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“Someone Should Do Something…?” *

In Joe Raimondi on August 27, 2012 at 5:21 pm

* see Russell Brand for more on the title

Reading William Easterly’s The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done so Much Ill and so Little Good (2006), I came across the following paragraph (quoted in full), regarding Western aid agencies’ AIDS prevention-treatment efforts over the past three decades:

AIDS treatment is another example of the SIBD syndrome – rich-country politicians want to convince rich-country voters that ‘something is being done’ (SIBD) about the tragic problem of AIDS in Africa. It is easier to achieve SIBD catharsis if politicians and aid officials treat people who are already sick, than it is to persuade people with multiple sexual partners to use condoms to prevent many more people from getting the disease. Alas, the poor’s interests are sacrificed to political convenience. When the U.S. congress passed Bush’s fifteen-billion dollar AIDS program (known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR) in May 2003, it placed a restriction that no more than 20 percent of the funds be spent on prevention, while 55 percent was allocated for treatment. (225)

SIBD syndrome, on some level, conveys a focus on treatment rather than prevention, which in turn suggests that the underlying causes of the problem are not addressed. At the governmental or organizational level, this translates into an emphasis on AIDS treatment rather than prevention: the symptoms are being addressed, but the root causes perpetuate. As noted, a fairly recent example is Bush’s PEPFAR program, which allocates funding for prevention and treatment at 20 percent and 55 percent, respectively. The sub-title of the chapter to which this passage belongs? “Path of Least Resistance.”

There’s a compelling economic component to arguments about treatment versus prevention (although Easterly acknowledges that “this past negligence is not an argument for or against any particular direction of action today – we must move forward from where we are now”): money spent on prevention is less costly and significantly more efficient. This is in no small part because it addresses the root causes of the problem (i.e. condom promotion)

He continues:

Why do we have a well-publicized Treatment Access Coalition when there is no Prevention Access Coalition? Why didn’t the WHO have a ‘3 by 5’ campaign intended to prevent three million new cases of AIDS by the end of 2005? The activists have been only too successful in focusing attention on treatment instead of prevention. A Lexis-Nexis search of articles on AIDS in Africa in The Economist over the previous two years found eighty-eight articles that mentioned ‘treatment’ but only twenty-two that mentioned ‘prevention.’ (226)

In terms of costs, the difference between treatment and prevention is striking: “overall, the World Bank estimates the cost per year for a variety of health interventions like these [i.e. voluntary testing] to range from five to forty dollars, compared with the fifteen-hundred-dollar cost of prolonging the life of an AIDS patient by a year with antiretroviral treatment” (223).

When figures like these are thrown around, we have to remember that sometimes the deceptively low cost obfuscates more complex, long-term issues, or hidden costs. This applies to both shockingly “cheap” figures for prevention as well as treatment. One example are first-line therapy drugs (an AIDS treatment) at $304 per year, which work for about as long before the virus builds up resistance. A more comprehensive figure, quoted by Easterly, is about $1,500 “per year per patient for delivering treatment to prolong the life of an AIDS patient by one year” (222)

SIBD syndrome seems to be linked to a focus on the treatment of AIDS rather than its prevention, for a variety of reasons (i.e. certain prevention/intervention mechanisms may be controversial for religious reasons in some parts of the African continent). Putting the focus on prevention, however, lends credence to one of Easterly’s primary points: the need to move away from Big Plans for Big Problems, and towards focused, efficient, piecemeal solutions that take account of context and local voices.

The Politics of Pleasure and Distraction

In Rajiv Gopie on August 18, 2012 at 3:01 pm

What do the Olympics, Paul Ryan’s abs and gay marriage have in common? No it’s not that they are all great trivia but rather that they have been the central focus of much of the mainstream media for the past month. As the world burns and economies continue limbering, driven only by the dying gasps of industry across Europe and America, the political class along with the easily amused media have pulled their ace: distraction and pleasure. Wine and Games for the people!

Admittedly the Olympics celebrate the best that money can buy…… I mean “the human spirit,” as long as those humans are well paid professionals and good little ambassadors for their respective sponsors. As far as London 2012 was concerned, the events turned out well, the UK people….. well Londoners were temporarily distracted, not nearly as much by the games more than the fact that many had deserted the capital city and the country for warmer climates. Bumbling Boris Johnson was made a star and the much maligned David Cameron, was left alone for a few days to enjoy his vacation. Across the pond Paul Ryan’s abs are making waves and the left wingers have been blinded by the shimmer of his flat stomach, even the Huffington Post seems flattered. Gay marriage continues to be the lurking spectre that has the right hot and bothered, how dare two consenting adults dare to affirm their commitment to each other in the eyes of the state and their loved ones. It is an abomination… we cannot let people have their right to life and equality, this is America!

The political class can teach Hollywood a thing or two about good entertainment. Most people, and more so the media, have fallen for it. In the midst of a presidential campaign which has money pouring in like never before the best thing that they can do is speculate on the number of crunches Paul Ryan can do. This is the guy who had and probably still has posters of Ayn Rand and is committed to axing a large number of social programmes in the USA and his abs are focused on. The UK is dying, the seat of the largest empire the world has ever known is crumbling into ruin and as millions struggle to find a job and many millions more eke out a living; all glory is given to the Olympics, where corporatism ruled supreme and glowed more than the sacred flame.  Miserably poor states in the USA, struggling under unemployment and low productivity, are all being distracted by their Republican masters who use gay marriage to rile up the masses. It does not matter that we cannot run the state, it does not matter if you have lost your jobs, as long as we can stop those damn gays from marrying then God will provide, when we get to heaven our cups will overflow, never mind the journey from now until heaven may see you living in squalor and handouts.  And once again the people fall for it hook line and sinker.

There are innumerable political, social, cultural and religious research programs into why people care about cultural issues and non-issues over the ones that have the ability to affect them, such as the economy. All those amount to is academic fluff, I say the masses are too easy to distract and the media is not helping. The media in the UK and the USA both left and right should be focusing on grilling the respective opposing candidates and politicians to have them on their toes. They should be focusing on the issues and informing the public. A little distraction is good but it does not have to come at the expense of the national interest. Is it too much in 2012 to ask the media, the politicians and the people to multitask?

-Rajiv Gopie

The ‘black out’ – a view from The Great Wen

In Meor Alif on August 18, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Section 114A of the Evidence Act 1950 reads as follows;

114A. 

(1) A person whose name, photograph or pseudonym appears on any publication depicting himself as the owner, host, administrator, editor or sub-editor, or who in any manner facilitates to publish or re-publish the publication is presumed to have published or re-published the contents of the publication unless the contrary is proved. 

(2) A person who is registered with a network service provider as a subscriber of a network service on which any publication originates from is presumed to be the person who published or re-published the publication unless the contrary is proved.

(3) Any person who has in his custody or control any computer on which any publication originates from is presumed to have published or re-published the content of the publication unless the contrary is proved.

(4) For the purpose of this section—

(a) “network service” and “network service provider” have the meaning assigned to them in section 6 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 [Act 588]; and

(b) “publication” means a statement or a representation, whether in written, printed, pictorial, film, graphical, acoustic or other form displayed on the screen of a computer.”.

 

The Centre for Independent Journalism claims that;

Applying to both civil and criminal cases in which allegedly illicit content is published on a webpage, Section 114A presumes that the following groups or individuals are guilty of publishing the content in question:

(1)Those who own, administrate, or edit websites open to public contributors, such as online forums or blogs;

(2)Those who provide webhosting or Internet services to the webpage in question; and

(3)Those who own the computer or mobile device on which the content in question was published.

And finally you will read tweets from the usual suspects, agreeing across party lines, that the law has to change, or at the very least a review of the law is argued to be in order.

