One hundred and thirty-three countries around the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, and last year, only 25 actually carried out executions. On Tuesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution to ban executions worldwide. It passed: The General Assembly voted 104-54 with 29 abstentions in favor of the resolution. Anti-capital punishment advocates are hailing the resolution as a major step to the abolition of the death penalty worldwide. Like all UNGA resolutions, the vote is nonbinding, but it does have the symbolic effect of demonstrating broad moral opposition to capital punishment—and it will no doubt help domestic activists who are working toward banning the death penalty in their own countries.
But despite the growing international trend toward abolition, a number of countries stood firm against the vote, including China, Iran, and the United States. Unsurprisingly, these three countries were also on FP's List this week examining the world's top executioners. Check it out.
A torch relay is making its way around the world, but it's not the official Olympics torch relay. It's a torch relay to highlight Olympic host China's connections to Darfur, the region of Sudan wracked with genocide. The torch relay, sponsored by Olympic Dream for Darfur, the Save Darfur Coalition, and others, has already traveled thousands of miles through past genocide sites in Rwanda, Cambodia, and Armenia.
On Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, the torch arrived in Washington, D.C., to make stops at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the White House, and the Sudanese embassy before finally converging on the Chinese embassy, as shown in this photo. From left to right at the podium are: radio personality Joe Madison (a.k.a. "the Black Eagle"); actress Mia Farrow; Motasim Adam of the Darfur People's Association of New York; Mohamed Yahya, a Darfurian with the Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy; and Olympic medalist Joey Cheek.
When you heard the words "sex tourism," one image usually comes to mind: a sleazy, older white man with a beer in one hand and an underage Asian girl in the other, strolling along some beach in Thailand. But now a new kind of sex tourism is on the rise. According to a recent Reuters story, older white women are now flocking to Kenya to seek out sex with younger African men. There are no official statistics, but locals in Mombasa tell Reuters they estimate one out of five single foreign female tourists are in search of sex.
Some argue that this is more acceptable than traditional sex tourism. As one commentator at Salon points out, the men are usually physically stronger and able to dominate their female "escorts" if necessary. Besides the swapping of gender roles, there's one other key difference between these women and the typical male sex tourist—what the women are doing is not illegal. That's because the guys they hook up with are adults, and the sex is consensual. As one 56-year-old British woman told Reuters:
It's a social arrangement. I buy him a nice shirt and we go out for dinner. For as long as he stays with me he doesn't pay for anything, and I get what I want -- a good time. How is that different from a man buying a young girl dinner?"
Well, yeah, I suppose it's not that different; it's equally unsavory. No matter what, it's incredibly stupid to have casual sex with strangers in a country with a 6.9 percent AIDS rate. Moreover, there's still a major power differential. It's still about wealthy Westerners preying on the poor.
...know that the luxury brand that made it is probably flunking the ethics test.
So says "Deeper Luxury," (pdf) a new World Wildlife Federation (WWF) report grading the social and environmental performance of the world's top 10 luxury brands. From safety in the workplace to reducing emissions and protecting human rights (a.k.a. steering clear of sweatshops), the social quality of the big 10 is decidedly unluxe.
Both Bulgari, the famed Italian jewelry and handbag line, and American leather goods brand Tod's get fat "F"s for their performance. L'Oreal, Hermes, and LVMH — the world's largest luxury goods conglomerate, with Fendi, Marc Jacobs, and Givenchy under its umbrella — all muster only average scores of C+.
The report may be just potent enough to hold fashion's notoriously short attention span for more than a minute or two. But beyond that, I'm skeptical. The middle classes in India and China will explode in the next few decades, and these brands will have more than enough new customers who probably won't give two shakes about the life and death of the snake that made their bag.
But if appealing to the do-gooder side of consumers doesn't work, the WWF has an alternate plan: Guilt the celebrities. The report has a whole chapter pointing out that famous faces shilling diamond-encrusted, environmentally unfriendly watches are the same faces campaigning against climate change and AIDS. It even gets personal:
[A]ctress Sienna Miller campaigns against climate change through her associationwith Global Cool. She also endorses Tods, which came bottom of our index of ESG perfomance. Tods may represent a liability to Sienna Miller’s reputation.
As if dating Jude Law didn't already do that.
Has the YouTube Effect stuck again? Wael Abbas, a well-known online activist in Egypt, says his YouTube video account has been suspended and his Yahoo! e-mail accounts have been shut down. Abbas had this pesky habit, you see, of posting graphic videos showing police brutality, and his site had become one of the most popular blogs in Egypt.
In one prominent incident, Abbas posted a video on his blog of a police officer binding and sodomizing an Egyptian bus driver who intervened in a dispute between police and another driver.
The video was one of the factors that led to the conviction of two police officers, who were sentenced to three years each in connection with the incident.
YouTube wouldn't comment on Abbas's specific case, but a company spokesman told CNN that in general, such graphic videos are a no-no:
There are plenty of other video-sharing sites and third-party tools out there for posting viral videos, but Abbas says he's lost his entire archive, the fruit of years of painstaking work. Also this month, Yahoo! accused Abbas of spamming and shut down two e-mail accounts of his.
