In the past week, both the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have featured vastly different takes on the caste system in India.
A 'Broken People' in Booming India
Low-Caste Dalits Still Face Prejudice, Grinding Poverty
India's high-tech revolution helps 'Untouchables' rise …
The Post is more pessimistic, saying "India may be booming, but not for those who occupy the lowest rung of society here." It mentions the case of a Dalit woman (a member of the lowest caste, the "untouchables") whose two children died after a health center refused to help them.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal takes an optimistic tone, saying "… India's rapid economic expansion—and its booming high-tech sector—are beginning to chip away at the historical system that reserved well-paying jobs for upper castes and menial jobs for Dalits." It profiles the story of a Dalit man who is now a software developer and earns more in one month than his father did in a year.
So who's right? It's probably too early to tell, but one factor is sure to make a difference in the outcome: access to education. Many Dalits don't get a decent chance at a quality education. Affirmative action plans, which have been in place for nearly 60 years, can help them get into universities, but if they aren't academically prepared in the first place and have weak English skills, then it's hard to compete.
Probably the biggest challenge, though, is lack of leadership. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the caste system "a blot on humanity." But, unfortunately, the rest of the country's elite doesn't seem to have made egalitarianism a priority. As one publisher of books on caste says, "There's not even the pretension to fight caste. It's not trendy or a Bollywood star's cause célèbre to say you care about the working-man untouchable."
After tomorrow, Tony Blair is going to have a lot more time on his hands, especially if—as seems increasingly unlikely—he heeds the advice of Blake and the FT's Gideon Rachman and turns down the thankless job of Middle East envoy.
Here's an idea. Why not leverage his star power by taking on the world's most neglected causes?
Al Gore already has dibs on carbon emissions. Bill Clinton has taken on HIV/AIDS. And so, Passport humbly submits five other worthy causes that Tony Blair may want to make his own:
Today is World Refugee Day—never an occasion for wild celebration, and this year even less so than usual. According to a report (pdf) just released by the U.N. Refugee Agency, there are presently almost 10 million refugees in the world, more than at any point since 2002. After falling steadily over the past five years, this is the first time the number has risen. According to the report, the 14 percent jump last year was driven almost entirely by a huge spike in the number of Iraqis seeking refuge abroad.
There are now about 1.5 million Iraqis who have fled their country, on top of another 1.8 million who have abandoned their homes but remain within the borders of Iraq. The situation won't be getting better any time soon, as tens of thousands continue to flood over the borders every month, and instability remains endemic. Considering that Sudan did fairly well last year—it was among the five nations with the most people voluntarily returning home, according to the U.N. report—Iraq may be well placed to take over the throne at the top of next year's FP Failed States Index.
Given the role of the United States in creating this mess, these numbers should cause some hard thinking in Washington. The United States admitted a whopping 202 Iraqis for resettlement during 2006, and though plans are in place to take in 7,000 this year, compare that to the 850,000 Vietnamese who were given asylum in the U.S. during and after that war. It's pretty weak.
Most Iraqis have run to Jordan or Syria (see this excellent Brookings report for more on that), but where should responsibility fall?
Before I came to FP, I was living in Egypt and working at the Ibn Khaldun Center, a pro-democracy organization chaired by Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a prominent Egyptian academic and dissident who was jailed between 2001 and 2003 for his activities.
I was deeply disturbed to learn recently that one of my colleagues at the center, Amr Tharwat (the younger man on the right of the photo), has been arrested and disappeared by the Egyptian security services. And now the story has been confirmed by the New York Times. Amr had been in charge of supervising election monitoring efforts for Ibn Khaldun during the recent elections for Egypt's upper house (They were a farce: The government's party won 69 of 71 seats). He's also the nephew of Ahmed Sobhy Mansour, a reformist Muslim scholar who was granted asylum in the United States because his ideas are controversial within Egypt. And now, Amr's gone missing, along with his cousin. It's likely Amr's been sent to Tora prison, where the Egyptian government sends political prisoners, or worse—mistreated in a local police headquarters somewhere.
Amr was just finishing his college degree at Cairo University when I first met him last spring. He was an incredibly nice young man and a firm believer in democracy and moderation—hardly a threat to Egyptian national security. Last summer, he began getting extremely nervous about getting arrested for the work he was doing in conducting political opinion polls, which are effectively illegal in Egypt. Unfortunately, he was right to worry. I hope he and his family will be safe and sound.
As for the government of Egypt, it faces the possibility of $200 million of cuts in its annual U.S. aid package, tied to its failings on human rights. Nearly every year around this time, the U.S. Congress debates the same question: Shouldn't we be sending these bozos a message? And every year, Egypt gets its money. Will this year be different?