While thousands of Malaysians wait anxiously for the other shoe to drop – as is always the case with bad news in the country that it sometimes seem to pile up – a few basic questions appear to have gone over the heads of almost everyone, myself included (self-incrimination for the sake of fairness).

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s not for one minute pretend that the Malaysian “web space” or “internet realm” or whatever the term is to describe the collective imagined spatial territory which constitutes Malaysia’s web usage is the bastion of intelligent discourse and a sort of noble fourth estate that needs to be revered with every written sentence  – It’s not. It’s the internet, it doesn’t have to be, it’s okay if it’s otherwise and if anything, the World Wide Web is first and foremost the space for modern day anarchy where anything goes.

The truth is Malaysians use the internet most of the time to access services. The Alexa rankings will show you that at least 6 out of the top 20 most frequented sites in Malaysia consists of bidding and trading sites like Mudah, Cari, Lowyat.NET and the likes. Maybank2u and CIMBclicks also feature in within that lists taking up another two spots in the rankings, and finally to what can only be described as the surprise of the century, Facebook is the most frequented site in the country. Nowhere will you find the name of any well-known conglomerate news sites, not until number 56 at least where BBC News Online is ranked, and CNN interactive at number 156. This last piece  of observation is of course in no way saying that local news companies are completely unreliable, some of them are great (I think you know which ones I’m talking about – although I’m quite surprised at how some of them ranked), but this snapshot is just meant to put a little perspective into our overall surfing habits.

In any case, the point is; let’s not pretend like we use our internet to rid the world of misinformation, one bad idea at a time.

But just because we don’t use our rights, or we don’t use it the right way (if such a concept even exists) it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t possess the said right altogether. If one were to miss, for whatever reason, voting day in this coming election (whenever that is) and missed the balloting process completely, it doesn’t mean that his or her right to vote should be revoked on the grounds that “he or she isn’t using it anyway”.

Similarly, say what you want about how Malaysians use their internet, but just because most prefer to drown in right wing conservatism or look up the latest on unadulterated local celebrity news, one shouldn’t mistake this as a sign of collective consent to intimately molest our common sense and the laws that protect our internet usage in the way it has been these past few days.

And yes, a lot of us are apathetic to high-brow, snooty, philosophical discussions on justice and equality – I personally reckon that there is nothing wrong with that (other than free loading on those willing to put their reputation on the line to protect your safety as an internet user of course). But even if we are apathetic, I am sure that the thought of knowing that a right exists and it is waiting to be seized is more comforting than the thought of having to argue for one where none exists.

Now back to the basic questions I was talking about earlier.

Well for one, how in the world did we get here? To wake up one morning and realise that we are now only that much closer to having to learn Newspeak isn’t exactly a good indication of how self-aware we all are with regards to what goes on around us. That a law was passed and it was incidentally one of the most freedom encroaching legislation of our generation and we hardly flinched an inch in April only to react retrospectively right now is beyond ludicrous.

Which begs the question of, how did this law passed through parliament? And even if there were opposition to it, why did it feel more like a whimper than a bang? Which office wrote or proposed this amendment? You would think that political careers can be made around opposing such an indefensible policy – Labour or Tory, Government or Opposition – regardless.

I am sure you might be correct in smugly saying that this isn’t the time to point fingers.

Well, to be honest, it is actually, and it should be pointed all around, myself included – this is our fault. How a whole country allowed its collective freedom to express get undercut so easily is a sure sign of carelessness. True, it might be other factors too, like dubiousness at the highest level of politics, or insensitivity and mis-prioritisation of issues to oppose by those sitting across the floor in Jalan Parlimen, being two equally plausible explanations to how we got here, but all of it shouldn’t detract from the fact that most of us didn’t know, didn’t care to know and subsequently just allowed for “it” to happen. This is a country that boasts having 14569 lawyers and enough civil society groups to make something out of something if they wanted to. We were careless, let’s face it, we were.

To make matters worse, the issue of 114A runs the risk of having a very short shelf life just like every other thing on the internet which quickly combusts into fad like a dangerous chemical reaction one day, then as quickly as it combusts – fizzles into nothingness, out of sight and out of the public mind.

The final Jenga piece is of course the comfort we conveniently find in hindsight. Review isn’t the same as not enacting a law. Returning what shouldn’t have been taken is not the same as not taking it in the first place. Accidental as it may have been, and to be completely fair accidents do happen, each and every one of us, regardless of socio-economic background or political leaning (notice I didn’t use the usual categorisation in Malaysia of race or religion) must be very careful in tip-toeing around the issues of fundamental freedoms – one wrong step and the date tomorrow will read 17/08/1984.

This my friends, has been the classic case of “you snooze, you lose”.

Meor Alif

*This article was originally posted on wewriteaboutthings.

Bad Puns Aside, What’s Wrong with the Law of the Sea?

In Ben Kurland on August 17, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Thanks to recent Senate action, ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is being discussed again. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the chairman of the committee, recently convened several hearings regarding UNCLOS (6/28/12, 6/14/12, 6/14/12, 5/23/12) suggesting that it could come to a vote in the near future. Prospects, however, seemingly died when Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Kelly Ayotte(R-NH) announced their opposition giving nay-says enough votes (now at 34) to block the two-thirds majority necessary to pass a bill in the Senate.

Puns abounded. Politico called UNCLOS “Sunk” and Foreign Affairs published an article declaring the U.S. an “Outlaw of the Sea”. Opponents had already been referring to it as the Law Of the Sea Treaty, or “LOST”. Darlene Casella even joked that it, “could have been dreamed up by Blackbeard” and that “The Jolly Roger should fly over the Law of the Sea Treaty” because “It is theft of the high seas.”

It is understandable. Political commentators are known for having a weak sense of humor when it comes to puns and a sea-based headline would seemingly be hard to avoid. Jokes aside though, the blockage of UNCLOS in the Senate speaks of a worrying trend in U.S. politics, namely a dismissal or denial of the current international field as it stands.

What about this treaty is so disconcerting? The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea is a thirty year old attempt to define the rights and responsibilities of nations regarding the world’s oceans. It was signed in 1982, came into effect in 1994, and to date has 162 parties. President Bill Clinton signed the treaty in 1994 but Senate has yet to ratify it. All-in-all, it acts as the framework upon which the international community can resolve disputes and conduct relations on over 70% of the earth’s surface.

Opposition, however, is often hyperbolic and intensely scornful. In general it relies on arguments that UNCLOS represents an invasion of U.S. sovereignty. Peter Roff, for example, claims that, “In reality the Law of the Sea Treaty is one more step towards a system of global governance under which U.S. sovereignty would be subordinated to an international system managed by an unelected, self-perpetuating form of bureaucratic aristocracy that cares little for democratic traditions.” Phyllis Schlafly claims that the treaty would “subordinat[e] U.S. sovereignty, plus seven-tenths of the world’s surface area, to another entangling global bureaucracy”. Plus, to add good measure to the fear mongering, internationalist plot, Donald Rumsfeld, in his testimony to the Foreign Relations Committee, claimed that UNCLOS is no more than a “sweeping power grab that could prove to be the largest mechanism for the worldwide redistribution of wealth in human history” and John Bolton and Dan Blumenthal warned that ratifying the treaty could “encourage Sino-American strife” and ultimately allow China to block the U.S. from naval and intelligence operations in the South China Sea. Within this rather simple piece of international groundwork, critics have seemingly found a far right gold mine of criticism: an internationalist plot to subordinate Americans to a socialist agenda that will allow China to overtake the United States.

