Friday, February 28, 2014

The Report Card for 2013

The U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 has been released and is available here. The introduction to the report states:
More than six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a widening gap persists between the rights conferred by law and the daily realities for many around the globe. More than one third of the world’s population still lives under authoritarian rule. Serious human rights violations continue to occur, often unchecked and en masse, in closed societies. Millions are denied civil liberties, persecuted, harassed or silenced for their beliefs, subjected to torture, detained arbitrarily and unlawfully, or labor in harsh or coercive conditions, often without mechanisms for redress or accountability.
And yet, as demonstrated this past year, the courageous pursuit of human dignity remains enduring and undeterred. At the end of 2013, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were braving violence and political repression to demand their rights and freedoms. Libyans risked their lives, marching to replace the rule of militias with the rule of law. The world came together to mourn the passing of human rights icon Nelson Mandela and saw a new generation celebrate a new champion, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. We witnessed the continued release of political prisoners in Burma and the implementation of a law that prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in Haiti.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Human Rights Inflation:
A Real Problem but a Flawed Argument

Pedro Pizano, writing in Foreign Policy, takes on the troubling issue of human rights inflation. His argument, briefly, is this: When every good thing is framed as a "right," the significance of core rights (to life, freedom from torture, freedom of conscience, etc.) is diminished and dictators get off the hook for their crimes.

Unfortunately, Pizano weakens a good and necessary discussion of the way the language and institutional structures of human rights are sometimes mishandled by supporters and manipulated by opponents with a spurious and long-discredited argument that claims there is some sort of fundamental difference between political and economic rights. He even claims, falsely, that of the 30 provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "18 were considered rights, provisions that impose immediate obligations on the state at the level of the individual, [while] the 12 social, economic, and cultural provisions were considered aspirational." Is this why Article 3 reads, "Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person" while Article 23 reads, "Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment"? We're supposed to read "everyone has the right" in the first instance as a genuine right and somehow know that "everyone has the right" in the second instance is just a way of saying "it would be nice if everyone had the right"?

Pizano also claims that economic, social, and cultural rights "were controversial from the start." According to whom? Not according to those whose political freedoms seemed insignificant when compared to the economic deprivations of the Great Depression. Not according to those who were struggling to regain some semblance of economic and social normalcy in the aftermath of World War II. Not according to those who, today, will be free to concern themselves with the struggle for civil and political rights only when they have achieved some measure of food security.

Pizano's fundamental misunderstanding of the International Bill of Human Rights (which comprises the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) is further demonstrated in this statement: "In 1976, to address these issues, the rights were correctly divided up into separate binding treaties that impose obligations on the state through oversight bodies: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)." Setting aside the questionable statement about the role of oversight bodies in imposing obligations, it is worth noting that this division took place much earlier and was the product, in large measure, of Cold War politics. It followed a period in which the United States had taken itself out of international human rights conversations almost completely as the Eisenhower administration attempted to appease a Congress toying with major restrictions on executive power through the Bricker Amendment. In fact, the U.S. returned to formal negotiations over human rights  treaties only in the 1960s. The ICCPR and the ICESCR were adopted by the UN in 1966. The year that Pizano says "the rights were correctly divided up," 1976, was in fact the year the two Covenants entered into force. Their texts had been formalized--and the division of subject matter had been effected--for a decade at that point.

There is a need--an ongoing need, in fact--for conversations about human rights inflation, just as there is a need for conversations about the flaws in our institutions and procedures for human rights enforcement. Pizano's attempt to contribute to this conversation, unfortunately, is rather poorly informed.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Super Mario Meets the Sheng

The release of Super Mario Bros. almost 30 years ago may seem like ancient history, but it's nothing time-wise compared to the invention of the sheng in China over 3,000 years ago. What links the two events--in a sort of "Lexus and the olive tree" way (if an IR spin on this story is necessary)--is that Koji Kondo's theme music for Super Mario Bros. sounds great played on the sheng. Take a look at the video and the story here, courtesy of the BBC.

