WTF Friday, 4/29/2016

People who died last week:

  • Aleppo’s most dedicated pediatrician, Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz, who was killed in the Syrian airstrike that destroyed Al Quds Hospital.
  • The editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, Xulhaz Mannan, who was brutally hacked to death in the latest of a string of attacks against the country’s bloggers and intellectuals.
  • Prince.

People who are still alive:

  • The president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who just “won” “reelection” with 93.7% of the vote. Obiang has been in power for 37 years, the face of a corrupt regime that has bled the country dry and routinely violated the rights of its citizens.
  • The “Butcher of Bosnia” (well, one of the Butchers of Bosnia, anyway) Radovan Karadzic, who has registered a complaint against his detainment conditions in The Hague. Apparently the yoga classes, ping-pong tables, and cooking clubs of the Scheveningen cellblock are not up to the exacting standards of the man responsible for the deaths of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica.
  • Zimbabwe’s 3,246 year old president Robert Mugabe, who continues to insist “I’m not dying“.

Just saying.


WTF Friday, 1/22/2016

We have a lot to get through today, guys.

In addition to all their other great inventions/discoveries, North Korea announced that it has developed hangover-free alcohol. I’ll say this for them, they’ve got their research priorities right.

Tanzanian president John Magufuli believes, for some reason, that a nation-wide ban on miniskirts will be an effective means of combating the spread of HIV/AIDS.  (Update: The Tanzanian government has said that although “H.E. President Magufuli and his government are strong proponents of decent dressing”, reports of a mini-skirt ban were false. H/T: Felix Reimer.)

El Salvador’s government has asked its female citizens to please refrain from reproducing for the next two years to avoid birth defects caused by the Zika virus. (Note that there is no implication that El Salvador’s men might have a role to play in achieving a national pregnancy rate of zero.)

Oh, and apparently Sri Lanka has decided that a good use of police resources, and reasonable thing for a democracy to do, is to embark upon a nation-wide “crackdown on suspected lesbians“. Ugh.

And finally, if you missed this yesterday: discriminatory rules on blood and bone marrow donations from gay men are making it harder to save lives, for absolutely no good reason.

WTF Friday, 7/25/2014

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted on Wednesday to establish an international commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed by Israel during its current Gaza offensive. Of the 47 Council members, 29 voted in favor, 1 (the U.S.) against, and 17 abstained.

Gaza vote

UNHRC Gaza votes

Four months ago, I was in the Council chamber as another probe into possible war crimes was debated. Here is the outcome of voting on that resolution, which established an international investigation into alleged abuses at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009:

UNHRC Sri Lanka votes

UNHRC Sri Lanka votes

Notice anything?

With the exception of a handful of Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries, almost everyone has flipped their position.

This is interesting (or depressing, depending on how you look at it) because when countries explain their votes, they almost always speak in absolutes. In March, I heard numerous Western countries stress the legal obligation to provide justice for international crimes and the duty of the Council to stand with the victims of human rights abuses. I heard non-Western countries object categorically to “country-specific” resolutions (i.e. initiatives that single out a country for censure or investigation without its consent) and emphasize that the Council must respect sovereign governments and avoid an interventionist approach.

This week, it appeared that none of these positions were particularly deeply held.

*Photos of the vote board are courtesy of the United Nations office at Geneva.

WTF Friday, 5/30/2014

Today’s WTF Friday comes to us from India, which has had yet another high-profile rape and murder. (If this keeps up, we’re going to have to introduce an “India: Land of Rape and Elephants” tag for the blog.)

The event itself was horrific: Two young girls from the Dalit caste, sisters aged 14 and 15, were found hanging from mango trees in a forest after being raped near Badaun, Uttar Pradesh.  But the circumstances surrounding the crime are what elevate it to true WTF status.

Circumstance the first: Police Involvement. Allegedly, one police constable was directly involved in the crime, while others at the local police station refused to lodge a report or investigate, even though the girls’ father reported the attack shortly after the girls were taken.  NOT GREAT, guys.

Circumstance the second: Rape as Retribution. The Times of India reported that the girls’ rape and murder may have been intended as retribution against their community, for daring to protest previous rapes committed by the same higher-caste assailants. The newspaper compared the violence to “the medieval times when feudal lords committed gory crimes to reaffirm their hold over the commoners.”  Hard to disagree.

Circumstance the third: Ugh, Politicians. Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav, mocked journalists for daring to ask questions about the attack. “Aren’t you safe? You’re not facing any danger, are you?” he reportedly replied to journalists in Lucknow. “Then why are you worried? What’s it to you?”  Which makes sense, of course, because journalists usually only report on issues that are, at that moment, posing a direct danger to them personally.* Way to show sensitivity and leadership during a time of crisis, dude.


*On the other hand, if reporters did follow that rule, there might be more material like this discussion of whether Osama Bin Laden posed a threat to reporter Jim Rutenberg’s dog, (“[i]t was unclear whether Bush was referring to a specific and credible threat to Little Bear or merely indicating there was increased “chatter in the system” about chow chows in general”), which remains my favorite thing ever published by the Washington Post. So that’s something to consider.

WTF Friday, 5/23/2014

Ah, Britain.

That clammy island nation has given me so much: my husband, my first deep-fried Mars Bar, an unexpected quantity of master’s degrees. (Even, for a time, a job scaring tourists into unconsciousness. Youth!) But even though the UK and I are besties, I can’t give it a pass on this week’s bit of WTF-ery.

You see, it has come to my attention that UKIP gained more than 150 council seats in the local UK elections this week. According to the BBC, polls project that they would have taken 17% in a national election, if it were held today. That seems quite excessive.

“Why,” you ask, “what is a UKIP“?

That would be the UK Independence party, whose political platform is composed largely of xenophobic fear-mongering about “migrants” coming to the UK. Some highlights from their recent political escapades:

  • That time when UKIP distributed a flyer claiming that the EU was going to allow “29 million Bulgarians and Romanians to come to the UK,” a surprising claim given that the most recent World Bank statistics peg those countries’ entire populations at 7.3 million and 20.08 million, respectively. (In case you’re wondering, Romanian and Bulgarian immigration to Britain has not, in fact, turned out to be more than the total combined citizenry of both nations.)
  • That time when their party leader, Nigel Farage, told the Guardian that British people should “be wary of Romanians moving into their streets,” because of the immigrants’ “culture of criminality.”
  • That time when the UKIP MP candidate for Leicester South explained that he thought Islam was “morally flawed and degenerate,” and that “the increase of Islam in the UK is going to be a problem for the welfare state.”
  • That time when the UKIP candidate for East Sussex claimed that “The Second World Wide War was engineered by the Zionist jews and financed by the bankers to make the general public all over the world to feel so guilty and outraged by the Holocaust that a treaty would be signed to create the State of Israel as we know it today.”

Oh, okay then.

Seriously, British local-elections voters, WTF?