WTF Friday, 1/18/2012

Charles Taylor’s story where he escapes from prison (with help from the US Government) by tying bed sheets together and climbing out of a window is all of a sudden gaining some credibility. Actually, this kind of thing is surprisingly common.

Oh, that’s rich. You know what’s also like colonialism? Colonialism.

I’m really looking forward to this.



In Which I Learn Something New: Immunities Edition

While reading the Sudan Tribune the other day (what, you don’t read it?) I came across the  statement, attributed to Sudan’s Justice Minister Mohamed Bushara Dousa, that “25% of people in Sudan have some form of immunity.”

This sounded beyond crazy, but Amanda and I did some asking around and discovered that, in fact, widespread immunity from criminal prosecution is a serious human rights issue in Sudan. While 25% of the population might be an overstatement, it appears that most government officials, including the entire security sector, enjoy functional immunity (also known as “act immunity”), which protects them from prosecution for crimes committed in the course of their official duties. This means that victims of torture by members of the police or armed forces have no legal recourse.

Obviously, this bums me out hard, but it also makes me wonder whether this is a common problem worldwide that I’ve somehow missed. So, internets, learn me a thing: Do these sorts of broad immunities exist in your countries / regions of expertise?


The Peace vs. Justice Debate: Not Just for Developing Countries Anymore?

If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’re familiar with the peace vs. justice debate about the value of international accountability mechanisms in post-conflict settings. I won’t inflict my opinions about this on you again, except to note one thing:  These arguments are invoked with regard to developing countries in which violent conflict is ongoing or newly ended, but some recent comments by a member of the Obama transition team about the decision not to pursue trials for Bush administration officials for the use of torture against detainees have surprising resonance with this debate.

In a panel discussion on 9/11 last week, Berkeley Law School dean Christopher Edley, Jr. apparently remarked that the decision not to prosecute was undertaken in part because “it was thought that the CIA, NSA, and military would revolt.”  I assumed (correctly, it turns out*) that he meant “revolt” in the fuzzy, metaphorical sense of the word where maybe some NSA analysts would just start showing up late to work with one too many shirt buttons undone.  However, the interwebs are taking it a different, more coup-y, way, which prompted me to wonder: “peace vs. justice:  not just a concern for developing nations anymore?”

The thing is, as shown by Round 1 of this Economist-sponsored throw-down between Richard “Justice on Principle” Dicker and Jack “Pragmatic Peace” Snyder, the two sides of this debate are arguing from very different premises.  While Team Justice does make consequentialist arguments (for instance, that impunity can breed future instability), their emphasis is generally on the normative claim that it is morally right to punish perpetrators through criminal prosecutions. Consequently, their response to Team Peace’s consequentialist arguments (that pushing for accountability can undermine prospects for peace by creating perverse incentives for actors who fear prosecution) is often to treat them as beside the point at best, or as spurious dictator-coddling excuses at worst.

However, the fact that criminal trials were viewed as too risky by the Obama administration – in a setting characterized by strong institutions and entrenched democracy –  underscores just how high the stakes of pursuing accountability for the crimes of a previous regime are.  If the view looks that way from Washington D.C., where the trade-off is “smooth institutional function vs. justice”, imagine what it looks like in contexts where institutions are weak, and the resort to violence is common.

*Updated at 2:40pm following confirmation that Dean Edley was, in fact, speaking metaphorically.

Today in Baby Lions

Some good news from Somalia, and bonus, it’s about lions!

Katharine Houreld of the AP reports today that Somali authorities, in an unusual show of state capacity, have rescued a pair of rare Berbera lion cubs from being trafficked abroad.  This is the first time animals have been confiscated from smugglers in Mogadishu.  Apparently, the port manager noticed the baby lions aboard a ship and reported their presence to an organization training AU peacekeepers, which is now housing the cubs and keeping them supplied with tasty goat snacks.  So: go Somali government.  Way to do a thing!

And, because it’s totally relevant, here are some lion cubs I saw last spring at the Bronx zoo (where you probably shouldn’t go until they track down that poisonous cobra).

WTF Friday, 7/30/10

  • Found this list of dictator’s favorite movies. Pretty entertaining but I wish they would elaborate on Kim Jong-Il’s love for Barbara Streisand. Can’t leave me hanging on that! Also: Stalin tried to kill John Wayne?!?
  • In a case of art imitating life, Wyclef Jean may run for President of Haiti. The fact that he has never really consistently lived in Haiti may be a roadblock, but if he is able to run, he is apparently, like, the most popular person in the country. He should take caution, though. His cousin and former bandmate, Pras Michel, once threatened to “personally assassinate” former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide if he were to return to Haiti after stealing public funds. Clef would do well to keep his hands out of the cookie jar…
  • Dmitry Medvedev has passed a law granting more power to the Federal Security Service, a successor to the KGB. Political analyst Yulia Latynina has stated that, “In case a drunken FSB officer is shooting at you – and there have been many such cases – you might end up getting jailed 15 days for merely trying to escape.” It is unclear from the article how true this could be, but what is clear is that Vladimir Putin can pull off a mean Judo throw.
  • And for your viewing pleasure, here’s the terrifying music video for “Another Brick in the Wall (Hey Ayatollah, Leave Those Kids Alone).” I smell a hit.

