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Is 61% approval “deep-seated ambivalence?”

Former Bush Administration official John Bellinger has an interesting WaPo op-ed on the prospects of the United States joining the International Criminal Court. In the main, he's probably right: the United States is not likely to join the Court in the immediate future. But the argument with which he chooses to conclude his piece is deeply misleading:

Secretary Clinton is right that U.S. non-participation in the ICC is regrettable, especially given the long-standing U.S. commitment to international justice. Yet non-participation also reflects an unfortunate but deep-seated American ambivalence toward international institutions that the Obama administration, despite its support for international law, is unlikely to be able to change.

61% of Americans -- well over a majority -- have voiced support for that grand-daddy of all international institutions, the United Nations. The suggestion that there is a "deep-seated American ambivalence toward international institutions" is a self-serving straw man. To the extent that popular discomfort with the ICC exists, it is largely a result of myth-making, fear-mongering, and playing politics from above, not an inherent skepticism of the institution.

It's telling that, while Bellinger claims that President Bush's "objections" to the Court still exist, he never addresses the validity of these objections. Contrary to his self-confident pronouncement otherwise, the Court could not "be used to prosecute U.S. soldiers during a time of war." This is political posturing, and a sorry excuse not to join a Court responsible for prosecuting only genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.  If Bellinger is right that ICC ratification is not forthcoming, it will be because a select group of U.S. Senators will consistently maneuver to oppose it, not because of an overwhelming groundswell of popular "ambivalence."

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IMF approves Sri Lanka Loan, U.S. gives $8 million for resettlement

The International Monetary Fund's board of directors approved a $2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka last week.  The vote was not without controversy.  There are currently hundreds of thousands of ethnic-Tamil civilians trapped in military run concentration camps that are largely off-limits to international humanitarian organizations and international media.  These hundreds of thousands of people streamed out of the conflict zone in April during the waning days of Sri Lanka's long civil war.  Ban Ki Moon has called the largest of these camps, Manik Farm, "the most appalling scenes" he has witnessed. 

The loan's defenders say that Sri Lanka needs this money to address a "balance of payments" that, if left unaddressed, "could have a devastating effect on the economy and people." Not all member states bought that argument--or at least thought it sufficient to overcome their human rights concerns.   The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Argentina and Germany, which collectively represent over a third of the IMF executive board's voting shares, did not vote to approve the loan.  

Meanwhile, former UN Dispatch Human Rights Salon participant and current assistant secretary of state for refugees Eric P Schwartz visited Manik Farm.  Speaking to reporters outside the camp on Monday, Schwartz announced $8 to help the resettlement of the IDPs.   From the Associated Press:

He said the U.S was "deeply concerned about a range of issues where further progress is essential."

"In particular the vast majority of displaced persons remain confined to camps," he said.

"Moreover there remain burdensome limitations on access to those camps for those international humanitarian organizations and others who are in a position to ameliorate the conditions faced by these victims of conflict," he said.

Schwartz says he received assurances from top officials in Columbo that the displaced will be allowed to return home soon.  I suppose we will have to wait and see if these officials follow through on their committments and obligations to international law. 

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President Obama to sign a UN treaty

At 4:45 pm this Friday, President Obama will sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), beginning the process of U.S. ratification. This is a good thing.

The CRPD addresses barriers that impede the full participation of people with disabilities in their communities on all aspects of daily life. The treaty enhances opportunities for community access, employment and entrepreneurship, international exchange, and the attainment of an adequate standard of living for all individuals, children and families affected by disability.

53 countries have already ratified the Convention, which went into effect in May 2008, after the 20th state ratification.  According to U.S. law, though, for the United States to ratify the treaty, the Senate will still need to vote in favor of it.  And due to what seems to me a very silly protocol, the Senate can only consider one UN treaty at a time.  This means, among other things, that the United States cannot ratify a convention upholding the rights of women at the same time as it ratifies an equally overdue treaty upholding the rights of children, nor, it seems, one that affirms the rights of people with disabilities.

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Victory for the Save Darfur movement, or the next challenge?

If you haven't looked at Mark's thoughtful consideration on the place of the Darfur advocacy movement in today's world of Sudan policymaking, read it now.

I largely agree with Mark's analysis, but I'd offer a different possible conclusion: instead of the end of the "Save Darfur" community's role, this may be a make-or-break moment for Darfur advocacy, or even for foreign policy advocacy writ large.

Most savvy Darfur advocates already know this, but the time for sloganeering and awareness raising is long past (and endured well past what should have been its expiration date).  In some respects, the kind of misguided, generalist "stop genocide" tactics that one could find in early Save Darfur campaigns and that are so maligned by critics like Mahmoud Mamdani have affected the position we find ourselves in now, in which rhetoric that generates a lot of heat but no light can supplant directed action.  This is not entirely the fault of vapid aims by advocacy organizations, to be sure; policymakers actually need little excuse to make noise instead of policy, and stopping genocide provides the perfect soundbite.

Darfur advocacy organizations for the most part adapted their tactics, targeting their energies and substantial constituencies toward specific aims, such as deployment of UN peacekeepers and the provision of long-needed helicopters.  Some have had more, and some less, success (and in ways intended and unintended) than others, but the trickiest of them has always been the promotion of a robust peace accord.

This may be simply past the ability of advocacy organizations to effect, as Mark suggests, but it could also represent a stunning opportunity for transforming the nature of grassroots foreign policy campaigns.  If the "Darfur movement" is successful in navigating the complicated and unsexy terrain of policymaking, then it will be a major victory for Darfur, for citizen activism, and for democracy.

