WTF Friday, 6/25/10

  • A female Nigerian student was tortured and beaten into a coma by four policemen in the Ekiti State of Nigeria for “having the effrontery to challenge them when conducting a stop and search.” Sounds like a bit of an overreaction.

  • From Slate: “Aimé was different when I returned to Goma for a new job with another aid agency after two months away…I now trusted Aimé more than I had before; he didn’t act like a callow youth, but like a responsible young man. The sad beanie hat was gone, and his shirts were always tucked in.” I think we finally found Africa’s panacea. And wtf is a “sad beanie hat?”

  • In a follow up to a post from a couple weeks ago, Saudi women are turning the tables on the fatwa that makes men their son if they feed them their breast milk. They are demanding the right to drive, and if they do not receive that right, they are threatening to breast feed their foreign drivers, thus allowing them to be alone with them under Islamic law and move freely in automobiles. No word on how the drivers feel about this. Also imagine hearing this quote out of context: “We will either be allowed to drive or breastfeed foreigners.”

Nigeria’s Queen Hajiya: A Curse On Men Puts One Fierce Lady On the Throne

Melinda sent me this interesting story:

“The palace, under a rusted corrugated roof, looks mostly like a shed. Only one delicate pair of feet in its single room is shod, and they are in black rubber flip-flops.

This is the genteel court of Queen Hajiya Haidzatu Ahmed.”

According to the article, Queen Hajiya is a traditional chief in Kumbwada Kingdom, in Northern Nigeria. (Google searching suggests that it’s more often spelled Kumbada.) It’s unusual for women to ascend to power in that conservative Muslim region. The queen’s secret weapon?

“Here, an ancient curse keeps males off the throne, according to locals. Male pretenders who dare to try will be buried within a week.”

That sound you hear is Hillary Clinton smacking her forehead and saying “a curse! Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?”

In all seriousness, though, it turns out that being a woman in a region where men are cursed off of the throne has some excellent fringe benefits:

[I]n the community Hajiya has ruled for 12 years, women get a sympathetic hearing in cases of wife beating or divorce.

“When domestic issues come to me, the way I treat them will be quite different to other traditional chiefs,” she says. “I’m a woman and I’m a mother and I have so much concern and experience when it comes to the issue of marriage and what it means for the maintenance of the home and what it means for two people to live together.” […]

Most traditional African rulers reflexively side with the male head of the household in a family dispute. So a girl resisting marriage to a much older man she doesn’t love is likely to be ordered to obey her father. A woman who complains she is being beaten is likely to be told to obey her husband.

Hajiya had one wife-beating case early in her reign.

“I told him if he ever beat his wife again, I’d dissolve the marriage and put him in prison,” she remembers. “Marriage is not a joke, and women are not slaves.”

Since that case, she has made a point of campaigning against domestic violence whenever she holds court in local communities. She says she’s never had another beating case. People know where she stands.

Not to mention that she’s a firm supporter of Take Your Daughters to Work Day:

“She keeps her grown daughter, Idris, by her side whenever she holds court, grooming her to be queen.”

It’s Clearly Going to be Quite a Week

Clashes in Nigeria Kill Many, Many People:

“Dozens of villagers in central Nigeria were killed early Sunday, victims of apparent reprisal attacks over recent clashes between Christians and Muslims. A government spokesman said there were more than 300 dead, but that figure that could not be independently verified.

The killings took place near the city of Jos, for years a hotbed of ethnic and religious violence near the dividing line between the country’s mainly Christian south and Muslim north. Hundreds on both sides were killed as recently as January, though the victims this time were Christians, according to the information commissioner for Plateau State, Gregory Yenlong, and a local human rights organization.

Many appeared to have been cut down with machetes after being driven from homes set ablaze by attackers in the predawn darkness, said Shamaki Gad Peter of the League for Human Rights, a Nigerian group.”

