Tag Archives: human rights

Irregularities in the Iranian Elections

Over the last few days, Iran has experienced more upheaval than anytime since the revolution in 1979.  At the same time, there has been more and more signs that the election was fraudulent on many levels and that decades of pent up frustration are now bursting forth.

There has been proof that turnouts exceeded 100% in over 30 towns (here) and that overall turn out would have to have been at 95% for the result to hold true.

The main opposition candidates lost their respective home towns and regions (here) according to Danielle Plekta, who is a neo-conservative hawk, but knowledgeable of the region.

The BBC has a timeline of the unrest (here) and a useful guide to the Iranian governmental system (here).

The New Statesman has a handy 10 tell-tale signs that should convince any doubters that something is seriously amiss (here).

All and all it seems that bloodshed is imminent.  It has been a rough year for elections that didn’t turn out the way they were expected to by the powers at be, i.e. Kenya, Armenia, Zimbabwe, Moldova, and now Iran to name the best known.  What is less clear that the US, EU, UN or just about anyone else has the power to do much about this, especially given the ongoing financial crisis.

Needless to say, this is troubling, even if hardly surprising.  Corrupt regimes rarely if ever give up power without a fight.  Furthermore, the methods employed are remarkably similar – intimidation, violence, censorship, media blackouts, etc.

Iran has always depended upon being perceived as a regime that is back by popular support, but the more they crackdown on dissent then this will be increasingly difficult to maintain.  What makes all of this so hard to believe is the Moussavi was not a candidate that was threatening to overthrow the theocracy and could very well have lost in the second round.  Then again, corrupt regimes are always afraid of being exposed.  Just look at Nixon, given his landslide victory in 1972, does it seem that Watergate was a justifiable risk?  Putin’s popularity is hard to doubt, but the heavy handed tactics against his opponents seems hardly like a long-term solution.

Only time will tell.

Smoke and Mirrors regarding Haiti

Mary Anastasia O’Grady has a new editorial in the Wall St. Journal (here) that continues to try and discredit Jean Bertrand Aristide, even after the recent sham of an election in Haiti in late April.  The article comes from a shamelessly biased opinion, even if her intentions might be good in that almost everyone can agree that Haiti has suffered more than any country should and it deserves a clean start.  However, pinning Haiti’s current state on the shoulders of Artiste is absurd.

Stephen Lendman has a much better handle on the current state of affairs in Haiti in his recent article in the Foreign Policy Journal from April 19th (here) just before the recent Haitian Senate Elections took place.  Here is the situation that he sees –

“few people anywhere have suffered more for so long, yet endure and keep struggling for change. For brief periods under Jean-Bertrand Aristide, they got it until a US-led February 29, 2004 coup d’etat forced him into exile where he remains Haiti’s symbolic leader – for his supporters, still head of the Fanmi Lavalas (FL) party he founded in 1996 to reestablish links between local Lavalas branches and its parliamentary representatives.

From then to now, nothing has been the same. U.N. paramilitaries occupy the country. Washington effectively controls it. President Rene Preval got a choice – go along or pay the price. He submitted knowing what awaits him if he resists. Nonetheless, he’s disappointed bitterly.

Haitians suffered dearly as a result, deeply impoverished, at times starving, denied the most basic essentials, plagued by violence, a brutal occupier, police repression, an odious and onerous debt, and exploitative sweatshop conditions for those lucky enough to have a job in a country plagued by unemployment and deprivation.”

Now compare this with O’Grady’s commentary today, in which she boils all of this down to that fact that things “didn’t have to get this bad. They did because when Haitians had a shot at democracy in 1990, they instead got a despot named Jean Bertrand Aristide. During the time he ran the country as a strongman, Haiti had a contract with a U.S. telecom company called Fusion. Its board included Joseph P. Kennedy II, who was a friend of Aristide and invited the Haitian to his second wedding.”

So centuries of suffering comes down to Aristide allegedly giving a US company preferential treatment – even though far more deplorable companies were involved in the funding and arming of Guy Phillipe’s paramilitary forces that ousted Aristide in 2004.  The backdrop to all of this is that O’Grady seems to sincerely believe that Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis is the person who will be able to rid Haiti of this stigmata, which I find hard to believe.

My issue is more that O’Grady’s analysis seems to be the latest in a long line that basically refused to see the support of Aristide and Lavalas as a legitimate expression of popular will.  Michele Pierre Louis has nowhere near the popular support that Aristide would have, if he were allowed to return.  And was only chosen for Prime Minister after two earlier candidates put forward by Preval were rejected by the Haitian Senate.

“Now as PM she emphasizes public security, which has improved since Aristide left; kidnappings dropped sharply last December. She proudly recounted to me her decision to remove a wealthy developer from the prime government land he had invaded to build slums. This makes her different. Enforcing the rule of law is not the usual practice of anyone in Haiti who wants to have a political career.