The Uncertainties of Cyberwar

The front page of today's New York Times carries a fascinating article by David Sanger (with reporting from Eric Schmitt) on considerations being raised within the Obama administration regarding the possible use of cyber weapons against the Assad regime in Syria. It is not clear whether a cyberattack against Syria "would be seen as a justified humanitarian intervention, less likely to cause civilian casualties than airstrikes, or whether it would only embolden American adversaries who have themselves been debating how to use the new weapons."

There are some very significant--and obvious--differences between cyber weapons and nuclear weapons, but it is entirely possible that certain restraints on their use may operate in much the same way. Consider this passage from Thomas C. Schelling's 1966 classic, Arms and Influence, in which he discusses the possible impact of the first (post-1945) use of nuclear weapons:
This is not an event to be squandered on an unworthy military objective. The first nuclear detonation can convey a message of utmost seriousness; it may be a unique means of communication in a moment of unusual gravity. To degrade the signal in advance, to depreciate the currency, to erode gradually a tradition that might someday be shattered with diplomatic effect, to vulgarize weapons that have acquired a transcendent status, and to demote nuclear weapons to the status of merely efficient artillery, may be to waste an enormous asset of last resort. 
Or, as others noted, it may be best not to let the genie out of the bottle.

Even though cyber weapons have certainly been used before--think Stuxnet and its progeny against Iran (as well as Iranian retaliatory attacks against the U.S.), the Russian denial-of-service attack against Georgia in the 2008 South Ossetia War, Israel's combined cyber/kinetic strike against a Syrian nuclear facility, and more--there may still be some wisdom in thinking of the carefully designed cyber weapon as Schelling suggested, as "an enormous asset of last resort." Or as a genie not to be let out of the bottle. In any event, it seems essential to avoid the temptation to treat cyber weapons as weapons of first resort. While they may provide the United States and other countries an unusually effective and precise means of weakening the military capacities of states such as Syria, retaliation--even with cyber weapons--is likely to be much more indiscriminate.

As we already know, military dominance in any domain commonly produces asymmetric responses that target the weaknesses of the dominant power. At present, America's Achilles' heel in cyberspace is its commercial sector thanks to businesses that, time and again, have demonstrated an unwillingness or an inability to address Internet security problems. 

Monday, February 24, 2014


On Saturday, Italy's new prime minister, Matteo Renzi, went with his cabinet to the Quirinale for the traditional meeting of the new government with the president of the Republic. Although one of the ministers is obscured by Renzi, something unprecedented in Italian politics is readily apparent in the photo above: the sixteen ministers in Renzi's government are equally divided between women and men.

While women occupy two of the positions traditionally "reserved" for women in gender-inclusive governments (the ministries of health and education), in the Renzi government they also occupy the ministries of foreign affairs and defense. Federica Mogherini replaces Emma Bonino as the only female foreign minister among G8 states while Roberta Pinotti joins Ursula von der Leyen of Germany as the only two female defense ministers in the group.

Mogherini, incidentally, blogs at BlogMog (in Italian, of course).

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Protest Videos

It's still a long way from the numbers the "Kony 2012" video put up two years ago, but "I Am a Ukrainian" has attracted a lot of attention ("a lot" as in over six million views) since it was posted to YouTube two weeks ago. The brief video--with excellent production values--was made by Ben Moses, the filmmaker behind "A Whisper to a Roar," a documentary chronicling the democracy movements in Ukraine, Egypt, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and Malaysia.

The BBC notes that this is one of two "protest videos" to go viral this week. The other one, which was well done but without the professional touches, is here:

YouTube videos have played a role in other social movements, of course, but there has been more focus to this point on Facebook and Twitter as the platforms of choice for organizers. Film, however, has the capacity to move people in ways that still images and the written word do not. And as more and more people discover how easy it is to put together a compelling short film, we can expect YouTube to become more and more important as a medium of protest.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Obama and the Dalai Lama

President Obama met with the Dalai Lama at the White House yesterday. Predictably, the meeting drew a sharply critical response from the People's Republic of China. Prior to the meeting, a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry said the meeting would "grossly interfere in the internal affairs of China, seriously violate norms governing international relations, and severely impair China-U.S. relations." The Obama administration has correctly concluded that (1) on matters of importance to the United States, China doesn't help much even when the Dalai Lama isn't stopping by for a visit and (2) on matters of importance to China, an Obama-Lama conversation won't keep the Chinese from dealing with the U.S.