It's too early to tell if the Egyptian government had a hand in this, in which case we may have another case of U.S. tech companies kowtowing to authoritarian regimes. YouTube has a shadowy history of eliminating objectionable content to preserve market access, and the company isn't fully transparent about how it makes such decisions. So, this is going to remain murky. But I think the lesson to online activists is nonetheless clear: Don't use YouTube, and save your work offline.
UPDATE, Nov. 30, 2007: According to CNN, Abbas's YouTube account has been reactivated. YouTube said in a statement that he is free to upload his videos as long as he does so with enough context to show that he is trying to get an important message across.
Are Chinese authorities planning to ban the Bible at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing? According to the Catholic News Agency, they are. The report comes via an Italian newspaper, which referred to a Chinese government prohibition of "promotion material used for religious or political activity" at the Games.
When asked about the matter, however, China's head of security couldn't give a definitive answer as to whether that restriction would apply to the Bible. (Primarily Christian) news outlets ran with the story and eventually caused the Chinese Foreign Ministry to release a statement. The ministry vehemently denied that foreign visitors would be prohibited from bringing Bibles for their own personal use into the country.
China does restrict religious expression, but standard Christian Bibles themselves are available in China, according to an investigation by the Canadian government. However, the U.S. State Department indicates that religious materials may be subject to confiscation by Chinese authorities and recommends that travelers contact the U.S. Embassy or a Chinese consulate to determine what specific items may be restricted.
While in this case the issue was overblown, the Bible controversy highlights the larger problem that China will face during the Olympics. Beijing wants to put on a friendly face to the world and will have to tread lightly when dealing with foreign visitors who want to make political statements during the Games. This is the exact problem addressed by FP Editor in Chief Moisés Naím in our last issue. Pass the popcorn—this is going to be one heck of a show.
In which I read Alan Dershowitz so you don't have to:
Although I am personally opposed to the use of torture... many decent members of the French Resistance ... under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives.... In several cases involving actions at least as severe as waterboarding, courts have found no violations of due process.... What is needed is a recognition that government officials must strike an appropriate balance between the security of America and the rights of our enemies.
If this is opposition, what does advocacy look like?
Malcolm Nance, "a counter-terrorism and terrorism intelligence consultant for the U.S. government's Special Operations, Homeland Security and Intelligence agencies" and "an Arabic speaking interrogator and a master Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) instructor," says that waterboarding unquestionably is torture:
Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.
Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.
Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten[ed] with its use again and again.
This guy doesn't look like a wuss to me. Over to you, Mukasey.
(Hat tip: American Footprints)
Many Passport readers have written in questioning an assertion made in my post from yesterday that Che Guevara "assisted in the persecution of homosexuals and AIDS victims."
Some of the comments I received were rude: "Either sloppy or lazy," one reader wrote. But, as you might expect from Passport readers, a good many more were constructive: "I have some trouble believing that a person who died in 1967 could have been persecuting victims of a disease whose existence was unknown before the early 1980s," one reader questioned. "In a future post, could you elaborate on this point?" another reader requested.
Sure thing. It's not my contention that Che magically came back from the dead to persecute the victims of a disease which proliferated a decade and a half after his death. I wrote, very carefully, that Che "assisted" in the persecution of AIDS victims. And here's what I mean: The labor camp system Che founded, most notably Guanahacabibes, was the predecessor to that which confined AIDS victims — and, incidentally, a whole host of other folks. Che's successors were "assisted" by his vision, if you can call it that, and the infrastructure he developed. Peruvian writer and FP contributor Alvaro Vargas Llosa explains:
This camp was the precursor to the eventual systematic confinement, starting in 1965 in the province of Camagüey, of dissidents, homosexuals, AIDS victims, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Afro-Cuban priests, and other such scum, under the banner of Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción, or Military Units to Help Production. Herded into buses and trucks, the 'unfit' would be transported at gunpoint into concentration camps organized on the Guanahacabibes mold. Some would never return; others would be raped, beaten, or mutilated; and most would be traumatized for life...."
Thanks to all those who offered thoughtful and constructive comments.
One of the oddest cultural trends of our time is the Cult of Che Guevara. I was just down in Peru, where street vendors proudly peddle Chinese-made tapestries and t-shirts bearing Che's image to U.S. college students. Hollywood—most notably Robert Redford—has glamorized Che on screen. And in more than one European hamlet will you find a "Che Guevara Bar," inevitably attracting hipsters with the same, sad tapestries, fake Cuban cigars, and cheap rum.
Today, the Cult of Che hit a new low, when a 3-inch lock of his beard and other items went up for sale at a Dallas auction house. The starting bid? $100,000. Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez is rumored to be among the potential interested bidders. The seller is Gustavo Villoldo, a retired CIA operative of Cuban heritage who was involved in Che's capture and was present when Che was buried. Villoldo says he cut the lock of hair because, "I wanted proof that I had completed my mission." His motive for selling it now appears to be profit. (This month marks the 40th anniversary of Che's death.)
It's disappointing to see Che glorified in this way. The man was a Marxist-Leninist of the worst kind: He presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads; he assisted in the persecution of homosexuals [see note below]; he imprisoned dissidents. Che preached a dangerous breed of martyrdom and hatred reminiscent of the most radical jihadists of today's Middle East. You may see some familiar themes in this, one of Che's choicest lines:
Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become...."
