Mysteries Abound

I love the internet (bringer of light and knowledge), but sometimes I don’t understand it.

For instance, why has this year old story of a Nigerian businessman, who died after allegedly being raped by 5 of his 6 wives, jealous over his preference for the sixth, suddenly gone viral this week?

Does it capture the zeitgeist in some manner I can’t quite follow? Is it a metaphor for our trying times? For Syria, maybe? Like, the businessman is Art. 2(4) and the first five wives are prohibitions on the use of chemical weapons and targeting of civilians. And the sixth wife is… Sergei Lavrov? No?

Somebody please enlighten me. And in the meantime, someone get cracking on a follow-up story clarifying whether the wives were charged or convicted. Inquiring minds want to know.

Today in Misuses of Legislative Authority

Joining Ugandan lawmakers’ most recent effort to ban mini-skirts in the “asinine interference with our freedoms” legislative initiatives file, local authorities in Kisumu, Kenya are considering a bill that would require women on bicycles and motorcycles to ride sidesaddle.

Apparently, riding astride is “uncultural.” And, like the much maligned mini-skirt, it threatens road safety by distracting male drivers. (See Uganda’s former Ethics & Integrity Minister, Nsaba Buturo’s, 2008 justification for a proposed mini-skirt ban here.) One motorcycle taxi driver interviewed by KTN insisted that having female passengers riding astride behind him compromised his ability to drive.  

Clearly, everyone would be better off if the ladies would just keep their legs together. Except, of course, for the women perched precariously on the backs of boda bodas with no way to keep themselves from flying off in the event of an unexpected stop, turn, or collision. But that’s a small price to pay to protect male drivers from having the knowledge that women have legs forced upon them, right?

WTF Friday, 8/9/2013

You know what worries me? When governments announce the restriction of certain groups’ access to public spaces, and justify it by saying that they’re preventing a scenario in which “[the dangerous minority in question] could meet our schoolchildren.”

In this instance, the dangerous minority is asylum seekers, and the government is Switzerland, which has historically been extremely generous to refugees.

The Swiss town of Bremgarten, which is the site of a new asylum seeker reception center, has designated 32 “exclusion zones” where the center’s residents will be forbidden to enter. Town officials told The Independent that “refugees would not be allowed to ‘loiter’ in school playgrounds and would be banned from visiting public swimming pools, playing fields and a church.” Also on the list: the public library, because god forbid scary refugees get their hands on any book learnin’.

The mayors of two other Swiss towns where additional centers will open have signaled their intentions to follow Bremgarten’s example, and ban asylum seekers from “sensitive areas.” (Again, like the library.)

Local and international human rights groups have denounced the rules as blatantly discriminatory, but the national government is backing Bremgarten. According to the head of the Swiss Federal Office of Migration, Mario Gattiker: ”We need rules to ensure a peaceful and orderly coexistence of residents and asylum-seekers.”

These developments follow a referendum showing that nearly 80% of Swiss voters backed a new law limiting the availability of asylum.

Two thoughts on this:

(1) Bremgarten’s center, where the first asylum seekers moved in on Monday, can hold 150 people, and currently houses a handful of Tibetans and Sudanese, including one child. Not exactly a ravening Mongol horde, you know?

(2) Switzerland is way out in the international law weeds on this one. In addition to being hella racist (and therefore in violation of Switzerland’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)), these measures are likely a violation of the asylum seekers’ freedom of movement, which can only be restricted under a limited set of circumstances, like when necessary to protect national security, public order, or public health. I’m just not sure preventing delicate Swiss schoolchildren from seeing a Sudanese man in the swimming pool counts.

And in case this bums you out as much as it does me, here’s a cat in a shark costume riding a Roomba. There’s also a duckling. You’re welcome.

Gulu’s Girls Gone Wild

According to this op-ed in The Observer, a new scourge has replaced LRA raiding parties in northern Uganda: horny teenage girls.

Sam Agona, “ICT and social behavioural expert,” reports that once the young women around Gulu no longer had to worry about being forcibly recruited by rebels, they decided to celebrate by getting busy. And they’ve kept it up ever since:

Young girls have continued to come to town in the night, not only to look for money through sexual acts but also to seek plain sexual satisfaction through actively involving themselves in the practice.

Agona gets impressively hand-wringy about the fact that “in Gulu, females have desire for intensive sex just for enjoyment” which he describes as “a situation I accept is human but very bizarre.” (Apparently, no female has ever desired “intensive sex” with Agona.) He also swallows whole a rumor that “at a place called Olego, near the Uganda-South Sudan border, women there detain men who do not heed to their sexual demands.”