Calling on all Catholics to send their donations elsewhere, the Vatican lambasted Amnesty International Wednesday for the human rights organization's stance on abortion.
The Vatican's beef is that in April, Amnesty shifted its official position from a neutral stance to one of urging governments to ensure access to abortion services in the case of rape, incest, or when pregnancy represents a risk to the mother's life. But Cardinal Renato Martino's accusation that Amnesty is "promoting abortion" is a misrepresentation, the human rights organization says:
Amnesty International's actual policy, however, standing alongside its long-standing opposition to forced abortion, is to support the decriminalisation of abortion, to ensure women have access to health care when complications arise from abortion and to defend women's access to abortion, within reasonable gestational limits, when their health or human rights are in danger.
While Amnesty doesn't take a dime from the Vatican itself, provoking the Holy See's condemnation will certainly hurt the organization with devout Catholics.
The Roman Catholic Church and Amnesty International have historically found a great deal of common ground. Both believe their mission is to protect victims of persecution, particularly when it comes to armed conflict, the death penalty, and world poverty. It would be a shame if abortion caused the Church to lose sight of these shared goals.
The U.S. State Department released its seventh annual Trafficking in Persons Report Tuesday. Unlike most government documents, this report is designed to shock the conscience: It contains poignant first-hand stories and photo accounts of sex workers, domestic slaves, and child soldiers from all corners of the world. But the statistics alone are shocking enough: An estimated 800,000 people were trafficked across national borders in 2006. Eighty percent of those were women; 50 percent were minors.
That's about where the numbers end, though. It's great that the State Department is calling attention to this heinous trade, but sadly, the report is very thin on data or trend analysis. Readers are left with almost no idea whether human trafficking is getting better or worse. Instead, we get repeated anecdotes illustrating why "modern-day slavery" is bad—as if anyone interested enough in this topic to download the report would need persuasion.
As the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime explained in March, good data is hard to come by on this underground phenomenon. Still, if you're trying to get a basic handle on trends, the UNODC's Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns report does a reasonable job.
The State Department does attempt, at least, to assess how governments are attacking the problem. The report groups countries into one of four categories based on to what extent they serve as a country of origin, transit, or destination for trafficking, as well as the efforts made by their governments to address these problems. Here the trend is negative. Seven countries—Algeria, Bahrain, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, and Qatar—dropped to Tier 3, the worst category, bringing to 16 the total number of countries deemed negligent in this year's report.
Persian Gulf states occupy a disturbingly large number of the worst spots. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar all rely heavily on foreign workers, particularly in their domestic and service sectors, but provide little or no legal protection for the exploited and no prosecution for their abusers. (Robot camel jockeys aren't going to solve this a problem of this scale.)
The State Department threatens sanctions for Tier 3 countries who do not take serious anti-slavery action in the next 90 days, including a cutoff of U.S. aid and support for World Bank and IMF loans. Passport readers are invited to rate the chances of any penalties for a staunch U.S. ally such as Saudi Arabia, which has languished in Tier 3 for three years in a row and, according to the report, "does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so."
Consider the plight of Ahktar Qassim Basit, as told in a moving story in yesterday's New York Times. China, the country of his birth, considers him a terrorist suspect. Basit is Muslim and Uighur, a member of an ethnic minority from Xinjiang Province, which the Uighurs call East Turkestan. Human rights groups have long condemned Beijing for what they consider its oppression of its nine million Uighurs in western China, where there are occasional outbreaks of separatist violence.
Several years ago, Basit left Xinjiang and headed west, looking for ways to earn money to send back to his family, and also to escape harassment by Chinese authorities. After traveling through a few Central Asian countries, he found himself in a Uighur hamlet not far from Tora Bora, where he heard he could get free food and shelter while he figured out where to go next. In October 2001, the American military bombed the hamlet, scattering its residents over the border into Pakistan. There villagers reported them to local security, which turned them over to the U.S. military, which promptly imprisoned them in detention centers back in Afghanistan. A few months later, the U.S. military sent them to Cuba.
