International Criminal Court

This Week in the World of Conflict… March 5th-12th, 2012.

  • Brandeis University in Massachusetts is offering a Master’s Program in Coexistence and Conflict with several scholarship opportunities. The program is geared towards professionals.
  • The Summer Peacebuilding Institute in Harrisonburg, Virginia is still open for the 2012 year. The institute offers courses in development, humanitarian assistance, monitoring awareness, restorative justice, social movements, community organizing, trauma awareness, mediation and many others from May 7th- June 15th.
  • The Italian branch of the hacking collective Anonymous reportedly took down the Vatican website on Wednesday in retaliation for the “corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. It was revealed this week that a leader hacker with the Anonymous-linked LulzSec allegedly agreed to work with the American FBI after pleading to 12 charges of computer hacking last August.
  • Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs announced his intention to be the next president of the World Bank as the current head is near the end of his term. Sachs hopes to change the mistakes of the past and provide a leadership of development experts instead of Wall Street, bankers and politicians. On Wednesday, an insider in the Obama administration said that former American White House adviser Lawrence Summers, diplomat Susan Rice and PepsiCo Inc CEO Indra Nooyi are on a “short list” of possible American candidates to head the World Bank.
  • Several Muslim and African countries reportedly walked out of a Human Rights Council panel set up to tackle the issue of murder and violence against gays and lesbians around the world.
  • The German Chancellor announced on Tuesday that she had received assurances from the Brazilian President that Brazil would take part in a recapitalization of the International Monetary Fund. Brazil has urged Europe to stabilize the euro before the IMF can boost its own capital and release more funds for struggling euro zone states like Greece.
  • The UN Development Programme released a report on the need to strengthen justice and security for peace around the world.
  • UNICEF and the World Health Organization released a report on Tuesday that claimed that the world had met the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water, well in advance of the 2015 deadlines.
  • New psychological research at Cornell University suggests that people don’t always have the capacity to recognize the best political candidate or policy idea, especially if they incompetent in the subject, which results in democratic elections that produce mediocre leadership and policies.
  • In the wake of March 10th‘s International Women’s Day, many sites reminded us of statistics showing how the gender imbalance is still alive and thriving, particularly in the aid sector; while the US State Department chose 10 honorees for the 2012 International Women of Courage ceremony. Top UN officials proposed a UN global conference on women for 2015, 20 years after the last women’s summit in Beijing.
  • The UN cultural agency UNESCO voted on Thursday to remove the name of Equatorial Guinea’s President from the Obiang Prize for science and replace it with that of his country, bowing to pressure over his human rights record.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the world has been able to meet some of the UN goals of reducing poverty and raising living standards in developing nations, though some regions are not reaping many benefits.
  • The United Nations unveiled new guidelines on Friday to help mediators address the problem of sexual violence in conflict by placing the issue high on the agenda when brokering peace agreements and ceasefires.
  • Judge Song was reportedly re-elected as President of the International Criminal Court and judges Monageng and Tarfusser elected as First and Second VPs. Several other new judges were sworn in as well, after being elected last December.
  • A new report by the UN warns that a “radical new approach” to managing the world’s water resources is needed to mitigate increasing scarcity. The report was issued to coincide with the opening of the World Water Forum in France, held every three years.
  • AidData released a report recently discussing how foreign aid affects armed conflict. The report suggests that aid can affect the likelihood of violent armed conflict by influencing a state’s ability to credibly commit to an agreement that averts war at present and into the future.

This Week in The World of Conflict… December 12th-19th, 2011.