Then, like any good op-ed writer, he turns to his cab driver for answers.

Per the driver, “it is very hard to control girls,” particularly in light of their annoying habit of conducting their sexual relations in private, where concerned (ahem) men can’t observe them. And, of course, “the existence of the concept of ‘human rights’ made it more difficult to apprehend the girls.” Human rights, man, always getting in the way of right-thinking men’s ability to control the women around them.

I look forward to the inevitable follow-up in which Agona unveils an ingenious plan to settle these ladies down by removing their clitorises. Ugh.

H/T Ledio Cakaj

Are You Ready for the Zimbabwe Elections?

Zimbabwe goes to the polls next week amidst reports of an “alarming clampdown” by security forces loyal to long-time (seriously, it’s been a really long time) incumbent Robert Mugabe.

Apparently, we’ll all be able to track the election results in real time. In the meantime, if you need a quick refresher on what’s at stake, check out the latest edition of Ikenna Azuike’s “What’s Up Africa?”

H/T: Max Fisher

Debating Global Human Rights

In case you missed it: openDemocracy is running is running a year-long forum on global rights, edited by James Ron and Leslie Vinjamuri.

The current topic under debate is “Emerging Powers and Human Rights.” Contributions so far address the role of China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey. Check it out, or submit your own thoughts to

WTF Friday, 7/19/2013

It’s probably really hard to come up with a theme for your new restaurant. All the good ones are already taken – pirates, ninjas, Marxism. And who’s going to show up to a place whose only draw is nice food in a pleasant environment?

None of which exactly explains this Indonesian restauranteur’s decision to go with Nazis.

While his place, Soldatenkaffee (website screenshot above), is decorated with swastikas and portraits of Hitler, owner Henry Mulyana insists that he is not pro-Nazi. He just figured customers might enjoy a nice plate of “German nachos” (?) served by waiters in SS uniforms.

Politics in Other Places

Does it ever seem like other countries’ domestic politics are just way funnier than ours?

In New Zealand, Greenpeace has pronounced MP Simon Bridges a liar, using what I hope to god is the traditional Kiwi method of calling someone out for dishonesty: a gigantic billboard in the capital city. 

The billboard accuses Bridges, who has been leading the fight against peaceful protesting at sea (a modern-day scourge on the order of highway banditry, obviously), of hiding his connections to the oil industry. Fingers crossed he responds via dot-matrix skywriting!

And in Ireland, MP Tom Barry decided the middle of a parliamentary debate on abortion was a good time to pull fellow lawmaker Aine Collins onto his lap

Barry admitted he’d been drinking, but not, he claimed, “excessively.”

Meanwhile, all we’ve got to get excited about is this horrible kid and his insatiable flag-lust.

Hattips go to (in order): Golriz Ghahraman, Fedelma Smith, and Alissa Stollwerk. Thanks, guys!

WrongingRightsNotes™: Hissène Habré Edition!

Have you seen recent news coverage of Hissène Habré’s arrest and/or Seinfeld-watching habits and thought to yourself “Huh? Who?”

Did you greet the news of his indictment by the Extraordinary African Chambers with a yawn and a muttered “Is there a reason I should care about this?”

Do you ever wonder what Reed Brody‘s always on about anyway?

Well, good news, everyone! I have answers to all these questions and more.

First, the basics: Hissène Habré became president of Chad when he seized power from the elected leadership in 1982. He ruled until 1990, when he was himself deposed in a coup. (Payback’s a bitch, eh?) Habré’s reign was characterized by extreme brutality against the political opposition, ethnic minorities, and anyone considered a potential threat to regime security. His secret police have been accused by the country’s truth commission of a mind-boggling 40,000 extrajudicial killings, as well as widespread and systematic torture.

Following his ouster, Habré fled to Senegal, where he apparently lived a luxurious life of must-see-TV reruns and being a dick about garbage cans. Meanwhile, his victims and their advocates got serious about pursuing justice. In 2000, following the UK’s ground-breaking arrest of Augusto Pinochet on a Spanish warrant for human rights abuses committed during his dictatorship in Chile, victims of the Habré regime filed a criminal complaint in Dakar, Senegal. Thirteen years later, Habré will finally stand trial. Here’s what went on in the meantime:

  • In 2000, a Senegalese court indicts Habré for torture and crimes against humanity.
  • Habré lawyers up, and cleverly argues that the Senegalese courts can’t exercise jurisdiction over crimes committed by foreign nationals on foreign territory.
  • In 2001, amidst accusations of political interference from President Abdoulaye Wade (who may or may not have been paid off by Habré), an appellate court dismisses the charges for lack of jurisdiction, on the grounds that Senegal had not passed domestic legislation implementing the Convention Against Torture.
  • President Wade decides Habré’s ongoing presence in Senegal has gotten a bit embarrassing, asks him to go stay on someone else’s couch for a while.
  • The victims get nervous and file a complaint against Senegal with the Committee Against Torture. The Committee tells Wade in no uncertain terms that he’s not getting rid of Habré by any means other than a legal extradition.
  • Victims’ lawyer Reed Brody, in Chad on an evidence-gathering mission in 2002, happens upon a treasure trove of abandoned secret police files, which demonstrate both Habré’s control of the organization, and its use of torture. (If there’s anything to love about abusive secret police operations, it’s that they always find it necessary to meticulously record stuff like “It was in compelling him to reveal certain truths that he died on October 14 at 8 o’clock.”)
  • In 2005, Belgium decides it wants in on this party, and indicts Habré on crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture charges pursuant to a complaint filed by victims in 2001.
  • Belgium requests Habré’s extradition. Senegal refuses because of…reasons, then gets stressed out and decides to kick the tough decisions upstairs to the African Union.
  • Senegal regrets deferring to the African Union when, in July of 2006, the AU issues a decision requiring “the Republic of Senegal to prosecute and ensure that Hissène Habré is tried, on behalf of Africa, by a competent Senegalese court with guarantees for fair trial.”
  • Piling on, the Committee Against Torture announces that Senegal is in violation of its Convention Against Torture obligation to prosecute or extradite Habré.
  • Senegal enacts new international crimes legislation with extraterritorial jurisdiction, then tells the international community that it can’t possibly run a decent war crimes trial without $36.5 million… and some new shoes… and one of those spiffy new Droids with the extra-long battery life. Extensive budgetary wrangling ensues.
  • As the aforementioned haggling drags on into year three, Belgium decides to introduce a new wrinkle, and up and files a surprise suit at the International Court Justice, demanding that Senegal honor its CAT obligations by trying or extraditing Habré. (I was at the ICJ at the time, it was all very unexpected.)
  • Meanwhile, in 2008, Chad tries Habré in absentia and sentences him to death. Senegal begins to think there may be an easy out to this whole situation…
  • Also in 2008, Habré’s lawyers remember reading something somewhere about non-retroactivity, and file suit with ECOWAS alleging that it is a violation of Habré’s human rights to be tried under a criminal statute that did not exist at the time of his alleged crimes.
  • In 2010, ECOWAS issues its decision, and sorta kinda maybe buys Habré’s argument. It decides that while it would violate Habré’s rights to be tried under the newly-enacted Senegalese law, he can still be tried under international law, but it’ll have to be by an internationalized court. (This is pretty much nutballs. Eichmann, anyone?)
  • The AU proposes that a nifty hybrid court be established within the Senegalese judicial system to try Habré. Senegal, realizing that this whole thing is turning out to be a total drag, chooses this moment to throw an epic temper tantrum, withdraws from the negotiations, and announces that Habré will be shipped home to Chad to be executed.
  • Everyone freaks the f*** out, eventually convincing Senegal that sending Habré to the executioner is not the brilliant solution everyone’s been searching for. But Senegal continues to drag its feet as the AU pushes for prosecution and Belgium issues approximately 347 more extradition requests.
  • In July of 2012, the ICJ hands down its decision, finding in Belgium’s favor, and ordering Senegal to get on with it already. Meanwhile, President Abdoulaye Wade is defeated at the ballot box by challenger Macky Sall, and suddenly, Senegal gets all cooperative.
  • The “Extraordinary African Chambers” is born on February 8, 2013. On July 2, 2013, Habré is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture. His trial is expected to begin in early 2015.
Stay tuned for the next chapter of this saga. (And if you want the longer version of the events to date, check out Human Rights Watch’s extremely comprehensive chronology and Q&A.)

WTF Friday, 6/28/2013

And you thought Rick “the louder they scream, the more we know that we are getting something done” Perry was bad on women’s issues…

Sudanese MP Dafa’a Allah Hasab Al-Rasool is currently at odds with his fellow parliamentarians over his motion to ban women’s participation in athletics. When the rest of the subcomittee balked at including the motion in a report on the Youth and Sports Ministry, Dafa’a Allah told them “I made this motion to protect your daughters and wives.”

Because if there’s anything Sudanese women need protection from, it’s the dangers of exercise.

H/T: Stephanie Schwartz