Out of Time in Arkansas

It’s done. The state of Arkansas executed four death row inmates in the span of eight days. From April 20 – April 27, inmates Ledell Lee, Jack Jones, Marcel Williams and Kenneth Williams, all paid the price of their crimes by being put to death by lethal injection. Eight death row inmates were originally scheduled to die in Arkansas over that span, but half were spared. During that eight-day span, Arkansas also made history by performing the first double-execution the United States has seen in 17 years. Jack Jones and Ledell Lee were both killed Monday, April 24, just hours apart. The article below appeared in The New Yorker on May 8.
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Arkansas wanted to execute all eight inmates featured above in April. Half were spared. The names of those not spared are in bold. The inmates, clockwise from top left, are Don Williamson Davis, Bruce Ward, Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee;  bottom left, are Jack Harold Jones, Marcel Williams, Kenneth Williams and Jason McGehee (Photo: Arkansas Department of Correction).

By the opaque reasoning of capital punishment, the state of Arkansas grew some unknowable fraction safer on the evening of April 24, when Jack Jones, a fifty-two-year-old, overweight, hypertensive, diabetic amputee, was strapped to a gurney in the Cummins Unit prison and administered drugs to successively sedate him, impair his breathing, stop his heart, and kill him. According to the state’s timeline, the process was a model of efficiency, taking only fourteen minutes to complete—less time than one might spend registering a vehicle at the Little Rock D.M.V. This was significant, as the night’s work was just getting started. Arkansas was staging the first double execution in the United States since 2000. Three hours later, Marcel Williams, a forty-six-year-old man who also suffered from diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, was strapped to the same gurney, injected with the same cocktail of drugs, and declared dead within seventeen minutes.

Jones’s and Williams’s executions were the second and third in a four-day period; at the same facility, on the preceding Thursday, Ledell Lee, aged fifty-one, became the first prisoner to be put to death in Arkansas since 2005. A fourth man, Kenneth Williams, aged thirty-eight, who had been on death row since 2000, was executed at Cummins on Thursday, shortly before midnight, when his warrant was set to run out. These four were among eight men whom Arkansas sought to execute in eleven days. With the state’s supply of the sedative midazolam due to expire at the end of the month, the proposed schedule came to resemble a lethal clearance sale. To socioeconomics and race—the known and inescapably arbitrary factors in the application of the death penalty—we may now add a novel dynamic: the shelf life of benzodiazepine compounds. There is a banal horror in the bureaucratic diligence that noted the drug’s expiration date, calculated how many people might be killed before it passed, and generated the warrants that Asa Hutchinson, the state’s Republican governor, signed.

McKesson Medical-Surgical, Inc., which distributes vecuronium bromide—a drug that is commonly used during surgery but that can also be used to stop a person’s breathing—filed suit against Arkansas, claiming that it had been duped into providing an ingredient of the cocktail. Four of the executions were blocked by court order. The Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual” punishment served as a measure of the elastic morality that facilitates the death penalty: does it constitute cruelty to infuse the condemned with a sedative, rather than a stronger anesthetic, particularly if, as attorneys for Jones and Williams argued, the circulatory conditions of the men might impair its effectiveness?

The rush of executions is notable not only for its barbarism but also for its contrast to prevailing thinking about capital punishment. Support for the death penalty peaked in 1994, with eighty per cent of Americans in favor. Last year, a Pew study found that the number had fallen to forty-nine per cent—the first time since 1971 that less than half of the public supported it. The declining crime rate accounts for part of the drop: in the mid-nineties, murders were twice as common as they are now. At the same time, the idea that death serves as a deterrent to other criminals has been consistently unsupported by evidence. Data from the Death Penalty Information Center shows that, in the past forty years, there have been eleven hundred and eighty-four executions in the South, compared with four in the Northeast, yet homicide figures in 2015 were nearly seventy per cent higher in Southern states than in Northeastern ones. The death penalty is about retribution for past offenses, not prevention of future ones.

There is also a growing awareness that it is perhaps impossible to create a justice system that both executes criminals and avoids killing innocents. The sclerotic appeals process insures that years, if not decades, will pass before the condemned meet their state-authored fate. But streamlining the process only increases the likelihood that innocent people will die. Since 1973, a hundred and fifty-nine inmates on death row have been exonerated of the crimes for which they were sent there. A prisoner in Ohio named Ricky Jackson spent thirty-nine years on death row before a key witness admitted to lying in the testimony that led to his conviction. Jackson is alive solely because of the inefficiency of the system that sought to kill him.

That complexity has been reflected in the politics of death-penalty prosecutions. In January, Bob Ferguson, the Washington State attorney general, proposed a bill that would eliminate the death penalty in his state. The same month, Beth McCann, the Denver district attorney, announced that her city was done with it. In March, Aramis Ayala, the state attorney for the Ninth Circuit, in Florida, announced that her office would not pursue capital punishment in any cases. Her office was in the midst of prosecuting Markeith Loyd, who is accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend and a policewoman. Ayala said, “I’ve been unable to find any credible evidence that the death penalty increases safety for law-enforcement officers.” She added that the expense of death-penalty appeals drains resources from other prosecutions. In response, Governor Rick Scott removed the Loyd case, along with twenty-two others, from Ayala’s jurisdiction—an action she is challenging in court.

Last year, the Presidential election was won by a man who had demanded the death penalty for five young black and Latino men who were convicted of a brutal rape in Central Park that they did not commit. He appointed an Attorney General who had successfully fought to vitiate federal prohibitions on the execution of the mentally ill. He chose a Supreme Court Justice who, in his first major vote on the Court, cast the decisive one, in a 5–4 decision, to allow an execution to proceed—that of Ledell Lee, who died minutes later.