  • Fatima Bensouda was formally elected as chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court on Monday. Bensouda was the only candidate running for the election and will take over from Luis Moreno-Ocampo in June.
  • The UNDP has released its 2011 Human Development Report. This report projects a disturbing reversal in past trends of rising living standards should environmental deterioration and social inequalities continue to intensify.
  • The Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) released a new dataset on armed conflict in Africa from 1989 through 2010. The program contains some 24 000 unique conflict events and three types of armed conflict (state-based, non-state and one-sided violence) and is compatible with a number of software utilities for statistical analysis and GIS software.
  • Routledge has published a new book on Peace and Conflict Studies that presents a range of theories, methodologies and approaches to understanding peace and transforming conflict.
  • Time magazine has named “The Protester” the 2011 “Person of the Year” in their latest issue. 2011 has seen an almost unprecedented rise in dissent.
  • The UN called for $7.7 billion for humanitarian assistance on Wednesday over the next year in the largest appeal in two decades. The UN humanitarian officials said that they are hopeful to receive the assistance that is said will assist some 51 million people in 16 countries facing emergencies.
  • Donor governments pledged a reported $482 million for the UN refugee agency’s operation in 2012 to help forcibly displaced and stateless people worldwide.  An additional $122 million was pledged for 2013 and beyond.
  • The World Health Organization reviewed more than 50,000 scientific papers to help determine interventions that would sharply reduce maternal deaths and deaths of children before the age of 5 in their 3 year global study. Some of the interventions include managing maternal anaemia with iron, preventing and managing post-partum haemorrhage, immediate thermal care for newborns, extra support for feeding small and preterm babies and antibiotics for the treatment of pneumonia in children.
  • The Atlantic published its 10 Biggest International Stories of 2011 this week, which includes the Arab Spring, the death of Bin Laden, the nuclear crisis in Fukushima and many more.
  • On Thursday, the UN issued a new report calling on governments to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, a milestone for the UN where LGBT rights will be treated as human rights. The report outlined the cruelty faced by LGBT people, including mutilation and castration.
  • The UN General Assembly voted on Monday to designate October 11th as the International Day of the Girl Child after a two-year campaign spearheaded by Plan International and the Canadian government. The day will promote girls’ rights, highlight gender inequalities that remain between boys and girls and address various forms of discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the globe.

Is peace a possibility for Cote D’Ivoire in 2011? Part 2

In the previous post I spoke about some of the underlying tensions and the general situation over the past few weeks in Cote D’Ivoire. In this post, I will discuss some of the “solutions” being proposed, the likelihood of their usage and the effect I believe they will have on the population.

Sanctions

The international community was quick to suggest sanctions and have since taken steps to freeze Gbagbo’s foreign assets. The IMF has cut Gbagbo off from some $800 million in development funding and instead handed over access to their former employee, Ouattara and many other countries have taken steps to freeze Gbagbo’s assets in their country. Cote d’Ivoire has already missed its coupon payment on its $2.3 billion Eurobond (though there is debate over which President should actually pay this) that was due last Friday, but will not default for another month. Default could have serious implications on the future of international debt relationships with the country, which has already restructured twice in the past. Travel restrictions on Gbagbo and several members of his camp have also been put into place. The intention here is to financially isolate Gbagbo and his net of loyal supporters and force him to step down peacefully.

Gbagbo has been accused of paying for foreign (mostly Liberian) mercenaries to help fight his battle, and has the public support of the army and police. Many feel that without money to pay the army, police force and mercenaries, Gbagbo will quickly lose his support from these entities, which may even turn on him. This is certainly a possibility, as some reports suggest Gbagbo has only enough money to pay these forces for three months, and many of the forces are living day to day without any savings to pull them through.  Without pay, they are likely to be angered and more susceptible to go with whoever can provide a salary. State run newspapers claim however, that Gbagbo’s signature is still being recognized on state accounts at the central bank and that salaries will be paid regularly and on time.

Several governments have refused to recognize ambassadors appointed by Gbagbo, resulting in Gbagbo announcing the removal of diplomatic privileges and immunity for those who refuse him in reciprocity. Britain, whose ambassador is actually based in Ghana rather than Cote d’Ivoire, rejected the move, saying it no longer accepted Gbagbo’s authority. Canada has called the removal “illegitimate”, but may be in a more difficult position as their embassy is located within Abidjan. The US treasury has barred Americans from doing business with any of Gbagbo’s inner circle.