It is scary to think that this is the tenor to which a section of the U.S. will respond to any piece of international agreement. It is not only a worrying trend of isolationism and denial of reality, it is simply wrong. National Security Network has already put together an outstanding “myth vs. fact” regarding the claims of the opposition of the UNCLOS. Namely, it exposes that much of the vitriol is baseless. Claims, for example, that ratification would constrain the United States or its Navy is combated by the fact that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and a host of other top U.S. brass all support ratification. Lest you think this is a partisan affair, so do five former Secretary of States all of which served under Republican Presidents including Henry Kissenger (Nixon), George Shultz (Reagan), James Baker III (George H.W. Bush), Colin Powell (George W. Bush), and Condoleezza Rice (George W. Bush). The Navy has been pushing for ratification for decades because it would give them a codified basis to traverse the world, guarding the shipping lanes and providing the assistance that makes them a global force.

This is not the only treaty that has come up against claims of violation of the United States’ sovereignty. What is worrying is that these claims seemingly have traction. After all, 31 of the 34 Senators who promised to block ratification did so in a letter circulated by Jim Inhofe (R-OK) in which the most biting intellectual and pragmatic criticism of the treaty was that were concerned that, “United States sovereignty could be subjugated in many areas to a supranational government that is chartered by the United Nations under the 1982 Convention.” As the Thomas Wright pointed out in his article for Foreign Affairs, however, most of the concerns of the Senators were addressed in the 1994 rewrite. As he suggests, “as written, UNCLOS would actually increase the United States’ economic and resource jurisdiction. In fact, Ayotte, DeMint, and Portman’s worst fears are more likely to come to pass if the United States does not ratify the treaty. If the country abdicates its leadership role in the ISA [International Seabed Authority], others will be able to shape it to their own liking and to the United States’ disadvantage.” And do not worry about the socialist plot lurking around the corner. Claims that the ISA is really just a social front are combated, as Wright points out, by the fact that “during the 1994 renegotiation, the United States ensured that it would have a veto over how the ISA distributes funds if it ever ratified the treaty.”

So opposition may be misguided, but why then is this a worrying trend in U.S. politics? It is because the ever present automatic opposition to international multilateralism represents a strong misunderstanding of what it means to live in today’s global world. Since the end of the Second World War, the United States has been a leading member in constructing a liberal (in the classical sense) international order built on a rules-based system that benefits the establishment of an international free market. Backtracking on the order that established the current international regime would bring the United States back to the harmful position of isolationism. If the U.S. wants to recover from the current economic woes the answer is not to hide behind convenient calls of sovereignty but to recognize the global nature of the modern economy and establish international policy that maximizes American competitiveness abroad. The U.S. can do this, for example, by ensuring a legal basis for free passage through the straits of Hormuz, providing a framework for negotiating territorial disputes, and, as Marvin E. Odum, President of Shell Oil pointed out, “the Convention establishes a process through which Parties to the treaty can establish internationally-recognized claims over the resources in their extended continental shelf. Without this high degree of legal certainty, any future claims to oil and gas resources of the extended shelf would be vulnerable to legal challenge or subject to dispute.”

What opponents do not seem to realize is that the United States does not own the sea. Yes, The U.S. has the strongest Navy and are miles ahead of other national competitors. The treaty, as Leon Panetta and the other testifying military personnel suggested would strengthen that position by codifying customary law on free navigation of the open seas. Codification is an important step because it helps develop pre-established guidelines for action taking it from nebulous customary law to actual words on paper. It makes little sense to establish and construct an international order that benefits The U.S.’s liberal ideals if it fails to abide by them especially in an area as uncontroversial as maritime law. By the very definition of sovereignty, asserting U.S. sovereignty does not cover the entire globe. Quite simply, you do not get to claim sovereignty to do whatever you want based merely on perceived power. This is especially important because of the assumed lessons taught us previously about presuming American supremacy. The U.S. leads by example, not by exception, even if the U.S. is exceptional.

This has important consequences. Take, for example, the brewing territorial disputes in the South China Sea. By encouraging multilateral discussions based on prior established ground rules, the world can hopefully avoid armed confrontation as rising powers try to delineate previously contested borders. As Thomas Wight writes in Foreign Affairs, “The United States should not take sides in other countries’ disputes, but it can and must insist upon a strong regional framework to ensure that a rising China does not destabilize the status quo.”

As the five former Secretaries of State wrote, “The continuing delay of U.S. accession to the convention compromises our nation’s authority to exercise our sovereign interest, jeopardizes our national and economic security, and limits our leadership role in international ocean policy…” This addresses perhaps the most coherent of claims against ratification of the UNCLOS. As Portman and Ayotte wrote in their letter of opposition, “the terms of the treaty are not only expansive, but often ill-defined.” This is true and many of their concerns on particular items within the treaty are valid. But like all laws, there is a development process. Laws develop as they are implemented, clarified, applied, amended, revoked, vetoed and voted upon. And, as Sec. Panetta pointed out, “If we are not at the table, then who will defend our interests?” After all, the United States would not want to seem lost at sea on this issue.

Balkanization in the Congo?: Language and the perpetuation of ignorance

In David Meyer on July 23, 2012 at 11:20 am

There are several regions of the world that have had trouble shaking historically ingrained Western stereotypes. Chief amongst these has been nearly the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa, usually unabashedly painted as a continent of uniform poverty, state failure, and violence. This image is under constant assault by Africanists and so much ink is spilled in attempts to discredit the Western mind’s most wild imaginings that you would think that eventually some change in perception, however so slight, would take place. Of course, mass media slacktivism campaigns like “Kony 2012” and never-ending barrages of child-sponsoring advertisements just as quickly push the average American back to square one when it comes to perceptions of sub-Saharan Africa more broadly. Though it’s possible to rail against this for pages and pages, something much more curious recently piqued my interest, given the irony of how stereotypes and misconceptions of one region are mobilized to stir up fear and call people to action in another, geographically distant region that has long been, and remains, the victim of similar prejudices and profiling.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is probably the most villainized of all the sub-Saharan African states. Authors can’t stop quoting, somewhat ironically, Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” or rolling out an endless litany of scary words to cast the country as a vast, Hobbesian hell. Now let’s be fair, the DRC faces a myriad of problems, from weak infrastructure to an undemocratic system of governance, from a sputtering economy to a full blown rebellion in the country’s East, but the sensationalist language that accompanies many reports on the DRC is often overemphasized and does little to build peoples’ understanding of the complex issues that the country faces. Indeed, the average American is most likely content to shrug off the violence in the country’s Eastern provinces or the relative poverty as “just how things are.” Congo watchers and scholars, including the likes of Jason Stearns and Séverine Autesserre, consistently point out the sheer complexity of the conflict in the Kivus, which features on the front page of CNN every once in awhile due to the M23 rebellion, but the majority of analyses seem happy to paint a tragic picture of a country and a conflict that no one can do anything about, because that’s just the way it is. Now, where have we heard something like this before?

Ah, of course, the Yugoslav Wars! Yes indeed, the old “ancient hatreds” argument made popular, somewhat unwittingly, by Robert Kaplan and firmly implanted as the average American’s full conception of the Balkan region. Those people there have been at each other’s throats for time immemorial, the only thing we can do is let them fight it out! Even top diplomatic officials in the H.W. Bush administration pushed this line before the pendulum swung to the opposite side under Clinton, when the new standard talking point was that the war was based around pure elite manipulation. Of course, the truth likely resides somewhere in between these extremes (and between hundreds more factors and influences) but the damage was done and the word “balkanization” reentered the English language to denote fragmentation, conflict, and hatred. I say reentered, of course, because the negative framing of the region has been a part of Western perceptions all the way back through the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 and even earlier. Maria Todorova, a Bulgarian scholar, wrote a scathing critique of the origins and use of the idea of the “Balkans” as a bogeyman of the West in her book, Imagining the Balkans, which I recommend to anyone interested in the topic.

