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.

WTF Friday, 9/19/2014

You know what is SUCH a drag? When you’re diligently trying to “bring back happiness” to your nation and interfering foreigners keep interrupting with pesky human rights concerns.

The latest annoyance for Thailand’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) comes via Amnesty International. Their report, “Attitude Adjustment: 100 Days Under Martial Law“, is a blistering indictment of the climate of fear and repression of political rights that has prevailed since the military took power in May. The NCPO, which has previously shown that it is quite concerned about its image, categorically denied the allegations last week.

So obviously, when academics at Thammasat University in Bangkok held a special seminar yesterday on “The Decline of Dictatorships in Foreign Countries” the regime had no choice but to round up the panelists and the student organizers and bring them down to the police station for (yes, you guessed it) an “attitude adjustment” session. That’ll show those judgy Amnesty researchers, right?

Electoral Politics at Its Best

Former commander of the Sri Lankan Army Sarath Fonseka is on the campaign trail in Uva province, and he’s brought some unconventional props with him. Fonseka, who was badly wounded in a 2006 suicide bombing in Colombo, is traveling with the shrapnel-pierced Peugeot 406 he was riding in at the time, and a cardboard cutout of the woman who attacked him.

If this is successful in winning seats for his Democratic Party in the Uva provincial polls, I can’t wait to see what candidates decide to lug around in next year’s presidential election.

Screen shot 2014-09-16 at 9.56.41 AM

via The Republic Square, photo from the BBC Sinhala’s Facebook page.

WTF Friday, 9/12/2014

Here are some things that apparently happened this week while I was buried in research statements and cover letters. (The academic job market is super fun, you guys.*)

  • Supporters of Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election debuted a new campaign slogan: #BringBackGoodluck2015. Because nothing makes people more likely to vote for an incumbent than a reminder of his failure to take seriously the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls.
  • The Pentagon announced a plan to build a spiffy new field hospital in Liberia to treat healthcare workers responding to the ebola epidemic, then clarified that they only meant * foreign * healthcare workers. USAID has since tweeted that the hospital will in fact treat “health workers of all nationalities”. Here’s hoping everyone’s now on the same page about that.

*No it isn’t.

Ugh, Gambia

Remember the days before the phrase “aggravated homosexuality” entered our lexicon? Those were simpler times.

And if you thought we’d be able to forget it now that Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill has been overturned, think again. Gambia’s parliament just passed a law imposing life sentences for acts of aggravated homosexuality. This includes, apparently, repeated homosexual intercourse. (Lest you think the National Assembly is letting Gambians off the hook for one-time same sex debauchery, don’t forget that “one crazy night in college” or “I swear this is the only time I’ve ever done anything like this” still gets you the 14 year penalty for garden variety gayness.)

The law will only come into force if President Yahyeh Jammeh signs it, but this is a guy who has repeatedly threatened to kill all Gambian homosexuals (and thinks he can cure AIDS with his own special blend of 11 presidential herbs and spices), so we probably shouldn’t expect sweet reason to prevail.