Imposing sanctions also poses a risk. An armed force without a salary is a dangerous thing, as they may simply take to extracting their dues from the population as has been demonstrated in other conflicts. Civil workers, many living paycheck to paycheck, face the possibility of hunger without a salary, especially considering the rising prices of food staples. Another concern is the possibility of several eastern players funding and arming Gbagbo’s camp discretely. There are unconfirmed rumours of certain groups already doing so. China is said to have just recently given at least 3 billion CFA to Cote d’Ivoire, fulfilling their promise from a recent China-Africa summit and is unlikely to break the relationship that allows them access to raw materials– whoever is in charge. In this situation, Gbagbo would likely trade their funding for local concessions—and possibly use the funding to attempt to expel those who would have him ousted.

Dialogue or recount and investigation

Dialogue is only useful if both parties are willing to come to the table and work on a solution that is best for the country. Gbagbo is very skilled at the political manipulation game and has been announcing in public that he is open to the idea of dialogue and investigation. However, many feel that this is merely another stalling technique aimed at him finding ways to stay in power. Ouattara has been reported as saying he will not accept dialogue until Gbagbo admits he was defeated. Not a likely situation. This makes the possibility of a unity government (which is highly undesirable for much of the international community) or any sort of peace arrangement unlikely, or at the very least, a long way off.

International mediators have been attempting to diffuse the situation through a series of talks, and have been offering Gbagbo the option of comfortable exile and amnesty should he step down peacefully. This may be a valid option if the sanctions work as they are intended, but have so far fallen on deaf ears. Even still, this process should be continued as the stakes might change in the coming months. The international community should be careful in its choice of mediators however, as the AU choice of Odinga, who was one of the first to call on military action against Gbagbo, left slim chance for an opportunity of meaningful diplomacy.

Recounting and investigating the votes is no longer really an option, even though the monitors did cite irregularities and intimidation across the country. The international community’s previous announcement of an undisputed winner is extremely unlikely to be retracted, as it would bring into question their past partiality and neutrality. This would only give more fodder for Gbagbo to cite corruption should the recount not be found in his favour. In all likelihood, Gbagbo would not accept defeat even in the event of a recount in Ouattara’s favour. Ouattara has also dismissed this possibility entirely, saying that military intervention is now the only option.

Investigation, however, is something that should still be considered. Though it will have little change in the current situation, it will be helpful for the international community to review their process so they can better handle this type of situation in the future. Investigation into all allegations of violence is also extremely important, so that all parties responsible for inciting violence can eventually be brought to the International Criminal Court for justice. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned three top military leaders within Gbagbo’s camp that they could be liable for war crimes prosecution and reminded them of their obligations under international human rights law and humanitarian law.

Military Intervention by African parties

Intervention is an option that has been talked about, but mostly as an extreme last resort. Ouattara is strongly for it, saying that it need not trigger a civil war and although many Julas in Cote d’Ivoire are no doubt eagerly awaiting this possibility; many feel it is likely to bring a greater amount of violence upon the population.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its Monitoring Group ECOMOG has been going back and forth over the possibility of intervening militarily, most recently shelving the idea in favour of diplomacy and attempts at dialogue.

There has long been a rivalry between Anglophone and Francophone parties within ECOWAS/ECOMOG, with the Francophone countries of West Africa in the past being vehemently opposed to intervention, which they see as a tool for Anglophone domination in the region. In previous interventions, ECOWAS has sent in troops only after being invited to intervene by governments already in place. The effectiveness of their force directly depends on the political consensus within the West African community, who will have to collectively decide on how the mission is engaged and handled. Burkina Faso’s President Compaore has previously declared his total disagreement with intervention, citing that the Standing Mediation Committee of ECOWAS has “no competence to interfere in member-states’ internal conflicts, but only in conflicts breaking out between member-countries”. Compaore feared of a possible expansion of any internal conflict to neighbouring countries should intervention be used. This is a legitimate fear.