Given this shared history of being the victims of crass stereotypes, the irony is almost unbearable when one reads the July 21st statement by the Episcopal National Congress of the Congo (Cenco) calling for peace and a resolution to the crisis in the Eastern DRC. Announcing they will lead a protest march to “denounce the destabilization and balkanization of the country,” the group undercuts a noble goal with a word that is not only a hackneyed cliché, but also a framing device that has historically hamstrung progress and international engagement in a troubled region (link in French). Indeed, the portrayal of the Balkans as a land defined by ethnic conflict is an overly simplistic, plain wrong understanding of the region’s history and does a great disservice to those who have long worked for reconciliation, economic growth, and political liberalization. Many of the Balkan states still face hurdles on these issues, but recalling a false, constructed specter of “Balkanism,” even a whole continent away, only promotes unsophisticated readings of complex issues. And that really is the heart of the matter. The Congolese wouldn’t be terribly impressed by assertions that violence in the Eastern DRC is “all about greed” or “all about nearly century old land disputes” because these understandings are incomplete and often mischaracterize influences, actors, and the reality on the ground.

If the Congolese Episcopal National Congress is serious about promoting a new discourse to refocus attention on a region riven by war, they should try reformulating their own language lest they begin to share in the promotion of stereotyping and misconceptions that many Congolese have long fought to overcome. Unless they don’t mind the perpetuation of the mere utterance of the word “Congo” instantly conjuring up images of violence, poverty, and hopelessness, as it undoubtedly still does today. The people of the Balkan Peninsula have had to work hard to vanquish these same stereotypes over the past 15 years; they certainly don’t deserve the extension of this nasty legacy of Western imperialism, similar tremors of which are still felt in the DRC today. In the same way, this should serve as a clarion call to more nuanced understandings of the crisis in the Eastern DRC, so that policy makers are better able to grasp the varied influences and actors that shape the dynamics of violence and average citizens all around the world can refrain from promulgating stereotypes and misunderstandings of a complex series of conflicts that have caused immense pain and suffering in the center of Africa. I suggest reading through Jason Stearn’s blog post over at Congo Siasa alternately critiquing and praising Séverine Autesserre’s recent op-ed for a brief insight into the complexities at play in the Eastern DRC.

Terms like “balkanization” thus don’t have much explanatory power, rather they obscure complexity and plaster over truth. Let’s eliminate it from our vocabulary as a step towards combating stereotypes and oversimplified understanding. I think that’s something that both citizens of the Balkans and the DRC can get behind.

-David Meyer

Better Late than Never: the challenge of bringing justice to Brazil

In Barbara Tigre Maia on March 19, 2012 at 10:07 am

March 14th 2012 has become a historical day for Brazil. Brazilian prosecutors filed charges against former army officer Sebastião Curió Rodrigues de Moura for the disappearances of five guerrillas in the Araguaia region during the 1964–1984 military dictatorship[1]. If accepted, the indictment would be the first penal action aiming to punish a military employee for a crime committed under the years of military rule. As discussed below, Brazil sustains an Amnesty Law of 1979, applied to both military and civilians who have committed crimes during the dictatorship.

Nonetheless, recently the Federal Supreme Court has decided to extradite two Argentinean military officers who were living in Brazil under the claims of “permanent kidnapping” – the same charge being pressed now against Curió[2]. The Prosecutor’s Office action was heavily instructed by witnesses’ testimonies, including some of those who had participated in the military actions. According to the prosecutors, the five guerrillas were kidnapped by troops commanded by Curió between January and September 1974. Among the (estimated) 156 “desaparecidos politicos[3] of the dictatorship, 70 were in Araguaia. After sessions of torture there were no further news related to their whereabouts at the time.

To understand the importance of this news we need to briefly revisit the history of Brazilian dictatorship and its repercussions in the re-democratic era post-1985.

In the early 70s, militants of the Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B) settled near the Araguaia River to promote a rural uprising of resistance to the military regime, which held power since 1964. The movement was focused in the municipalities of south and southeast of the state of Pará and the northern part of the state of Tocantins. In order to gather a large amount of sympathizers, the militants soon established relationships with the local population, gaining knowledge of the region and also fostering a growth in members.

The military responded to these riots with actions of organized repression, fighting hard against the militant dissidents and culminating in the episode known as “Guerrilha do Araguaia” (Araguaia Guerrilla). Even though in many cases the state’s agents refrained from killing the dissidents outright, disappearances (abductions and kidnappings), mistreatments, egregious acts of violence and summary executions took place. According to the prosecution, Curió was in charge of these military operations that aimed to unveil and to fight the guerrilla project in the Araguaia region.

During her mandate, President Dilma Rousseff[4] created a Truth Commission to investigate human rights abuses – including those committed during military rule – approved by the national Congress. Although the idea of a national Truth Commission has been around for years in Brazil, the project remains scarily limited and with some quite critical aspects. First of all, a commission of this character should be autonomous and independent from the (Brazilian) State, and NOT revalidate the 1979 Amnesty Law (which will be addressed later on). Secondly, it should not encompass investigations of crimes committed between 1946-1988 as it currently stands (!) but it should be restricted to the two decades of military dictatorship the country has lived through (that is, 1964–1984). Thirdly, it should establish some sort of legal duty to send its reports and conclusions to the competent legal authorities.

Furthermore, instead of “promoting national reconciliation” it might have been better said to “promote the consolidation of democracy” – which is a more appropriate goal to prevent any repetition of the abuses seen under the military regime. It should also state that all activities by the Commission must be public – no exceptions granted. Accordingly, all the information and classified documents relevant to this period should also be available to public knowledge, otherwise Brazilian society will remain unaware of the facts that led to the severe violations of human rights by agents of the state and no “truth” will actually be found[5].

Until today, the Prosecutor’s Office remained inert thanks to the Amnesty Law of 1979[6], which forgave illicit acts both by the military and the militants[7]. But the people never forgot. Despite requests by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights[8], the Brazilian Supreme Court declared in 2010 that this law makes it impossible to punish the crimes committed during that period. The decision to maintain the Amnesty Law lies in the fact that it resulted from many debates involving politicians, lawyers and class members; at the time it was seen as a beneficial and necessary step to the Brazilian society on the transitional process towards a democratic regime and the possibility of revision could bring serious political instability now.

Nonetheless, the Inter-American Court stated that the prevailing interpretation of the Amnesty Law goes against international law – its dispositions that prevent the investigation and sanctions of severe human rights violations are incompatible with the American Convention on Human Rights (1969)[9], they lack judicial effects and cannot remain representing an obstacle to the investigation of the facts of the Araguaia case. It is also emphasized the imprescribility of Crimes Against Humanity (especially the case of torture[10], frequently seen in military dictatorships).

Thus, the Inter-American Court requested the Brazilian government to remove all practical and judicial obstacles related to the investigation of the crimes, to clarify the truth and to prosecute those involved. Moreover, it also emphasised the need to justify any denial of accountability – the Court affirmed that it is crucial for Brazil to adopt the necessary measures to bring its legislation on access to information in accordance with the provisions of the 1969 Convention. It also ruled in favour of reparations to the families of the victims involved in virtue of their suffering, including psychological torture, and perhaps even more importantly, it demanded the publication of all information concerning the Araguaia Guerrilla and the human rights violations committed during the military regime in Brazil.

Having that said, in order to overcome this legal obstacle (of law interpretation), the prosecutors now claim that the crime of kidnapping the five guerrillas is permanent[11] as long as the victims (or their bodies) are not found. Therefore the facts related to the case could not be integrated under the Amnesty Law, or fall upon a prescriptive period since the crime is still happening. In fact, the Prosecutor’s Office highly expects that the Supreme Court will keep coherence to its recent decision to extradite two Argentineans for the same charge. Even the United Nations has released a report asking the Brazilian Supreme Court to accept the indictment for it would represent the first step towards ending the on-going impunity that surrounds the period of military regime in Brazil[12].