Another unpopular goal on the PM’s agenda is confronting drug-trade corruption in the judiciary and politics.  Citing Haiti’s recent seizure of $1 million in cash, she says, “Imagine what you can do with that much money in Haiti.”  The drug problem, she notes, undermines equality before the law, and Haiti needs U.S. help in fighting back.

Ms. Pierre-Louis may need help too. She doesn’t have a political base, Bill Clinton is showing renewed interest in Haiti (not good), and powerful local interests want her out. She might survive if those who truly care about Haiti realize that her defeat would be a grave loss for her country. Hopefully this includes the U.S., which has enormous influence in Haiti and also should want to see the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country get off its knees.”

All of this seems to justify US involvement in running Haitian affairs and uses anecdotal evidence at best to present an extremely narrow point of view.  The US has been one of the main reasons for Haiti’s endemic poverty for the last 200 years and this description seems to be an attempt to sanitize the US’s actions under Bush, as a means for influencing the Obama administration.  Hopefully, this latest effort to keep the people of Haiti under the influence of the US will fall far short.

Sri Lankan Humanitarian Crisis Deserves Attention

The most recent issue of the Progressive (here) and today’s Guardian UK (here) have compelling articles about the growing cause for alarm in Sri Lanka.  The MSM has widely reported about the number of civilians trapped in the shrinking area held by the remainder of the LTTE, but has done little to explain the complex nature of the conflict.

As Amitabh Pal quoted in his article “Today, most reasonable people in Sri Lanka would agree that the Tigers and the war with them arose as a consequence of a long-unresolved ethnic conflict,” writes activist and intellectual Jehan Perera (original article here).  “As such, the Tigers are clearly but a symptom of a deeper problem. … Eliminating the Tigers will not terminate the ethnic conflict.”

Perhaps this is one of the saddest aspects of the recent spike in media coverage, that it has tended to oversimplify the current state of affairs on the island by constantly reiterating that the civil war is on the verge of ending through a decisive military victory.  Much like other long standing ethnic or racial conflicts, events in Sir Lanka are bound to linger and will most likely prove to be impossible to solve through the use of force alone.  An analysis about this can be found in an article that compares the Sinhalese/Tamil conflict to the Arab/Isreali conflict in Palestine at Global Post (here).

Whatever the case, the conflict in Sri Lanka is on the verge of getting even bloodier, even if it is no closer to actually being over.

The president is having trouble straightening out his position on torture

Over the last week there have been a downpour of analysis about the potential political implications and impact of Obama releasing four memos (here) that explicitly discussed the use of torture in the fight against terrorism during the Bush administration.  Those on the left feel Obama didn’t go far enough – in that he has stated that he will not seek criminal charges against the CIA agents and their proxies – and those on the right, like Cheney, feel that he went too far – in that it exposes America’s dirty laundry for the world to judge and doesn’t discuss the (alleged) valuable intelligence that these tactics produced.  In many ways none of this need be so complicated – crimes against humanity were committed by those who engaged in terrorism and those who tortured the suspected terrorists in Guantanamo, Bagram Airbase, Abu Ghraib and any number of CIA black sites.  So why has Obama struggled so much with his handling of this?

I found John Dickerson’s piece at Slate (here) particularly useful, in that Obama has done this several times since assuming the presidency.  In particular, the problems that emerged after the AIG bonus scandal became a populist phenom overnight and sent people crawling through the Connecticut suburbs looking for vengeance.   In both instances, what becomes clear is that Obama wants to try and put the messes of the Bush administration behind him without having to fully explain himself, at least not initially.

One the one hand, I can understand why Obama doesn’t want to have his first term consumed with something like a Truth Commission, since the Republicans and Fox would turn it into a media spectacle that would make the OJ trial look like an afterschool mini-series.  But, on the other hand, these issues are not going to disappear and the truth must come out if America is to regain its moral standing – whether it deserved it in the first place is also debatable.  So here is my humble opinion on what should happen –

1) Debar the individuals from the Office of Legal Council that provided the legal cover for torture to occur, namely, Jay Bybee (who would need to be impeached from his Federal Court seat and summarily disbarred), John Yoo, and Steven Bradbury.

2) Establish a Truth Commission with subeona power and call Dick Cheney, David Addington, Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzalez, along with any other high level officials to testify about everything they knew, approved of and requested.

3) Reveal the companies that were contracted out by the CIA to conduct this work and conduct a thorough investigation about who approved these acts and make them pay damages in some form that can be used to either prevent acts of torture from happening again, compensates victims of torture in general, and strip them of their licenses for doing any future work with the US government.

Naturally, this simplifies matters, but it is what I believe needs to happen.   As impressed as I was that Obama released these memos (see Marc Ambinder article here), he really does seem to have lost the threat on being able to follow through on the implications of releasing such information.  I still in my heart of heart am convinced that Obama wants to do the right thing on this issue, but I just wish that he would do it then, rather than continually trying to hedge his bets.  As vocal as the Republicans and ex-VP Cheney have been about Obama’s betrayal of the nation and its security, he knows that they have no chance of regaining power through such antics alone.  Time will tell.