For the next couple years, Basit and 21 of his fellow Uighurs were detained in Guantánamo Bay. By late 2003, U.S. officials determined that most of them were not a terrorist threat and could be released. But to where? Some Pentagon officials proposed sending them back to China. But others argued that, despite a promise from China that it would treat the Uighurs humanely, Beijing's track record proved otherwise. So the U.S. administration approached other countries where there are small Uighur communities, such as Sweden and Germany. A year passed, and in late 2004 the U.S. government decided that even though 14 of the Uighurs had been cleared of wrongdoing, it would review all of their cases again. This time, only five, including Basit, could be freed. (Since then, others' cases have been reviewed, and all, except for two, have been cleared). The U.S. attempted to reach out to yet more countries to take in the Uighurs: Angola, Australia, Switzerland, Gabon. Some countries wanted foreign aid in exchange for taking in the refugees. Others felt pressure from China not to accept the Uighurs into their borders. Finally, the United States pressured Albania into accepting a few.
For over a year now, Basit and four of his fellow Uighurs who were also detained at Gitmo have been living in a squalid refugee center outside Tirana. They have been told that they must work in order to move out. But in order to get a work permit, they must learn Albanian. (That's some catch, that Catch 22 ...) They've petitioned to be sent to another country, but because the United Nations considers Albania "safe," the organization will make no move to help. No one else seems to notice or care about their fate, either.
We've never talked to them," said an American official who insisted on anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss the matter. "We don't monitor them. They're not our citizens, and there is no reason for us to."
Meanwhile, they study the Koran, study Albanian, and spend their precious small stipends on phone calls to their families back home. And they wait.
If you've been looking for another reason to cut back on your chocolate consumption, here's a pretty good one.
The London-based group Global Witness has now linked profits from Côte d'Ivoire’s cocoa industry—like those of diamonds from Sierra Leone and timber from Liberia—to the perpetuation of armed conflict in the country. (Child labor, apparently, is not the only problem with cocoa.)
In its report entitled “Hot Chocolate: How cocoa fuelled conflict in the Ivory Coast,” Global Witness claims that $118 million from the cocoa trade found its way into the war chest of both government forces and the rebel group Forces Nouvelles (FN). Along with uncovering evidence of this dangerous movement of funds, the group shines light on the use of censorship and intimidation in covering it all up:
The government's determination to hold on to this cocoa-derived wealth has been demonstrated by a pattern of intimidation against those who have attempted to expose its abuses: journalists, auditors and independent investigators have been threatened and attacked. Cases include the abduction of a French lawyer who was auditing the cocoa sector and the disappearance of journalist Guy-André Kieffer.
They urge for greater transparency on the part of both cocoa exporters and chocolate manufactures, which would involve disclosing payments made to Ivorian government and cocoa bodies, publishing information on the origin of the cocoa they are buying, and carrying out due diligence on purchases.
And the chocolate industry’s response? Susan Smith, a spokeswoman for the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, told the Financial Times that "tracing or labeling individual beans is, as a practical matter, impossible."
I think that's what logicians call "beating a straw man."
In response to Bush's announcement yesterday of tough new economic sanctions against Sudan, the Sudanese ambassador to the United States rented a room at the National Press Club in Washington and threatened to retaliate. His weapon? My favorite carbonated beverage.
I want you to know that the gum arabic which runs all the soft drinks all over the world, including the United States, mainly 80 percent is imported from my country," the ambassador said after raising a bottle of Coca-Cola.
A reporter asked if Sudan was threatening to "stop the export of gum arabic and bring down the Western world."
"I can stop that gum arabic and all of us will have lost this," Khartoum Karl warned anew, beckoning to the Coke bottle. "But I don't want to go that way."
Zimbabwe's information minister said yesterday that the Australian government was financing "terrorist activities" by channeling money to aid groups in favor of toppling Robert Mugabe's government.
It's a ridiculous accusation, of course. Here's the back story: On Sunday, Australian Prime Minister John Howard ordered the Australian cricket team to boycott its scheduled tour of Zimbabwe because of the Mugabe regime's human rights abuses. He called Mugabe a "grubby dictator," and argued that the Mugabe government is "behaving like the Gestapo towards its political opponents." Then on Tuesday, he committed $A18 million ($15 million) to backing Mugabe's political critics, including $A6 million for human rights and humanitarian groups. That's what prompted the "terrorist activities" charge. (Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change who was famously beaten up two months ago, welcomed Howard's decision.)
Howard doesn't plan to mix sports and human rights for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, though:
I have absolutely no intention of intervening in relation to the Olympics in Beijing except to give very strong support to the Australian team."
The Post's Al Kamen on Iraq's refugee crisis:
For a long time, Washington basically denied the existence of a refugee problem. Then at the end of 2006, the State Department said the United States would resettle 7,000 Iraqis in 2007 -- not all that many, but a huge increase from the 466 resettled since 2003.
So how many were resettled last month? 500? 600? Well, not quite. Actually, the total for April, according to the State Department, was . . . drumroll . . . ONE.