It Appears Not to Be Just A Coincidence that Togo’s Security Forces Have Blocked All Roads to Opposition Headquarters:

“Police spokesman Col. Damehane Yark said police are present to prevent opposition supporters from blocking nearby boulevards as they did Sunday in a protest over what they claim was a rigging of the presidential elections last week.

An Associated Press reporter on Monday saw roughly 60 anti-riot police with their shields lined up to create a blockade. They stood behind the shields with batons in their hands.

Togo’s top opposition candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre vowed Sunday to take to the streets every day to protest what he says was an election rigged to favor the son of the country’s longtime dictator. He was let into headquarters Monday after an hour-long standoff with police.

Provisional results released late Saturday show Fabre lost to current President Faure Gnassingbe, whose 1.2 million votes gave him 60.9 percent of the vote. Fabre received 692,584 votes, or 33.9 percent.”

Greece Won’t Sell Islands to Pay off Debts (Where am I going to get an island for my Dr. Evil Headquarters now?)

“After meeting Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin on Friday, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou rejected calls from German politicians to resolve his country’s debt crisis by selling off some Greek islands.

‘There are more imaginative and effective ways of dealing with the deficit than selling off Greek islands,’ Mr. Papandreou said, according to The Financial Times. ‘We cherish these islands, and selling them would be out of the question. It would not help. It would be a one-off solution, and a viable economy means investing in that economy.'”

WTF Friday: Technical-Difficulties-So-Actually-WTF-Monday Edition

Proving it’s never too late for awesome, here’s the latest from the desk of our beloved Intern Chris:*

* Sadly, technical difficulties prevented this WTF Friday post from being brought to you on Friday. But, hey, whose Monday couldn’t use a little Friday in it?

In Which a Well-Meaning Reader Tip Is Punished with "ATCA for Dummies" (Sorry)

Alert reader / global health enthusiast Dominic Montagu drew our attention to the petition for cert before the Supreme Court in the Abdullahi v. Pfizer case.

For those who are not Alien Tort Claims Act groupies, this is the lawsuit arising out of Pfizer’s clinical trials of the antibiotic Trovan, tested on Nigerian children during a meningitis outbreak. Apparently, participants in the trial were not informed of the potential risks associated with the treatment, nor of the fact that MSF was offering non-experimental meningitis treatment for free. The claims allege that Pfizer therefore failed to follow informed consent guidelines. For a far more detailed rundown, see Tom Bollyky’s post at the Center for Global Development’s global health policy blog.

As Bollyky points out, the case raises a host of issues in the global health realm: Would a finding of legal liability discourage clinical trials, thereby retarding progress in treating serious illnesses? Would a more rigorous standard for informed consent prevent testing among certain populations? Fascinating questions, but I’m a lawyer, so instead you’re getting a discussion of civil procedure. Buckle up.

After a whole lot of litigation in exciting venues like the Nigerian Federal High Court and the Southern District of New York, the case made its way to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which considered whether the claims belong in U.S. federal court at all. This is an open question, because the Nigerian plaintiffs are suing under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which provides a narrow right for foreign citizens to sue in U.S. federal courts where they have suffered damages as a result of a “violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”

What does this mean, you ask? Well, no one’s really sure. When the statute was written in 1789, recognized violations of the law of nations were pretty much limited to piracy and poking an ambassador with a sharp stick. Then the law went into hibernation for roughly two centuries. When it reappeared on the scene in 1980 in a case involving state torture, the Second Circuit held that violations of contemporary customary international law, comparable in nature to the aforementioned old-timey violations of piracy and ambassador-baiting, could serve as the basis for ATCA suits.

It’s all gotten very complicated since then, with most of the fuss focused on two interrelated issues: (1) Who can be sued under ATCA? and (2) How do we tell if something’s a violation of the law of nations?