Indeed the Prosecutor’s Office’ initiative endorsed by the Brazilian Minister of Human Rights Maria Rosário represents a landmark step for the country. Unlike other South American states, such as Argentina and Chile, in which the prosecution of alleged human rights violations during their respective military regimes has existed for years, the accountability for such crimes in Brazil has remained unattainable. The historical debts to the victims ‘families and to the Brazilian society finally have started to be paid. The Supreme Court should not let any legalism prevent the achievement of justice, nor allow a politicization of the process due to political pressure on behalf of the militaries. More than anything, this indictment portrays the engagement of Brazil in solidifying its democracy and can improve its international projection. For this reason, it symbolizes a unique opportunity for the country to show it is also able to play a leadership role in themes related to human rights and democracy, both internationally and domestically.

-Barbara Tigre Maia


[1] To read the news related to the case in English, see: BBC News. Brazil to charge army officer over military rule abuses. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-17371865. To read it in Portuguese, see: O GLOBO. MP vai denunciar Curió por 5 sequestros no Araguaia. Available at: http://oglobo.globo.com/pais/mp-vai-denunciar-curio-por-cinco-sequestros-no-araguaia-4299976. Both accessed on March 15th 2012 at 2h28 PM.

[2] To read on the divergent positions of the Brazilian Supreme Court and its Prosecutor’s Office and have a brief summary of the Guerrilla and the Amnesty Law, see: http://noticias.terra.com.br/brasil/noticias/0,,OI5665854-EI306,00-Ministro+tentativa+de+julgar+militares+gera+inseguranca+juridica.html. Accessed on March 15th at 10h05 PM.

[3] This is an expression in Portuguese that refers to the people who went missing due to political reasons during the military dictatorship period.

[4] An interesting remark here is that President Dilma Rousseff herself was condemned for subversion by the military regime, spending nearly 3 years in prison – from 1970 to 1972. In order to be able to become a member of a political party again she devoted herself in 1979 to the campaign for Amnesty, during the process of political openness coordinated by the militaries still in power. Her official biography is available in Portuguese on the Brazilian government’s webpage at: http://www2.planalto.gov.br/presidenta/biografia. Accessed on March 16th at 2h29 AM.

[5] A good analysis of the Commission established by President Dilma Rousseff with the amendments presented by the Democrats Party (DEM) was published by Rio de Janeiro’s Non-Governmental Organization “Tortura Nunca Mais” (“Torture Never Again”), founded in 1985 by ex-political prisoners. This is available at: http://www.torturanuncamais-rj.org.br/Noticias.asp?Codnoticia=305. Accessed on March 15th 2012 at 9h08 PM.

[6] It’s worth commenting that the Amnesty Law was approved during the military regime, so not only its interpretation but also its own legality should be strongly questioned since there was no democratically elected government at the time of its institution.

[7] For a general understanding of the development Human Rights Advocacy in Brazil, see: CAVALLARO, James L. Toward Fair Play: A Decade of Transformation and Resistance in International Human Rights Advocacy in Brazil. Chicago Journal of International Law, v.3, n.2, 2002. Pp.481-492. For a general overview of the crimes committed during the military regime with special remarks to torture, see: HUGGINS, K. Martha. Moral Universes of Brazilian Torturers. Albany Law Review, v.67, 2003. Pp.527-535.

[8] In the end of 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a historical decision determined the international responsibility of Brazil for the forced disappearance of at least 70 peasants and militants of the “Guerrilha do Araguaia” (Araguaia Guerrilla) between 1972 and 1974, during the military dictatorship. This binding sentence was the first against Brazil for crimes committed at that period, which allowed debates concerning the authoritarian heritage of the dictatorial regime in the country. The full sentence of November 24th 2010 (Gomes Lund and Others (“Guerrilha do Araguaia”) vs. Brazil) is available at: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_219_por.pdf. Accessed on March 15th 2012 at 7h22 pm.

[9] The American Convention on Human Rights, also known as Pact of San José (Costa Rica), was signed on November 1969 and came into force on July 1978 – although Brazil only ratified it in 1992, seven years after its re-democratization. For the full text of the Convention, see: http://www.oas.org/juridico/english/treaties/b-32.html. Accessed on March 15th 2012 at 7h38 PM.

[10] In this case, the international norm would clash with Brazilian Penal Law, which cannot retroact: torture was only recognized as a specific crime by the country in 1997.

[11] According to Brazilian Law, a crime is considered “permanent” when the action of the crime has initiated but it hasn’t finished. In this case, five people were kidnapped but since there has been no evidence of their whereabouts and no victim has been found, dead or alive, the prosecutors consider that the crime is still happening and therefore could not apply to the Amnesty Law.

[12] To read the news in Portuguese, see: O GLOBO. ONU pede Brasil para levar a frente denúncia contra Curió. Available at: http://oglobo.globo.com/pais/onu-pede-para-brasil-levar-frente-denuncia-contra-curio-4326330. Accessed on March 16th at 5h46 PM.

So Sue Me: Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell and the Implications of Reparations

In Ben Kurland on March 2, 2012 at 4:36 pm

There is a long standing debate in human rights law as to the effectiveness of enforcement mechanisms. As many point out, international regimes often have very few means at their disposal to back up the law and actually get the bad guys. Effectiveness itself can be considered a loaded term academically because it can contain several notions of what it means to be effective. It depends on whether your goal is punishing offenders, truth and reconsolidation, or the restructuring of a broken system.

There is a significant avenue of effectiveness that is undergoing serious development: reparations. This means the ability for human rights victims to actually receive compensation of damages for their loses. For example, within the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) founding document, the Rome Statute, article 75 states, “The Court shall establish principles relating to reparations to, or in respect of, victims, including restitution, compensation and rehabilitation.” This manifested itself in the Trust Fund for Victims which aims to bring reparations and general assistance to victims of crimes under the ICC’s jurisdiction.

While Human Rights law is often seen as belonging to the realm of international institutions, like the ICC, there is an interesting parallel under development in domestic courts and specifically the United States. Last Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court heard the case Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell. Kiobel is Esther Kiobel, the wife of one of the “Ogoni Nine” who were executed by hanging in 1995 along with Nigerian environmental and indigenous rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. She is suing Royal Dutch Shell, on behalf of a group of similar Nigerian nationals, alleging that the company aided and abetted the Nigerian government in the torture and extrajudicial killing of their relatives. This case has intense implications for U.S. domestic human rights law and involves serious questions about the development of human rights law in general.

The legal question of significance in this case is whether corporations are liable for torts committed in the violation of international law. This is a packed question so I will break it down.

At the crux of the argument is the Alien Tort Statue (ATS) (28 U.S.C. § 1350). Adopted in 1789, it has perplexed legal scholars and judges since for the mere fact that its sweeping impactions are only matched by its ambiguity. It is one line long and reads, “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”  There are several interesting pieces to this minute statute. Under its auspicious, aliens (non-U.S. citizens not extra-terrestrials) are allowed to file civil suits in the U.S. for violations of the “law of nations”. The statute neither defines who can be sued nor does it elaborate on what counts as a “violation of the law of nations”.

Under this statute in 1980, the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit decided in Filártiga v. Peña-Irala that a national of Paraguay could sue another national of Paraguay for an act of torture committed in Paraguay in U.S. civil court. Filártiga was the family of seventeen-year-old Joelito Filártiga who sued Américo Norberto Peña-Irala, the then Inspector General of Police in Asunción, for Joelito’s kidnap, torture, and murder in 1976. The court found that it had subject matter jurisdiction (i.e. the right to hear the case) because, “deliberate torture perpetrated under color of official authority violates universally accepted norms of the international law of human rights, regardless of the nationality of the parties.” [Filártiga v. Peña-Irala, 630 F.2d 876 (2d Cir. 1980)]

This was a case between individuals, however. No international or domestic court has found that a corporation can be held accountable for human rights violations. Individuals within corporations can be found liable, but not the corporations themselves. As even the Nuremburg judgment states, “Crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced.” The majority opinion of the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit which originally dismissed Kiobel’s suit even cited this line as a reason why they could find that, “the principle of individual liability for violations of international law has been limited to natural persons — not “juridical” persons such as corporations — because the moral responsibility for a crime so heinous and unbounded as to rise to the level of an ‘international crime’ has rested solely with the individual men and women who have perpetrated it.”