That's pretty shocking. But what about humanitarian organizations? Surely they're picking up the slack, no?
Actually, they're not, argues FP contributing writer David Bosco in yesterday's Boston Globe. Bosco chides "the West's leading human rights organizations" for essentially punting on the biggest question of all: "whether U.S. troops should stay or go." The reason for their silence, says Bosco, is that "human rights professionals are as confused as everyone else about how to stop the spiraling sectarian violence."
One thing they certainly can do without making up their minds on this question, it seems to me, is raise the alarm about a burgeoning catastrophe that will have repercussions in the region and beyond for years to come. See Nir Rosen's incredibly depressing New York Times magazine cover story to get a sense of just how disastrous inaction could be. About 50,000 Iraqis are departing the country each month, according to Rosen. The State Department is coming up just a wee bit short.
Global climate change will create one billion refugees by 2050, according to a report released today. The paper, written by charity organization Christian Aid, assumes that the world will heat up by between 1.8 and 3.0 degrees Celsius over that time, giving rise to apocalyptic floods and famines that will starve and displace millions. The result? "A world of many more Darfurs," as refugees are caught between devastated homes and hostile populations elsewhere who have no desire to share precious resources.
These internally displaced persons, or IDPs, have no rights under international law and no official voice .... Their living conditions are likely to be desperate and in many cases their lives will be in danger."
The prospect of multiple Darfurs is horrifying. But if Christian Aid think this is a call to action, they're dreaming. We all know what's happening in Darfur. Thus far the response from the West has been precisely zero. And no matter what you multiply zero by, the answer is always the same. The sad fact is that for all the hot air exhaled about climate change, it is little more today than global debt relief was two years ago—a platform to help politicians appear sensitive. Only when the consequences of global warming pinch the world's middle classes will action be taken. By then, I'm sorry to say, it could be too late for the IDPs.
The following proposal was put before Google shareholders at their annual meeting held yesterday. The motion was voted down out of fears that adopting an anti-censorship policy would effectively shut down Google's business in China.
- The company will not engage in pro-active censorship.
- The company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures.
- Users will be clearly informed when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to filter or otherwise censor content that the user is trying to access.
- Users should be informed about the company’s data retention practices, and the ways in which their data is shared with third parties.
- The company will document all cases where legally-binding censorship requests have been complied with, and that information will be publicly available.
- Data that can identify individual users should not be hosted in Internet restricting countries, where political speech can be treated as a crime by the legal system.
David Drummond, senior vice president for corporate development at Google, explained to PC World that "this proposal would prevent us from operating Google.cn." So we can assume that at least one of the proposed rules is being broken by Google right now.
I hope the story doesn't end here. The six-point list would make an excellent addition to the code of conduct of any business that operates online. If businesses don't want to adopt it internally, a grassroots campaign could pressure them to do so. For instance, an index that ranks how well the top 100 online companies comply with these anti-censorship measures could shed some interesting light on who's selling out freedom of speech to make a profit. The resulting harsh spotlight might force a few companies to clean up their acts. More coverage at Slashdot.
(Full disclosure: Apparently, I'm a sellout, too. I own a handful of Google shares. But I'm disappointed that these measures were not adopted.)
A German research team has created software to reassemble 45 million pages of shredded documents from East Germany's communist State Security Service, the Stasi. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Stasi agents began destroying the documents into 600 million pieces. The shredding machines got overloaded, so they resorted to tearing them by hand. (Just think of all the paper cuts.)
The software works like a human putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are scanned. Next, the digital images are analyzed and grouped by color, shape, handwriting, typeface, and other characteristics. Then similar pieces are put together. The main difference? Speed. It took 24 people 12 years to reassemble 323 sacks of paper. The software is expected to finish the remaining 16,000 sacks in about five years.
If the software fails, here's a backup: Iranian carpet weavers. During the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, they reconstructed shredded documents by hand—it wasn't much of a challenge for people who could tie 400 knots per square inch.
China's not the first country to bestow a nice-sounding moniker on a bad program (Healthy Forests Initiative, anyone?), but to call the mandatory resettlement of 250,000 Tibetans the "Comfortable Housing Program" is, shall we say, creative. For the past year, China has forced a quarter of million Tibetans to relocate to cookie-cutter houses (which the Tibetans must pay for themselves) in "socialist villages" throughout the countryside. Each dwelling, which costs an average of $6,000 despite the fact that the average annual income for a rural Tibetan is around $320, comes complete with a Chinese flag flying on the roof.
