WTF Friday, 12/19/2014

Who’s ready for 2014 to be over?

This week:

But hey, the U.S. is finally rethinking its nutty Cuba policy, so maybe we can do better in 2015?

WTF Friday, 11/21/2014

So:

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh signed that appalling anti-gay law;

Armed bandits stole a cooler filled with Ebola-infected blood in Guinea;

The deaths of 13 Indian women following coercive sterilization surgery was traced to antibiotics contaminated with rat poison;

Bill Cosby turned out to be an even bigger rapist than we already knew;

News broke that the Indonesian National Police requires female applicants to submit to so-called “virginity tests”;

U.S. Ambassador Charles Twining’s car was shot up by a member of the South Sudanese presidential guard;

More than seven feet of snow fell in Buffalo, killing at least 13 people;

And my hipster business name is apparently “Weather & Blood”.

Anyone else ready for the weekend?

WTF Friday, 11/14/2014

2012-08-02 00.14.53OMG you guys, President Obama went to Burma and said “Rohingya” yesterday. And that’s just a day after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also said it, calling on the Burmese government to ensure humanitarian access to the beleagured minority.

More than a million Rohingya live in Burma. About 140,000 of them currently reside in squalid camps, displaced by attacks on Muslim Rohingyas by the majority Buddhists in Rakhine State in 2012. They lack adequate food and shelter and, since the ejection of Doctors Without Borders in February, their access to medical care is limited.

They are also stateless, denied citizenship by the Burmese government, which claims that they “have never had ethnic nationals called ‘Rohingya'”. In its 2014 official census, the government refused to count individuals self-identifying as Rohingya. Instead, it insists that they are “Bengalis”, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who should go home. (Population data for Rakhine State reveals no influx of Muslims from Bangladesh, or anywhere else.)

Recently, the regime has stepped up pressure on members of the international community not to employ the term “Rohingya”. In June, it demanded an apology after a UNICEF staffer used the word during a briefing. Many international actors have bowed to the government’s absurd demands, in order to continue working with a population desperately in need of help, or simply to avoid stirring up trouble.

But Obama and Ban’s strong statements suggest the tide may be turning. Yesterday, the Burmese ambassador to the UK conceded that the Rohingya are “people”. Maybe with a little more prodding, they’ll get around to admitting that they have rights.

 

*That’s a photo I took of festival observers at Yangon’s iconic Shwedagon Pagoda in 2012.

WTF Friday, 11/7/2014

In June, around 300 members of Libya’s security forces arrived in the UK for training in “basic infantry skills and military leadership”. This week, they were sent home in disgrace after a string of sex crimes committed in the Cambridge area. Five of them will remain in court custody. Two face charges for the Oct. 26th rape of a male civilian, and three others face multiple counts of sexual assault, and one bike theft charge each.

Following the announcement that the training program would be discontinued, one cadet blamed the British government for the problems, complaining that: “They didn’t tell us about British law and what’s the difference between right and wrong here.”

I have some questions about all this:

  1. WTF?
  2. Why would anyone need advance notice that raping dudes is frowned upon in the UK? Is it legal in Libya?
  3. What’s with the bicycles?
  4. If these guys were “vetted in advance for medical, physical and behavioural suitability“, what did the reject pile look like?
  5. WTF?!

Sudanese Government Now Stealing People’s Blood?

A few weeks ago, Human Rights Watch reported that Sudanese government forces raided a dormitory of female university students in Khartoum, and beat and arrested a number of Darfuri students. Apparently, the raid was conducted in retaliation for the women’s refusal to vacate the dormitory, which the authorities viewed as evidence of “seditious intent“.

The arrested students were taken to the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS) offices and interrogated about their association with rebel groups operating in Darfur. Several of them ended up in Omdurman women’s prison, and at least one was beaten badly enough to require medical attention. They were also subjected to sexual harassment and assault. According to a women’s rights group, the authorities “forced some women to undress in the dorms, photographed them, and threatened to use the photos against them.”

As if all that weren’t bad enough, one of the young women says that the Sudanese authorities gave her drugs and took her blood.

So, readers, I ask you this: What possible reason could the Sudanese government have for stealing the blood of suspected dissidents?

WTF Friday, 10/24/2014

The following things happened this week:

  1. First lady Grace Mugabe indicated that she would like to succeed her husband Robert Mugabe, currently 3,713 years old and in his 846th year in office, as president. I feel like the Mugabes might’ve done enough for their country (if “enough” = the destruction of its economy, civil society, and performance on health indicators), how about you?
  2. Female activists in South Sudan took a page from Lysistrata and proposed a sex strike for peace. It’s a reasonable strategy; abstinence seems to be at least as effective as any other peace-building approach.
  3. Evidence emerged that ISIS is using prohibited chemical weapons against Iraqi government forces. This is, of course, in addition to their already horrifying record of violations of the laws of war such as the massacre of captured Iraqi soldiers, and the use of Yazidi women as sex slaves. Anyone got war crimes bingo? (There should be war crimes bingo, right?)

