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Human Rights

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.

[snip]

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.” READ MORE

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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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The Ron Paul (Glorious People’s?) Revolution

Last night the United States Congress voted 396 to 1 to commemorate  the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square disaster.  The lone dissenter? That would be Ron Paul, the isolationist congressman and former presidential candidate from Texas.  

Me? I’ll take the courage of the Tank Man over Paul’s LaRouche-esque cult of personality any day.

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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.

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Abuses and investigations in Burma

I’m sympathetic to the argument that human rights lawyers Geoffrey Nice and Pedro Nikken make in this Washington Post op-ed: that interest in Burma should go beyond the legitimate calls for Aung San Suu Kyi’s freedom; that grave human rights abuses, probably amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, have been going on unchecked for a long time in the country; and that the international community, including the United Nations, have long known about these travesties. But I find their proposed solution — “maintain[ing] our gaze” and “authoriz[ing] a commission of inquiry” — well-prescribed (both by these two and by one of our own) but not wholly fleshed out here and, if anything, insufficient.

As symbolically (and actually) egregious as the continued imprisonment of Burma’s celebrated pro-democracy leader is, I’ve always found the international attention heaped upon her — as if her release alone would clear the way for a domestic Burmese solution — troublingly myopic. This has in fact allowed the Burmese generals to focus their propaganda efforts on show trials and (severely) limited accommodations for one individual, even as the subjugation of the rest of the country’s population steamrolls along. Similarly, for Burmese to rest their hopes on Suu Kyi’s shoulders is to foster an illusion that her release would wholly relieve them of their plight.

But Nice and Nikken are right; the world has known about these pervasive patterns of abuse for a long time. Despite citing a study that relied only on UN documentation, though, the authors allege that “the U.N. Security Council has not systematically investigated these abuses.” A commission of inquiry mandated for a wide-ranging investigation is doubtlessly necessary, but even a full accounting of abuses will not, like the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, guarantee that the abuses cease.

I don’t expect an op-ed to propose a long-range, comprehensive plan for Burma’s rehabilitation (nor do I have one), but some acknowledgment of the factors that would make a commission of inquiry difficult — the chokehold that the country’s generals maintain over the population, their North Korea-esque penchant for unpredictable intransigence and intractability, and the dire humanitarian needs of the country — seems necessary (the ICC indictment of Bashir could provide lessons, for instance). Urging on the Security Council and a commission of inquiry is important, but important players like China, India, and the United States cannot hide behind either the UN or a claim to need to know more.

(image of Burmese generals, from flickr user deepchi1 under a Creative Commons license)

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