These are the actions of powerful men in service of outmoded ideas. We in this country are unaccustomed to mass executions carried out under government auspices. We would prefer to believe that such things happen in less evolved locales. Yet that is precisely what the state of Arkansas set out to achieve. The condemned men perpetrated a litany of horrors, but the rationales for putting them to death—a decades-delayed catharsis for the victims’ families, a lottery-slim chance that some future violence will be deterred—are as close to their expiration as Arkansas’s supply of midazolam.

Source: The Banal Horror of Arkansas’s Executions -By Jelani Cobb | The New Yorker

Jelani Cobb has been a contributor to The New Yorker and newyorker.com since 2012, writing frequently about race, politics, history, and culture. He is the author of “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress.”


Recommended…
✻​ Arkansas Wants to Execute Seven Inmates Before Their Drugs Expire -By Garrett Epps | The Atlantic
✻​ Four Arkansas Executions Are Tied to the Expiration of a Drug That Does Not Work in Lethal Injections -Jessica Wapner | Newsweek
✻​ Fourth Arkansas Execution in Eight Days Prompts Questions About Inmate’s Movements -By Mark Berman | Washington Post
✻​ After Arkansas Executions, Lawyer Criticizes Use Of Capital Punishment | NPR
✻​ A Century of Death: 196 Executions, 15 Governors, and Arkansas’ Deadliest Day | KATV
✻​ Bearing Witness to Executions: Last Breaths and Lasting Impressions -By Alan Blinder and Manny Fernandez | The New York Times

An American Tragedy

Donald Trump at a campaign rally on Oct. 5, 2016, in Reno, Nev. (Photo: Evan Vucci / AP); Background image credit: Rick Wilking / Reuters

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.

There are, inevitably, miseries to come: an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court; an emboldened right-wing Congress; a President whose disdain for women and minorities, civil liberties and scientific fact, to say nothing of simple decency, has been repeatedly demonstrated. Trump is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader who will not only set markets tumbling but will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted. The African-American Other. The Hispanic Other. The female Other. The Jewish and Muslim Other. The most hopeful way to look at this grievous event—and it’s a stretch—is that this election and the years to follow will be a test of the strength, or the fragility, of American institutions. It will be a test of our seriousness and resolve.

Early on Election Day, the polls held out cause for concern, but they provided sufficiently promising news for Democrats in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and even Florida that there was every reason to think about celebrating the fulfillment of Seneca Falls, the election of the first woman to the White House. Potential victories in states like Georgia disappeared, little more than a week ago, with the F.B.I. director’s heedless and damaging letter to Congress about reopening his investigation and the reappearance of damaging buzzwords like “e-mails,” “Anthony Weiner,” and “fifteen-year-old girl.” But the odds were still with Hillary Clinton.

All along, Trump seemed like a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right. That he has prevailed, that he has won this election, is a crushing blow to the spirit; it is an event that will likely cast the country into a period of economic, political, and social uncertainty that we cannot yet imagine. That the electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth, and recklessness, his disdain for democratic norms, is a fact that will lead, inevitably, to all manner of national decline and suffering.

In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the “innate wisdom” and “essential decency” of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory. “The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion,” Orwell wrote in his essay “Freedom of the Park.” “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”

Trump ran his campaign sensing the feeling of dispossession and anxiety among millions of voters—white voters, in the main. And many of those voters—not all, but many—followed Trump because they saw that this slick performer, once a relative cipher when it came to politics, a marginal self-promoting buffoon in the jokescape of eighties and nineties New York, was more than willing to assume their resentments, their fury, their sense of a new world that conspired against their interests. That he was a billionaire of low repute did not dissuade them any more than pro-Brexit voters in Britain were dissuaded by the cynicism of Boris Johnson and so many others. The Democratic electorate might have taken comfort in the fact that the nation had recovered substantially, if unevenly, from the Great Recession in many ways—unemployment is down to 4.9 per cent—but it led them, it led us, to grossly underestimate reality. The Democratic electorate also believed that, with the election of an African-American President and the rise of marriage equality and other such markers, the culture wars were coming to a close. Trump began his campaign declaring Mexican immigrants to be “rapists”; he closed it with an anti-Semitic ad evoking “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”; his own behavior made a mockery of the dignity of women and women’s bodies. And, when criticized for any of it, he batted it all away as “political correctness.” Surely such a cruel and retrograde figure could succeed among some voters, but how could he win? Surely, Breitbart News, a site of vile conspiracies, could not become for millions a source of news and mainstream opinion. And yet Trump, who may have set out on his campaign merely as a branding exercise, sooner or later recognized that he could embody and manipulate these dark forces. The fact that “traditional” Republicans, from George H. W. Bush to Mitt Romney, announced their distaste for Trump only seemed to deepen his emotional support.

The commentators, in their attempt to normalize this tragedy, will also find ways to discount the bumbling and destructive behavior of the F.B.I., the malign interference of Russian intelligence, the free pass—the hours of uninterrupted, unmediated coverage of his rallies—provided to Trump by cable television, particularly in the early months of his campaign. We will be asked to count on the stability of American institutions, the tendency of even the most radical politicians to rein themselves in when admitted to office. Liberals will be admonished as smug, disconnected from suffering, as if so many Democratic voters were unacquainted with poverty, struggle, and misfortune. There is no reason to believe this palaver. There is no reason to believe that Trump and his band of associates—Chris Christie, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Pence, and, yes, Paul Ryan—are in any mood to govern as Republicans within the traditional boundaries of decency. Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment. Fascism is not our future—it cannot be; we cannot allow it to be so—but this is surely the way fascism can begin.

Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate but a resilient, intelligent, and competent leader, who never overcame her image among millions of voters as untrustworthy and entitled. Some of this was the result of her ingrown instinct for suspicion, developed over the years after one bogus “scandal” after another. And yet, somehow, no matter how long and committed her earnest public service, she was less trusted than Trump, a flim-flam man who cheated his customers, investors, and contractors; a hollow man whose countless statements and behavior reflect a human being of dismal qualities—greedy, mendacious, and bigoted. His level of egotism is rarely exhibited outside of a clinical environment.

For eight years, the country has lived with Barack Obama as its President. Too often, we tried to diminish the racism and resentment that bubbled under the cyber-surface. But the information loop had been shattered. On Facebook, articles in the traditional, fact-based press look the same as articles from the conspiratorial alt-right media. Spokesmen for the unspeakable now have access to huge audiences. This was the cauldron, with so much misogynistic language, that helped to demean and destroy Clinton. The alt-right press was the purveyor of constant lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theories that Trump used as the oxygen of his campaign. Steve Bannon, a pivotal figure at Breitbart, was his propagandist and campaign manager.

It is all a dismal picture. Late last night, as the results were coming in from the last states, a friend called me full of sadness, full of anxiety about conflict, about war. Why not leave the country? But despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.

Source: An American Tragedy – By David Remnick | The New Yorker (11/9/2016)


David Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker since 1998 and a staff writer since 1992. He is the author of “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.”

Pride & Extreme Prejudice: America & World Awash in Ethnic Nationalism

Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” ~Albert Einstein

A virulent nationalism, tinged with bigotry, is on the rise across much of the world. It helped elect Narendra Modi in India and sustains Vladimir Putin in Russia. It has vaulted Marine Le Pen to the final round of the French election. She is the underdog in the runoff, but it’s chilling to see that this weekend she seems to have won voters under age 34.

In the United States, Donald Trump won the White House despite — and partly because of — his disdain for Mexicans, Muslims and African-Americans and his flirtation with anti-Semitic tropes.

In the face of this ethnic nationalism, citizens often face difficult choices. They have to decide how much of a priority to place on combating it.

Should voters eschew their favorite candidate and vote for one with the best chance to defeat the nationalist? Should policy experts be willing to work in an administration that plays footsie with intolerance? Should a museum dedicated to fighting hate, like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, host a hateful president?

These choices often end up being more complicated than they first seem, and I don’t want to suggest otherwise. But a disturbing pattern is still emerging.

Too many people — well-meaning people on both the left and right — have grown complacent about nationalist bigotry. They are erring on the side of putting other priorities first, and ethnic nationalism is benefiting.

Let’s start on the political left. And, no, I’m not about to lapse into false equivalence. Ethnic nationalism is largely a force of the right. But the left needs to decide how to respond, and it hasn’t been effective enough so far. It has underestimated the threat and put smaller matters ahead of larger ones.

After France’s first round of voting, the leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon refused to endorse the last person who can prevent Le Pen from becoming president, Emmanuel Macron. A Le Pen presidency, to be clear, would likely tear Europe asunder, marginalize French citizens who hail from Africa and the Middle East and lead to a big expansion of security forces. It would be the biggest victory for Europe’s far right since World War II, by far.

Yet Mélenchon still won’t back Macron — a centrist former banker who was until recently a member of the Socialist Party. It’s a classic case of political purism that may feel good, but can do grave damage.

Just look at the United States. Updated presidential vote totals show that Trump’s margins in Michigan, in Pennsylvania and in Wisconsin — which together would have swung the result — were smaller than the tally of Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate. It’s impossible to know whether Stein’s campaign cost Hillary Clinton the election, yet it clearly hurt. In a very close race, parts of the American left aided Trump.

I understand that this point enrages backers of Stein and Mélenchon. They have real differences of opinion with center-left candidates, and they want to win those debates. But the final round of an election that includes a viable white nationalist isn’t a time to hash out the future of progressive politics. It’s a time to defeat racism.

A version of this dilemma also applies to the political center. Apolitical institutions have to decide whether they will treat ethno-centrists like Trump and Le Pen differently from other politicians. These institutions are right to resist becoming part of “the opposition,” because society needs nonpartisan institutions. But they also have to avoid compromising their mission.

The Holocaust Museum has put itself in a tricky spot. It invited Trump to give a major speech this morning, much as previous presidents have done. Of course, previous presidents didn’t retweet neo-Nazi sympathizers, vilify Muslims or try to airbrush Jews out of the Holocaust.

Maybe the museum’s leaders are confident Trump will use the speech as a turning point, which would be wonderful. But by conferring the museum’s prestige on Trump, those leaders have a new responsibility to call out future dog whistles from the administration. The Holocaust Museum has effectively invested in Trump.

Finally, there is the political right. Most Republicans despise the notion that their ideology makes room for bigotry. Theirs is the party of Lincoln and of individual freedom, they say.

Fair enough. But that history brings responsibilities. Today’s Republican Party has plainly made room for white nationalism, via Steve King, Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions and Fox News, not to mention the president.

If the Holocaust Museum is now invested in Trump, Republicans are really invested in him and his fellow nationalists. You don’t get to call yourself the party of Lincoln and stay silent when voting rights are abridged, hate crimes are met with silence and dark-skinned citizens are cast as un-American.

I never expected to live through a time when bigotry would again be as ascendant. But we are living in that time, and it brings a new set of choices.