The forced relocation hasn't been big news—Chinese state media reported briefly that "beaming smiles" were "fixed on the faces of farmers and herders"—and foreign journalists are prohibited from entering the region unescorted. McClatchy only managed to score this scoop because the reporter, Tim Johnson, posed as a tourist. China has said that it will allow foreign journalists to travel freely during the Olympics next year. If that includes Tibet, we'll no doubt see some equally disturbing signs of China's long policy of strangling Tibetan identity.
Be sure to check out Johnson's narrated slide show of his journey.
As noted in yesterday's Morning Brief, esteemed scholar Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was imprisoned in Tehran this week. Back in December, Dr. Esfandiari was literally on her way to the airport to fly back to her home in Washington when her taxi was stopped by three men with knives. They seized all her belongings, including her Iranian and her American passports. Esfandiari, a dual Iranian-American citizen, went to seek a replacement passport but was denied. Since then, she had been under virtual house arrest at her 93-year-old mother's home, allowed to leave only to visit Iran's intelligence ministry, where she was questioned for hours and hours upon end. That is, until Tuesday, when she was arrested and thrown into Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.
This is the most prominent detention of an U.S. citizen in Iran since the 1979 hostage crisis. There were a couple new developments yesterday. The State Department condemned Esfandiari's imprisonment, as well as the detention of Parnaz Azima, a correspondent for the U.S.-funded Radio Farda, whose passport was confiscated in January. Esfandiari's mother attempted to visit her in prison, but was turned away. And a hard-line Iranian news agency charged that Esfandiari heads up the Iran section for AIPAC, an absolutely ludicrous accusation. Esfandiari is known for hosting wide-ranging discussions on Iranian affairs, taking all viewpoints into account.
Sadly, Esfandiari was likely not very surprised about her detention. In late 2005, the journalist-turned-academic wrote an article for FP called "Iranian Women, Please Stand Up." In the article, she profiled a women's glossy magazine called Zanan, and described how writers for the magazine had been imprisoned at various times on trumped-up charges. While writing the piece, Esfandiari visited Iran to see family members and did a little research on the side. She certainly was aware of the dangers, telling me that she was reluctant to communicate over e-mail from Tehran, and that she would file her story only once she was safely out of the country. Esfandiari is smart, objective, a terrific scholar and an excellent writer. Unfortunately, instead of writing about people who've been imprisoned, she's become a prisoner herself. Our thoughts are with her and her family, and we hope she is released soon.
One familiar complaint on the left about George Soros is that while he espouses a left-liberal worldview and generously funds pro-democracy programs around the world via his Open Society Institute and other projects, he is a wrecker of worlds through his currency trading business. Soros famously bet against the British pound in 1992, embarrassing the Bank of England, and he often gets accused of having a hand in several Asian currency crises as well.
What these critics miss, of course, is that business is one thing, and politics is another. You don't become a billionaire by mixing the two; nor can you retain the confidence of your shareholders if you start to stray from a relentless focus on the bottom line. Which helps explain why billionaire investor Warren Buffett has no interest in threatening to divest from PetroChina in order to try to convince the Chinese government to stop covering for the Sudanese government's brutal behavior in Darfur. When about a dozen shareholders in Berkshire Hathaway raised the issue last week at the company's annual meeting, Buffett shut them down:
Mr. Buffett said shareholders were mistaken in thinking PetroChina has any impact on the Chinese government, or that a divestment of the Chinese oil company would influence Beijing. The Chinese government owns 100% of China National Petroleum Corp., which owns about 88% of PetroChina.
A shareholder resolution to divest PetroChina sponsored by shareholder Judith Porter, a retired professor, was defeated by a margin of more than 98%.
“PetroChina in no way tells the Chinese government what to do,” said Mr. Buffett. “We have no disagreement with what PetroChina is doing.” He added that he sees “no effect whatsoever in Berkshire Hathaway trying to tell the Chinese government how to conduct their business,” although he added that he is in full agreement over the significance of the problems in Darfur.
UPDATE: Reader William Mitchell points out via email that the Wall Street Journal account above leaves out one crucial detail: that Berkshire Hathaway pointed out the following in a commentary posted online (pdf):
[W]e have seen no records, including the various materials we have received from pro-divestment groups, that indicate PetroChina has operations in Sudan. The controlling shareholder of PetroChina, CNPC, does do business in Sudan ... Subsidiaries have no ability to control the policies of their parent."
Even so, the memo goes on to acknowledge my original point above:
We do not believe that Berkshire should automatically divest shares of an investee because it disagrees with a specific activity of that investee.
