The Onion. He may not even be really racist. But he's a total and complete idiot. I hesitate to bring his column to your attention because he's pulled immature, stupid, controversial stunts like this before.
But the bottom line is, there's a very real danger that readers of his column will take him seriously. It wasn't that long ago that 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps in this country. The Jena Six incident, where nooses were hung on trees at a high school in Louisiana, took place only a few months ago. There are no excuses: Racial violence is not something to be taken lightly, whether you're a college student or not.
Here in the United States, the recently released Rambo hasn't gotten the best reviews; it scored a lowly 35 on Rotten Tomatoes's tomatometer. But among Burmese nationals, it's a huge hit—and inspirational, to boot. Yesterday, a Rambo screening in Singapore, organized by the Overseas Burmese Patriots Group and packed with Burmese expats, sold out all 600 tickets.
In the movie, everyone's favorite former Green Beret, John Rambo, takes on Burma's military junta in an effort to rescue Christian missionaries who have been taken captive. Burmese moviegoers at yesterday's screening broke out in loud cheers and applause at the movie's climax when Sly Stallone saves the missionaries and slays their captors. "Just like Rambo is in the movie, Burma is waiting for a hero or someone to lead the revolution," one audience member told AFP.
The junta has banned the film from being shown in Burma, but that hasn't stopped pirated DVDs from flooding Rangoon. "People are going crazy with the quote 'Live for nothing, die for something'," one Burmese told Reuters, in reference to one of Rambo's gems of wisdom from the film.
Meanwhile, Stallone says he is willing to go personally to Burma to confront junta officials. He has even offered to debate them in front of the U.S. Congress. And I think we'd all love to see that happen.
Author Ian Buruma, who is in Davos at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, has picked up on a tactic increasingly used by undemocratic countries such as China and Iran in defending themselves from international criticism: demanding that Westerners stop "imposing" their values on cultures that supposedly have a different understanding of what democracy means.
As Buruma put it me this morning, this is clearly self-serving hogwash. "It's much less a division between East and West along civilizational lines than some people like to see it," he said. "It's really a political division," he added, pointing out that the Indians and the Japanese, or even the Indonesians don't see things that way. Few people may buy the argument, Buruma said, but nonetheless it's an effective way of neutralizing the democracy issue because people don't want to be seen as dissing other cultures. "When people discuss this in terms of culture and civilization, then you get a lot of that pious stuff," he noted, referring to the kind of Kumbaya moments that former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami has made into a veritable Davos fetish. "People have the habit of expressing fine sentiments as soon as civilization and culture come up."
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf pulled the culture card at a breakfast Buruma attended and found the Pakistani leader to be "completely out of touch," fixated on the notion that "any bad news about Pakistan is a distortion by the foreign press." After all, Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown, and George W. Bush had assured him that "everything is fine." Musharraf also tangled with Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch, who had the temerity to suggest that Pakistan's human rights record could use a little improvement. Musharraf's response, essentially "We have our own human rights," was underwhelming, to say the least.
Canadian troops may have finally stopped handing off detainees to the Afghan authorities. That policy—always suspect from a human rights perspective—was the product of twin realities. First, NATO states such as Canada hated the optics of handing detainees to the Americans, what with Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo still on people's minds. Second, the Canadians, British, and Dutch troops fighting in southern Afghanistan had no desire to get into the detention business themselves.
The solution? Shuffle off detainees to the Afghans and pretend that the treatment they're getting is better than they'd get with the Americans. The policy protects delicate European sensibilities but does little to safeguard prisoners or to help NATO get good intelligence on Taliban activities (though I have been told by people in the know that captured Taliban fighters occasionally "fall off" NATO trucks and end up in American hands).
The issue of prisoners in Afghanistan has always struck me as a nettlesome problem that could easily become an important opportunity. My suggestion? Create a jointly run NATO/Afghan detention center in Kandahar or some other locale in southern Afghanistan. Use the detention center to simultaneously train Afghan police and interrogators (which we're doing anyway) and to hash out a common NATO policy on detention that can ease suspicions within the alliance while producing at least some actionable intelligence.
Thus far, American obstinacy and European fecklessness have scuppered common sense solutions. It's well past time to work together.
Someone please explain to me how this is supposed to be justice. A 23-year-old journalism student named Sayad Parwez Kambaksh supposedly goes online, finds an interesting paper, and prints it out. He supposedly brings it to class at Balkh University, discusses it with a teacher and some fellow students. The paper gets copied and distributed. Some students find it objectionable; they say it is offensive and that it insults Islam. They complain to the government.
Kambaksh is arrested in October and put in jail. He says he had nothing to do with the paper. His case goes to trial, but he has no lawyer. In fact, his family is not even aware that he's put on trial. A panel of three judges decides that he should be put to death because the paper he supposedly distributed "humiliates Islam." The Afghan Independent Journalists' Association reports that any paper in question may have downloaded from an Iranian blog, which contained articles questioning the origins of the Koran, among other controversial things.
Now, his case goes to the first of two appeal courts. But Fazel Wahab, the chief judge in the province where the trial took place, says that only President Hamid Karzai can pardon the student, since Kambaksh supposedly confessed to having violated tenets of Islam. Incidentally, Wahab has never read the paper (to be fair, he was also not on the panel that convicted Kambaksh).