Source: The Urgency of Ethnic Nationalism -David Leonhardt | New York Times, Op-Ed



David Leonhardt (born January 1, 1973) is an American journalist and columnist. Since 2014, he has been the managing editor of  Upshot at The New York Times since the venture was launched on April 22, 2014.  In April 2011, Leonhardt was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

No Where To Turn: Children As Young As Four Brutually Raped in Greek Refugee Camp

A child carries a blanket at the makeshift refugee camp at the Greek-​Macedonian border last March.​ ​(Photo: AF​P​ / Guardian UK)

“I told myself, ‘Look at yourself – you came to Europe, what was your aim?’ I am not doing this because I like it but I don’t have the money, I don’t have a choice.”

Those are the words of one of many refugee children forced into selling sex to survive in Greece, where a four-year-old girl is among those raped in camps that were supposed to afford them protection.

A study by Harvard University is warning of a “growing epidemic” of sexual exploitation and abuse in the country, which houses 62,000 asylum seekers stranded by the EU-Turkey deal and border closures through Europe. “We had a case of a four-year-old girl who was raped,” a psychologist at a camp in Athens told researchers. “The mother did whatever was possible to report it.”

But aid workers and officials say there is often nowhere to turn, with victims trapped in camps with their abusers too frightened to go to police or authorities, who frequently lack interpreters and specialists. The absence of arrests can lead asylum seekers to take violent retribution. In one Greek camp, a man who had already married one child raped another underage girl, and was badly beaten by other migrants. Aid workers told the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights of criminal gangs “thriving” in squalid camps, where many refugees have been living for more than a year, and terrorizing victims into silence.

“Having endured the risks of sexual violence or having experienced sexual violence during their journey, migrant children suffer from the fear of sexual abuse in a place that should have guaranteed them safety and protection,” the report said. It found that “weak or non-existent” structures leave children at heightened danger, with reports of sexual assault rising while gangs blackmail minors and threaten to send humiliating photos to their families.

“A man from one of the ‘mafia’ groups asked a couple’s seven-year-old daughter into their tent to play games on his phone and then zipped up the tent,” a doctor told researchers. “She came back with marks on her arms and neck. Later, the girl described how she was sexually abused.”

In one government-run camp, in a former Softex toilet roll factory on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, aid organizations claim that the level of risk of sexual attack is so acute that women are too afraid to visit the camp toilets alone at night. One volunteer serving at the Softex camp, which holds 1,400 mostly Syrian refugees, alleged that some young girls had been effectively groomed by male gangs. He said an Iraqi family had to be moved to emergency accommodation outside the camp after their daughter was attacked.

Rape and sexual assault is feared to be significantly underreported because of the fear of retribution and stigma, while administrative backlogs can cause long delays before victims can be moved away from their abusers.

The EU-Turkey deal has left thousands of children detained among 13,000 migrants in overcrowded island camps, despite concerns from the UN over unsafe conditions, seeing several refugees die of hypothermia and killed in fires over the winter. Charities previously warned of rising self-harm and attempted suicide in detention centers and elsewhere in Greece, where at least one asylum seeker has killed himself this year amid rising desperation to escape.

Smugglers in Greece, Italy and elsewhere in Europe are known to force refugees including children into prostitution to pay “debts”, while migrants are also resorting to “survival sex” for food and shelter, or to raise money to leave Greece.

“This can be children who are unaccompanied, or it can be women who come here without a husband or person to protect them,” says Eleni Kotsoni, a psychologist at a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in Athens. Refugee women can make “deals” with men from their home countries in exchange for safety inside detention camps, where overcrowding, outbreaks of violence and a lack of security and facilities leave them vulnerable.

In Athens, Thessaloniki and other cities, refugees tend to live in open camps or informal settlements, where adolescents may be preyed on by older men. Children desperate to raise money or find shelter also seek to sell sex themselves, particularly in notorious parks in Athens where they wait to be approached by pedophiles.

The Harvard study found that the purchasers of migrant child sex were mainly men over 35, while children engaging in “survival sex” are mainly teenage boys, particularly from Afghanistan. Some purchasers demand children to accompany them to their homes or meet at a hotel, the report said, while others insist on having sex in a park such as the notorious Pedion tou Areos (Field of Ares) in Athens. The report also found prices “rarely exceed €15 (£13) per exchange”. With smugglers hiking fees as borders and fences have gone up across Europe, prospects of escaping Greece are fading.

Children at the Ritsona refugee camp, north of Athens. A report says the European commission should insist on a child protection officer for every site. (Photo by Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images)

Aid workers expect the situation to worsen as refugees remain trapped in Greece for ever-lengthening periods and relocation programs including a British scheme are scrapped. Within the first 10 months of 2016, more than 10,400 children applied for asylum in Greece, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and other Middle Eastern and north African nations, creating huge backlogs in an unprepared system. But by the end of the year only 2,413 migrant children – 11 per cent of those stranded in the country – had been successfully relocated to other European countries despite 160,000 slots being promised.

​Marleen Korthals Altes, a senior child protection adviser at Save the Children, said the closure of borders through the Balkans route had increased the risk of sexual violence and exploitation. Ms Korthals Altes said that although child protection is heavily legislated in Greece, laws are “inconsistently applied” by overwhelmed authorities, adding: “The policies and the practices are different.”

The Harvard report identified six major risk factors needing to be urgently addressed – the lack of children’s facilities, risky living conditions inside camps, unsupervised mixing of migrant adults and children, under-resourced child protection systems, a lack of coordination among authorities and a “radically inadequate” relocation scheme.

Its authors, Vasileia Digidiki and Jacqueline Bhabha, concluded that EU policies were exacerbating risks by forcing the youngest and most vulnerable refugees to turn to smugglers and take desperate measure to meet their extortionate fees.