Cambodia is finally taking a baby step to address its ugly history. A new book by Khamboly Dy, an expert on Cambodia's genocide, came out on Wednesday. Dy's A History of Democratic Kampuchea is significant because it's the first history book written by a Cambodian on the period from 1975 to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge terrorized the population and caused the deaths of some 1.7 million people. However, it was only approved for use a "reference text" in schools, so Cambodia's government—which is led by people with Khmer Rouge pasts—isn't exactly embracing truth and reconciliation with open arms. But it's a start.
You can download a PDF of the book here from the Documentation Center of Cambodia's website. Eighty-four pages are in English, with the other 125 pages in Khmer.
It begins eloquently:
Many Cambodians have tried to put their memories of the regime behind them and move on. But we cannot progress—much less reconcile with ourselves and others—until we have confronted the past and understand both what happened and why it happened. Only with this understanding can we truly begin to heal.
Amnesty International has found that Pakistan has more people imprisoned facing execution than any other country in the world. Almost one third of the world's 24,000 death-row prisoners are in Pakistan, often held in extremely tight conditions.
And in fact, over 90 percent of the world's executions take place in just six countries. Out of the 1,591 people executed last year (down from 2,148 in 2005), more than 90 percent were executed in just six countries: China (1,010), Iran (177), Pakistan (82), Iraq (65), Sudan (65), and the United States (53). But these grim execution figures are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to criminal imprisonment numbers around the world.
In the current issue of FP, Roy Walmsley reveals just how alarming the numbers on imprisonment are on our "Prison Planet." He finds that the global prison population is on the rise, with more than 9 million people currently behind bars. And which country incarcerates its citizens more than any other? The United States. Seven hundred and thirty-seven out of every 100,000 Americans are prisoners—and one in every 32 American adults is currently in jail, on probation, or on parole. Russia follows, with 611 out of every 100,000 people imprisoned.
But while the United States locks up people in greater numbers than the rest of the world, its imprisonment conditions could be much worse. In Zambia, the prison occupation rate stands at 331 percent, while in Haiti, almost nine out of every 10 prisoners have not even been convicted of a crime—they are still awaiting trial. In the United States, this figure is "only" around two out of every 10. Out of the OECD countries, only France, where 3.2 out of every 10 prisoners awaits trial, is worse than the United States in processing its prisoners.
The BBC's Katya Adler brilliantly details gender segregation on a portion of Israel's public transportation system in a report from Jerusalem.
The other day I was waiting for a bus in downtown Jerusalem. I was in the bustling orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Mea Sharim and the bus stop was extremely crowded.
When the Number 40 bus arrived, the most curious thing happened. Husbands left heavily pregnant wives or spouses struggling with prams and pushchairs to fend for themselves as they and all other male passengers got on at the front of the bus.
Women moved towards the rear door to get on at the back.
Israel's Orthodox Jews call these "modesty buses." They help them to avoid contact with "unpure" women. Israeli officials say that the segregation of the bus lines is voluntary. But as Adler found out, that's hardly the case.
When on the bus, I tried to buck the system, moving my way towards the driver but was pushed back towards the other women.
Having just spent the better part of a week in Jerusalem, it has to be said that this doesn't just happen on the city's transportation system. You see gender segregation—both subtle and not so subtle—in numerous places. It's true, for instance, at the Western Wall, where women are forced to pray in a confined and significantly smaller area of the wall that borders a construction site.
To be fair, Israel is a vibrant democratic state, where young men and women alike pull mandatory tours in the military. But Israel is also clearly having a hard time balancing modern views on gender with the strict rules of its ultra-Orthodox minority, particularly in Jerusalem. Having just seen it for myself, I can't help but wonder if Israel’s willingness to kowtow to this form of religious extremism undermines the West's efforts to press for equality in places like Saudi Arabia. Either way, democracies aren't supposed to subsidize segregation.
I'm mystified by the announcement today that the Australian and American governments have reached deal to swap up to 200 refugees every year. Under the plan, asylum seekers to Australia under detention who are deemed to be genuine refugees will be resettled in the United States. In return, the United States will be able to relocate Cuban and Haitian refugees, currently being held at the naval base at Guantánamo Bay, to Australia. So what's the point of this scheme? The theory is that settling refugees in "faraway" places will deter human traffickers and illegal immigrants from targeting the United States and Australia specifically.
I still don't get it. The plan could easily backfire. As Tony Burke, the immigration spokesman for the opposition Labor Party in Australia emphasized,
If you are in one of the refugee camps around the world, there is no more attractive destination than to think you can get a ticket to the USA.... What [Australian Prime Minister] John Howard is doing is saying to the people around the world: if you want to get to the US, the way to it is to hop on a boat and go to Christmas Island."
