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Is rape also torture?

The International Criminal Court yesterday formally ordered that Jean Pierre Bemba, a former Congolese vice president and militia leader, stand trial on charges that he commanded his militia in a campaign of rape, murder and pillage in the Central African Republic. Bemba was arrested last year in Belgium where he was living in exile. The case against Bemba is unprecedented in international war crimes tribunals for the fact that it will center on the crime of rape. The number of alleged rapes by Bemba's troops far outnumber cases of murder that his troops are alleged to have committed in the Central African Republic in 2002-2003. Rape was Bemba's primary weapon of war. Accordingly, much of the jurisprudence decided upon by this case will have long-lasting effects on how future war crimes prosecutors and judges approach cases of rape-as-a-war crime. At issue yesterday was whether or not the prosecutor could charge Bemba for both rape AND torture for the same act of rape. That is, when a soldier under Bemba's command raped a victim, the prosecution argued that this soldier is also committing the crime of torture. In yesterday's pre-trial ruling, ICC judges said, basically, "not so fast." Bec Hamilton summarizes the key point.
Although during the confirmation hearing the Prosecution said that Bemba’s...troops “used torture through acts of sexual violence for the purpose of punishing and intimidating the civilian population for allegedly sympathizing with Bozizé’s rebels, as well as for the purpose of discriminating against their victims”, the Chamber found that the specific purpose was not clearly articulated in the Amended Document Containing the Charges, and therefore the Defence did not have sufficient notice to respond to the charge. (para 299/300) It was this lack of notice, rather than an ‘in-principle’ view that both rape and torture as a war crime could not be charged for the same act of rape, that lead the Chamber to dismiss the charge of torture as a war crime.
So, it seems we will have to wait a bit longer for a resolution to the legal question: "is rape also torture." If you want to learn more about the terrible crimes that occurred in CAR during 2002-2003, this Amnesty report is a good place to start.
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Not just Palau, Bermuda Too

Via News Unfiltered:

The Department of Justice today announced that four detainees, Chinese nationals of Uighur ethnicity who had been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, have been resettled in Bermuda. These detainees, who were subject to release as a result of court orders, had been cleared for release by the prior administration, which determined they would no longer treat them as enemy combatants. The detainees were again cleared for release this year after review by the interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force.


The Uighurs are a Turkic Muslim minority from the Xinjiang province of far-west China. The Uighurs currently at Guantanamo Bay left China and made their way to Afghanistan, where most eventually settled in a camp with other Uighurs opposed to the Chinese government. After the United States conducted aerial strikes in the area in October 2001, the Uighurs from that camp fled to Pakistan and were later apprehended. According to available information, these individuals did not travel to Afghanistan with the intent to take any hostile action against the United States.

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It’s hard out there for an NGO

Is it getting harder for well-meaning NGOs to gain accreditation at the United Nations? The recent rejection of the Washington D.C. based NGO that monitors human rights issues at the United Nations suggests that this may be so.

Gaining NGO accreditation to the United Nations is a long process in which organizations must prove that their work compliments the aims of the United Nations and is in the spirit of the UN Charter. The decision to grant an NGO accreditation is ultimately that of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC, which is composed of 54 member states. ECOSOC in turn, delegates the vetting of NGO applications to the 19 member states that form the NGO Accreditation Committee.

It is in front of the NGOs Committee that well meaning NGOs face their biggest hurdle. "Authoritarian governments on the panel devote energy and mobilize to blocking human rights ngos," says Dokhi Fassihian, the executive director of the Democracy Coalition Project, a Washington, D.C.-based NGO that saw its application rejected by the NGO committee last week. " They put pressure on swing states."

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Let Women Wear the Hijab: The Emptiness of Obama’s Cairo Speech

I know many will gush over President Obama's Cairo speech and I'm likely swimming against the tide of the media and my fellow Democrats and progressives. But reading the transcript, I was struck by two things:

1. Aside from a few platitudes, it is disappointingly weak on human rights and specifically women's rights.

2. It betrays a naiveté, perhaps feigned, about how the Arab world works.

I sometimes preface my posts by explaining that my Mideast perspective is that of an American-Lebanese-Christian-Jew who grew up in Muslim West Beirut at the height (or should I say depth) of the Lebanese civil war. The tumultuous and bloody intersection of religions and geopolitical interests is painfully real to me.

Yes, Obama is targeting the Arab 'street' and global public opinion - but to the corrupt regimes that dominate that region of the world, his oration means virtually nothing. Repression and suppression will go on uninterrupted. And to those whose abiding hatred of Israel (and thus America) is absolute, Obama's words will be seen as empty and hypocritical.

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Tiananmen, Twenty Years On

I was a child when this image of a lone man standing up to an entire war machine left first beamed across the globe.  It remains one of the most powerful symbols of raw human courage that I have ever seen.  I get chills everytime I watch this. What is not courageous is blocking access to Twitter.  The "Great Firewall of China" burns on.