WTF Friday, 3/6/2015

Here is a small selection of confusing and horrifying things going on in the world:

The UK Home Office rejected LGBT activist Aderonke Apata’s asylum claim on the grounds that she can’t be a REAL lesbian because she has children. Here’s the thing, though. This isn’t just absurd for the obvious reasons. (Like, say, the fact that straight sex isn’t a magic, gay identity destroying bullet.) It’s also absurd as a matter of asylum law. It doesn’t actually matter whether Apata is, in fact, gay. What matters is whether, if sent back to Nigeria where homosexuality is a crime, she would face serious persecution on the basis of perceived gay identity. Given her high profile advocacy and open relationship with a woman, along with the fact that she has already been the target of anti-gay violence, this is an easy question to answer. Do better, UK Home Office. (Via Amanda.)

From Australia: The Queensland Liberal National party women’s group has decided to celebrate International Women’s Day (March 8th) with a lunch in a men’s club. (Presumably women will be admitted for the day.) The organization’s vice president, who apparently booked the venue because it’s a bargain, said she didn’t have a problem with the club’s exclusion of women. She added:

“[H]ow can we celebrate international women’s day knowing that there’s not an international men’s day – and then when the men do want to have something that’s for themselves, we can’t respect it?”

And then, because things in Australia are truly upside down, Prime Minister Tony Abbott lauded the decision as an example of the ladies “smashing the glass ceiling”. (h/t GG.)

Oh, and ISIS is now chucking gay people (and those suspected of gayness) off of roofs. Ugh.

 

Law & Order

Imagine you are Zambia’s chief prosecutor Mutembo Nchito.

You’ve been director of public prosecutions since 2011 and things seem to be going pretty well. You may or may not have taken advantage of your position for some constructive grafting. Then, in late 2014, disaster strikes. The president who appointed you dies in office. He’s replaced by a new guy after a campaign season focused on corruption and cost of living.

Nevertheless, you, Mutembo Nchito, are shocked when the police show up at your door. They arrest you on a host of charges, including corruption and forgery.

So what do you do?

You’re the chief prosecutor! You drop the charges.

h/t: Ben, formerly in Lusaka.

WTF Friday, 2/27/2015

I’m not sure why I’m bothering, given that the entire internet is occupied with dress-related content today, BUT: Someone is wrong on the internet about the International Criminal Court, and I simply cannot let that pass.

The individual in question is Stephen Rademaker, a former Bush (both H.W. and W.) administration official who drafted the legislation creating the Frankenstein’s Monster known as the Department of Homeland Security. And the substance of his wrongness is contained in his recommendation that:

Congress should make it a federal criminal offense for an official of the ICC, or a foreign government acting under authority of the ICC, to indict, prosecute, detain, or imprison American military personnel or government officials for alleged war crimes.

He is literally suggesting that we make a federal case out of the vanishingly slim possibility of ICC prosecutions of Americans.

Over at Justice in Conflict, Mark Kersten highlights a number of problems with this “breathtakingly absurd” proposal. It’s silly, it’s hypocritical, and it would sabotage the U.S.’s reasonably functional, if uneasy, relationship with the Court.

Personally, I think it’s kind of cute that paranoid Republicans still think of the ICC as some kind of all-powerful, avenging justice monster, despite all the evidence to the contrary. (Remember that time it took 10 years and 600 plus pages of judicial opinionating to sentence one guy for one war crime?)

But what strikes me as truly insane about Rademaker’s proposal is his blithe disregard for immunities. Because you know what you can’t do under U.S. law? Prosecute foreign officials, or representatives of international organizations, for conduct undertaken in the course of their official duties. (This is called “functional” or “act” immunity.) And I really can’t think of anything much more official than fulfilling the obligations contained in a treaty that over 120 countries have ratified. So unless Rademaker is suggesting that ICC prosecutions are jus cogens violations (there appears to be an emerging exception to immunity for universally-agreed-to-be-serious crimes like genocide, torture, and slavery), this makes no sense.

And frankly, if ANYONE should be in favor of robust, no-exceptions-allowed, functional immunity, shouldn’t it be former Bush administration officials?

WTF Friday, 2/20/2015

A few weeks ago, I wondered how 3,172 year old dictator Robert Mugabe would celebrate his birthday (actually, his 91st) this year.

The answer turns out to be: by gorging on Zimbabwe’s precious wildlife. The big day is tomorrow, and the menu reportedly includes ELEPHANT MEAT. This man is leaving no box unchecked in his quest for super-villain status.

I’m at #ISA2015, so that’s all I’ve got for today, but here is a giraffe standing perfectly still to avoid being spotted and eaten by Robert Mugabe.

38357_415307286314_2333995_n

(Photo credit: me, 2010.)

WTF Friday, 2/13/2015

I don’t even know where to start with this one. Earlier this week, Uganda’s Minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development (those things go together, right?) exhorted women to quit refusing to have sex with their husbands.