Nonetheless, it's worth asking what's behind China's bluster on Tibet? In a nutshell, China fears the possibility that Tibet will assert a claim to self-determination and, worse for China, that others in the world will support the Tibetan desire for autonomy.

As with many places where there is a self-determination claim pitted against a claim of sovereignty and territorial integrity, Tibet has a history that is subject to multiple interpretations. Furthermore, as the introduction to the Tibet Oral HistoryProject at Case Western Reserve’s Center for Research on Tibet states, “Our understanding of the social and political history of Tibet during the second half of the Twentieth Century has been distorted by politically driven polemics.” In reality, much of Tibet’s history is shrouded in mystery, in part because it has not been reliably recorded.

What we know can be summarized this way: Tibet has had an independent existence and even an empire in the age of great, amorphously bounded Asian empires. For at least the last 1500 years, its existence has been interwoven with China's imperial ambitions in Asia. At times, at it does now, China has dominated the relationship. At other times, Tibet has clearly been set apart and even independent. There is a myth, based like all myths on at least a partial truth, that the Tibetan-Chinese relationship has been one of priest and patron, with Tibetans having been invited by both Mongolian and Chinese emperors into a spiritual and political relationship of equals.

Tibetan Buddhist monks
Another thing we know is that modern Tibet's history, like China's and India's, was compromised by European imperialism. At a time when Tibet had walled itself off from the outside world, the British forced their way in, demanding free trade and tribute. In 1886, 1890, and 1893, the British entered into treaties with China regarding Tibet. The Tibetans refused to accept the legitimacy of these agreements. In 1904, a British force led by Col. Francis Younghusband invaded Tibet and occupied Lhasa in order to head off possible moves by the Russians. This led the Chinese to formally declare their sovereignty over Tibet, the first such formal declaration. When the Dalai Lama fled to Beijing to escape the British invasion, the relationship between Tibet and China was further complicated. (He later determined that the Chinese were a greater threat than the British and moved from Beijing to India.) Britain forced the Chinese in 1906 to accept a treaty calling for Beijing to pay the 2.5 million rupees that had been demanded of the Tibetans in a treaty that followed the 1904 invasion.

Finally, to conclude this very brief summary of an earlier period of Sino-Tibetan relations, it is worth noting that the collapse of China's Qing Dynasty in 1912 brought de facto independence to Tibet. From 1912 to 1950, Tibet functioned as a separate state under the leadership of the Dalai Lamas. Its independence was not, however, acknowledged by China, Britain, or India, in part because Lhasa was closed to foreigners during this period.

During its de facto independence, China remained in control of large parts of Tibetan territory. China's Tibet Autonomous Region is roughly half of Tibet as defined by the Tibetan government in exile. The Qinghai province, a part of Sichuan, and other areas inhabited by Tibetans are also considered to be Tibet by the Tibetans although they lie outside of the TAR. The area beyond the TAR was never, during the twentieth century at least, under Tibetan control, although a Tibetan army was sent to try to seize territory in Qinghai and Xikang in 1932. China’s National Revolutionary Army repulsed the attack.

In 1950, a year after the Communists emerged victorious in China's civil war, the People’s Liberation Army entered Tibet, defeating token resistance from the Tibetan army. The so-called Seventeen Point Agreement was negotiated between the Chinese Communists and the leaders of Tibet resulting in Chinese sovereignty over the region with little social and cultural change being forced on the Tibetans. During the 1950s, the Chinese established secular schools, built infrastructure (running water and electricity were introduced to Lhasa), and abolished serfdom. Otherwise, the Dalai Lama was allowed to maintain life in Tibet much as it had been prior to 1950.

Beginning in 1956, small uprisings against Chinese authority began occurring in Tibet. Some of these were organized and funded by the CIA. To this day, the extent to which trouble in Tibet during the 1950s was indigenous and spontaneous or the result of outside provocations remains contested. There were guerilla attacks on PLA convoys beginning in 1957, leading to a Chinese crackdown on Tibet. This prompted the Lhasa Uprising in March 1959, an episode in which revolt spread throughout the country. It was at this point that the current Dalai Lama fled to India. He has not been permitted to return to Tibet since then.