While more migrants are dying in treacherous attempts to reach Europe than ever before, political will to help survivors is waning, they noted, adding: “National and international stakeholders should come together to ensure adequate prevention measures, as well as to create safe and legal paths to migration for migrant children in acute need of protection.”

Sources & Recommended…
Four-Year-Old Girl Among Refugees Raped in Greece as Thousands of Asylum Seekers Trapped in Camps -By Lizzie Dearden | The Independent
‘Sexual Assaults on Children’ at Greek Refugee Camps -By Matthew Townsend | The Guardian
RRDP: Women Fear Violence and Rape in Refugee Camps | Al Jazeera
New Report: Emergency Within an Emergency, Exploitation of Migrant Children in Greece | Report

The Rise of Radical Populism & The Decline of Human Rights

The 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency will be April 29, 2017. No one knows what will happen in the next 100 days. But if present and past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, Donald Trump is and will be a disaster for human rights. From his immigration ban to his support for torture, Trump has jettisoned what has long been, in theory if not always in practice, a bipartisan American commitment: the promotion of democratic values and human rights abroad.

Worse is probably set to come. Trump has lavished praise on autocrats and expressed disdain for international institutions. He described Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a “fantastic guy” and brushed off reports of repression by the likes of Russia’s Vladi­mir Putin, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As Trump put it in his bitter inauguration address, “It is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has written that Trump’s election has brought the world to “the verge of darkness” and threatens to “reverse the accomplishments of the modern human rights movement.”

But this threat is not new. In fact, the rise of Trump has only underlined the existential challenges already facing the global rights project. Over the past decade, the international order has seen a structural shift in the direction of assertive new powers, including Xi Jinping’s China and Putin’s Russia, that have openly challenged rights norms while at the same time crushing dissent in contested territories like Chechnya and Tibet. These rising powers have not only clamped down on dissent at home; they have also given cover to rights-abusing governments from Manila to Damascus. Dictators facing Western criticism can now turn to the likes of China for political backing and “no-strings” financial and diplomatic support.

This trend has been strengthened by the Western nationalist-populist revolt that has targeted human rights institutions and the global economic system in which they are embedded. With populism sweeping the world and new superpowers in the ascendant, post-Westphalian visions of a shared global order are giving way to an era of resurgent sovereignty. Unchecked globalization and liberal internationalism are giving way to a post-human rights world.

All this amounts to an existential challenge to the global human rights norms that have proliferated since the end of World War II. In that time, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, has been supplemented by a raft of treaties and conventions guaranteeing civil and political rights, social and economic rights, and the rights of refugees, women, and children. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War served to further entrench human rights within the international system. Despite the world’s failure to prevent mass slaughter in places like Rwanda and Bosnia, the 1990s would see the emergence of a global human rights imperium: a cross-border, transnational realm anchored in global bodies like the U.N. and the European Union and supervised by international nongovernmental organizations and a new class of professional activists and international legal experts.

The professionalization of human rights was paralleled by the advance of international criminal justice. The decade saw the creation of ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and the signing in 1998 of the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court — an achievement that then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed as a “giant step forward in the march towards universal human rights and the rule of law.” On paper, citizens in most countries now enjoy around 400 distinct rights. As Michael Ignatieff wrote in 2007, human rights have become nothing short of “the dominant language of the public good around the globe.”

Crucially, this legal and normative expansion was underpinned by an unprecedented period of growth and economic integration in which national borders appeared to disappear and the world shrink under the influence of globalization and technological advance. Like the economic system in which it was embedded, the global human rights project attained a sheen of inevitability; it became, alongside democratic politics and free market capitalism, part of the triumphant neoliberal package that Francis Fukuyama identified in 1989 as “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution.” In 2013, one of America’s foremost experts on international law, Peter J. Spiro, predicted that legal advances and economic globalization had brought on “sovereigntism’s twilight.” Fatou Bensouda, the current chief prosecutor of the ICC, has argued similarly that the creation of the court inaugurated a new era of post-Westphalian politics in which rulers would now be held accountable for serious abuses committed against their own people. (So far, no sitting government leader has.)

But in 2017, at a time of increasing instability, in which the promised fruits of globalization have failed for many to materialize, these old certainties have collapsed. In the current “age of anger,” as Pankaj Mishra has termed it, human rights have become both a direct target of surging right-wing populism and the collateral damage of its broader attack on globalization, international institutions, and “unaccountable” global elites.

The outlines of this new world can be seen from Europe and the Middle East to Central Asia and the Pacific. Governments routinely ignore their obligations under global human rights treaties with little fear of meaningful sanction. For six years, grave atrocities in Syria have gone unanswered, despite the legal innovations of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. Meanwhile, many European governments are reluctant to honor their legal obligations to offer asylum to the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing its brutal civil war.

To be sure, not all of these developments are new; international rights treaties have always represented an aspirational baseline to which many nations have fallen short. But the human rights age was one in which the world, for all its shortfalls, seemed to be trending in the direction of more adherence, rather than less. It was a time in which human rights advocates and supportive leaders spoke confidently of standing on the “right side of history” and even the world’s autocrats were forced to pay lip service to the idea of rights.

If the human rights age was one in which the contours of history were clear, today it is no longer obvious that history has any such grand design. According to the latest Freedom in the World report, released in January by Freedom House, 2016 marked the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. It was also a year in which 67 countries suffered net declines in political freedoms and civil liberties. Keystone international institutions are also under siege. In October, three African states — South Africa, Burundi, and Gambia — announced their withdrawal from the ICC, perhaps the crowning achievement of the human rights age. (Gambia has since reversed its decision, following the January resignation of autocratic President Yahya Jammeh.) Angry that the ICC unfairly targets African defendants, leaders on the continent are now mulling a collective withdrawal from the court.