Where is the catch? As many will remember from the public outcry, the Supreme Court recently found in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (No. 08-205) that corporations are individuals enough to receive the protection of the First Amendment when it comes to campaign financing. Now the question at hand seems to be: if corporations are individual enough to have the protection of free speech, are they individual enough to be sued for human rights violations? If so, they will then be liable, under the ATS, for civil litigation by aliens for crimes committed abroad.

The reason this is so important for international law as a whole is because U.S. Courts are effective and do have the means to enforce their decisions where international courts fall short. For example, the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found that the estate of ex-Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos was liable for acts of torture, summary execution, and disappearances that were committed by his order or with his knowledge in Hilao v. Estate of Marcos (No. 95-16779). Why is this case especially important? The victims in the case actually got checks in the mail. So, if the Supreme Court finds in favor of Kiobel it would significantly expose large corporations to civil litigation and most of all the recovery of damages.

The debate goes both ways. Those arguing that corporations should be liable emphasize that it is important that these companies be held responsible for their actions. As Professor Oona A. Hathaway of Yale University points out, “there is usually no recourse available in the country where the abuses took place, often because the government participated.” As Susan Farbstein and Tyler Giannini of Harvard Law School claim, “In the defendant’s view, even a corporation that decided to establish a torture center to assist a dictatorship, or began trading slaves for profit, could not be held liable.” For proponents, human rights abuses are not isolated to individuals but often corporations either cooperate or commit violations themselves. It is important than in the interest of stopping such violations and recovering damages that there is an effective court mechanism to litigate such abuses.

On the other hand some, in the words of the Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro, argue, “Congress never gave U.S. courts the power to entertain lawsuits alleging corporate malfeasance involving foreign actors abroad.” The Constitution gives Congress the power to determine the extent of the Court’s jurisdiction. Allowing the Court to expand its own jurisdiction, according to Shapiro, would amount to a “democracy gap” which would be particularly problematic in such cases because, “foreign affairs…are appropriately the province of the political branches.” In the classical sense, international law is the realm of states with each state deciding by contract (treaty) which rules it would submit to in the international system. This according to Shapiro is the proper understanding of “the law of nations” as it would have been defined at the adoption of the ATS in 1789. International Human Rights law which represented an extension of international law to the protection of the individual rather than the state did not develop until the aftermath of World War II. Simply put, “the law of nations” did not apply to corporations in Congressional thought circa 1789. There is also the argument that allowing such lawsuits would lead to a huge influx of cases essentially cramming the U.S. judicial system. Just look at the backlog of the European Court of Human Rights.

Now, I do not really have the legal background to call this case strictly on its merits. I also do not want to engage in guessing at the individual tenor of each justice and which way they may vote. Although, after observing the justices during oral arguments Tuesday, Lyle Denniston of the SCOTUSblog.org seemed to draw a particularly pessimistic outlook if you are in favor of corporate liability saying, “a majority of the Justices looked notably unconvinced.” As but a lowly Masters student in International Relations I can merely comment on the implications this case has on international relations and leave the law aside.

First of all, if the court were to side with Kiobel, it would significantly increase corporate liability globally. Corporations are the big jackpot when it comes to civil suits because often times they are the ones with the coffers to pay up. If an avenue of litigation were to be made available in a court with the means to effectively award damages, like the United States, it would be a huge victory for those seeking reparations for human rights violations. Companies would in fact have to be more vigilant of their practices abroad especially in weak states or states that participate in human rights violations where they would formerly have been effectively immune. The argument that allowing such cases would cause huge backlogs is also fairly weak. These sort of large class action law suits are not easily put together. It requires a lot of time, money, and effort which frankly not many can coordinate. Also take into account that most cases get solved out of court in settlements and rarely see an actual trial. The incentives to settle will still remain the same.

A decision for Kiobel would present several challenges to the foreign policy of the United States. While the Federal government did submit an amicus brief on behalf of Kiobel, there can be little doubt that such law suits would severely limit the federal government’s ability to operate in such situations. This could either be good or bad considering your view of the role of politics in law. The fact remains is that allowing foreign nationals to bring such suits in domestic courts can be seen as a violation of another country’s sovereignty. The practice of comity dictates that states are supposed to respect each other’s laws, judicial decisions, and institutions. Allowing such law suits without a mechanism like the ICC’s “unwilling or unable” restriction would certainly be a violation of comity (according to article 17 of the Rome Statute the Court cannot accept a case unless “the State is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution”). As Justice Stephen G. Breyer pointed out during oral arguments, “there is no United States Supreme Court of the World.”

So, where does that leave us in the end of the analysis? Like most cases, the Supreme Court will most likely try to decide somewhere in the middle on this case; neither granting full immunity to companies nor placing itself as the Supreme Court of the world. What form these restrictions will take I do not know. I am not a lawyer and even if I was I cannot read minds let alone nine of them. In the end I can only suggest that the court establish corporate liability but create legal stipulations as to the types of crimes that can be brought and the level of material connection to the United States needed to justify jurisdiction. If such provisions are met, the world may have a new effective way to recover damages for human rights victims.

-Ben Kurland

Stories of the demise of authoritarianism have been greatly exaggerated: Senegal’s elections and prospects for democracy

In David Meyer on February 24, 2012 at 10:41 am

Western Africa is often looked to as the best example of democratic development south of the Sahara. Of course, as any Africanist can tell you, trying to make generalizable statements across multiple African states is a foolhardy endeavor at best, given the vast diversity of the continent, not only from sub-region to sub-region, but in internal state politics as well. However, with Hillary Clinton’s recent democro-tour of four West African states and the amount of self-congratulation and feel-good speeches about the future of democracy in the region, the average outside observer would be forgiven for thinking that things are only looking up for free and fair elections.

In fact, democratic activists are quite concerned about the February 26th first round of the presidential election in Senegal, and with good reason. The incumbent, President Abdoulaye Wade, has carefully positioned himself for another victory while opposition groups have decried his candidature, which they view as illegal, and taken to the streets, facing off against heavily armed state security forces. Mr. Wade, who, for some reason, looks supremely unhappy in the majority of photos he appears in, won the approval of Senegal’s Constitutional Court to pursue a third term in office, despite the new constitution, which he designed, limiting presidents to two mandates. The reasoning behind the ruling was that, since the new constitution came into force after he took office, Wade is only subject to the new law from that date onward. Opposition groups were quick to point out that this flimsy legal reasoning takes a turn for the absurd when one considers that the five-member Constitutional Court was fully appointed by President Wade.

The court decision, on January 27th, led to an immediate outbreak of protests against the regime, largely spearheaded by opposition groups, namely Y’en a marre (colloquial for “fed up” or “sick of”), which has been focusing on youth mobilization, and Mouvement du 23 juin (named after the successful June 23, 2011 protests against the ruling party’s proposed amendments to the new constitution, which were decried as an attempt to further entrench the current regime in power), an opposition alliance that includes political parties, civil society organizations, and human rights groups. At least seven people have been killed in protests since the start of the presidential campaign and many more have been injured in clashes with state security forces, including Africa’s most famous singer, Youssou N’dour, who was banned from contending the presidential election (the remainder of the links are in French). President Wade has expressed his regret for the deaths, but was quick to blame one of the main opposition candidates, Idrissa Seck, for the deadly clashes.