WTF Friday, 7/9/10

  • Wronging Rights reader Ari found this at an “anti-genocide and other egregious violations of human rights” fundraiser. Lol good spot, Ari!
  • When people describe vuvuzelas, this is not the kind of “buzz” they are talking about. (It took me a long time to decide if I was actually going to publish that terrible pun on the Internet. Really just a minute but thats forever in “Internet time.”)
  • Bill Clinton has committed the next three years to “rebuilding” Haiti, prompting Esquire to call him for better or worse, the “CEO of the leaderless nation.” I guess we can now add “CEO” to the list of outrageously patronizing descriptors that includes such mainstays as “savior” and “Bono.”

In Which Pigs Fly, and I Defend Lindsay Lohan’s New Trafficking Documentary

It’s Passover this week, a time when our minds turn to thoughts of slavery and wine.

Speaking of which, did you hear that Lindsay Lohan made a documentary about child trafficking in India for BBC3?

This clip leaked online a few weeks ago, but journalists in the UK have apparently just gotten a look at the full-length documentary, and have wasted no time in tearing LiLo to ribbons. Here’s Amelia Gentleman, in the Guardian:

“There are a lot of contenders for most uncomfortable moment in Lindsay Lohan’s upcoming BBC documentary about child trafficking in India, but I think the bit that will have most viewers kicking their televisions is when Lohan is hugging a very young girl on her knee, listening to her describe a life spent begging on the streets of Calcutta.
The shaven-haired girl is explaining that her parents would beat her unless she went out every day to earn money, but it’s hard to concentrate on what she’s saying because what’s happening behind her is so distracting. Lohan is rubbing her already-red eyes, spreading mascara around the place, twitching her eyebrows.
“Um. Um. Oh my God,” the film star says, her lips wobbling uncontrollably. A disembodied hand pops into the screen to pass her a tissue. “Um. How did she feel? Um. How did they treat her?” she asks, beginning to sob.
The small girl turns to look at her in bemusement. The translator gives an embarrassed laugh and says to the girl: “She’s crying for you. Why don’t you comfort her?” So we watch as the puzzled child dutifully strokes Lohan’s long mane of golden hair.”

Xeni Jardin pronounced this a “celebrity advocacy fail,” and BBC3 Controller Danny Mair was grilled on Britain’s Radio 4 last week about his decision to use Lohan in the documentary.

But I have to say, I don’t think it looks so bad. (Stop the presses: Wronging Rights is being less snarky than the rest of the internet about something!)

I only know what I’ve seen in the clip above, and read in Gentleman’s article, but as far as I can tell, Lohan behaved as any interested, kind, and previously-uninformed person would have in that situation. Reading between the lines of Gentleman’s eyebrow-wiggling and mascara-smearing prose, it sounds like Lohan, upon hearing the small child on her lap describe a life of exploitation and suffering, began to cry. And we’re supposed to think this is a sign of what, exactly? Weakness of character? Crying when faced with tragedy is hardly a reaction limited to hard-partying starlets.

Likewise, I’m not inclined to pounce on Lohan for stumbling over her words a bit in the confrontation with the trafficker that’s shown in the clip. Yes, it’s hardly the case that only “the attractive ones” need to worry about being sexually abused, or forced into prostitution. But Lindsey Lohan isn’t an expert in human trafficking, or women’s rights. If she’d parroted the talking points perfectly, then we’d know that she’d been well coached. But as it was, she had an awkward, slightly weird, somewhat inaccurate conversation with a woman who admitted to selling children. At worst, that’s an interesting thing to watch. And at best, it offers the similarly-uninformed viewer someone to identify with. (Hell, the informed viewer, too. There but for the grace of not being followed around by a video camera during my intern years go I.)

In other words, Lindsay Lohan is kind of a weirdo, and a layperson when it comes to trafficking in children, and acted accordingly. I fail to see the problem with that. It seems far, far preferable to the alternative mode of celebrity causemongering, in which stars opine on substantive policy matters, and are treated like the experts they are not.

Your thoughts?

