WTF Friday, 9/26/2014

What a week.

ISIS killed Iraqi lawyer and human rights activist Sameera Salih Ali al-Nuaimy for criticizing their destruction of cultural and religious sites. According to the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, Ms. al-Nuaimy was convicted of apostasy by a Shari’a court and tortured in an effort to force her to repent before her “execution”. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemning the murder, noted that amidst ISIS’s generalized brutality, “[e]ducated, professional women seem to be particularly at risk.”

In other WTF lady news, Fox News commentators referred to Emirati fighter pilot Maryam Al Mansouri’s participation in airstrikes against ISIS this week as “boobs on the ground“. (Which kind of makes me think that in addition to being dicks, they don’t really understand what airplanes are. Because not being on the ground is pretty much key.)

And then there was that thing with the donkeys.


Mass Atrocity Monday, 9/22/2014

Earlier this year, a commission of inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council issued a devastating report on human rights in North Korea. In addition to estimating that between 80,000 and 120,000 North Koreans are currently being held in prison camps, the commission found credible evidence of a host of abuses, including:

“extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

It concluded that these violations of human rights in North Korea were so grave, widespread, and systematic that they amounted to crimes against humanity. This is important for two reasons. First, it confirms what most of us suspected: North Koreans are living a nightmare of surveillance, starvation, and brutal repression. And second, the violations of their rights constitute international crimes that can be prosecuted.

Unsurprisingly, the North Korean government views things a little differently. In a lengthy report released last week on the Korean Central News Agency’s website, the “DPRK Association for Human Rights Studies” laid out its views on “the Government’s efforts for protecting and promoting human rights, realities, obstacles to its efforts in ensuring human rights, and status of implementation of its international obligations”.

Both the report and the KCNA site are nearly impenetrable, but I’ve taken one for the team and waded through them so you don’t have to. Here’s what I learned:

  • “Korea has four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter.”
  • “[I]ts area should be measured by cubic meters, not square meters.” (?)
  • “[T]he DPRK maintains that human rights is state sovereignty.”
  • “The law and decision on abolishing the taxation system turned DPRK into a tax-free country for the first time in history and firmly guaranteed the realization of the historic cause of completely freeing the Korean people from tax burdens.”
  • “As far as the annual ‘Report on Human Rights’ by the U.S. State Department is concerned, it is a document of vicious political provocation, aimed at slandering and insulting the sovereign states with the ‘human rights standards’ based on the American value.”
  • “Members of the ‘COI’ are despicable human rights abusers bribed by the U.S. and its allies to distort the facts and deliberately tarnish the image of a sovereign state.”

There’s quite a bit more on how horrible the Japanese, South Koreans, and Americans all are, including some impressively shameless attacks on the U.S.’s incarceration rates and wire-tapping policies. I really don’t recommend reading it. But I do recommend reflecting on what it means that the North Koreans bothered to write it in the first place.

Because amidst the vitriol and over-use of scare quotes, there’s a careful catalogue of the human rights ostensibly guaranteed by North Korean law, and the institutions established to provide and enforce them. There’s also repeated reference to the requirements of international human rights law, and the importance of upholding them. We could dismiss this as lip service. After all, it’s clearly disingenuous and doesn’t correspond to improvement in human rights conditions on the ground. But the North Koreans know that a resolution on their human rights situation will likely come before the UN General Assembly this fall and have already made an unprecedented statement that they will consider the recent recommendations of the Human Rights Council. This report, despite its absurdity, is another baby step towards engagement.

WTF Friday, 9/19/2014

You know what is SUCH a drag? When you’re diligently trying to “bring back happiness” to your nation and interfering foreigners keep interrupting with pesky human rights concerns.

The latest annoyance for Thailand’s ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) comes via Amnesty International. Their report, “Attitude Adjustment: 100 Days Under Martial Law“, is a blistering indictment of the climate of fear and repression of political rights that has prevailed since the military took power in May. The NCPO, which has previously shown that it is quite concerned about its image, categorically denied the allegations last week.

So obviously, when academics at Thammasat University in Bangkok held a special seminar yesterday on “The Decline of Dictatorships in Foreign Countries” the regime had no choice but to round up the panelists and the student organizers and bring them down to the police station for (yes, you guessed it) an “attitude adjustment” session. That’ll show those judgy Amnesty researchers, right?

Electoral Politics at Its Best

Former commander of the Sri Lankan Army Sarath Fonseka is on the campaign trail in Uva province, and he’s brought some unconventional props with him. Fonseka, who was badly wounded in a 2006 suicide bombing in Colombo, is traveling with the shrapnel-pierced Peugeot 406 he was riding in at the time, and a cardboard cutout of the woman who attacked him.

If this is successful in winning seats for his Democratic Party in the Uva provincial polls, I can’t wait to see what candidates decide to lug around in next year’s presidential election.