Second, the whole idea seems pointless in any case. Almost 85 percent of asylum seekers to Australia are ultimately found to be genuine refugees, and are therefore entitled to protection under international law. Many have already fled across thousands of miles, so it's highly doubtful they would be deterred by the thought of ending up 12,000 miles across the planet. After all, it's not like they'd end up in North Korea. And finally, as Jillian Bradford of Australia's ABC asks, "How much is this going to cost? It seems an extraordinar[il]y expensive way of resettling refugees." Indeed.
Did Hollywood's campaign to link Darfur and the Beijing Olympics work? The New York Times treats China's envoy to Sudan with kid gloves:
A senior Chinese official, Zhai Jun, traveled to Sudan to push the Sudanese government to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force. Mr. Zhai even went all the way to Darfur and toured three refugee camps, a rare event for a high-ranking official from China, which has extensive business and oil ties to Sudan and generally avoids telling other countries how to conduct their internal affairs.
So what gives? Credit goes to Hollywood — Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg in particular. Just when it seemed safe to buy a plane ticket to Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games, nongovernmental organizations and other groups appear to have scored a surprising success in an effort to link the Olympics, which the Chinese government holds very dear, to the killings in Darfur, which, until recently, Beijing had not seemed too concerned about.
But are the Chinese sincere about using their influence to stop the slaughter in Darfur? It looks like their main concern is averting a PR disaster:
During closed-door diplomatic meetings, Chinese officials have said they do not want any of their Darfur overtures linked to the Olympics, American and European officials said.
In an e-mail message on Thursday, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington warned anew against such a linkage. "If someone wants to pin Olympic Games and Darfur issue together to raise his/her fame, he/she is playing a futile trick," the spokesman, Chu Maoming, wrote.
That doesn't sound like a changed regime to me.
Later this month, South African women will be able to purchase the Rapex device, marketed as the "anti-rape condom." The rapex, shaped like a female condom, is worn internally and equipped with 25 teeth in its lining. The razor-sharp teeth fasten on the attacker's penis if he attempts penetration. Since the device does no lasting damage to the attacker, it is completely legal and will sell for 1 Rand (around 14 cents) when it hits stores. The majority of women surveyed about the device said they would be willing to use it.
The inventor of Rapex, South African Sonette Ehler, a former medical technician, got the idea when a traumatized rape victim lamented to her, "If only I had teeth down there."
Of course, the product is not without controversy or critics. Some argue that the device may encourage rapists to attack their victims further, placing women in even greater danger. Ehler's response is that women are already faced with that danger, and at least this way the man is disabled momentarily, allowing the victim to get away. Others criticize the method as "vengeful," to which Ehler responds: "[It's] a medieval device for a medieval deed." More philosophically, some argue that the idea places the burden of stopping rape on the victims rather than the perpetrators. But the reality, according to Ehler, is that "[n]obody can make you safe except you." Given that South Africa has the highest per capita rate of rape of any country in the world, at a reported 119 per 100,000 people (which translates to around 1.7 million women raped each year), she may have a compelling argument.
Google has teamed up with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to map out the atrocities occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan, where conflict has been raging since 2003 when Janjaweed rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government. As of today, the 200,000 users of Google Earth (which can be downloaded for free) can navigate to Africa, zoom in, and see the "Crisis in Darfur" initiative, which indicates areas that have been ravaged, refugee camps, destroyed villiages, and much more. Users can also gather data and other information from the map. Crisis in Darfur is the first project of a long-term collaboration between Google and the museum to map out areas of genocide. Next in the works is a mapping project of the Holocaust.
Last Thursday, Passport explained why the U.N. Human Rights Council is now officially a joke. But that was a day before the council passed a decidedly unfunny resolution that condemns "defamation of religion." It was sponsored—surprise, surprise—by Pakistan, on behalf of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The resolution decries defamation of religion in general, but Islam is the only religion it mentions explicitly. The resolution also states that freedom of expression "should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations as provided by law."
That's rich. Some of the OIC's members—Saudi Arabia comes to mind—are some of the world's worst offenders when it comes to anti-Semitic hate speech. Will they be cracking down when their own citizens defame Jews? Additionally, anti-blasphemy laws have been abused in Pakistan to settle property and business disputes.
It's no surprise that authoritarian countries like China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia would be eager to establish the precedent, even in a laughingstock of a forum like the U.N. Human Rights Council, that "defamation" should be prohibited by law. But what are democracies like the Philippines, South Africa, and Mexico doing voting in favor?