Today, we seem intent on remembering Che as a liberator in the Bolivarian vein, a freedom fighter. He was not. As Paul Berman has elegantly documented, Che inspired many middle-class Latin Americans to take up arms in insurgent campaigns that did nothing more than set the cause of Latin American democracy back decades. That a tiny lock of his hair can sell in Texas (of all places) for six figures is a sad comment indeed on just how severely his legacy has been distorted.
Editor's Note: This post was changed by the editor to avoid any confusion. It originally said that Che "assisted in the persecution of homosexuals and AIDS victims." Many readers asked about the original language. Mike explains here.
Q Thank you, sir. A simple question.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. It may require a simple answer.
Q What’s your definition of the word "torture"?
THE PRESIDENT: Of what?
Q The word "torture." What's your definition?
THE PRESIDENT: That's defined in U.S. law, and we don't torture.
Q Can you give me your version of it, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Whatever the law says.
His likely new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, seems not to know, either:
"Is waterboarding constitutional?" Mr. Mukasey was asked by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, in one of the sharpest exchanges.
"I don't know what is involved in the technique," Mr. Mukasey replied. "If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional."
As the Romans used to say, "Quod erat demonstrandum." (Careful readers of Mukasey's answer might note a logical fallacy, in addition to the evasiveness.)
There will be some token complaining from Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Judiciary Committee and asked the nominee to clarify his understanding of waterboarding, but Mukasey will probably be confirmed without having to offer much more than that. And so, months from now, when members of Congress complain about executive power grabs and unconstitutional behavior, take their whining with a grain of salt. The time to do something about it is now.
Late yesterday news broke that President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush will attend the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, at the U.S. Capitol next Wednesday. Now, ABC News is reporting that not only will Bush be attending the ceremony, he will be delivering remarks. It will be the first time Bush has made a public appearance with the Dalai Lama. Normally, the White House is careful to arrange "unofficial" meetings with His Holiness in the White House residence. No more. Bush will reportedly use his remarks to refer to His Holiness as, "a great spiritual leader who is seeking rights for the people of Tibet ... and to protect their land."
Beijing, as you might imagine, is furious. Even before news broke that Bush would be making remarks, China was denouncing the "so-called award," using state-controlled media to take pot shots at the Dalai Lama, and secretly accusing Tibetan Communist Party members of disloyalty. The Burmese junta can't be thrilled with this, either, given that the Dalai Lama is the spiritual shepherd of global Buddhism. Some folks, including the New York Sun's Nicholas Wapshott, are arguing that Bush is using the award as an opportunity to crank up the pressure on the junta. That may be so, although as Asia scholar Phillip Cunningham over at Informed Comment: Global Affairs points out today, interest in Burma is all but fizzled out. No doubt the first lady, who appears to be genuinely passionate about Burma, played a role in the decision to attend the event. Perhaps President Bush will take the opportunity to yet again condemn the junta's crackdown on Buddhist monks.
Judging from the brief excerpts of Bush's remarks released today, though, this looks mostly like a clever attempt by the White House to press the Chinese on human rights at a time when they have little choice but to sit back and take it. First, Beijing wants a quiet Communist Party Congress this year. In fact, Beijing is already cracking down on democracy advocates in advance of next week's sessions in order to ensure they go smoothly. And second, as was widely noted during the Burma protests, the bigwigs in Beijing don't want attention drawn to China's stance on human rights in advance of the Olympics.
So kudos to the White House for spotting a small window within which to deliver the message that booming exports and imports don't translate to democratic reform. Maybe the vaunted "freedom agenda" isn't dead after all.
The "travelista" column in How to Spend It, the weekend insert of the Financial Times, contains this item:
The big news in Asia, though, is Amanresorts' (www.amanresorts.com) decision to slash rates in half for its two SRI LANKA resorts ... Valid until September 2008, this is the luxury bargain of the year..."
Oh, it might have something to do with this, via the International Crisis Group (ICG):
The resumption of war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has been accompanied by widespread human rights abuses by both sides. While the LTTE has continued its deliberately provocative attacks on the military and Sinhalese civilians as well as its violent repression of Tamil dissenters and forced recruitment of both adults and children, the government is using extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances as part of a brutal counter-insurgency campaign.
I hear the Baghdad Hilton is cheap this year, too.
Note: Sri Lankan officials dispute the ICG's account (and that of ICG chief Gareth Evans) of human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan government. This was sent to me by Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process:
[T]he suggestion that the Sri Lankan state has engaged in war crimes or crimes against humanity should be substantiated in a responsible fashion. The repeated violations of international humanitarian law that are alleged should be enumerated, and the catalogue of the recent ICG report, which deals largely with allegations based on largely dubious sources is insufficient for a charge of this nature.... Certainly there were enormous abuses in the eighties, and though the governments of the nineties tried to improve things, old mindsets seemed to have died hard. However no credit whatsoever is given to the armed forces which have largely eschewed such behaviour in the present decade.
But as far as I know, the ICG is standing by its report, and Human Rights Watch has similar, documented concerns about human-rights abuses by the Sri Lankan government.
Why is Australian Prime Minister John Howard consistently undermining international efforts to provide humanitarian help to the people of Sudan—even after his government has acknowledged that Darfur is one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters?