The first question gets tricky because traditionally, only states were subject to international law, so only states could be sued for failure to comply. But egregious violations of international law aren’t just for states anymore; these days, everyone from megalomaniacal rebel leaders to multi-national companies is in on the fun. The application of the ATCA to these actors is still unsettled, but some courts have been willing to extend liability to non-state actors like corporations where there was a sufficient nexus to state action, or in cases involving violations of jus cogens (rough translation: “omg, super-serious!”) norms of international law.

The second question is mostly only a problem because U.S. federal judges seem congenitally incapable of looking up the definition of “customary international law.” (Hint to Judge Wesley: Try the ICJ Statute next time you get stuck on that whole treaties vs. custom thing. Seriously, it worked for me.)

Which brings us back to the Second Circuit. Earlier this year, it ruled that the plaintiffs could bring their case against Pfizer under the ATCA. Let’s guess why, shall we?

Is it:
(a) Because drugs are bad!
(b) Because the customary norm of international law that prohibits nonconsensual medical experimentation on humans says that Pfizer’s failure to get its paperwork in order is EXACTLY THE SAME as Mengele’s attempts to create conjoined twins by sewing Holocaust victims together.
(c) Because the Nigerian government’s involvement in the trials was sketchy enough that there’s arguably state action.
(d) Because the Second Circuit is hellbent on expanding the scope of ATCA beyond all recognition.
(e) b and c (and maybe d).

If you guessed (e), strong work. The Second Circuit established the existence of “a norm forbidding nonconsensual human medical experimentation” that is “every bit as concrete—indeed even more so—than the norm prohibiting piracy that Story describes, or interference with the right of safe conducts and the rights of ambassadors.” -And, while they were at it, conducted what I consider to be a backasswards analysis of the state action requirement and found that the Nigerian government’s assistance with Pfizer’s bad acts was enough to allow the suit to proceed.

So, now it’s up to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the availability of ATCA suits against corporate defendants. Roger Alford over at Opinio Juris points out that this may be the ideal test case for the corporate liability issue. Stay tuned…

Does Anyone Care About Nigeria?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: 400 people were killed last Friday in Nigeria? Don’t you mean India? No, definitely Nigeria, and twice as many deaths? Hmm… well, were any of them visiting westerners? No? God, did you see on CNN about the rabbi’s baby and the nanny being the only people to make it out of the Nariman house alive? It’s just so tragic to think of a baby all alone in the world after losing his parents to violence. Really makes you think… (In other words: No.)

In other news, preliminary election results in Plateau State, Nigeria led to clashes on Friday between Muslim and Christian communities in and around the provincial capital, Jos. The city sits in Nigeria’s “middle belt” at the point of contact between the Muslim north and the Christian / animist south. It had apparently been doing a good job living up to its nickname “the Home of Peace of Tourism” for the last few years, following riots in 2001 during which over 1000 people were killed. (Guess they’ll have to reset the “Jos: 2630 days without religious violence” counter…)

Last week’s rioting began after rumors spread that the largely Christian-backed People’s Democratic Party had defeated the Muslim-supported All Nigeria People’s Party in state elections. Several hundred people, some of whom were probably even the parents of young children, were killed and several thousand were displaced in the ensuing violence.

The gangs also burned down homes, schools, and religious buildings, demonstrating once again the universal truth that angry mobs – no matter their race, religion, or creed – love to set shit on fire. Isn’t it nice to know that deep down we ARE all the same?

The Daily Independent reports today that scapegoating is already underway via the state government’s announcement of “the arrest of 16 mercenaries from Niger Republic who allegedly participated in the violence.” Unsurprisingly, Niger denies involvement.


MEND Rocks Their War Bowfinger-Style

Did you guys ever see Bowfinger, that Steve Martin movie? In it, Martin plays a failed movie producer who can’t land a big star for his film, but decides to go ahead and shoot it anyway by sneaking up on the star and filming around him, whether he likes it or not? Because I’m pretty sure that MEND (“The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta”) has.