Potala Palace, Lhasa
During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party demonstrated open hostility to all forms of religion, including, of course, Tibetan Buddhism. In Tibet, monasteries were closed (and in many cases destroyed along with temples), monks were forced to marry and thus violate vows of celibacy, and the Tibetan language was banned. Whether repression was worse in Tibet than in any other part of China during the Cultural Revolution is open to debate, but the Red Guards' hostility toward religious expression seemed especially significant in Tibet given its theocratic character.

After Mao died, Deng Xiaoping introduced a broad-based policy of liberalization in China. Certain religious freedoms were restored and, in Tibet, many monasteries were rebuilt. The Chinese government actually went so far as to promote Tibetan culture. There were talks between the Dalai Lama and the government in Beijing, but no progress was made toward satisfying the Tibetans' desire for autonomy.

Frustrated by the failure of negotiations, Tibetans began protesting in the streets in 1987. A promising young Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official named Hu Jintao was sent to Tibet. In February 1989, shortly before the anniversary of the 1959 Lhasa Uprising, Hu brought 1,700 People’s Army Police to Lhasa to clamp down on protests. On March 5, police fired on a crowd. Tibetans claim the shooting was unprovoked; Chinese claimed the police were acting in self-defense. On March 8, Hu asked the central government in Beijing to declare martial law. Three months later, on June 4, 1989, the People’s Liberation Army fired on protesters in Tiananmen Square. Some have suggested that Hu’s actions in Lhasa established the precedent for the otherwise unprecedented use of force by the Chinese government against its own people.

Hu Jintao left Tibet in 1990 due to altitude sickness—whether he had it or not is subject to some dispute—and went to Beijing. There he was brought into the inner sanctum of the CCP. In 2002, he became General Secretary of the CCP; the following year he assumed the presidency of China, a position he held until 2013. Hu's willingness to use force against Tibetans, some believe, is what led to his ascension to the top of the Chinese political system.

In 2000, China launched what was called the "Great Western Investment Strategy," a strategy designed to reduce economic inequality in the country while attempting to undermine political dissent through economic growth. This, arguably, was the same strategy that was applied to the country as a whole after the events of 1989. Of course, the "Great Western Investment Strategy" had a third purpose, and that was to develop the natural resources necessary to fuel eastern China's continued economic expansion.

For Tibet, the centerpiece of the regional development strategy was a plan to link Lhasa to the rest of China by rail. In 2001, construction began on a railway line running from Golmud to Lhasa (the section from Xining to Golmud having been constructed in the 1980s). The project cost $4 billion and was completed in 2006. With considerable justification, the Chinese regard the construction of the Qinghai-Lhasa railroad as one of the greatest engineering feats in their nation’s history. To advocates of Tibetan independence, however, the railroad presents a threat. It is the means by which more Han Chinese may come to Tibet and the means by which more of Tibet's resources may flow to the Han regions of China. It appears not to be a tool for Tibetan development as much as it is a tool for Chinese control of Tibet.

In 2011, China initiated a policy for the TAR called "the nine haves." Some of the "haves" involve development projects—"to have roads, to have water, to have electricity"—but one requires flying the Chinese flag—"to have a national flag." This is part of Beijing's effort to enforce its authority in Tibet. Even monasteries are required to fly China's flag (and to display portraits of Chinese leaders) under this policy.

PRC flag over Lhasa
In Driru, the people have resisted the edict to fly flags. On September 27, 2013, China reportedly sent thousands of troops to enforce the policy, with limited success to this point. Forty villagers were arrested. According to media reports, on Sunday, October 6, Chinese troops fired on a crowd protesting the arrests. Tibetan sources say that 60 people were injured in the incident.

Where do things stand today? In some respects, Chinese rule in Tibet is heavy-handed, as it has always been. The Tibetans regard the Chinese presence as an occupation and see the increasing presence of Han Chinese in Tibet as part of a deliberate strategy to dilute the influence of Tibetans in their own culture. The Dalai Lama has relinquished his political role in the Tibetan Government in exile, but he remains Tibet’s most visible and important leader. Some Tibetans believe the Chinese strategy regarding Tibet involves a waiting game. The Dalai Lama is 77. The Chinese may believe that dreams of Tibetan independence will die when he dies.