What Burma Needs From the White House

South Africa’s Desmond Tutu has a timely editorial in the Washington Post (here) about the need for the Obama Administration to address the situation in Burma.  As he points out, the US is currently reviewing is its policy towards Burma, much like Cuba, but often this can easily make it seem as if the process is largely being driven by inertia.   Considering that Burma has very very few defenders – mainly the Chinese and to a lesser extent ASEAN – it would seem as if the US could move more quickly in deciding what its policies and priorities will be to one of the most notorious authoritarian regimes in the world.

As Tutu points out “It stands to reason that every aspect of U.S. engagement with this country needs to be made more effective, more targeted and more broadly supported by key countries around the world. But as we wait for the results of this thought process, as America’s allies wait, as the United Nations waits, as the Burmese people wait, we should remember that the Burmese government is not waiting. Each day, it moves a step closer to its goal of eliminating opposition and consolidating power, with another stage-managed “election” looming in 2010.”

We’ll see.  While I think that Desmond Tutu underestimates the extent to which the military already has consolidated its control over the society.   Since  the Saffron Revolution raised hopes of a democratic transition happening in the autumn of 2007, Than Shwe brutally cracked down on the peaceful demonstrators, most of whom were Buddhist monks, and put politics ahead of disaster relief for the people of the Irrawaddy River valley after Cyclone Nagris, while the rest of the world did almost nothing.

Still, I certainly hope that his opinions reach the ears of the US policy makers with an ability to take action on behalf of the people of Burma, since it looks like few others will.

Burma cyclone response was ‘crime against humanity’

The Guardian (here), Telegraph (here) and Reuters (here) have articles dealing with the growing body of evidence that the ruling military junta in Burma (Myanmar) deliberately blocked relief assistance to millions of people living in the Irrawaddy Delta region that was devastated by Cyclone Nagris last May.

Burma has suffered horrifically under a series of military regimes since 1962, but the current one under the leadership of Than Shwe seems determined to raise the level of pain to unprecedented levels.  Cyclone Nagris affected over 3 million people and killed at least 140,000 in a country that had barely started to emerge out of the shadow of a brutal crackdown against the Saffron Revolution in the fall of 2007.

The joint report released by John Hopkins Unversity and the Emergency Assistance Team – Burma discusses the various ways in which the regime sacrifices their own people’s welfare in order to maintain an iron grip over the country during a massive natural disaster.

As the Guardian reported, this “study found that the Burmese army obstructed private cyclone relief efforts even among its own concerned citizens, setting up checkpoints and arresting some of those trying to provide help.  Supplies of overseas relief materials that were eventually allowed into Burma were confiscated by the military and sold in markets, the packaging easily identifiable.”

The Telegraph article pointing out that “there were also anecdotal accounts of people dying in the aftermath of the cyclone due to the actions of the army.  But restrictions in the country mean no one has been able to estimate how many died in a supposed “second wave” of deaths in the period after the cyclone.

Under international law, creating conditions where the basic survival needs of civilians cannot be adequately met, “intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health,” is considered a crime against humanity.”

I can olny hope that such a course of action happens, though I have my doubts.  The various strongmen that have led Burma’s military juntas have literaly gotten away with millions of murders over the last two decades.  If ethnic cleansing, stolen elections, and brutal crackdowns, thousands of political prisoners, beating Buddhist monks wasn’t enough before this report came out, will the ICC and the UN NSC do something now?  Will China and ASEAN condemn the regime and take moves that could undermine the notion of sovereignty that they have used to stop such actions from being taken in the past?

I sincerely hope so.  Such cruelty and human rights violations must be dealt with once and for all.

Call for Guatemala War Justice

The BBC has a brief report (here) on Amnesty International’s call for the Guatemalan Congress to approve a law for a National Search Commission for the Disappeared as a means for implementing the recommendations made by the country’s Historical Clarification Commission ten years ago.

Amnesty International’s Kerrie Howard stated in AI’s press release (here) that “The Historical Clarification Commission’s report was a massive landmark for human rights in Guatemala. Now it is time for the government to deliver some justice.”

“It is very disappointing that so many of the report’s recommendations remain outstanding and that justice is yet to be seen for the tens of thousands of cases of enforced disappearance, killings and torture which took place during Guatemala’s long conflict.”

Guatemala has come dangerously close to being a failed state in recent years as gang violence, narcotics, and impunity have become to be the norm.  As Amnesty points out, almost 14 years after the Esquipulas Peace Accords brought the 36 year long civil conflict to an end, not a high-ranking officer or official has ever been brought to justice for their role in ordering, planning or carrying out the widespread and systematic human rights violations which took place in Guatemala.   Considering that there were upwards of 600 documented massacres in the country – primarily between 1978 – 1985 – it is pathetic that no one has been found accountable.

Hopefully, Alvaro Colom will succeed where other Guatemalan presidents have failed, but he is going to need a tremendous amount of international support that goes beyond rhetoric to bring the forces responsible for this in Guatemala to heel.