In addition to recently rejecting the U.N.'s request to send troops to Darfur (citing Australia's unpopular "war on terror" commitments), Howard has just announced that Australia will no longer accept refugees from Africa under its humanitarian refugee program until at least mid-2008. The government argues that this "freeze" is necessary due to the failure of many Africans, particularly Sudanese, to "integrate" into society. Instead, the government wants to take in more refugees from Asia. Given Howard's previous less-than-generous approach to asylum-seeking Asians, including falsely accusing a number of them in 2001 of throwing their children overboard a ship to blackmail the Australian government—the infamous Tampa incident—Howard's newfound concern for local refugees seems disingenuous, to say the least.
While critics have denounced Howard's refugee decision as racist, supporters argue that it's justified given the problems some Sudanese refugees have experienced settling into Australia, including a number of violent incidents. But are these incidents really surprising? Refugees, by definition, are fleeing from persecution. Many of them, particularly from Sudan, have been traumatized by violence. Instead of simply closing the door, these cases should prompt the government to analyze its refugee counseling programs to try to ensure that refugees are learning the skills, including language skills, to properly "integrate" into Australian society. It is, after all, intended to be a humanitarian effort.
Alas, that's not likely to happen. What's more likely is that Howard will—once again—continue to push Australia's xenophobic buttons in the run-up to Australia's election, just as he successfully did during the Tampa crisis before the 2001 election. Perhaps this time, though, Howard's support for the Iraq war will prove too unpopular for that tactic to succeed.
Researchers at the American Association for the Advancement of Science say they have used satellite images provided by the U.S. Government to confirm massive human rights abuses in eastern Burma:
A new analysis of high-resolution satellite images -- completed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) -- pinpoints evidence consistent with village destruction, forced relocations, and a growing military presence at 25 sites across eastern Burma where eye-witnesses have reported human rights violations.
The research by AAAS, offers clear physical evidence to corroborate on-the-ground accounts of specific instances of destruction. It is believed to be the first demonstration of satellite image analysis to document human rights violations in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
"Eighteen of the locations showed evidence consistent with destroyed or damaged villages," [project director Lars] Bromley reported. "We found evidence of expanded military camps in four other locations as well as multiple possibly relocated villages, and we documented growth in one refugee camp on the Thai border. All of this was very consistent with reporting by multiple human rights groups on the ground in Burma."
But forget the dry science talk, Hollywood's Sylvester Stallone, who has just returned from filming the latest Rambo sequel along the Thailand-Burma border, has hinted that his crew may have captured some of the atrocities on film. Stallone called Burma "a hellhole beyond your wildest dreams" and says he is now struggling with the question of whether he ought to be "making a documentary or a Rambo movie."
I witnessed the aftermath - survivors with legs cut off and all kinds of land mine injuries, maggot-infested wounds and ears cut off. We saw many elephants with blown off legs. We hear about Vietnam and Cambodia and this was more horrific.... This is full scale genocide. It would be a whitewashing not to show what's over there. I think there is a story that needs to be told."
Maybe Burma just found its Brangelina.
I was gratified to read the recent comments of Doru Romulus Costea, who heads the United Nations' widely derided Human Rights Council. In an interview with Le Temps, a Swiss newspaper, Costea admitted that the Council had so far "failed" to handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict evenly, and said he agreed with U.S. President George W. Bush that, as Costea spun it, "It is necessary to constantly improve the functioning of the Council."
The AFP's summary of the interview (which was conducted and published in French) adds this context:
[The Council] has held four special sessions, three of which have concerned the Middle East and have ended up condemning Israel. The fourth related to Sudan, and one is planned next week following the crackdown on dissent in Myanmar.
It's important to remember that it's the 47 member states that make up the Council, not the U.N. itself, that is the source of the problem. Consider today's comments by Louise Arbour, the U.N.'s top human rights official. She urged the council to hold Myanmar's generals accountable for their actions and support a European Union resolution stating that the Council "strongly condemns the continued violent repression of peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar, including through beatings, killings and arbitrary detentions and urges the government of Myanmar to exercise utmost restraint and desist from further violence against peaceful protesters."
The vote is due to be held later today, and it will be a key test. If the Council can't sign on to this, what, then, is its purpose?
(Thanks to Passport reader OA for sending this one along.)
With more than a hint of smugness, folks in the West are rushing to declare Burma's Saffron Revolution a failure. But now comes a report, via Hla Win, the defecting chief of the military junta's intelligence operations, that thousands of monks have been executed in recent days and their bodies dumped in the jungle. Thousands more were reportedly taken to a stadium on the outskirts of Rangoon and beaten. Win, who is attempting to defect to Norway via Thailand, says:
Many more people have been killed in recent days than you've heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand. I decided to desert when I was ordered to raid two monasteries and force several hundred monks onto trucks. They were to be killed and their bodies dumped deep inside the jungle. I refused to participate in this."
Will this be enough to shake the Bush administration, and the foreign-policy community's chattering classes, from their complacency? Talking with one foreign-policy type last Friday, he summed up for me what is a sad conventional wisdom emerging in Washington: "What can we do?"