The latest drama has focused on state security forces blocking opposition groups from protesting at the Place de l’Indépendance in central Dakar. Thankfully, though scuffles have continued this week, the protests have been largely non-violent, which gives hope to those praying for stability in the country. EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton has called for the Senegalese authorities to respect the right of the people to protest, while the small EU observation mission had previously promoted an end to violence in the wake of the clashes in the capital. Ashton also praised the arrival of an African Union observation mission led by the ex-Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo has the unenviable task of attempting to maintain a peaceful situation on the ground, especially as the fractured nature of the opposition has led many observers to conclude that Wade is headed to victory and thus uncharted waters in terms of opposition response. At the very least Obasanjo has pulled off the zinger of the campaign thus far, noting, in reference to his standing down from the Nigerian presidency under pressure from the opposition and other African leaders, including Wade, “If President Wade advised me not to run for a third term, which I didn’t do, he is without a doubt capable of advising himself [on the matter]” (translated from French, apologies as I wasn’t able to locate what he likely said in English).

So, what is there to do on this matter? As noted above, many are already calling the election for Wade because of his power of incumbency and his image which, though it has been recently dragged through the mud, still stands as someone who has worked hard to pull Senegal out of economic stagnation. The opposition and many average Senegalese are likely to disagree with this, especially as questions over how much Wade’s reforms have helped the poor and how much they have fed corruption in the country remain quite salient. There is also worry that Mr. Wade is grooming his son, Karim, to take his place and thus establish a political dynasty (this was implicit in the June 23 protests mentioned above since one of the failed proposed amendments created a new position of vice president, which was viewed as a not-so transparent attempt to allow Wade to consolidate familial power). The best chance the opposition groups are going to get is if they’re able to rally behind a candidate for the second round of voting. Hopefully whoever makes the runoff will be able to mobilize a large enough anti-Wade contingent to make the contest close. Of course, this presupposes that Wade will be unable to win in the first round and, given the strength of patronage politics in Senegal and the power of incumbency, this might not be too farfetched, even without any vote rigging.

And where does the U.S. stand on all of this? Following Wade’s court victory, the State Department called on the incumbent to cede his place to the next generation of leaders. This is fairly strong language, despite the fact that the U.S. noted its respect for the Senegalese political and legal process. In addition, the White House released a generic statement on respecting electoral norms and guaranteeing a free and fair election. This can be seen as a weak follow up to the earlier semi-attack on Wade. However, it’s more than likely a slight recalculation on the part of the U.S. government, as a peaceful electoral process may seem preferable to the incitation of more violence in the capital. U.S. leaders may fear a variation of the post-electoral crisis that gripped Côte d’Ivoire in 2010-11. At this point, all the international community can do is wait out the results, the die has been cast and it’s too late to keep Wade off the ballot. In fact, pushing too hard against the incumbent may lead to a panic compounded by the popular protests, which could only lead to further crackdowns. If the monitors find few irregularities in the process itself the key truly will be the mobilization of the opposition, but don’t hold out too much hope for Wade’s democratic defeat. While some opposition groups are also demanding the cancellation or delaying of the polls, this might only allow Wade to consolidate his position. I’m pessimistic that that type of action would foster greater stability or democratic accountability. As mentioned, for better or for worse Wade is going to remain on the ballot, the actual results and reactions thereof will determine how the international community can properly respond.

Ironically, in September 2011 Mr. Wade made an appearance at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris to accept the “prix Houphouët-Boigny,” awarded to those who have “contributed in a significant manner to the promotion, seeking, safeguarding, or maintenance of peace.” Though the prize in and of itself is somewhat of an irony (named after the first President of Côte d’Ivoire, who is often accused of promoting “peace” only in a manner that benefited the interests of the former colonial master, France), the instability that has gripped President Wade’s Senegal since then has led to fears that more sustained violence may break out if he wins reelection. Of course, protests against Mr. Wade have been a part of Senegalese political life for many years now and the tepid reactions of Western states recall the stability and profit-seeking Françafrique that defined Houphouët-Boigny’s rule in Côte d’Ivoire. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Wade poked fun at his age, which his critics like to seize on in calling for his resignation, declaring “There is no age limit for fighting” (my translation of “Il n’y a pas d’âge pour combattre”). While the context was a fight for peace, a much different battle has been taking place on the streets of Dakar and within Senegal’s fragile democracy. Let’s hope that President Wade realizes that this type of prolonged fight for political power would be devastating for both his country and his people.

-David Meyer

The Changing World: Brazilian Values in International Politics

In Rajiv Gopie on February 19, 2012 at 11:40 am

The world is changing, fundamental structures of power that supported the international system are being challenged. The emergence of the BRIC countries has been viewed with fear and apprehension by some, but for the billions in the developing world these emerging powers represent a beacon of hope. The economic and military implications of the rise of the BRIC countries have been written and theorised ad nauseum but what has for the most part been ignored are the socio-cultural ramifications that will ensue from the rise of these great power. Perhaps most interestingly Brazil may be poised to exert a bigger influence in the social sphere than the other BRIC powers.

Brazil has a long and colourful history too complex to engage in here but suffice it to say that the Brazil of the past decade shines as an example of a socially conscious society. Brazilian politics offer a nuanced approach to socialism and capitalism preferring to use a Latin American model of free markets but with state intervention on the behalf of the people. The “left-wing” politics of Brazil looks much different from the evil communist narrative espoused in America; it resembles more closely European models but with more sensibility and a more robust economy. What is interesting is Brazil’s record on human rights, humanitarian intervention, gay rights, green policy and personal liberty.

The ideas of the “liberal west” meet with the traditions of Catholic Brazil to produce a compassionate society that embraces the new and the different but has a toehold in the institutions of home, family, community etc. This model of old and new ideas interacting may in my humble opinion be the course that the rest of the world should embrace. Following the financial crisis our world did a little soul searching and many were the musings of the “fairer” past when people cared about each other. This nostalgia for the past may be selective but it is accurate to say that past generations were more family and socially oriented. This was sacrificed on the altar of the economy and for personal gain. Brazil, however, in its transition is managing for the moment to hold on to its culture whilst at the same time growing and developing at a dizzying rate.

Despite its many social problems and the stark poverty still present in the favelas, Brazil is community oriented and tilted towards a more humanistic society. The sponsoring of sexual minority protection initiatives and green initiatives by Brazil in the UN are examples of the socially liberal and responsible nature of Brazil. As the country continues to rise in influence it may continue to spread its socially liberal humanistic identity across the globe. Whilst the other BRIC powers are all status quo powers with China and Russia concerned with self interest at the expense of international responsibility (Russian veto on Syria, China and human rights) and India is starting to struggle, Brazil is a transformative power and comes with many cultural and ideological principles. It will be interesting to watch how far Brazilian social ideology will spread.

(Author admits to a great love for Brazil and Latin America).

War Games: While Expedient, Drones Present Their Own Set Of Problems

In Joe Raimondi on February 19, 2012 at 11:16 am

Drone technology has come a long way since 1995, the year the first Predator drone entered service. That unmanned aircraft hardly resembles those in use today – given that it lacked GPS and was unarmed. Even on September 11, 2001, the U.S. Air Force possessed exactly one MQ-1 Predator drone. Today, there are “57 Predators up, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, looking at different target points around the world,” according to Air Force Major General James Poss. Peter Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institute, notes “the United States military has more than 7,000 unmanned aerial systems, popularly called drones. There are 12,000 more on the ground.”

As the number of drones increases, so too do debates and speculation about their present and projected roles in conflicts, usually oriented around questions of accountability, proliferation, international law, and morality. How does the public feel? Some opinion polls indicate that only a minute percentage of U.S. voters oppose the program (9%), while approximately three-quarters of likely voters support the use of unmanned aircraft to kill terrorists. Perhaps augmenting a more pronounced role for drones going forward is the notion, advanced by Andrew Bacevich recently, of an “endless war.” In this scenario, drones are a useful, if not necessary technological component, because unlike conventional military strategies that require large-scale mobilization of human and material resources, they “insulate the people from war’s effects.” The American public’s support for the use of drones combined with new Department of Defense policies suggest that there will continue to be a variety of roles for robotic technology in warfare.

