Sri Lanka, 7 Years Later

I have a piece up at the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog on Remembrance Day in Sri Lanka. Here’s an excerpt:

The United Nations estimates that as many as 40,000 civilians died in the final assault on the LTTE, and victims’ groups say the fates of more than 100,000 people remain unknown. To those in the south, these crimes may seem distant and forgettable. For families still searching for information about their missing loved ones, though, they’re a glaring fact of everyday life. And if Sri Lanka’s foot-dragging on transitional justice underscores the challenges of pursuing accountability in deeply divided societies, its continuing repression of remembrance suggests something very different: That, in truth, nothing has changed — and the problem isn’t the absence of transitional justice, it’s the absence of transition.

Head on over to the Monkey Cage to read the rest. Or if you feel like reading is for chumps, you can listen to me talk about post-war Sri Lanka on Austrian radio here.

 

WTF Friday, 5/6/2016

Welp, in the greatest WTF of all time, that “bellowing, marmalade-toned demagogue” who shall not be named is going to be the Republican nominee for president. I feel like I should retire this entire feature.

But also this week:

Australia may have unlawfully shipped a bunch of asylum-seekers back to Sri Lanka under cover of night.

The Kenyan government is fighting to maintain its right to conduct forced anal examinations of suspected homosexuals, a practice that has absolutely no diagnostic validity and qualifies as torture.

And the fancy new software system that the UN paid more than $400 million for is actually slowing down the (already glacial) pace of operations of the global organization.

So good times all around.

On Remembrance

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Today is Yom HaShoah, a day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust. Each year, it falls at a time when we’re also reminded of a litany of other horrors. Dates scattered throughout April and May mark the anniversaries of atrocities against Rwandans, Cambodians, Armenians, Ethiopians, and Sri Lankan Tamils.

For many, remembering the dead on these anniversaries is a ritual observance. Sometimes, it is public and state-sanctioned. News outlets around the world reported the striking images of Rwanda’s official reenactment of the genocide on the 20th anniversary in 2014. Elsewhere, commemoration is secretive and illicit. In the seven years since Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war ended, Tamils in the north have been forced to remember their dead quietly, in private, or risk arrest.

The very different circumstances surrounding remembrance in Rwanda and Sri Lanka are a reminder of the political stakes of commemorating past violence, particularly in deeply divided societies. Memorialization can signal a break with the past, legitimize a new regime, and provide comfort to the victims. But it can also reinscribe trauma, obscure history’s complexity, and polarize communities.

Over at the International Center for Transitional Justice’s website, some heavy hitters are debating this very issue. ICTJ asks: “Does collective remembrance of a troubled past impede reconciliation?

Repping Team “Yup, It Totally Does” is superstar writer and questioner-of-stuff-we-just-sort-of-assumed-was-good David Rieff. And for Team “No, Burying the Past Is Not an Option”, human rights lawyer and actual-for-reals UN Special Rapporteur on truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff.

In his opening argument, Rieff, who has a new book out called “In Praise of Forgetting“, suggests that commemoration’s “destructive potential” outweighs its usefulness. He sees more evidence that historical memory is cynically deployed to fuel violence, or simply ignored, than that it helps societies avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. (He also argues very convincingly in a recent Foreign Policy essay that memorialization can operate as a kind of kitsch, a stand-in for genuinely grappling with the horrors of history.)

De Greiff responds with a nuanced defense of transitional justice orthodoxy. Memory, he points out, isn’t optional. For the survivors of human rights abuses, the past is always present. And failing to acknowledge it “is an invitation to instrumentalize the past or leave us at the mercy of the fear”. He argues that the question should not be whether to remember, but how to ensure a full and fair accounting that will be resistant to exploitation. The challenge of course, is that the sort of capital “T” Truth that de Greiff envisages is often elusive in post-conflict societies, where everything is contested.

For my money, remembrance is necessary, but never wholly benign. And both of these arguments underscore the political work that historical memory performs in societies emerging from violence. Stay tuned for the rest of the debate…

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, 4/22/2016

Another week, another crop of politicians being absolute dicks. Specifically:

Our old pal, and candidate for president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte is at it again. This time, announcing his regret at missing the opportunity to rape Jacqueline Hamill, an Australian lay minister who was sexually assaulted and murdered during a prison riot in Davao City during Duterte’s tenure as mayor. He later doubled down on his remarks, insisting: “This is how men talk.” Again, this man is running for president of a whole entire country.

In Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff is facing ejection from office, another contender for Actual Worst Man Alive dedicated his impeachment vote to the army colonel responsible for torturing her in the 1970s. You may remember the slimeball in question, Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, from that time he celebrated Human Rights Day by informing Brazil’s Human Rights Secretary that she was “not worth raping”.