What can we do? For one thing, let's stop the pretending that the U.S. response so far has been anything but pathetic. The Wall Street Journal this morning refers to the "aggressive American response to the Myanmar crisis." Hmm, they must be talking about First Lady Laura Bush's interview with the Voice of America, which is about the sum total of the American response thus far. After that, Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt has a few other ideas:
Tell China that, as far as the United States is concerned, it can have its Olympic Games or it can have its regime in Burma. It can't have both.... If a threat to those Games -- delivered privately, if that would be most effective, with no loss of face -- could help tip the balance, then let the Games not begin. Some things matter more."
I argued last week that China is unlikely to be shamed, by use of the Olympic card, into taking meaningful action on Burma. But Hiatt is right. If there's even a remote possibility that such pressure could help, then a U.S. threat to withdraw from the games should be made. The Bush Administration is reportedly looking into other, unnamed, options. Let's hope so. Because if 100,000 people were marching the streets of Baghdad or Riyadh, or if thousands of Catholic priests were lying dead in Vatican City, you can bet there would have been a little bit more action by now.
It was January 20, 2005, a heady time. U.S. President George W. Bush had just won reelection and believed the Bush Doctrine had handed him a powerful mandate. And he intended to run with it:
Today America speaks anew to the peoples of the world: All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you."
Oh, how times have changed. This was White House Press Secretary Dana Perino speaking to reporters yesterday:
I have a statement by the President on Burma that I will read out for him," she said, "and then a statement about the FAA.... I call on all nations that have influence with the regime to join us in supporting the aspirations of the Burmese people and to tell the Burmese Junta to cease using force on its own people who are peacefully expressing their desire for change."
In case you missed it, that was the vaunted "freedom agenda" lumped in with airport delays. To the tens of thousands of Burmese risking life and limb to demand freedom from their oppressors, Perino essentially said: We aren't really going to stand with you, but we'll definitely put a call in to China and Russia to see what they can do.
The hope of the Bush administration is apparently that increased sanctions—or the threat of them—and travel restrictions on a half dozen or so top junta leaders will bring the regime in Yangon crumbling down.
But just ask a Cuban how effective these kinds of sanctions are at toppling dictatorial regimes. The increased sanctions Bush announced at the United Nations on Wednesday are little more than symbolic. They will likely have almost no impact on the political situation, and the same goes for Europe's existing sanctions. As one European observer put it, "Stopping European companies from investing in a pineapple juice factory is laughable."
As for the now apparently universal belief that China can somehow be shamed into pressing the junta for democratic reforms, that's a joke—as Bill Overholt pointed out here on Wednesday. But let's step back for a second here: Is the United States really prepared to stake the hopes of freedom on the Chinese Communist Party? Is this what the Bush Doctrine has come to?
The danger of the Bush Doctrine was always that people in places like Burma, Sudan, or Zimbabwe might take it seriously. That they would literally stand up for their freedom, expecting Team Bush to stand with them. "We either go to democracy or back to military dictatorship," one Burmese citizen wrote to the BBC this week. The Bush administration, apparently believing it has done enough, is prepared to sit back and watch the latter happen. More than 100,000 Burmese citizens a day are standing, and the Bush administration is sitting down.
That may be the saddest comment yet on the Bush Doctrine.
Recent press coverage and commentary on Burma's "Saffron Revolution" got me thinking: Is it really as simple as China flipping a switch and Burma will be democratic overnight? Judging by many reports, you'd think so. "If China won't change its policies toward Burma on its own," writes Nobel laureate Jody Williams in today's Wall Street Journal, "it must be pressured to do so."
But aren't we forgetting that the West spent much of the second half of the 20th Century trying to get China out of the business of regime change in Asia? Is it wise to reverse course now? To get some insight on the situation, I got a hold of RAND's Bill Overholt, who has spent decades working on Burma and helped set up the Provisional Revolutionary Government in the country's mountain jungles in 1989. Here's what he had to say.
On China's ability to encourage change in Burma:
China has interests and involvements in Burma, but limited leverage. Burma is not some kind of client state of China. It is a xenophobic, divided, tribalized country with a nationalistic government; it bears more resemblance to one of the less coherent sub-Saharan African states than to most other East Asian countries. It’s not an easy place to influence. Through most of the 1980s there was a Burmese Communist Party, which consisted primarily of the Wa tribe plus Chinese leadership. When the Wa decided to turn anti-communist in the late 1980s and chased the Chinese leadership into China, China’s influence in the country was drastically reduced but there was little China could do without military intervention. So Beijing basically sat by passively when it happened.
There's a crucial lesson in that episode. The fact that China has economic involvements in this neighboring country and sells weapons to it doesn't mean anymore than when big U.S. companies are involved in some third world country and the U.S. government also sells weapons to it. Those things imply neither political commitment to a certain regime nor any ability to change the regime. The Chinese have been pressing Rangoon diplomatically for some time to liberalize the political system. Going beyond that to some kind of active Chinese attempt to impose a new kind of politics would be like the U.S. invading Mexico to clean up Mexican politics, but much messier because Burmese nationalism and tribalism make Mexico's nationalism and Iraq's tribalism seem modest by comparison.
One would hope that our experience with regime change in Iraq would temper somewhat the occasional neocon fantasy that China could simply install a new regime in North Korea or the apparent new fantasy of some liberals that China could just install a different kind of government in Burma."