[Photos courtesy of Sandy Harrison]

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Anti-Mandela at 90

Robert Mugabe turns 90 today. For over one-third of his life--and for the entire lifetime of his state--Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe.

The Guardian's David Smith offers an interesting comparison of Mugabe and Nelson Mandela. Both men fought for the liberation of their states from white minority rule, both languished in prison during the struggle, and both ultimately emerged victorious to serve as president of a renewed, postcolonial state. But Mandela served a single five-year term in office before passing off the reins of power. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, advocated reconciliation and respect for human rights, and lived out his life as a revered statesman--helping to found the group known as "The Elders," in fact. Mugabe, on the other hand, has become the epitome of African despotism--an elderly man clinging desperately (and often brutally) to power in a state that teeters on the brink of collapse. As Simba Makoni, a former Mugabe confidante puts it, "The status he deserves of a national hero on the basis of his role in the liberation of the country, his place in the leadership of the country in the first decade and a half, unfortunately has been totally wiped out by the last decade."

Sometimes it is the character of those who lead that makes all the difference.

A New African Oil Play

After negotiating for years, Uganda's Ministry of Energy has signed a memorandum of understanding with three multinational oil companies to provide for the development of the nation's oil reserves. The three companies involved in the deal announced on February 6 are Tullow Oil PLC (UK), Total SA (France), and CNOOC Ltd. (China). Plans call both for crude oil production and the construction (by another company yet to be selected) of a refinery with a capacity of 60,000 barrels a day. In all, total investment in Uganda's oil sector is expected to reach $15 billion.

Uganda's oil reserves, estimated at 3.5 billion barrels, are fourth largest among states in sub-Saharan Africa (after South Sudan, Angola, and Nigeria). Graham Martin, executive director of Tullow Oil, has said that he expects Ugandan production to reach 220,000 barrels per day based on 1.7 billion barrels of recoverable reserves. The total value of the oil to Uganda could reach $50 billion, a figure equivalent to the country's present annual GDP. (Uganda's GDP per capita--$1,400--ranks it 205th among the 229 states and other jurisdictions listed in the CIA World Factbook.)

There are, of course, significant costs associated with petroleum production, especially on such a scale. Oil reserves are located in an environmentally sensitive area that can't help but call to mind the ecological disasters in the Niger Delta of Nigeria and the Amazon Basin of Ecuador. The government of Uganda has already begun relocating people from the rich farmland near Lake Albert where the refinery is to be built. Then there's the resource curse. A non-democracy like Uganda (where Yoweri Museveni has ruled since 1986) has little chance of liberalization--or, perversely, of significant economic development--while oil is being produced. Uganda's GDP per capita will rise, but there's no guarantee this will improve the lives of anyone in Uganda other than those in the ruling elite.

Meanwhile, in a move widely interpreted as siding with the forces of corruption in his country, Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, has fired Lamido Sanusi, the governor of Nigeria's central bank. Sanusi proved himself to be unfit for a responsible government position in Nigeria by attempting to draw attention to the fact that billions of dollars from oil revenues are missing from the state treasury.

Some are about to become fabulously wealthy in Uganda. It's a safe bet to say that ordinary Ugandans will not be among them.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

China's Response

China responded today to the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, "We believe that politicizing human rights issues is not conducive toward improving a country's human rights." She also noted China's opposition to referring the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court, something recommended by the Commission of Inquiry.

China's defense of North Korea is, of course, self-interested. While China's human rights record is not like North Korea's, there are elements of repression and social control in China that also merit international scrutiny and condemnation. Furthermore, North Korea's atrocities have to a considerable degree been aided and abetted by Beijing--directly in the many cases of refoulement involving those who have managed to flee from North Korea into China and indirectly in the many diplomatic negotiations that have occurred over the years among members of the UN Security Council seeking to impose more effective sanctions on North Korea.