And lest you think American politicians took the week off from indefensible asshattery, the U.S.’s Most Inexplicable Governor, Paul LePage of Maine, is back in the news. This time, he has vetoed a bill that would allow pharmacists to dispense Naloxone without a prescription. Naloxone, more commonly known by the brandname Narcan, is a life-saving medication that blocks the effects of opioids. It works nearly instantaneously and can reverse acute overdoses. It’s even on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines. And Maine, a.k.a. that state LePage is the governor of, is in the grips of a terrible heroin epidemic. But rather than helping his constituents suffering from opiate addiction, Governor LePage would apparently prefer that they just die. Because he’s the worst.

WTF Friday, 4/15/2016

Happy Tax Day, fellow Americans. In honor of the occasion, let’s talk about one of the other certainties in life. Nope, not death. Overt, inveterate misogyny.

Item the first: At a town hall meeting today, a young woman asked Republican presidential candidate John Kasich what he would do to fight the campus rape epidemic if elected. After some mumbling about rape kits that focused entirely on response rather than prevention, he concluded with some advice for America’s “co-eds” (!). To wit: “Don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol.” Thanks, dude who wants to be in charge of us, I definitely feel like you take my safety seriously.

Here’s the video:

Item the second: Harvard’s secretive Porcellian Club made a rare public statement on Tuesday, objecting to the university administration’s call for finals clubs to admit female members. Harvard’s sexual assault task force identified the male-only clubs as hotspots for “sexual entitlement” and “gender inequality” on campus. The Porcellian’s response: “Forcing single gender organizations to accept members of the opposite sex could potentially increase, not decrease the potential for sexual misconduct.”

Because, obviously, ladies can’t be raped in locations they’re not allowed into.

The statement’s author, Harvard alum Charles Storey, later apologized for his “poor choice of words”, but seriously, WHY are so many men so willing to embrace a view of their sex as incapable of not raping any women who happen to be near them?

Item the third: Pro-life legislators in Missouri have decided to make a list of all the state’s women who’ve had abortions. They swear they’re not going to do anything creepy with it, but Planned Parenthood of St. Louis’s president, Mary Kogut, isn’t so sure. She’s currently facing a contempt of court charge for refusing to turn over patients’ confidential, HIPAA-protected medical information to this gang of crusading lunatics. Stay strong, Mary.

So that’s this week’s dose of Lady Bummers. Let’s close on some better news from the Animal Kingdom, where an awesome octopus escaped from a New Zealand aquarium and headed out to sea, and sometimes lions are gay.

WTF Friday, 4/8/2016

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Yesterday was the 22nd anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide. In honor of the occasion, a very special atrocity denial-themed WTF Friday:

A billboard challenging the occurrence of the Armenian genocide appeared in Boston recently (screenshot from the Boston Globe coverage above). After protests from the local Armenian community, it is being taken down.

In France, former National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is once again in trouble for minimizing the Holocaust. This time he’ll be paying a 30K euro fine for his suggestion that the gas chambers really weren’t that big of a deal.

And everyone’s favorite Australian former prime minister, Tony Abbott, is publicly congratulating himself for looking the other way during the brutal end to Sri Lanka’s civil war. The Sri Lankan military is alleged to have intentionally shelled civilians, causing an estimated 40,000 deaths, and tortured, disappeared, and sexually abused countless others—war crimes that Abbott describes as “probably unavoidable”.

WTF Friday, 4/1/2016

This April Fool’s, let’s imagine an upside down world in which:

Violent sexual assaults perpetrated in the middle of Europe aren’t criminal because they were committed in public.

A prominent American celebrity suggests that a Trump presidency (you know, that guy who’ll make America great again by getting rid of all the women, immigrants, and Muslims) would be better for liberals than electing Hillary Clinton.

UN peacekeepers charged with protecting vulnerable civilians force children to have sex with animals.

Jokes on us, guys. All of these things happened this week.

Some International Justice Reading Material

It’s been a big couple of weeks for international criminal justice. Karadzic was convicted. Bemba was convicted. Ongwen’s case will proceed to trial. And most importantly, the ICC is FINALLY getting a new website. (This is huge news, because the current one looks like it was designed in 1994 before anyone quite knew what the internet was, which cannot be true because the ICC did not exist in 1994. But I digress.)

The actual worst website ever.

The actual worst website ever.

But what of it, you say. Are the billions (yes, billions) of dollars spent on these institutions and their websites yielding dividends for international peace and security?

The short answer is: We don’t really know. For the longer answer, here’s:

WTF Friday, 3/25/2016

At this point, it feels like cheating to include anything related to the U.S. presidential election. In the last few days alone, the two frontrunners for the Republican nomination got in a fight over whose wife is hotter, and one of them (or possibly both) called for police to “patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods in the U.S. in the wake of the Brussels attacks.

In other American political nonsense, North Carolina just basically made it illegal to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the European Union has decided that a good way to deal with the refugee crisis would be to ship all “irregular migrants” arriving in Greece back to Turkey. Human rights advocates say that this measure amounts to unlawful mass expulsion, and MSF is suspending its activities at the refugees’ arrival point in Greece in protest.

So everything is pretty much the worst. And if you thought you were going to console yourself with Easter candy this weekend, think again. All of our chocolate turns out to be poison.