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Human Rights

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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Could the Sri Lanka Death Toll Be as High As 20,000?

The Times of London reports that the death toll from fighting in Sri Lanka could be orders of magnitudes higher than current estimates.

Confidential United Nations documents acquired by The Times record nearly 7,000 civilian deaths in the no-fire zone up to the end of April. UN sources said that the toll then surged, with an average of 1,000 civilians killed each day until May 19, the day after Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, was killed. That figure concurs with the estimate made to The Times by Father Amalraj, a Roman Catholic priest who fled the no-fire zone on May 16 and is now interned with 200,000 other survivors in Manik Farm refugee camp. It would take the final toll above 20,000. “Higher,” a UN source told The Times. “Keep going.”

Horrifying aerial photos of the conflict zone accompany the article.  Amnesty International is demanding a full public accounting of the death toll.


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