And then last night a doctor in New York tested positive for Ebola after treating victims of the epidemic in Guinea. Predictably, everyone has gone completely insane over this. Especially in my neighborhood, where Dr. Spencer hung out on Wednesday night before he began to experience symptoms.

Somehow, this has become additional fodder for the crazies (and their leader, Donald Trump) demanding that President Obama stop all flights from West Africa. Which just makes me wonder angrily: WHAT FLIGHTS ARE THEY EVEN TALKING ABOUT?

The next time I have to get to somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, I am contacting Mr. Trump to do my travel booking. I look forward to the route he will find me that will not involve 3 layovers in airports of decreasing cleanliness, and the inexplicable arrival of my baggage two days later, with one member of each pair of shoes missing.

WTF Friday, 9/26/2014

What a week.

ISIS killed Iraqi lawyer and human rights activist Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy for criticizing their destruction of cultural and religious sites. According to the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, Ms. al-Nuaimy was convicted of apostasy by a Shari’a court and tortured in an effort to force her to repent before her “execution”. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemning the murder, noted that amidst ISIS’s generalized brutality, “[e]ducated, professional women seem to be particularly at risk.”

In other WTF lady news, Fox News commentators referred to Emirati fighter pilot Maryam Al Mansouri’s participation in airstrikes against ISIS this week as “boobs on the ground“. (Which kind of makes me think that in addition to being dicks, they don’t really understand what airplanes are. Because not being on the ground is pretty much key.)

And then there was that thing with the donkeys.

 

Mass Atrocity Monday, 9/22/2014

Earlier this year, a commission of inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council issued a devastating report on human rights in North Korea. In addition to estimating that between 80,000 and 120,000 North Koreans are currently being held in prison camps, the commission found credible evidence of a host of abuses, including:

“extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

It concluded that these violations of human rights in North Korea were so grave, widespread, and systematic that they amounted to crimes against humanity. This is important for two reasons. First, it confirms what most of us suspected: North Koreans are living a nightmare of surveillance, starvation, and brutal repression. And second, the violations of their rights constitute international crimes that can be prosecuted.

Unsurprisingly, the North Korean government views things a little differently. In a lengthy report released last week on the Korean Central News Agency’s website, the “DPRK Association for Human Rights Studies” laid out its views on “the Government’s efforts for protecting and promoting human rights, realities, obstacles to its efforts in ensuring human rights, and status of implementation of its international obligations”.

Both the report and the KCNA site are nearly impenetrable, but I’ve taken one for the team and waded through them so you don’t have to. Here’s what I learned:

  • “Korea has four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter.”
  • “[I]ts area should be measured by cubic meters, not square meters.” (?)
  • “[T]he DPRK maintains that human rights is state sovereignty.”
  • “The law and decision on abolishing the taxation system turned DPRK into a tax-free country for the first time in history and firmly guaranteed the realization of the historic cause of completely freeing the Korean people from tax burdens.”
  • “As far as the annual ‘Report on Human Rights’ by the U.S. State Department is concerned, it is a document of vicious political provocation, aimed at slandering and insulting the sovereign states with the ‘human rights standards’ based on the American value.”
  • “Members of the ‘COI’ are despicable human rights abusers bribed by the U.S. and its allies to distort the facts and deliberately tarnish the image of a sovereign state.”

There’s quite a bit more on how horrible the Japanese, South Koreans, and Americans all are, including some impressively shameless attacks on the U.S.’s incarceration rates and wire-tapping policies. I really don’t recommend reading it. But I do recommend reflecting on what it means that the North Koreans bothered to write it in the first place.

Because amidst the vitriol and over-use of scare quotes, there’s a careful catalogue of the human rights ostensibly guaranteed by North Korean law, and the institutions established to provide and enforce them. There’s also repeated reference to the requirements of international human rights law, and the importance of upholding them. We could dismiss this as lip service. After all, it’s clearly disingenuous and doesn’t correspond to improvement in human rights conditions on the ground. But the North Koreans know that a resolution on their human rights situation will likely come before the UN General Assembly this fall and have already made an unprecedented statement that they will consider the recent recommendations of the Human Rights Council. This report, despite its absurdity, is another baby step towards engagement.