On whether next year's Olympic Games factor into China's calculus on Burma, as many news outlets are suggesting:
China's motives in relations with Burma have nothing to do with the Olympics. I doubt that even the idea of some connection has ever crossed the minds of Chinese leaders. Only someone distant from the region could even imagine that."
On how events in Burma impact Sino-U.S. relations:
Washington basically has the same attitude toward Burma that China does. It doesn't like what’s happening there, but isn't willing or able to do much about it. We have largely symbolic sanctions, and we have not done as much as we could have. We have not, for instance, gone after the oil companies that provide the big money to the junta and that have benefited so much from infrastructure built by tribal people who were kidnapped by the Burmese government and often forced to work without food until they died. Our drug policy has off and on fed the fox to guard the chicken coop.... We have occasionally given economic and military aid to the same government for the purpose of suppressing the drug trade, but the aid was of course used instead against the democracy movement.
Burma is one of the world's most serious human rights problems. We need to focus on getting our own policy right and on staying in sync with Burma’s neighbors, including China, as we do so. We're pushing in the same general direction as the Chinese, for somewhat different reasons, with equally little success. Hopefully the monks are going to change the structure of the game."
With reports that the junta is stockpiling insecticides to use against demonstrators and is clearing space in jails and hospitals in anticipation of a harsher crackdown, the stakes have never been higher.
PS: For those following the "Burma" vs. "Myanmar" debate—and here at Passport, we've used both—James Fallows convincingly puts the issue to rest.
The inaugural Ibrahim Index of African Governance was released today. The survey, financed by the Sudanese mobile-phone entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim, ranks sub-Saharan African countries according to security, rule of law, human rights, and development. Two tiny island nations, Mauritius and the Seychelles, came out on top. Botswana, Cape Verde, and South Africa are the best-governed countries on the mainland, while unsurprisingly, Sudan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia were the worst. Ibrahim is also planning to give a $5 million prize next month to a former African head of state who exemplified good governance. The BBC examines some of the top candidates here.
One of the strengths of the index is that it includes retroactive data dating back to 2000, which allows readers to examine trends over time. Rwanda was the most improved nation, jumping 18 spots to 18th place. In fact, one American businessman has called the country "the most undervalued 'stock' on the continent and maybe in the world." Rwanda, however, is still categorized as "not free" in the most recent Freedom House Freedom in the World survey, which criticizes President Paul Kagame's government for its crackdowns on the press and opposition groups. This should raise some interesting questions about the role of democratization in good governance and whether it is even possible or advisable to fully democratize a country that still has the ethnic and recent historical baggage of Rwanda.
One of the index's weaknesses is that it only includes data as recent as 2005. Two years can be a lifetime in African politics, which partially explains Liberia's abysmal showing at 43 out of 48. In 2005, Liberia was still under the transitional government that followed the country's civil war and Charles Taylor's removal from power. It will be interesting to see what effect the presidency of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who took over at the end of that year, will have on the country's future ranking. Liberia was the most improved country in the 2007 FP Failed States Index.
President Bush concluded his remarks several minutes ago, and I just got my hands on the text of his speech. Several of the foreign names in the draft include handy phonetic pronunciations. Want to talk like the president? Here's how to do it:
Oddly, there are no training wheels in the draft for the toughest name of all: that of Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, which I can't even pronounce.
As to substance, the main news in the speech was Bush's call for economic sanctions against the leaders of Burma's (very odious) military government "and their financial backers." Bush also announced "an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights--as well as their family members." The intent of all this is "peaceful change" in Burma.
Can new sanctions on Burma be targeted so easily? I have my doubts. Economic issues are what drove Burma's monks into the streets in the first place, and even the most carefully calibrated sanctions could hurt a lot of ordinary Burmese citizens. And with a crackdown looming, it doesn't look like Burma's general's were impressed by Bush's move. They're betting that the United States, the United Nations, and the media will lose interest in this story. And they may well be right.
UPDATE: It should be noted that, despite the best efforts of his speechwriters, President Bush did end up botching a few pronunciations. FP's Joshua Keating caught the president flubbing Aung San Suu Kyi (though he quickly recovered) and "Kerzigstan". He did manage a nice rolled "r" on "Peru," however.
Here are three short mp3 clips from his speech:
I asked Brian Calvert, a reporter for Voice of America Khmer in Washington, to weigh in on today's news that a key lieutenant of the notorious Pol Pot had finally been taken into custody. Here's Brian's take:
The indictment and detention Wednesday of Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's chief lieutenant in the Khmer Rouge, for war crimes and crimes against humanity is the most significant action taken so far by a bedeviled tribunal that was established more than a year ago.
Whether or not his arrest will spell justice, and for whom, remains to be seen.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP
Nuon Chea, also known as Brother No. 2, was flown by helicopter Wednesday morning from his home in the mountains of northwest Cambodia and questioned in Phnom Penh, the capital, by judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the official name of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Nuon Chea has said he will happily face a trial. But it’s not because he regrets his actions. Rather, he sees a trial as a chance to exonerate his role in the Khmer Rouge, which called itself Democratic Kampuchea. In his view, Pol Pot’s regime was only defending the Cambodian people from Vietnamese agents and American bombs.
In reality, the Khmer Rouge used the fear of a Vietnamese takeover and of U.S. fighting in Indochina as fuel for their insurrection. After they took power, as many as 2 million people starved to death or were executed. The legacy of that regime and the civil strife that followed its ouster has been a war-battered people, a devastated infrastructure, and a country that still hasn't recovered.