African criticism reflects governments’ increasing confidence in rejecting human rights as “Western” values and painting any local organization advocating these principles as a pawn of external forces. China and India have both introduced restrictive new laws that constrain the work of foreign NGOs and local groups that receive foreign funding, including organizations advocating human rights. In Russia, a “foreign agent law” passed in 2012 has been used to tightly restrict the operation of human rights NGOs and paint any criticism of government policies as disloyal, foreign-sponsored, and “un-Russian.”

In the West, too, support for human rights is wavering. In his successful campaign in favor of “Brexit,” Nigel Farage, then-leader of the UK Independence Party, attacked the European Convention on Human Rights, claiming that it had compromised British security by preventing London from barring the return of British Islamic State fighters from the Middle East. During the U.S. election campaign, Donald Trump demonized minorities, advocated torture, expressed admiration for dictators — and still won the White House. Meanwhile, a recent report suggests that Western support for international legal institutions like the ICC is fickle, lasting only “as long as it targets other problems in other countries.”

In the post-human rights world, global rights norms and institutions will continue to exist but only in an increasingly ineffective form. This will be an era of renewed superpower competition, in what Robert Kaplan has described as a “more crowded, nervous, anxious world.” The post-human rights world will not be devoid of grassroots political struggles, however. On the contrary, these could well intensify as governments tighten the space for dissenting visions and opinions. Indeed, the wave of domestic opposition to Trump’s policies is an early sign that political activism may be entering a period of renewed power and relevance.

What, then, is to be done? As many human rights activists have already acknowledged, fresh approaches are required. In December, RightsStart, a new human rights consultancy hub, launched itself by suggesting five strategies that international rights NGOs can use to adapt to the “existential crisis” of the current moment. (Full disclosure: I have previously worked with one of its founders.) Among them was the need for these groups to “communicate more effectively” the importance of human rights and use international advocacy more often as a platform for local voices. Philip Alston, a human rights veteran and law professor at New York University, has argued that the human rights movement will also have to confront the fact that it has never offered a satisfactory solution to the key driver of the current populist surge: global economic inequality.

In a broader sense, the global human rights project will have to shed its pretensions of historical inevitability and get down to the business of making its case to ordinary people. With authoritarian politics on the rise, now is the time to re-engage in politics and to adopt more pragmatic and flexible tactics for the advancement of human betterment. Global legal advocacy will continue to be important, but efforts should predominantly be directed downward, to national courts and legislatures. It is here that right-wing populism has won its shattering victories. It is here, too, that the coming struggle against Trumpism and its avatars will ultimately be lost or won.

Source: Welcome to the Post-Human Rights World -By Sebastian Strangio | Foreign Policy


Recommended…
The End of Human Rights -By Stephen Hopgood | The New York Times
International Law in the Age of Trump: A Post-Human Rights Agenda -By Ingrid Wuerth | LawFare
Human Rights in the Era of Trump -By Mark Philip Bradley | American Historical Association

From Democracy to Autocracy: Turkish President Erdoğan Granted Broad Powers In Questionable Referendum Election

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Presidential Palace (Photo by ​Asin Bulbul/​ Reuters). Background image: A woman places a bandage other mouth as she protests Saturday’s explosions in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Authorities in Istanbul banned a protest rally and march by the same trade union and civic society groups who lost 97 friends and colleagues in Turkey’s bloodiest terror attack. Some demonstrators were detained. (AP Photo/ Emrah Gurel)

A slim majority of Turkish voters agreed on Sunday to grant sweeping powers to their President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a watershed moment that the country’s opposition fears may cement a system of authoritarian rule within one of the critical power brokers of the Middle East.

With nearly 99 percent of votes in a referendum counted on Sunday night, supporters of the proposal had 51.3 percent of votes cast, and opponents had 48.7 percent, the country’s electoral commission announced. The result will take days to confirm, and the main opposition party said it would demand a recount of about 37 percent of ballot boxes, containing around 2.5 million votes. But on Sunday night the result was already a political reality, as President Erdoğan hailed his victory in front of a crowd of supporters in Istanbul. “We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history,” he said.

The constitutional change will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the current parliamentary political system. The ramifications, however, are immediate. The “yes” vote in the referendum is a validation of the current leadership style of Mr. Erdoğan, who has been acting as a de facto head of government since his election in 2014 despite having no constitutional right to wield such power. The office of Turkey’s president was meant to be an impartial role without full executive authority.

The result tightens Mr. Erdoğan’s grip on the country, which is one of the leading external actors in the Syrian civil war, a major way station along the migration routes to Europe and a crucial Middle Eastern partner of the United States and Russia.

Since a failed coup last summer, Turkey has been under a state of emergency, a situation that allowed the government to fire or suspend about 130,000 people suspected of being connected to the failed putsch, and to arrest about 45,000.

The campaign itself was characterized by prolonged intimidation of opposition members, several of whom were shot at or beaten while on the stump by persons unknown. The opposition questioned the legitimacy of the referendum after the election board made a last-minute decision to increase the burden needed to prove accusations of ballot-box stuffing. At least three instances of alleged voter fraud appeared to be captured on camera. 

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) says that there were more than 2.5 million of these irregular ballots; other estimates range between 1 million and 4 million. Even the low end of this range would be enough to change the results of the referendum. The CHP has called on the Supreme Election Board to nullify the referendum results. After all, its official guidelines mandate the stamping of both ballot and sealed envelope.