At the moment, refugees are already pouring across the borders and armed groups have been cited crossing the Liberian border to intimidate them. Gbagbo is widely suspected of hiring Liberian mercenaries to do his dirty work within the country, and more Liberian mercenaries are said to be crossing the border willing to work for the highest bidder. This fluctuation of populations is likely to bring certain levels of violence into neighbouring Liberia should invasion take place or at the very least, result in violence against other West African nationals still living within Cote d’Ivoire.

ECOWAS member states are said to be lacking the economic resources necessary to sustain large-scale military operations. Past intervention missions have focused on securing cease-fires, creating an atmosphere conducive for negotiations or the protection of non-combatants. The countries are thus lacking the type of special operations forces capable of a “decapitation strike” that would be able to remove Gbagbo from power. That leaves only the option of full-scale invasion, which has serious implications for the civilian population. There has long been a difficulty trying to operate a unified command among ECOMOG troops because of a high level of distrust between member states, resulting in troop contingents that may arrive with different and sometimes conflicting instructions, different training standards, and excessive control by their home governments. A force facing these handicaps will likely have difficulty operating a swift commando-style mission. The ECOWAS missions are also highly reliant on non-regional state sponsorship for their operations and would require logistical support of the US and France.

Nigeria, the largest military power within the community and holder of the current presidency of ECOWAS, has little incentive to wage war in a year when it will be holding its own Presidential elections and is already bogged down with its own internal strife. Dozens of people protested in Nigeria against the use of intervention, fearing they could be targeted in retaliatory violence should they invade. The other countries most likely to be the core of any force– Ghana and Senegal– have millions of their own citizens in the country and also fear reprisals. (UPDATE: Ghanian President Atta-Mills has since announced that his country would not support a military intervention in Cote d’Ivoire and has allegedly even sent military equipment and financial assistance to Gbagbo). A Nigerian analyst questioned which country would want to send troops into an urban centre like Abidjan and face a national army instead of a rebel force; and also suggested that Nigeria would not be in the position to do anything until at least after their own elections scheduled for January 22nd and the later general elections in April. ECOWAS has only a 1,500 strong rapid reaction force and a further main force of 4,000 at their disposal, which would be outnumbered by Gbagbo forces in the case of a full-scale invasion.

Military Intervention by International Parties

The new American foreign policy in Africa has led it to develop partnerships with Mali, Ghana, Morocco and other states in its “war on terrorism” and increase funding to military operations in Africa. United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has also conducted several large-scale military maneuvers and war games in West Africa. Despite America’s missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is said the US Navy does have an Amphibious Ready Group with three or four ships, including a large helicopter carrier, with a 2,000-man Marine Expeditionary Unit able to do the job in Cote d’Ivoire. This however, is extremely unlikely. The US has traditionally followed France’s lead within francophone Africa, and France would be unlikely to approve of  US assistance to install a new Ivorian leader. The Pentagon has just seen a tremendous slash in budget that would reduce its spending by $78 billion over the next five years, not including costs of combat operations and the cutting of approximately 47,000 troops from the Army and Marine Corps forces. They are now looking to scale back invasions and military operations, not increase them. Washington has also recently indicated it might accept Gbagbo if it would help defuse the crisis, demonstrating that they are trying to see other options than invasion. Intervention into Africa is also a highly undesirable political action for any US leaders, as many keenly remember the disastrous invasion in Somalia and fear “wasting” any military resources on a fight that serves little interest to American citizens.

African security analyst Peter Pham said there is “little chance” that the UN would allow its peacekeepers to get involved in a military strike, as the “precedent would make it very difficult to get future agreement for deployment of such missions by host countries”. It would also call into question the lack of response by the UN in several other flawed elections processes over the past few months. The UN has recently called on between 1,000 and 2,000 additional peacekeepers to augment the 9,800 troops currently in place; though these troops would be under the same mandate that disallows them from intervening.