After a high profile incident in which a man in Bushenyi murdered his wife, Minister Mary Karooro Okurut told an audience of local women’s groups that domestic violence is fueled by lack of sex. Endorsing the sort of progressive, sensitive opinion you’d want in a gender minister, she explained that if ladies would just put out more, they wouldn’t be at such high risk of getting beaten and murdered.

She did allow, however, that it might be okay for a woman to abstain if she’s ill. Obviously she’d need a note from a (male) doctor, though.

h/t to Ledio Cakaj

Things You Can’t Say in Burma

Burmese newspaper “Voice of Arakan” has been informed by the government that its English name must be changed to “Voice of Rakhine”.

Arakan state was renamed Rakhine by the military junta in 1989. Situated on the border with Bangladesh, it is home to the majority of Burma’s beleaguered Rohingya minority. Since 2012, attacks on the Muslim Rohingya by Buddhist Arakanese have displaced approximately 140,000 people.

“Rohingya” is of course already a banned term in Burma, whose government does not admit to their existence. Recently, extremist monk Wirathu excoriated UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee, calling her a “bitch” and a “whore” for speaking on Rohingya rights. (He’s not sorry.)

Now the name of their home has also become politicized. The editor of the newspaper (already named “Voice of Rakhine” in Burmese) says that the English name will not change. But journalists in Burma have little protection from the government, and if pressure escalates, he may have no choice.

WTF Friday, 2/6/2015

So:

WTF Friday, 1/30/2015

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe just became chairman of the African Union. That’s right, Mugabe, destroyer-of-hope, wrecker-of-the-economy, thrower-of-extravagant-birthday-parties-for-himself.

You might be thinking: “This man has completely mucked up the one thing he has ever been in charge of [and again, that thing is a country of 14 million people], why would anyone elect him chairman of anything?”

I don’t have an answer for you. But what I do know is that the 1115 year old Mugabe (or 90, whatever) looked “youthful and strong” speaking to press yesterday. Can’t wait to see what he does for his birthday next month.

“Author Perumal Murugan is dead.”

The conflict between respect for faith and freedom of expression has been a hot topic in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks. But somehow the story of Tamil writer Perumal Murugan hasn’t made much of an impression outside of India.

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 2.51.31 PM

Earlier this month, Murugan announced on his Facebook page that he was killing off his identity as a writer and asked publishers to stop selling copies of his work. He had been hounded by hardline Hindu groups over his 2010 novel, Mathorubhagan. The book (translated into English as One Part Woman in 2013) tells the story of an early 20th century couple from the Gounder caste community in the town of Thiruchengode. Childless and desperate to conceive, they turn to a temple festival at which extra-marital sex is permitted in the hope that the wife will become pregnant with a “god’s child”.

Although its initial release was met with critical acclaim, there were objections that the book insulted Hinduism in its portrayal of the licentious temple festival (which oral histories suggest was an actual custom). Then the local Gounder community in Thiruchengode got on board, complaining that Murugan made them look bad. In late 2014, their protests escalated into book burnings, calls for Murugan’s arrest, and a bandh (a strike… ish) in the area.

I asked political scientist and friend-of-the-blog Pavi Suryanarayan to link this episode into the broader politics of speech policing in India.

She explained that India’s constitutional guarantee of free speech has been repeatedly amended to incorporate so-called “reasonable restrictions” to protect religious feelings. But, although there have been high profile cases of the state banning books under this logic (Rushdie’s Satanic Verses for one), recently it’s been happening without the state’s involvement. In the case of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus, for instance, “the publishing house voluntarily took the book off the shelves to avoid being taken to court by Hindu groups”.

Similarly, the silencing of Murugan was driven by non-state actors; even though he offered to change the book’s setting to a fictional town, the protesters refused to stand down. Pavi warned that this may be a sign of a things to come in Modi’s India:

“The strategy of book burning and protests has taken on more credibility amongst Hindu right-wing groups after the success of the Doniger case. With a BJP government in power, with [Hindu nationalist NGO] RSS shakhas (units) growing at faster rates than ever before, and with right-wing parties keen to make forays into new electoral territories such as Tamil Nadu, book banning seem like a tactic that will have good payoffs in rallying potential Hindu voters.”

Speech policing is always a divisive political issue. And as long as we’re all thinking about it this month anyway, we should probably pay more attention to how it’s handled in the world’s largest and most diverse democracy.

Come Hear Me Talk About Sri Lanka

PSA: I’ll be participating in a screening and discussion of “No Fire Zone“, a documentary about the Sri Lankan Civil War, along with the director, Callum Macrae. It’s next Monday (2/2), 12:30-2pm in room 1512 at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. I have it on good authority there will be snacks.

Check out the trailer below, and if you want to come, more details and RSVP info are up on the Pulitzer Center’s website.