At a time when the international community is trying to move, haltingly, toward a new global ethic of collective responsibility in cases involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity--as those in North Korea clearly do--China has positioned itself as the chief obstacle.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Aid for Aid

Aid for Aid is the name of a fictional NGO at the heart of a new TV series in Kenya called The Samaritans. Here's the description on the show's website:
The Samaritans is a comedy about an NGO that does nothing. 
It is centered around the absurdities of one dysfunctional NGO. The setting for The Samaritans is the Aid for Aid Kenya field office. The main characters are the staff who have to deal with the odd demands and decisions of the head UK Aid for Aid office and hopelessly inept local bureaucrats, while trying to write as many useless reports as possible, all under the guise of 'saving' Africa.
For more, see this interview with the show's creator, Hussein Kurji. And if you've got a good NGO story (like the one about the NGO that auctioned off a rhino hunt to raise money to save rhinos), you can contribute anonymously on Aid for Aid's contact page.

A Warning to the Supreme Leader

On Friday, the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), a body established by the United Nations Human Rights Council, released the results of a year-long investigation into conditions in North Korea. The 372-page report was characterized by the BBC as "one of the most detailed and devastating ever published by the United Nations."

A letter from the Commission of Inquiry dated January 20, 2014, warned Kim Jong-un that he could face international prosecution for crimes against humanity under the doctrine of command responsibility. After describing the concept of military command responsibility, the letter states, "On the same basis, a civilian superior will incur personal criminal responsibility if (1) the civilian superior knew, or consciously disregarded, information which clearly indicated that subordinates within his effective responsibility and control were committing crimes against humanity, and (2) the civilian superior fails to take all necessary and reasonable measures within the superior's power to prevent or repress their commission or to submit the matter to competent authorities for investigation and prosecution."

The Commission of Inquiry's findings and recommendations are detailed and extensive. Some are addressed to China, urging respect for the legal principle of non-refoulement. The report urges the UN Security Council to refer the situation in North Korea to the International Criminal Court for investigation and prosecution. These and many other recommendations are offered against the backdrop of this stinging rebuke to the United Nations:
The fact that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as a State Member of the United Nations, has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community. The international community must accept its responsibility to protect the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from crimes against humanity, because the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has manifestly failed to do so. In particular, this responsibility must be accepted in the light of the role played by the international community (and by the great powers in particular) in the division of the Korean peninsula and because of the unresolved legacy of the Korean War. These unfortunate legacies help not only to explain the intractability of the human rights situation but also why an effective response is now imperative. (Para. 1217)
The findings of this report may offer nothing new in terms of our understanding of what has been happening in North Korea, but the Commission of Inquiry deserves gratitude for thoroughly documenting the extraordinary human rights disaster existing there and boldly challenging the international community to move beyond the status quo that has persisted since the end of the Korean War. It will be interesting to see how the UN Human Rights Council, which must accept or reject the report's conclusions and recommendations, will now respond.

Sunday, February 16, 2014


There are 12 million stateless people in the world. Laura Secorun Palet, writing for Ozy, discusses the problem--and some progress in addressing it--here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The End of the Spanish Inquisition?

The New York Times reports that Spain's parliament is considering legislation that would roll back a 1985 law that has provided jurisdiction for Spanish courts over a wide range of international crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture. Spain's exercise of universal jurisdiction nearly brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to trial in Spain in 1998 before the British, who had arrested him in London on a Spanish arrest warrant, allowed the former Chilean dictator to return home to Chile for medical reasons.

The move by Spain's ruling Partido Popular to scale back the use of universal jurisdiction in the nation's courts (for the second time in recent years) comes just as Spain's National Court has issued international warrants for former Chinese president Jiang Zemin and former prime minister Li Peng in a case involving allegations of genocide in Tibet. The case was filed in 2006 by two human rights organizations and a Buddhist monk who is a Spanish national. Former president Hu Jintao was also named in the complaint, but no warrant has been issued yet for his arrest.

China has responded angrily, touching off a debate in Spain regarding the competing imperatives of trade and human rights.

