Hey, remember that time Sri Lanka shocked the world by booting Mahinda Rajapaksa out of office just as he was fixing to settle into the presidency for life? (I was there, it was pretty major.)
The new president, Maithripala Sirisena, was celebrated for his bravery in defecting from the regime, and for his principles in his campaign against the abuses of Rajapaksa rule. After the election, investigations of Rajapaksa and his family were announced on allegations of massive corruption, extrajudicial killings of journalists, and attempts to stage an election-night coup.
But six months later, things have gotten weird.
Sirisena’s coalition, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) said today that Rajapaksa will run on their ticket in next month’s parliamentary polls. Rumor has it he may even be the pick for prime minister.
If that sounds like an unbelievably speedy rehabilitation of someone whose ousting was met with global cries of “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead”, remember that the January election was close. Rajapaksa remains very popular with the majority Sinhalese community and their representatives in Parliament. And, in the absence of clear evidence that he tried to overturn the election results, the fact that he gracefully exited office allowed him to preserve the option of a comeback.
At the moment, it’s not clear whether Sirisena actually signed off on Rajapaksa’s return. Over the last couple of days, he’d sounded adamantly opposed to the idea. If he changed his mind, it would indicate a major split in the (always tenuous) big tent movement that brought him to power. If he didn’t, he may have lost control of elements of the UPFA.
And either way, looks like the lead up to the August 17 election is going to be another bumpy ride for Sri Lanka.
And yet, for some reason, asylum seekers keep trying to come to your country.
You put up jerky billboards in their home communities telling them that they are absolutely, positively, definitely not welcome. You send your navy out to intercept the boats of desperate people making their way toward your shores. The ones you catch, you promptly (and illegally) hand over to the abusive governments they were fleeing. You give equipment and money to those same abusive governments to help them make sure no one escapes.
But still they come.
You lock them up in a network of grim camps, insisting that your citizens’ security depends on proper “screening” of these new arrivals. You keep them there indefinitely. Some of them die.
Human rights groups have run out of adjectives with which to deplore your treatment of these vulnerable people. Your international reputation is suffering. So you do the only thing you can: You make it a crime for detention center staff to talk about the conditions there, with a penalty of two years in prison.
Because obviously, you’d rather prosecute doctors and humanitarian workers who speak out about abuses than crack down on child rapists or meet your obligations under international law. Let alone reflecting for one goddamn minute about how bad things must be back home for someone to abandon everyone and everything they’ve ever known for the uncertain chance of surviving the perilous ocean voyage, evading the patrol boats you gave to their abusers, and landing in your grotesque excuse for a detention facility.
A late entry in the category of “Most Ridiculous Responses to the Supreme Court’s Marriage Equality Ruling”: Robert Mugabe has announced plans to propose to President Obama.
Speaking to listeners of Zimbabwe’s national radio station on Saturday, he said:
“I’ve just concluded – since President Obama endorses the same-sex marriage, advocates homosexual people and enjoys an attractive countenance – thus if it becomes necessary, I shall travel to Washington, DC, get down on my knee and ask his hand.”
Then he called the U.S. government a bunch of “perverted Satan-worshipers who insult the great American nation”.
A five justice majority of the Supreme Court made human rights history by ruling that the states cannot ban gay marriage. The other four justices continued to insist that allowing gay people to form stable family units will ruin marriage, democracy, pizza, and the American way of life.
A Sri Lankan MP has called for legal action against the country’s Foreign Minister for his unacceptably friendliness to gays. FM Samaraweera betrayed his country by voting against a resolution that called for the withdrawal of marriage benefits to UN employees in same-sex relationships. In previous fits of pique against the UN, the MP in question, Wimal Weerawansa, has attempted a hunger strike and threatened to stop using Gmail.
A large population of Ukrainian prisoners is stuck in the war zone “in legal limbo“. With no one to judge their cases, thousands of inmates remain in prisons in the east, facing water and electricity shut-downs as well as artillery attacks. The kicker? The court system has no centralized database, so no one actually knows how many people are affected. (h/t goes to Lev, thanks Lev!)
Time Magazine reports that Kurdish militia members in northern Syria are using a new smartphone app that tests their knowledge of the laws of war.
The app, called “Fighter Not Killer” was developed by the NGO Geneva Call “to raise awareness of the law of war among combatants, commanders, officers, political leaders and civilian populations”. It presents 28 different scenarios challenging users to correct apply the laws of war.
I don’t quite know what to make of this. Help me out:
Yes, it’s technically Saturday, and we’re in the final stages of dissertation writing here at KCF HQ, but I couldn’t resist a very special tunnel-themed WTF Friday.
Item 1: The Egyptian military has discovered and destroyed 521 tunnels between Egypt and Gaza in the last six months. The use of tunnels to smuggle goods (most famously, buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken) in and out of the Gaza Strip became common after the 2007 imposition of the blockade. The World Bank reports that the closure of the tunnels has had a significant negative impact on Gaza’s economy: together with the 2014 summer war accounting for “a 15 percent contraction of its GDP” (USD 460 million).
Item 2: Syrian rebels are using tunnels, built following the instructions in a helpful “how to” video from Gaza, where tunnels have also been used for years for military purposes, to attack regime positions. Meanwhile, back in Gaza, a tunnel collapsed yesterday, killing one Hamas fighter and injuring others.
And finally, Item 3, as reported by the WSJ: Rich people like houses with unnecessary tunnels in them. The article explains: “tunnels have emerged as a unique amenity with handsome décor, as high-end builders seek to set themselves apart at a time when every house seems to have a wine cellar and media room.”
Yes, tunnels are the answer to a whole host of problems, including restrictions on freedom of movement, military inferiority, and the mortifying possibility that your home might have the same number of wine cellars and media rooms as your neighbors’. Happy weekend, everyone.
I tried so hard to ignore this “North Sudan” nonsense, you guys.
Last year when the media first started reporting Jeremiah Heaton’s quest to find somewhere to make his daughter princess of, I resolutely closed my browser window and binge-watched season 3 of Parks & Rec.
Then, in November, when word spread that Heaton’s heartwarming tale of neocolonialism would be turned into a Disney movie called “The Princess of North Sudan”, I remained steadfast, determined not to blog about it.
But now he’s back and I just can’t anymore. So here it is:
Heaton’s argument that he can unilaterally assert a state in the Bir Tawil triangle because it is unclaimed territory (terra nullius) is ludicrous. We’ve long since passed the point where states come into being on the word of one white dude with a flag.
On paper, international law (covered here) says that a state must have (1) a permanent population; (2) a defined territory; (3) a government; and (4) the capacity to enter into relations with the other states. (The handful of embassies and consulates Heaton has set up may be an attempt to satisfy requirement #4.) But in practice, statehood also requires recognition by other states. Which explains why Somaliland, despite embassies, passports, and decades of democratic governance of a stable population, is still part of Somalia.
So far, the nations of the world don’t seem to be lining up to extend recognition to “North Sudan”. And I’m kind of thinking that (1) a white foreigner proclaiming himself king of territory in northern Africa may have some unpleasant resonances for members of the African Union, and (2) the government of Sudan: Original Flavor may object to Heaton’s country name of choice.
And seriously, Disney finally makes a movie about an African princess (lions don’t count) and it’s a Caucasian American from Virginia??