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Time for the Save Darfur movement to declare victory

Enough Project chief John Norris links approvingly to Randy Newcomb's Foreign Policy piece explaining why the next 18 months are a make-or-break time for the Save Darfur movement. The argument is that the forthcoming dissolution of Sudan into two separate countries (following a 2011 referendum) may presage the return to civil war. If the Obama administration doesn't provide a clear roadmap for how to handle the dissolution of Sudan, disaster may ensue. So, Newcomb writes, it is up to the movement to convince the Obama administration to make good with that roadmap.  Norris agrees that "the time for activism is now." 

I respectfully disagree.   The time for activism is long gone.   In terms of being able to affect change, the movement has played itself out. This is not meant to diminish the accomplishments of the Save Darfur movement. In fact, I would argue that the Save Darfur movement is a singular example of successful activism (thanks, in part, to the likes of Newcomb and Norris). Like the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, the Save Darfur movement was able to bring to light a disaster halfway around the world and nurture a general political consensus around it. In fact, the movement was so successful it infiltrated the institution whose behavior it was seeking to change. A number of the leading lights of the Save Darfur movement now hold top positions in the Obama administration.   Darfur is a household name. 

These are amazing successes -- for any movement.  

But we are now at a point where outside pressure has reached its limit. Unlike the previous administration, the Obama administration does not need convincing that Darfur should fit somewhere on its roster of global issues to which it ought to pay attention. Thanks to the movement it’s already there. 

Rather, the question now is what to do about Sudan policy, which is something relegated to the vagaries of the inter-agency policy making process. And here, there is a dispute within the Obama administration on the best way to approach Sudan. On the one hand, movement alumni in the administration are pressing for a hard line while others, like Sudan Envoy Scott Gration, reportedly prefer a more conciliatory approach that the movement abhors.

It is hard for me to see how activism (among, frankly, people who will vote Obama anyway) can influence this inter-agency debate. It seems hard to distill support for Susan Rice's policy prescriptions over those of Scott Gration and the State Department's Sudan desk into a placard.  It's unrealistic to ask a movement to get that in the weeds of a policy debate.  Furthermore, pinning the success or failure of the movement  on the outcome of that interagency debate does disservice to the great successes that the movement has achieved. 

The fate of Sudan may very well hang in the balance over the next 18 months. But the trajectory of U.S. policy toward Sudan depends more on whether key administration officials are willing to go down in flames in support of policies they think will make a difference than activists making phone calls or attending rallies. 

(image of 2006 Save Darfur rally  from flickr user james calder)

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New report: Every third day a trans person is killed

Via Questioning Transphobia, a sorrowful new study on violence directed against trans people worldwide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the release: 

In April 2009 the international NGO Transgender Europe (TGEU) in cooperation with the multilingual Online-Magazine “Liminalis — A Journal for Sex/Gender Emancipation and Resistance” started a new project, the /Trans Murder Monitoring Project/, which focuses on systematically reporting murdered trans people on a worldwide scale.

The very preliminary results of the first step of this project have revealed a total of 204 cases of reported murders of trans people world wide in the last 1 1/2 years. 121 cases of murdered trans people have been reported in 2008. From January to June 2009 already 83 cases of murdered trans people have been reported.

Furthermore, the preliminary results show an increase in the number of reports of murdered trans people over the last years. Since the beginning of 2008 the murder of a trans person is reported every third day, on average.

You can read the full report here.

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U.S. Still in Denial on Gender Violence

This is welcome news:

The Obama administration has opened the way for foreign women who are victims of severe domestic beatings and sexual abuse to receive asylum in the United States. The action reverses a Bush administration stance in a protracted and passionate legal battle over the possibilities for battered women to become refugees.

But one sentence caught my eye:

In addition to meeting other strict conditions for asylum, abused women will need to show that they are treated by their abuser as subordinates and little better than property, according to an immigration court filing by the administration, and that domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country.

Are we kidding ourselves? Name a country, including the U.S., where domestic abuse isn't widely tolerated.

In the words of the WHO, "Gender-based violence, or violence against women (VAW), is a major public health and human rights problem throughout the world."

Here's a chilling video in which Keira Knightley reenacts the vicious and cowardly abuse women are subjected to on a daily basis:

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Happy 60th, Geneva Conventions

On the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, it seems appropriate to celebrate the possibility that the United States could firm up its compliance with another UN human rights mechanism, the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is reportedly considering launching an investigation of the use of torture during the Bush Administration, a step that President Obama had been loathe to take.

IntLawGrrls' Beth Van Schaack has much more on why the U.S. should be fully implementing the Torture Convention, so I'll just add my agreement that this is a good step both for international justice and for the United States itself.  The politics of an investigation will hopefully fade eventually, as this should be far more an issue of policy -- of making sure the United States is abiding by conventions it has agreed to -- than a partisan tactic.

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BBC: Sudan women ‘lashed for trousers’

Primitive and deplorable:

"I was wearing trousers and a blouse and the 10 girls who were lashed were wearing like me, there was no difference," [Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein] told the BBC's Arabic service.

Ms Hussein said some women pleaded guilty to "get it over with" but others, including herself, chose to speak to their lawyers and are awaiting their fates.

Under Sharia law in Khartoum, the normal punishment for "indecent" dressing is 40 lashes.

Ms Hussein is a well-known reporter who writes a weekly column called Men Talk for Sudanese papers. She also works for the United Nations Mission in Sudan.