The French Defense Minister Alain Juppe has said that France is only ready to intervene to protect French citizens and that any decision about military intervention would need to come from the UN or the AU. French President Sarkozy later announced that French troops were not in Cote d’Ivoire to interfere with internal affairs, saying that they are to “act by virtue of a UN mandate”. French intellectuals are insisting upon UN approval for any intervention to be considered legitimate. Given France’s history in Cote d’Ivoire, a military intervention would not be a politically popular choice. In 2004, in what can be described as analogous to the US’ Black Hawk Down incident, France lost nine soldiers in a bombing and retaliated on Gbagbo’s government by wiping out the entire Ivorian air force. Retaliation attacks saw much of the French population being removed militarily by helicopter and never returning. Popular French sentiment is strongly against further interfering in someone else’s fight. No other European nation is likely going to risk its forces in West Africa without France leading the charge.

Response to Intervention

Two of Africa’s most respected peace-building and governance organizations, the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) and the Institute for Democratic Governance (IDEG), have expressed serious reservations about any proposed military intervention within Cote d’Ivoire. The response to any intervention must be strongly weighed because the move could result in great amounts of violence faced by civilians .

The notorious Ble Goude called upon his supporters to resist any foreign occupation, saying that “no army, however powerful, can come and remove Gbagbo in order to install (Ouattara)” in front of a crowd of 5,000 who shouted they would not accept that option. Some claim that a good number of officers within Gbagbo’s camp don’t feel like going to war since they have already enriched themselves in previous years, and don’t want to risk what they have accumulated. Some have even allegedly told Gbagbo they wouldn’t order their troops to fire upon unarmed civilians to avoid any prosecution at the International Criminal Court. The EU and France are deliberately avoiding sanctioning many of these generals (including General Philippe Mangou) in an effort to capitalize on this sentiment and avoid the wrath that may be enraged should they de-legitimize portions of the armed forces.

Ouattara has been claiming that 63% of Ivorian soldiers voted for him despite the belief that Gbagbo has support of the army, though this statement seems to contradict the reality of the situation on the ground. Since Gbagbo is “just one man” with a small group of supporters, Ouattara suggests that he could be easily removed through military intervention. This claim would have the army, long staffed along ethnic lines favorable to Gbagbo, voting in higher numbers for Ouattara than they did among the average population and if true, would have likely resulted in a nationally-run coup on Gbagbo weeks ago.

Gbagbo is said to have approximately 4,000 regular FDS troops, thousands of anti-riot police, the CESOS, the infantry, the navy and other paramilitary units at his disposal. The military forces are said to number over 30,000. They also have a tiny air force of Sukhoi warplanes, drones, Mi-24, Mi-8 and Puma copters, anti-aircraft batteries, rocket launchers and a dozen armored vehicles. Ouattara’s Force Nouvelles is said to have approximately 4,000 troops, with only a couple hundred currently in the capital and are said to be mostly lightly armed with machine guns and RPGs. There are also allegedly several heavily armed pro-Ouattara “sleeper cells” in the Abidjan neighbourhoods of Abobo, Port-Bouet 2, Koumassi and Adjame, and other rumours of armed cells of Gbagbo-supporters in other neighbourhoods.

Unless a quick, highly specialized “decapitation” mission is enacted, it is possible that Gbagbo supporters will fight back, or at the very least, the armed forces will resist the invasion. This would mean armed attacks within the most populous city in the country, with civilians likely caught in the crossfire. In this situation, the ports would likely close and transportation likely slow, making commerce nearly impossible. Many of those with wages would likely be unemployed for much of the armed conflict and food prices would skyrocket even further, making the population even more food insecure than it already is. Retaliations against pro-Ouattara populations and foreigners within the southern part of the country would become increasingly likely. The alleged armed sleeper cells would no doubt join the fight, bringing another layer of unrestrained violence upon the population.

The Forces Nouvelles could seize the opportunity while the FDS and other Gbagbo armed forces are busy fighting off an invasion to attempt to take the city. This would bring even more armed factions into the city, and with it, even more armed conflict. This type of situation would likely end in wholesale slaughter of many civilians.