Kambaksh isn't the only Afghan journalist who's gotten into trouble with the law. Ghows Zalmai was also arrested three months ago, charged with distributing a translation of the Koran that clerics did not accept. Religious scholars have also called for him to be put to death.
At any rate, all of this raises the question: Why did the U.S. go into Afghanistan and topple the Taliban, only to have it be replaced with a system like this? So far, no comment from Karzai, who is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos. But he'd better step up.
A TV reporter in Vladimir, Russia, has been charged with "insulting a public figure" for some seemingly innocent wordplay involving President Vladimir Putin's last name. The putative violation occurred when the journalist, Sergei Golovinov, referred to local supporters of the president as Putinisty (Putinists) and to a meeting of these supporters as a puting, which is a play on miting, the Russian word for demonstration. A local State Duma deputy heard the broadcast, and Golovinov is now facing a fine of up to $1,600 or one year of forced labor.
Golovinov and his employer are a bit baffled by the charges, since both neologisms are used frequently in the Russian media. A chapter in one tell-all Kremlin memoir, for instance, is titled "Light Puting." Back when they used to get along better, George W. Bush would refer to his Russian counterpart as "Pootie-Poot," which should probably merit a year in Siberia at least.
Things are unlikely to improve much on this front after Russians wish Putin schastlivogo puti (bon voyage) and welcome his anointed successor, Dmitry Medvedev. Medved is the Russian word for bear. As if that weren't bad enough, the phrase "Preved medved" ("Hi, bear" in Russian Internet-speak) had taken on a life of its own as a Russian Internet meme before Medvedev was even announced (Best I can tell, it's sort of the Russian equivalent of LOLcats.) The joke police might have their hands full with this guy.
European military commanders have formally approved an EU mission to Chad and the Central African Republic. The mission, to protect and aid refugees from Darfur, has a Security Council mandate and, by most accounts, could help stabilize a dangerous situation.
But there is a danger that France—and perhaps Europe more broadly—is developing a perverse specialty: cleaning up after crimes it doesn't have the will to stop. European peacekeepers labored for several hard years protecting humanitarian aid deliveries in Bosnia as ethnic cleansing proceeded around them. And remember that it was the French who sent a military mission to protect refugees after the Rwanda genocide. That mission, Opération Turquoise, saved some lives (including the lives of many who committed the genocide), but was a pale shadow of the rescue mission that should have been launched weeks earlier.
My fear is that the combination of feel-good war crimes prosecutions and post hoc band-aid operations like this new one in Chad have sapped the will to take the needed hard measures.
We've blogged here before about waterboarding, citing a counterterrorism expert who says that waterboarding is unquestionably torture. Now check out this account, over at the Straight Dope message board, in which a guy with the username Scylla describes how he tried waterboarding himself to get a definitive, personal answer on whether it's as horrible as everyone says. He considers himself very fit and is training for a 100-mile endurance run. He says he has an especially high threshold for pain. He was once a free-diver, held his breath for more than 4 minutes, and when training as a lifeguard, once swam without breathing until he passed out. Throughout his post, he also repeatedly pokes fun at "liberal scum," in case you're wondering what his political point of view is.
First, Scylla tries basic waterboarding, lying on an incline and pouring water in his face with a watering can. He says it's not so bad. Then he tries a more advanced technique, doing it with a wet rag in his mouth. He says it's unpleasant, but not torturous. Then Scylla tries using saran wrap, by wrapping several layers around his mouth and poking a hole through which he can pour water. This is what he says:
It seems that there is a point that is hardwired in us. When we draw water into our respiratory tract to this point we are no longer in control. All hell breaks loose. Instinct tells us we are dying.
I have never been more panicked in my whole life. Once your lungs are empty and collapsed and they start to draw fluid it is simply all over. You know you are dead and it's too late. Involuntary and total panic. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. It would be like telling you not to blink while I stuck a hot needle in your eye. At the time my lungs emptied and I began to draw water, I would have sold my children to escape. There was no choice, or chance, and willpower was not involved. I never felt anything like it, and this was self-inflicted with a watering can, where I was in total control and never in any danger. And I understood.
If I had the choice of being waterboarded by a third party or having my fingers smashed one at a time by a sledgehammer, I'd take the fingers, no question.
It's horrible, terrible, inhuman torture. I can hardly imagine worse. I'd prefer permanent damage and disability to experiencing it again. I'd give up anything, say anything, do anything.
The Spanish Inquisition knew this. It was one of their favorite methods.
It's torture. No question. Terrible terrible torture. To experience it and understand it and then do it to another human being is to leave the realm of sanity and humanity forever. No question in my mind.
(Hat tip: Kottke)
As you probably know, earlier this week FP posted the Top Ten Stories You Missed in 2007, our roundup of the most important news stories that flew under the radar this year.
But we're not the only ones keeping an eye out for little-noticed items and trends. Doctors Without Borders also posts an annual list. Theirs is of the Top 10 Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2007. Click here to see it. Sadly, of the those 10 stories, four of them are directly about Africa. Two others, tuberculosis and malnutrition, concern the continent as well. As usual, Africa got shafted and ignored this year.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.