Screen shot 2014-09-16 at 9.56.41 AM

via The Republic Square, photo from the BBC Sinhala’s Facebook page.

WTF Friday, 9/12/2014

Here are some things that apparently happened this week while I was buried in research statements and cover letters. (The academic job market is super fun, you guys.*)

  • Supporters of Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election debuted a new campaign slogan: #BringBackGoodluck2015. Because nothing makes people more likely to vote for an incumbent than a reminder of his failure to take seriously the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls.
  • The Pentagon announced a plan to build a spiffy new field hospital in Liberia to treat healthcare workers responding to the ebola epidemic, then clarified that they only meant * foreign * healthcare workers. USAID has since tweeted that the hospital will in fact treat “health workers of all nationalities”. Here’s hoping everyone’s now on the same page about that.

*No it isn’t.

Ugh, Gambia

Remember the days before the phrase “aggravated homosexuality” entered our lexicon? Those were simpler times.

And if you thought we’d be able to forget it now that Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill has been overturned, think again. Gambia’s parliament just passed a law imposing life sentences for acts of aggravated homosexuality. This includes, apparently, repeated homosexual intercourse. (Lest you think the National Assembly is letting Gambians off the hook for one-time same sex debauchery, don’t forget that “one crazy night in college” or “I swear this is the only time I’ve ever done anything like this” still gets you the 14 year penalty for garden variety gayness.)

The law will only come into force if President Yahyeh Jammeh signs it, but this is a guy who has repeatedly threatened to kill all Gambian homosexuals (and thinks he can cure AIDS with his own special blend of 11 presidential herbs and spices), so we probably shouldn’t expect sweet reason to prevail.

WTF Friday, 8/22/2014

Hey, remember that time four years ago when the Southern Sudanese security forces decided they weren’t quite up to the task of protecting civilians from LRA attacks, and that everything would be so much easier if said civilians were armed and could protect themselves?

Well, Detroit police chief James Craig has apparently come to a similar conclusion. Late last year Craig recommended that if Detroit residents want to avoid being the victims of crime, they should go ahead and carry guns. And a few weeks ago he attributed a recent drop in crime in the city in part to the increase in armed citizens.

I’m just not sure he’s thinking big enough. Guns are great and all, but imagine how much more crime civilians could prevent if they had air power…

Khmer Rouge Leadership Finally Held Accountable for Their Crimes… Sort Of

2012-07-19 06.06.57Earlier this month, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (the ECCC, a.k.a. the Khmer Rouge Tribunal) found Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan guilty of crimes against humanity.

The two men, aged 88 and 83 respectively, are the sole surviving senior leaders of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, which held power in Cambodia from 1975-1979. During their reign, approximately 1.7 million Cambodians died, the victims of forced relocation, enslavement, torture, mass killings, and starvation.

In 2003, the Cambodian government and the United Nations agreed to establish a hybrid (part domestic, part international) tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge for their crimes. After several years of wrangling over the funding, the ECCC became operational in 2006. In 2010, it returned its first verdict: the conviction of the head of the notorious S-21 prison on crimes against humanity, torture, and murder charges.

The proceedings against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are part of the ECCC’s second case. (Yes, that’s right, this court is operating at the blistering speed of one case every four years.) With Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot dead since 1998, this case represented the tribunal’s best chance at holding accountable those most responsible for Cambodians’ suffering.

Originally, Case 002 encompassed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide charges as well as domestic criminal charges of murder, torture, and persecution against (“Brother Number Two”), Khieu Samphan (Cambodia’s head of state during the Khmer Rouge period), Ieng Sary (the Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister), and Ieng Thirith (the Minister of Social Affairs). But Ieng Sary died last year, and his wife, Ieng Thirith, was found mentally unfit to stand trial due to Alzheimer’s. And in 2011, the Trial Chamber made what was to many (including me) a puzzling decision, splitting Case 002 up into smaller “sub-trials”, allegedly to speed up the process. 

The verdict handed down on August 6 wraps up the first of these sub-trials, Case 002-01. (Incidentally, closing statements were delivered more than 9 months ago, so if this is the process sped up, yowch.) Pursuant to the severance order, it dealt with the forced movement of population and the mass execution of former regime officials early in the Khmer Rouge period. It therefore did not reach what many consider to be the emblematic crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime – the prison camp system and institutionalization of torture, the massive forced labor campaign, and the genocidal attacks on the Cham and ethnic Vietnamese minorities.

So although the verdict is a welcome one, it’s not the comprehensive condemnation of Khmer Rouge crimes that victims and advocates had hoped for. And given the advanced age of the remaining defendants, and the glacial pace of the proceedings, this is likely the end of the line for efforts to seek justice for these atrocities.

*In case you missed it, I attended and blogged Case 002-01 in July 2012.