Beyond simply arresting tens of thousands of opponents, it seems that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gamed the system in order to guarantee himself victory. An observer from inside Turkey explains (edited slightly for clarity and grammar):

Apparently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) arranged illegally with the Supreme Election Board and with several voting districts around the country to give ballots out to AKP people the day before the voting. These were given to poor people and others wishing to earn money for a vote.

The ballots were marked “yes” in front, but they lacked the official stamp issued at the polling location on the back. This was done deliberately because those people were to use the pre-prepared ballot in the ballot box and then return the ballot with the official seal which they received at the polling station. They then received between 350-400 Turkish liras, about 100 dollars.

If it seemed that the “no” vote was ahead in initial tallying, then the Supreme Election Board would rule the referendum invalid due to a large number of unstamped ballots. But if it looked like “yes” could win, then those votes would be declared valid.

The new system will, among other changes:

■ Abolish the post of prime minister and transfer executive power to the president.

■ Allow the newly empowered president to issue decrees and appoint many judges and officials responsible for scrutinizing his decisions.

■ Limit the president to two five-year terms, but give the option of running for a third term if Parliament truncates the second one by calling for early elections.

■ Allow the president to order disciplinary inquiries into any of Turkey’s 3.5 million civil servants, according to an analysis by the head of the Turkish Bar Association.

Academics and members of the opposition are concerned that the new system will threaten the separation of powers on which liberal democracies have traditionally depended.

“It represents a remarkable aggrandizement of Erdoğan’s personal power and quite possibly a death blow to vital checks and balances in the country,” said Professor Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at Project on Middle East Democracy and lecturer at St. Lawrence University: “Judicial independence was already shockingly weak before the referendum; the new system makes that worse.”

Mr. Erdoğan’s supporters deny that the new system will limit political and judicial oversight. If opposition parties win control of Parliament, they could override the president’s decrees with their own legislation, while also asserting greater control over judicial appointments, supporters of the new Constitution contend.

The victorious “yes” camp also argues that a strong, centralized government will make Turkey better able to tackle its many challenges, including a troubled economy, the world’s largest population of Syrian refugees, two terrorism campaigns, a civil war against Kurdish insurgents and the Syrian war across Turkey’s southern border.

The fearful environment in which the referendum campaign was held has led watchdogs to question its fairness. In addition to the vast purges of perceived opposition members, the authorities also often prevented “no” campaigners from holding rallies and events. And Mr. Erdoğan and his supporters often implied that their opponents were allied with terrorist groups or those suspected of plotting last year’s failed coup.

Analyses of television coverage showed that the “yes” campaign received disproportionately more airtime than its opponents: “It’s been a completely unfair campaign,” said Andrej Hunko, a German lawmaker assigned by the Council of Europe to observe the election. Hundreds of election observers were also barred from monitoring the vote, and thousands of Kurds displaced by fighting in southeastern Turkey may not have been able to vote because they have no address, according to the Independent Election Monitoring Network, a Turkish watchdog.

Despite this, Mr. Erdoğan’s victory fell far short of the 20-point majority that he and his supporters had expected. The result revealed a deeply divided country, nearly half of which now feels highly embittered.

Few could agree about how Mr. Erdoğan would respond, and he offered no conclusive clues in his victory speech. In one breath, he appeared to reach out to his opponents, calling the results the “victory of everyone who said yes and no.” But in the next, he promised to reinstate the death penalty — which would end any hopes that Turkey will join the European Union — and mocked his opponents’ intent to appeal the result.

Some believe Mr. Erdoğan may initially try to rebuild relations with the West, which were severely damaged during the referendum campaign as he sought to manufacture diplomatic crises to energize his base at home.  But Professor Eissenstat said it was unlikely Mr. Erdoğan would spend any time repairing relationships with the opposition.

“Some people have imagined that Erdoğan might reboot after a ‘yes’ victory and reach out to the opposition,” he said. “I don’t think that is likely. The purges will continue; Erdoğan’s instinct is to crush opposition, not co-opt it.  The question is whether further centralization of power and increased repression can bring stability and allow Erdoğan to reboot a troubled economy. The record of the past 10 years is that the opposite is true” added Professor Eissenstat.”

Erdogan may want to claim victory and put the referendum behind him. He has declared that the result ends all debate. It may not be so easy, however. Especially when the real results suggest the Turkish people did not support the system of government over which Erdogan now presides.

Sources: Erdoğan Claims Vast Powers in Turkey After Narrow Victory in Referendum -By Patrick Kingsley | The New York Times

How Erdoğan Rigged the Election That Makes Him a Dictator -By Michael Rubin | Newsweek


Recommended…
Turkey’s Referendum: How Democracies Decline -By Uri Friedman | The Atlantic
Turkey Votes to Make Erdoğan Effectively A Dictator -By Dexter Filkins | The New Yorker
Inside Turkey’s Purge -By Suzy Henson | The New York Times
Turkey’s Election Was Soaked in Suppression and Blood -By Fréderike Geerdink | Huffington Post

Into the Abyss: Corruption, Violence, and Famine Fuel Another Genocide in South Sudan

​A newly-arrived refugee child from South Sudan sleeps on a dirty floor at the Ngomoromo border post on the Ugandan side on April 10, 2017. According to a statement from the UNHCR, more than 6,000 people have fled into the northern Ugandan district of Lamwo since the start of the fighting in the South Sudan town of Pajok. Fighting between government forces and rebels erupted on April 3, 2017. (Photo by ​Isaac Kasamani / AFP / Getty​). Background image: A ​skull found on the ground in South Suda​n on March 31, 2016.​ (Photo by Nick Turse)​.