(Thanks to Michael Reid for flagging the story and to Thomas Doyle for the title of this post.)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Own Goal

This headline appears in today's New York Times: "Suicide Bomb Instructor Accidentally Kills Iraqi Pupils." Some British soldiers serving in Northern Ireland called this sort of thing an "own goal" when it happened to IRA terrorists during the Troubles.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Yes, Virginia, There Is an East Sea

Is it the "Sea of Japan" or the "East Sea"? In 1992, South Korea and North Korea raised an objection before the Sixth United Nations Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names regarding the use of "Sea of Japan" to refer to the body of water that lies between Japan and the Korean peninsula. The Korean position is that the term "Sea of Japan" became common only when the Japanese occupied Korea and that the earlier name, "East Sea," is therefore more appropriate. Japan argues that its preferred name actually predates both Japan's occupation of Korea and the common use of "East Sea" to refer to the body of water.

Joining the state's Senate, the Virginia House of Delegates has voted (81-15) to require state-approved textbooks, when referring to the "Sea of Japan," to note also that the body of water is called the "East Sea." Governor Terry McAuliffe is expected to sign the bill into law.

The BBC reports that Japanese ambassador to the United States Kenichiro Sasae contacted Governor McAuliffe to warn him that Japan's economic ties to the Commonwealth of Virginia could be damaged by passage of the bill, but McAuliffe seems to have been influenced more by the hundreds of Virginians of Korean descent who descended on Richmond to lobby for it.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The CRC and the Holy See

As one of the 193 parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Holy See is required to report periodically on its progress in implementing the rights protected in the agreement. According to Article 44,
States Parties undertake to submit to the Committee, through the Secretary-General of the United Nations, reports on the measures they have adopted which give effect to the rights recognized herein and on the progress made on the enjoyment of those rights
(a) Within two years of the entry into force of the Convention for the State Party concerned;
(b) Thereafter every five years.
For the first time since its initial report to the CRC in 1994, the Holy See has submitted a report required by Article 44 to the Committee. Senior Vatican officials, including Bishop Charles J. Scicluna, who prosecuted child sexual abuse cases for the Holy See until 2012, appeared before the CRC on January 16 to answer the Committee's questions. Yesterday the Committee issued its report (formally called Concluding Observations) on the Holy See's progress toward implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Committee's report condemned the Vatican for its many failures concerning child sexual abuse by priests. The report stated, "The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators." The report stated that "the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children's best interests, as observed by several national commissions of inquiry."

In response to questions from the CRC last year, representatives of the Holy See had argued that, as a state exercising jurisdiction only in the small territory of the Vatican, it was unable to subject priests living and working in the jurisdiction of other states to the kind of control suggested by the Committee. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), representing the Survivors' Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), called this argument "disingenuous and misleading." The CRC also rejected this claim regarding the constraints imposed by territorial jurisdiction.

The child sexual abuse scandal was not the only issue covered in the Committee's Concluding Observations on the Holy See's report. In her comments for the media summarizing the report, CRC member Kirsten Sandberg said, "The Holy See's past statements on homosexuality have contributed to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered adolescents and children raised by same-sex couples." This finding and a finding regarding the negative impacts of the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on contraception and abortion on adolescents (including young girls impregnated by rape) brought a response from the Vatican stating that "the Holy See . . . regret[s] to see in some points of the Concluding Observations an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of the human person and in the exercise of religious freedom." 

Sandberg's summary of the Committee's report also noted, "The Holy See has not taken the necessary measures to protect and ensure justice for girls who were arbitrarily placed by their families, state institutions, and churches in the Magdalene Laundries of Ireland run by four congregations of Catholic sisters until 1996." This issue has recently gained renewed public attention through Philomenaa best film Oscar nominee currently in release. Judi Dench, who plays an Irish woman looking for the child she bore in one of the Magdalene Laundries many years before, received a best-actress nomination.

The power of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (and the other treaty bodies in the UN human rights system) is limited to the ability to applaud progress and shine a light on failures. Sometimes, though, that is enough to promote change. How Pope Francis responds to the CRC's spotlight on the Catholic Church's failure to protect children will be an important test of the character of his papacy. And for the Holy See, it will go a long way toward determining how much soft power remains. This is important because the Holy See has no other kind of power.