Nuon Chea is widely believed to be a chief architect of the regime's murderous policies. According to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has been gathering evidence in Cambodia for potential trials for a decade, Nuon Chea held posts as deputy secretary of the Cambodian Communist Party's Central Committee and as a member of the Party's Standing Committee, the bodies most responsible for policies of the regime.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP
Given Cambodia’s bloody history, it may be hard for many to imagine why it has been so difficult to bring Khmer Rouge figures like Nuon Chea to justice. The joint tribunal has struggled since its inception, hamstrung by bickering among U.N.-appointed international jurists and their Cambodian counterparts. Nuon Chea is only the second man to be taken into court custody. Since July, the courts have been holding Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his revolutionary name, Duch, the head of S-21, Cambodia's infamous torture center. Also known as Tuol Sleng, it's now a genocide museum for tourists.
The courts are investigating at least three more suspects for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but their names have not been released.
Will there be justice for the Khmer Rouge's victims? We just don't know. The U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, Joseph Mussomeli, recently told VOA Khmer that over the next one or two years, "we'll have at least, I would guess, somewhere around a dozen people being brought up on charges of genocide."
"There were hundreds of people who were guilty of genocide, but, frankly, you have to draw the line somewhere," he added. "You can't have the trial last for 20 years or 30 years, you can't spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the trial, but you have to find at least the most responsible for genocide and bring them to trial, and I think we are now on the way to doing that."
We'll know soon enough if he is right.
Her long nightmare is over and already she's back at the office! Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Wilson Center's Middle East Program and a past FP contributor, spent 4 months under house arrest in Tehran, followed by another 4 months of solitary confinement in Evin Prison. She was released from jail on August 21, was allowed to leave Iran after a couple weeks, and finally arrived back in the United States last Thursday. After spending the weekend with relatives and friends, she arrived at the Wilson Center Monday morning for a press conference.
Esfandiari is a small woman, and had lost significant weight during her prison stay, but her smile during the press conference was bigger than the entire room. During the Q&A, she displayed courage, resilience, and a remarkable sense of good humor.
I had blocked, you know, thinking about my husband, my daughter, my grandchildren, the house; I blocked all that out because that would have led me to despair. So, for eight months, or for the four months in prison, I didn't think about it.
I dreamt of my first staff meeting at the Wilson Center. (Laughter.) I seriously did. I really did that, I said, OK, I would [not] tell anybody I'm in town ... I would open the door Monday morning at 9:00, walk in to the staff meeting and everybody [would say], "She's here!"
To survive her stay in prison, she imposed a strict schedule on herself, rising early each day for exercise in her cell, with a regimen of reading every evening. Her only contact was with her interrogators, who repeatedly asked her about whether or not the Wilson Center was engaged in efforts to topple Iran. But they were always polite and respectful.
As for her thoughts on her ordeal, Esfandiari harbors no bitterness towards Tehran. She still believes that the U.S. and Iranian governments should hold talks. And she expects to dive right back into her work for peace throughout the Middle East. To learn about details of her imprisonment, as well as her thoughts on U.S.-Iranian relations, I strongly urge you to read the entire transcript of her press conference here. She's a remarkable woman who's been through a remarkable ordeal.
Sippenhaft is an old Nazi policy under which family members of criminals were held equally responsible and punished. Now a Swiss political party is using a racist and xenophobic poster to revive the practice.
The poster shows three white sheep booting out a black sheep, with a caption that translates to "for more security." It's part of an effort to drum up support for a deportation policy in which entire immigrant families would be kicked out of Switzerland if their children committed a violent crime, a drug offense, or benefits fraud.
It's not some fringe, extremist, right-wing political party that's trying to collect 100,000 signatures for a referendum on the policy. Rather, it's the country's largest party—the Swiss People's Party. Back in 2004, this party used the image of black hands reaching into a pot of Swiss passports to successfully campaign for stricter immigration laws. More recently, it proposed banning the construction of minarets.
It all seems part of a larger general trend of racism and anti-Semitism brewing in the region. Uniformed Austrian soldiers recently put a Nazi video on YouTube. Last month, eight men from India were chased down and beaten up by a mob of 50 Germans yelling "Foreigners out!" In eastern Germany, where far-right heckling is a "fact of life" at soccer matches, neo-Nazis took things to a new low in May by targeting a youth match and calling a 14-year-old goalkeeper a "Jewish pig." And last year when Germany hosted the World Cup, a former government spokesman warned dark-skinned visitors to avoid "no-go" areas where racism is a problem. The examples go on …
Obviously, not all Germans, Swiss, and Austrians are cold-hearted extremists, but history is replete with examples of populations that have been radicalized quite fast. This German-speaking part of the world should be kept on our radar screens.
Regular readers of Passport will know that we've been closely following the case of Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a contributor to FP. She was detained in Tehran in December and thrown into the notorious Evin Prison in May, where she's been languishing ever since.
Finally, there's good news! Dr. Esfandiari was released today after her family paid bail of 3 million rials (about $333,000), using the deed of her 93-year-old mother's Tehran apartment. The head of the Wilson Center, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, said he was unsure about why she was released, but had recently received a note from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in response to a letter appealing for Esfandiari's release.