For those just tuning in now, MEND is an organization fighting for control of Nigeria’s oil production. It claims -with some justification- that the Delta has been exploited for the benefit of other regions of Nigeria and foreign companies, and that local people have not benefited from the wealth being extracted there. That claim is made by every single oil-region rebel group that I can think of, up to and including the Scottish National Party, so this would all be pretty yawnsy if it weren’t for MEND’s true agenda: MEETING CELEBRITIES.

I previously wrote about their plan to obtain a visit from The Luscious Clooney by bombing the crap out of the Nigerian oil industry. MEND’s leadership wrote a letter to His Georgeness, suggesting that Clooney come visit the Delta to see “the unrest in this oil-rich region of Nigeria which is gradually building up to a crisis that will make Darfur an adjective for child’s play.”

I suggested that this was perhaps the beginning of the end for UN Celebrity ambassadors, as it appeared that MEND was now actively causing unrest in the hope of getting to hang out with a movie star.

Ahem. I was SO RIGHT.

It appears that MEND has moved on from Clooney fever to Obamamania: they have released a statement to the press saying that they are “seriously considering a temporary ceasefire appeal by Senator Barack Obama,” because “Obama is someone we respect and hold in high esteem.”

Only issue? You guessed it: the Obama campaign has denied ever making such a ceasefire appeal. Apparently MEND has decided that if they can’t get a celebrity to actually mediate their desired peace process, then they’ll just go ahead and pretend that one is. And then maybe he’ll have to show up.

It’s Nigerian Conflict, Bowfinger style.

Rebels to Clooney: Come in, Clooney!

I KNEW this was going to happen!

Look, U.N. Stop with the celebrity whoremongering already. I know that it worked well with Angelina Jolie. I realize how you might have become enthralled by the magical combination of celebrity and effectiveness that envelops her like so many Dior caftans, and that you probably wanted to continue along that same happy path of popping flashbulbs and single-engine planes that emit love for the world’s children instead of green house gases.


Rule number one of celebrity tie-ins is that people will want more of whatever the celebrity is tied-into. For refugees, that’s awesome. No host country ever wants them, so they can use all the Angelinafication they can get. The refugees who come with a visit from Her Lipness are much more appealing than the ones who just come with cholera, so it is very nice that she has made herself available.

But if you are considering, oh, I don’t know, making George Clooney a U.N. Messenger of Peace and sending him to parts of the world suffering from terrible conflicts, then you are likely to find yourself with a bit of a situation on your hands. And that situation is likely to be “people actively causing civil unrest in the hopes that the Hot Carrier Pigeon of Peace will come and envelop them in his soft wings and nuzzle them until their world becomes perfect and full of cupcakes.”

Exhibit A:

“Nigerian Rebels Seek Help from Clooney.”

Apparently there is a group in the Niger Delta who call themselves the “Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta,” or MEND. ($20 says they were the Organization for a Free and Fair Emancipation of the Niger Delta until they realized that OFFEND wasn’t quite what they were going for.) MEND has written a letter to George Clooney, suggesting that he might want to “come see things for himself,” because “the unrest in this oil-rich region of Nigeria which is gradually building up to a crisis that will make Darfur an adjective for child’s play.”

That may be true. The Niger Delta has recently suffered a rash of kidnappings and home invasions targeting foreign oil workers. There have also been a number of oil-pipeline bombings, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage, and several oil tankers have been fired upon. This violence appears to be on the rise.

Which MEND knows. Because they’re the ones doing it. AFP notes that “The past two weeks have seen a new escalation of violence in the delta, characterised this time round by attacks on ships and tankers, many of them claimed by MEND.” And they’re not exactly remorseful: they recently explained to Reuters that “What you are seeing is the calm before a storm. We are working on a major terrifying event that will be a date not easily forgotten like 9/11.”

Sooo, um, United Nations? Might be time to re-think that whole “more celebrities! more, more!” policy, non?