On August 5, 1966, Bian Zhongyun was brutally attacked and tortured by 10th-grade students at her own school in Beijing, where she was a vice-principal. At the age of fifty, she was an early casualty in China's Cultural Revolution. A documentary film about her murder, "Though I am Gone," has reportedly caused the suspension of the Yunnan Multi Culture Visual Festival, which was scheduled to begin tomorrow.
In yet another demonstration of the YouTube Effect, someone has posted the entire film on YouTube, broken up into ten parts. Below is the graphic first section of the movie, this week's Thursday Video:
The results of global poll released today by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and WorldPublicOpinion.org show conclusively that publics believe the United Nations has the responsibility to protect people from genocide and other severe human rights abuses—even if this means acting against the will of their own government.
Respondents in twelve countries agreed that the U.N. Security Council has a responsibility to authorize the use of force in such cases, with people in China (76 percent) and the United States (74 percent) demonstrating the highest levels of support for U.N. intervention. When Darfur was identified as a specific case (in ten countries), publics in France and the United States showed the highest levels of support for U.N. intervention, with a total of 84 and 83 percent respectively supporting U.N. action.
So why hasn't this resounding public support to stop genocide translated into active government policy? One possible factor: In a recent FP web exclusive, Paul Slovic, a professor of psychology specializing in risk and decision-making, shows that statistics of mass murder actually paralyze us into inaction, and essentially de-motivate us from pressuring our governments to intervene. This may just play a crucial role in explaining the discrepancy between these global poll results showing overwhelming support for action, and the grim reality of global inaction.
Japan’s struggling prime minister, Shinzo Abe, provoked a firestorm of controversy recently when he said there was no proof that the Japanese military kidnapped women to work as sex slaves during World War II. He's since apologized. Sort of. For this week's Seven Questions, FP asked Columbia University's Gerald Curtis, one of the world's foremost outside experts on Japanese politics, why Japan has so much trouble moving beyond its past.
In Geneva this week, any pretense of utility or fairness that clung to the United Nations Human Rights Council finally evaporated. By a decisive margin, the Council voted to end its examination of Iran and Uzbekistan despite worsening human rights records in both countries. Japan, South Korea, and Brazil were surprising votes in favor of the free passes; they had been supported more predictably by Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and Azerbaijan.
The sad irony is, the Council was actually conceived as an alternative to the now-defunct Human Rights Committee, which had been widely condemned for doing exactly what the new Council is doing now. The United States had been a leading advocate for reform, but refused to sit on the Council at its inception, fearing that it would degenerate into a talking shop that would aid and abet the worst violators.
That position is looking pretty prescient now. The Council has condemned Israel 8 times, but refused to pass judgment on even a single other regime. Regional blocs cover for their own, while tyrants point to the shortcomings of democracies to hide the fact that they aren't even trying. All of which just goes to show the inherent weakness of a body that treats all of its members as formal equals in judging matters in which they manifestly are not. What results are mealy-mouthed excuses, like this drivel from Azerbaijan's representative:
Human rights as a concept itself is unfortunately a very much politicized matter. And of course, one if the ideas when the council was created, was to make sure that all members are elected by two-thirds of the UN General Assembly membership. And that means more than 100 countries. If you consider that someone elected by more than 100 countries is a bad country or a good country, it's a very subjective view. And I think that what we have to do right now is to avoid dividing lines.
Eleanor Roosevelt would have been proud.
The long and disgraceful African silence on Robert Mugabe may finally be ending. For years now, Mugabe's friends and neighbors have kept quiet as the aging and increasingly unhinged leader drove his country into the ground. Africa's leaders often deployed tired anticolonialist rhetoric to defend him from criticism by Western watchdog groups. But Mugabe's latest depredations may have finally exhausted African patience—or at least embarrassed his colleagues sufficiently to speak out. Zambia's president broke the silence last week when he compared Zimbabwe to the Titanic.
Today's news may prompt more defections. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, still recovering from the wounds inflicted by Mugabe's security service, has just been arrested. South Africa's stance will be critical. The government of Thabo Mbeki has long favored what he terms "quiet diplomacy" in dealing with Mugabe, and officials have bristled at criticism.
It is not our intention to make militant statements to make us feel good, or to satisfy governments outside the African continent," Pahad told a regular news briefing in Pretoria amid the growing political crisis in neighboring Zimbabwe.
Today's emergency meeting of the Southern Africa Development Community will give South Africa a chance to reconsider its stance.
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