So far, the charges against Esfandiari are still pending, and it is unclear whether or not the Iranian government will allow her to return home to Maryland. But at least she is able to spend time with her ailing mother and is no longer in prison. Let's hope there's similar good news in the cases of Kian Tajbakhsh, Parnaz Azima, and Ali Shakeri, who have also been detained in Iran.
Germans love to travel. Every year, some 44 million of them trek overseas. For hoteliers in places like the French Riviera, this mass exodus is a cash cow. For the Teutonic state, it's an untapped resource.
The government of Angela Merkel is appealing to German citizens traveling abroad to "look beyond the palm trees" and pester people about their governments' human rights records—from the moment they step off the aircraft. Günter Nooke, human rights envoy for the German foreign ministry, even wants in-flight magazines to profile the human rights record of destination countries. Many German tourists are oblivious to human rights abuses, he complains, and "[t]oo many travellers are uncritical, or have a false solidarity with the governments of the countries they visit."
So what might Nooke have German tourists do? For example, visitors to Turkey could "engage" the people on the problems with the country's press freedoms and legal system; tourists in Egypt could ask their taxi drivers why emergency powers have been in place for decades; and Olympic fans could organize "private meetings" with local citizens' groups in Beijing. Businessmen traveling to Dubai could also query luxury hotels about the employment conditions of their migrant workers.
Aside from the obvious criticism that this approach could endanger citizens as well as travelers, which Nooke acknowledges, it also smacks of arrogance. Think about it: How would the staff at JFK airport or the Waldorf Astoria react to being browbeaten about Iraq or Guantánamo? They'd probably become about as welcoming as Yankee Stadium on the night the Red Sox are in town.
Here's an intriguing proposal from Belgium's Anne-Marie Lizin, a prominent European critic of the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Lizin says that countries want to shut Gitmo down should take the prisoners off the United States' hands themselves.
But why not take this a step further and just pay Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Red Cross to actually operate Guantánamo or its equivalent? Then they could hire subcontractors like CACI to handle the interrogations, and provide any resulting information to the U.S. government. Surely, these organizations would be trusted to ensure that prisoners wuold be treated humanely.
Or better yet, draw up an RFP and open up the bidding process to anyone willing to adopt a Guantánamo prisoner. After all, the U.S. government outsources everything else nowadays. Why not this?
Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a gulag survivor and the author of The Gulag Archipelago, the world's most famous literary denunciation of Soviet labor camps. The Gulag Archipelago is the reason Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union and was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature.
So I was surprised to read, in a recent interview with Germany's Der Spiegel, Solzhenitsyn's apologetics for Vladimir Putin, the man who is taking Russia back to the heyday of Soviet censorship (pdf). Why would Solzhenitsyn, an inspiration for dissidents everywhere and a past critic of Putin, do anything but bash the Russian president over his repressive policies and worsening human rights record?
It seems that even for Solzhenitsyn, who accepted a State Award from Putin in June, dictatorship is preferable to anarchy. When Putin came to power in 2000, Russians expected two things from their new leader: that he safeguard Russia's territorial integrity, and that he reverse their country's slide into chaos. Disintegration and internal implosion were seen as the unfortunate consequences of the Yeltsin era, with its wild economic liberalizations and breakneck federalist reform.
And so, Solzhenitsyn is merely echoing many of his compatriots when he tells Der Spiegel:
Putin inherited a ransacked and bewildered country, with a poor and demoralized people. And he started to do what was possible -- a slow and gradual restoration. These efforts were not noticed, nor appreciated, immediately. In any case, one is hard pressed to find examples in history when steps by one country to restore its strength were met favorably by other governments."
Solzhenitsyn's interview makes for a great ironic contrast with Oleg Kalugin, a former KGB general who has harsh words for Vlad in today's Seven Questions. When did the freedom fighter become the apologist for dictatorship, while the spy became the dissident?
Forgive me for being a few weeks, perhaps even a few years, late to this story, but who knew that Pakistani intelligence and the CIA held the sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, aged seven and nine at the time, both before and after his father's capture?
Earlier this month, six human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, released a report on 39 'disappeared' detainees believed to be in U.S. custody somewhere in the world. The report also names wives and children of detainees who have been held and interrogated.
In September 2002, Yusuf al-Khalid (then nine years old) and Abed al-Khalid (then seven years old) were reportedly apprehended by Pakistani security forces during an attempted capture of their father, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was successfully apprehended several months later [...]
After Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s arrest in March 2003, Yusuf and Abed Al Khalid were reportedly transferred out of Pakistan in U.S. custody. The children were allegedly being sent for questioning about their father’s activities and to be used by the United States as leverage to force their father to co-operate with the United States. A press report on March 10, 2003 confirmed that CIA interrogators had detained the children and that one official explained that: "We are handling them with kid gloves. After all, they are only little children...but we need to know as much about their father's recent activities as possible. We have child psychologists on hand at all times and they are given the best of care."
Their father is, obviously, a mass murderer. But what legal grounds exist for states to transfer children out of the country, particularly without parental permission (obviously lacking in this case)? Were the younger Mohammeds really transferred to the United States? What happened to them? Details are incredibly sketchy. The Guardian reported earlier this month that family members haven't seen the kids since they were apprehended.
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