Do Nothing

What if the international and African community just stands back and does nothing? Though this is not a popular option, it is likely the most probable (besides current sanctioning and attempts at dialogue).

On the streets, especially during the day, things within the city have relatively returned to normal. It is possible that the political killings and disappearances could wane off if the international community stopped pushing the country for action. The average Ivorian wants peace, and merely wants to go to work, and live in safety with their families– no matter who is in charge. In this case, Ouattara and his camp would no doubt have to seek exile in another country, and the Forces Nouvelles currently residing around the Golf Hotel would have to return back north. Lingering hatreds could fester underground, and result in later violence, but the country could remain functioning. The north and south would likely return to an ad hoc division. However, it is also possible that political killings and disappearances could continue and even increase, though this would likely result in increasing resentment from the civilian population. If this were the case, sanctioning and intervention would have a better chance of having the support of the Ivorian population, however, this could result in risking the wholesale slaughter of much of the population.

What’s next?

The international community has been quick to decide what’s best for the Ivorian people. They must remember that any move they make will have a lasting result on the population, and take every effort to consult the people to ensure Ivorian voices are not being lost in the process. It is easy to sit by in the US, France or another country and assert that one move is “best” for Ivorian people, but these people do not have to live with the outcomes of their decisions each and every day. They are not the ones who will have armed forces fighting in their streets.

Peace is a possibility in Cote d’Ivoire, as much of the population is everyday struggling to return there. They get up everyday, head to work, eat, take care of their children and hope that tomorrow something will change in the political situation. Many hope that the next generation will bring new leaders who haven’t been involved in past politics and who are more focused on ensuring they have jobs, food security and peace. Here’s hoping!

Paix pour la Cote d’Ivoire!

Part I: Summary of Human Rights Watch- World Report 2010

Human Rights Watch recently released their latest Human Rights Watch Report  for 2010.

As I read through the list of countries profiled in the report, I found myself disappointed that Canada, the UK, Australia or any Western European countries had not made the list. I have read reports of almost all of these governments committing human rights violations  or allowing their companies to do so and the populations of these nations do still experience routine violations against human rights. In fact, considering these countries have signed numerous conventions and incorporated human rights laws more thoroughly into domestic laws than most of the rest of the world, their breach of them is all the more abhorrent and worthy of reporting. I thoroughly respect the work that organizations like Human Rights Watch do and I understand that Human Rights Watch is limited in their scope and resources as indicated in the end of the first report; so in no way do I mean to undermine the work that has been done to compile this report. I simply wish that it would cover the entire world and not just pieces of it.

The main violations of concern in the report this year are described in four sections followed by individual country reports. These sections are as follows:

1) The Abusers’ Reaction: Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions

2) Civilian Protection and Middle East Armed Groups: In Search of Authoritative Local Voices

3) Abusing Patients: Health Providers’ Complicity in Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment

4) In the Migration Trap: Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Europe.

I will cover the details of the report over the next little while in a series of posts. The first post will address the first section of the report.

Intensifying Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Organizations and Institutions.

Putting a spotlight on human rights violations can be risky, and often those who defend human rights face extreme abuse, imprisonment, harassment, intense intimidation and even death. Organizations fighting this fight have been suppressed, denied funding, shut down and worse. Russia received a great deal of attention for its attacks on human rights defenders. Many victims reported cases of arson, arbitrary detention, disappearances of loved ones, torture, and brutal executions in Chechnya and other parts of the country. Also specifically mentioned in this section was Kenya, Burundi, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Malaysia, India, and Uzbekistan. Several states were also listed as completely closed or restricted for activism. At the top of this list are Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan. Burma and Iran bar international human rights groups completely. Saudi Arabia will not acknowledge NGO supporting human rights promotion and clamps down tightly on any who speak out. Danger in Somalia makes human rights monitoring essentially impossible. Libya allows international visits but completely suppresses any independent civil society. Syria will not license any human rights groups and prosecutes those who push for registration. Indonesia prohibits international human rights groups to visit to certain areas of the country, as has Israel into the Gaza strip. Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam all refuse to allow access to UN special procedures, including on torture and human rights defenders. As does Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Zimbabwe and Russia have also prevented the special rapporteur on torture from entering their respective countries. Sudan has shut down human rights organizations and expelled several international humanitarian NGOs working in Darfur. China closed the Open Constitution Initiative (a legal aid organization) because of controversy over Tibetan protests and melamine-poisoned milk that sickened hundreds of thousands of children.