Political expediency is a huge factor in the decision to make these attacks more widespread in the war on terror under the Obama administration, in marked contrast to the Bush-era emphasis on interrogation and detention (and torture) of suspects. “The strongest appeal of unmanned systems is that we don’t have to send someone’s son or daughter into harm’s way. But when politicians can avoid the political consequences of the condolence letter – and the impact that military casualties have on voters and the news media – they no longer treat the previously weighty matters of war and peace the same way” (“Do Drones Undermine Democracy?”). Singer remarks upon one of the primary reasons drones have become increasingly utilized as components to warfare: they carry virtually no risk when weighed against putting human lives on the line. As the security situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan have deteriorated and the domestic political costs of both the Iraq (until recently) and Afghanistan wars have increased considerably, employing Predator drones rather than soldiers (on the ground) for both intelligence-gathering and lethal operations, where feasible, is at the very least politically smart.

While public support for the use of drones in the war on terror remains high, there has not been a lack of debate about the issue of accountability. Joshua Foust writes, “Obama is asserting a unique, new authority to use drones to kill people. However, the president is asserting the right to summarily execute people around the world in part because Congress authorized him to do so.” He is referring to the Authorized Use of Military Force, passed September 18, 2001, and suggesting that Congress is, to a large degree, accountable, insofar as it was Congress’s “ceding all authority on lethal operations to the president” that is to blame for creating broadly-worded and easily manipulated executive powers over the past ten years. Foust is correct to hold the legislature accountable, but perhaps pays too little attention to the context in which the AUMF was passed. Both the House and the Senate votes on this joint resolution illustrate the incredible mandate Bush was given to conduct counterterrorist operations, driven in part by the climate of fear, rage, and uncertainty. In this sense, while both branches of government are accountable for the capacity to employ unmanned aircraft in lethal operations, the bigger issue is the expansive set of executive powers that have been granted over the past ten years.

Since their inception, drones have existed in nebulous moral and legal space for the general public and for politicians, as one would expect when we arrive at a point in time when it’s technologically possible to patrol the skies of Pakistan from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, 7,000 miles away. The dilemma that immediately comes to mind, for many, is the dangerous precedent being set by utilizing unmanned aircraft to target and kill people, to say nothing of the fact that “the vast majority of suspected militants targeted are not members of al-Qaeda, nor are they involved in plots against the U.S. homeland.” This signifies both the collateral damage that is incurred in a drone strike and the incapacity for anyone to really have access to much factual information about these attacks, given their covert nature. The precedents that are being set by increasingly and continually utilizing drones are manifold. On one hand we have technology that not only enables but potentially facilitates a misunderstanding of the costs and dangers of warfare. On the other this technology simultaneously allows us to skirt international law and state sovereignty – via cross-border strikes in places that the U.S. doesn’t have hostile relations with – and has thus far been shrouded in secrecy and non-transparency.

Between 2004 – 2011, under the auspices of the CIA – the lead executive authority – the U.S. carried out approximately 300 drone attacks in Pakistan alone, classified as “covert actions.” The vast majority have occurred in North and South Waziristan, border regions in Pakistan that are often described as safe havens for terrorists. It is well known that under the Obama administration, these attacks increased and have been utilized in a prominent tactical role in the global war on terror, via both intelligence gathering and more (in)famously, the targeting of alleged terrorist leaders, militants, suspects, and affiliates. Between 2009 – 2011 (as of November 15), there were an estimated 241 drone attacks just in Pakistan, compared to 42 total over the preceding four year period. More than one-third of these attacks came in 2010. While technically covert, the usage of drones in the war on terror has in fact been a “poorly kept secret,” an elephant in the room whose presence is obvious to those around it and yet never officially remarked upon – because as a covert program it didn’t need to be. Perhaps Obama’s decision to acknowledge these attacks on-the-record was more a function of coming clean about an open secret, noting during a Google+ “hangout” that “obviously a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] going after al-Qaeda suspects.”

These attacks have been employed in no less than six states, famously in Yemen in September 2011 when a drone attack was responsible for the killing of al-Qaeda operative – and American citizen – Anwar al-Awlaki. The case of Yemen is indicative of one of the more troubling long-term effects of a growing drone program: blowback. Jeremy Scahill writes:

“The October drone strike that killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, a US citizen, and his teenage cousin shocked and enraged Yemenis of all political stripes. ‘I firmly believe that the [military] operations implemented by the US performed a great service for al-Qaeda, because those operations gave al-Qaeda unprecedented local sympathy,’ says Jamal, the Yemeni journalist. The strikes ‘have recruited thousands’ Yemeni tribesmen, he says, [and] share one common goal with al-Qaeda, ‘which is revenge against the Americans, because those who were killed are the sons of the tribesmen, and the tribesmen never, ever give up on revenge.’ Even senior officials of the Saleh regime recognize the damage the strikes have caused. ‘People certainly resent these [US] interventions,’ Qirbi, the foreign minister and a close Saleh ally, concedes.'”

In the same manner that al-Qaeda’s popularity has plummeted among Muslim communities across the world as a consequence of indiscriminate targeting, local communities’ perceptions of U.S. interventions have similarly fallen and are here intertwined with both revenge and radicalization. Going forward, utilizing drones as a low-risk tactic to target militants without simultaneously taking into account the fact that collateral damage may lead to radicalization is incredibly reckless. Stephen Walt remarks on the danger of blowback in a recent blog post: “Are we going to understand that such hostility didn’t emerge solely because these people ‘hate our values,’ but rather because a cousin, brother, or fellow countryman was targeted by an American drone, and maybe in error?”

What have the human costs been? Data from the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative (CSI) at the New America Foundation (not yet provided for 2012) gives high and low estimates for the number of total deaths and the number of militant deaths. The low figure for 2010, for example, puts the total number of deaths at 607, of which 581 were alleged militants. The ratio of militants-civilians/noncombatants killed via drone attacks is similar for the high number, which estimates the total dead at 993, of which 939 were militants. The CSI’s low figure for total deaths between 2004 – 2011 is 1,717, while its high figure is 2,680. The level of uncertainty in gauging the human cost of these attacks is astounding, in terms of accurately gauging the number killed and even delineating those killed between noncombatants and “militants.” We are thus neither able to measure how many people are being killed nor who these people are. In fairness, our notion of collateral damage has over time become increasingly narrower as a function of the changing nature of conflict and the technology of warfare. “During the Second World War, it took an average of 108 bomber missions to get one bomb to hit the intended target. As a result, we accepted a broader notion of collateral damage and civilian casualties than we would now. These days, one Predator can hit multiple targets with laser precision. Thus, when just a couple of people are killed accidentally, we consider it a tragedy. If the same number of casualties had been lost during the Second World War, we would have considered it an unimaginable success” (“When RoboCop Replaces Private Jackson”). Historical perspective is useful to some extent, but ultimately is limited in what it can tell us about the long-term effects, like blowback, of an extensive transnational drone campaign.

If Andrew Bacevich is correct in his assertion about the U.S.’s embroilment in a kind of “endless war” going forward, it will only enhance the role for drones (as well as special forces) given that this type of war would be “small” in nature and unlike the over-ambitious and expensive statebuilding projects of the past. The scenario is Orwellian, but given what we have seen the past ten years in terms of enhanced executive power, characterizations of the war on terror, and general public support for it, it’s a scenario that isn’t inconceivable. Perhaps just as dangerous as the legal and moral issues surrounding drones per se is political and public insulation from the effects of these small, shadow wars.