Things I Didn’t See Coming: Chaudhry Gets Chief Justice Gig Back

Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced this morning that Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry will be reinstated as Chief Justice of Pakistan on March 21.

Former president Pervez Musharraf suspended Chaudhry in March 2007 after several prominent cases didn’t go the government’s way. It didn’t really take, though; in July 2007, the Supreme Court reinstated him, ruling that Musharraf had been way out of line.

But then Musharraf got fancy. In November 2007 he declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. An eight member Supreme Court panel led by Chaudhry quashed the order, and probably weren’t too surprised when Musharraf’s guys busted into the court and arrested them all. Chaudhry remained under house arrest until Gilani took office last March.

Here’s the really cool thing, though: I know everyone hates lawyers and all, but Pakistan’s bar did us all proud. Those dudes just did not let up. They started kicking up a fuss when Chaudhry was initially suspended two years ago (an early rally is shown in the photo on the right); stepped up their protests when Musharraf declared martial law, despite literally thousands of them being scooped up in the crackdown; and kept right on agitating for an independent judiciary when president Zardari backed out of his deal to restore the judges after taking office last year.

Last week the opposition called a “long march” of protestors to travel to the parliament building and stage a sit-in today demanding the restoration of Chaudhry and an end to interference with the judiciary. Unsurprisingly, the police didn’t respond well and many marchers were dragged off to jail. Things were looking dire. (For an excellent overview of the situation as it existed pretty much until yesterday, check out Anil Kalhan’s post at Dorf on Law.)

But apparently we’ll be adding “never get into a game of chicken with a bunch of incensed Pakistani lawyers” to the list of classic blunders.* Because it totally worked.

*If that didn’t ring a bell, seriously, stop reading the blog and go watch the Princess Bride.

Today in Obscure Holidays: International Women’s Day

Did you know that March 8 is International Women’s Day? Don’t worry, I didn’t either.

According to the International Women’s Day (IWD) website (yeah, days have websites now), “IWD is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.” Its origins are a bit murky (see this article describing attempts to tie it to an apocryphal March 8, 1857 protest by female garment workers), but in many countries it is a longstanding national holiday. -And in fact, demonstrations in St. Petersburg on International Women’s Day 1917 sparked the February revolution. (Back then, February was in March.)

This year’s UN theme for International Women’s Day is: “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.” I think we can all get behind that. (Despite what some of our commenters think of our views about rape, Amanda and I are both adamantly anti-sexual violence. Bold stance, I know, but we’re nothing if not mavericks.)

MSF seized the opportunity for a tie-in with their new report on sexual violence “Shattered Lives.” The report, forwarded by one of our extremely awesome readers, highlights the importance of immediate medical care for victims of sexual violence, and generally does a bang-up job of emphasizing that rape is rape whether it happens in wartime or peacetime, whether the perpetrator is a rebel combatant or a high school teacher, and whether the victim is male or female.

So, happy International Women’s Day 2009 to you all, and let’s hope we’ll be seeing more of this sort of intelligent advocacy on the issue of sexual violence. (Maybe don’t hold your breath, though…)

Joint Rwandan-Congolese Operation Turns Out to Be Totally For Reals

Remember last week when I was fretting about what the presence of Rwandan Army Chief of Staff James Kabarebe at talks between Bosco Ntaganda and the Congolese government might mean for Ntaganda’s former boss, Laurent Nkunda?

Turns out, nothing good. Rwanda just up and arrested Nkunda. Take that everyone-on-earth-who-said-Rwanda-was-financing-Nkunda’s-rebellion! (Looking at you, U.N. Security Council panel who “found evidence that Rwandan authorities have sent officers and units of the Rwanda Defense Forces” in to help Nkunda.) Would Rwanda arrest their own stooge?

Answer: Yes, probably, especially if he no longer served any purpose (like, say, Rwanda had FINALLY gotten the Congo to let it live out its obsessive fantasy and come in after the Hutu militias) and was starting to piss them off by refusing to go along with the plan. Also especially if throwing Nkunda under the bus was part of the deal with the Congolese authorities. (Hat tip to John Prendergast via the New York Times on that one.)

Anyway, Rwanda, which now has several thousand troops in the eastern Congo, captured Nkunda either late last night on the Congo side of the border according to the New York Times, or early this morning on the Rwandan side according to, um, everybody else (CNN, AP, Reuters, Bloomberg). He is currently being held in Gisenyi, Rwanda, but the Congolese government has indicated it will seek extradition.

And now the question becomes: How quickly will Congolese President Joseph Kabila be able to arrange for an ICC indictment (his favorite method of getting rid of inconveniently popular potential destabilizers of his regime) and ship Nkunda off to the Hague?

*Photograph of Nkunda is from Reuters