Other governments have been accused of openly harassing, detaining or attacking human rights defenders including Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Cambodia, Syria, and Yemen. The governments of Columbia, DR Congo, Sri Lanka, and Nicaragua have been accused of using threats of violence to deter or punish human rights defenders. Russia, Ethiopia, India, Israel, Jordan, Uganda, Turkmenistan, Libya, Venezuela, Peru, Cambodia, Rwanda, Kyrgyzstan and Egypt have all been accused of creating restrictive laws on NGOs and associations in an attempt to restrict the monitoring of human rights. China, Iran and Syria have all disbarred lawyers, refusing to renew their professional licenses to prevent them from representing victims of human rights abuses. China, Uzbekistan, Rwanda, Iran, Morocco, Serbia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have been accused of trumping up criminal charges to silence human rights defenders.

The report then details the efforts made by some leaders to silence or curtail the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC). After the ICC issued an arrest warrant for sitting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the African Union (AU) adopted a resolution urging African states to not cooperate with the arrest proceedings. The AU accused the court of unfairly targeting Africans, even though no objections were raised when the court indicted several warlords and the African governments themselves had requested the court to open the investigations. The ICC has also been hampered by the lack of ratification in the areas it is most needed, namely Sri Lanka, Iraq, Gaza, and Chechnya and a seeming double-standard that allows major Western powers and their allies to escape impunity.

The UN Human Rights Council is also described as problematic. The report demonstrates the bias and subjective nature of inquiries into human rights violations. Regional solidarity reigns in voting procedures over human rights principles, with members convinced to ignore their domestic principles for their allegiances to repressive neighbouring governments. Repressive leaders at the Council seemed determined to silence voices of dissent whenever possible. Similar problems have occurred within the UN NGO Committee, who has the power to decide which NGOs are able to gain “consultative status” and the right to speak before UN bodies. Several governments who are extremely restrictive towards NGOs seem to actively seek membership within the Committee to ensure that certain voices are silenced. For example, a Christian group from China was rejected for refusing to provide a list of its Chinese members, an action that would have severely endangered the lives of those involved. Another group, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, was denied the right to speak because it had not complied with Ethiopia’s new stringent civil society laws.

The European Court of Human Rights has repeated issued rulings against Russia (more than 100) for the abduction, torture, and execution of the people in Chechnya, and failing to properly investigate the crimes. Russia has refused to implement structural reforms ordered by the Court, as well as share relevant documents with the court in over 40 cases. The Russian government continually postpones visits by the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on human rights situations in the North Caucasus and has so far faced little consequence.

The ASEAN Commission on Human Rights was highlighted as a potentially positive new institutional development in the eastern world. Launched in late 2009, the 10-member Association vowed to adopt a “constructive”, “non-confrontational” and “evolutionary” approach to human rights, however, its non-interference policy ensures that member states cannot be monitored and investigated properly, giving each state the right of veto. Engagement with civil society remained repressive as each state was allowed to chose the civil society organization it wished to be part of an “interface meeting” on human rights.

More vigorous governmental defense of human rights activists and institutions is necessary, even in the face of abuse by allies. The attack on those who would defend human rights is an attempt to silence. The world cannot sit silent in the face of abuse. Voices must be heard. Human rights is a relatively new concept on the earth, but is one that must be vehemently defended if our rights and freedoms are to be respected.

Please read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Is there anything written there that you wouldn’t want for you and your family?

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