A legacy of corruption and violence has finally caught up to South Sudan, the world’s newest country, as the United Nations has declared a full-blown famine, a rare designation not made for any part of the world since 2011. Multiple UN officials have additionally warned that the country,  driven by armed conflict, stands on the brink of genocide.

A brief review of that nation’s history can offer insight into how things got so bad—and what, in concert with the urgent need for a surge in humanitarian aid, can be done to dismantle seemingly endless cycles of violence and suffering.

The underlying sources of conflict and human suffering in South Sudan today have not really changed much since Sudan’s independence in 1956, at which time South Sudan was still part of the larger nation of Sudan—South Sudan only became an independent state in 2011. This is a history of unchecked greed, manifesting itself primarily in the accumulation of wealth and power by corrupt leaders.

“South Sudan may be one of the poorest countries in the world per capita, but it is fabulously wealthy resource-wise: oil, gold, livestock (which are sources of wealth, savings, status, and social standing), the Nile River, and land. The ultimate prize is control of a kleptocratic, winner-take-all state with institutions that have been hijacked by government officials and their commercial collaborators for the purposes of self-enrichment and brutal repression of dissent.

When a peace deal was struck in 2005 ending the North-South war, the southerners were given authority over an interim administration in the southern third of the country, the part that would vote in an independence referendum six years later. During that interim period, two competing kleptocratic factions, led by Salva Kiir and Riek Machar—who would later become, respectively, South Sudan’s president and vice-president—had their own ethnic militias, corruption schemes, and patronage networks. Neither side was genuinely interested in building democratic institutions, good governance, transparency, service delivery, women’s empowerment, or economic development. Instead, the focus was on looting.

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MAN-MADE FAMINE RAVAGES WAR TORN SOUTH SUDAN. Years of civil war, a refugee crisis and a collapsing economy have taken their toll on South Sudan since it gained its independence in 2011.​ ​Famine in South Sudan has left 100,000 people on the verge of starvation and almost 5 million people, more than 40% of the country’s population, in need of urgent help, aid agencies say.​ ​People are already dying of hunger, and another 1 million people are on the brink of famine,​ ​according to the World Food Programme and other UN humanitarian agencies.

The loyalties of different armed leaders and their fighters in different regions had to be purchased—or temporarily leased—to build a consolidated southern army and ensure a decisive vote for independence in 2011. As the interim southern administration established its system of managing finances, leaders went from managing a budget of about $100,000 to managing a budget of more than $1.5 billion when the oil-sharing provisions of the peace deal were enacted. An oil-fueled gravy train (PDF) was created, and grew as the budget expanded in the years that followed. Beyond funding for the army and a few other government functions, nearly everything else appears to have been stolen, as there was no transparency with the oil income and where it went. When the independent state of South Sudan was established in 2011, the looting only increased. Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks South Sudan 175 out of 176 countries.

A den of thieves had been created. The thieves had a falling out, first politically, then with open war in 2013, a scant two years after independence. These competing armed factions have committed horrible atrocities over the past couple of years as they violently pursue the spoils of a hijacked and perverted state. The horrors of war, however, have not deterred the leaders from continuing to milk the country’s system, as demonstrated in the 2016 investigative report by The Sentry.

The favored tactic for imposing will and exploiting resources throughout this history has been the recruitment and use of ethnic-based militias conducting scorched-earth operations. Ethnicity has been used as the main mobilizer for organized violence, which resulted in genocidal violence in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, and in parts of South Sudan even during the North-South War that eventually led to South Sudan’s independence.

In most genocides or other mass atrocities, leaders figure out a way to use identities to mobilize citizen sentiment and drive wedges between communities. This is an essential element of a divide-and-conquer war strategy. In South Sudan, ethnic-based militias are recruited and armed to attack the communities perceived to be opponents. This practice goes back to the British colonial era, when identities were politicized, just as the Belgians did in colonial Rwanda, establishing “tribal authorities.” Even religion was politicized along ethnic lines in South Sudan by the British in the way missionary societies were deployed.

When militias are recruited and mobilized on an ethnic basis, a classic “drain the water to catch the fish” approach ensues, in which the population is targeted and cleared from the area, thus depriving opposition elements of a civilian base from which to recruit, resupply, and find sanctuary. War tactics include village burning, sexual slavery, burning of food stocks, denial of aid access, mass rape, forced conscription of children, and killing of civilians. Mass atrocities become routinized.

In 2013, the two main competing kleptocratic factions of South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) that had unified for the purposes of securing the independence of the country in 2011 had another falling-out, plunging the country back into war, mass hunger, and the brink of state collapse. There has been total impunity for the resource theft, child soldier recruitment, abductions, mass rape, bombing of civilian targets, and the obstruction of humanitarian aid.

Saving South Sudan

In South Sudan today, war crimes pay. There is no accountability for the atrocities and looting of state resources, or for the famine that has resulted. But it would be a mistake to see the trajectory of South Sudan as hopeless, its future fixed in the devastating status quo.

Many African countries became independent states in the past 50 to 60 years. South Sudan is five years old as an independent state. Sudan, the country from which it split five years ago, is 60. At the age of 60, the United States had a transatlantic slave trade fueling an economic boom, was ethnically clearing and cleansing its Native American populations, and had not yet fought its own civil war, one of the deadliest in per capita terms in the history of the world. Europe has an even deadlier history of state formation, marked by five centuries of border-defining conflict and genocide.

Thus, South Sudan and more broadly Africa are not so wildly different from the United States and Europe. Wars of state formation are just occurring later in Africa (because of colonialism) and with deadlier and more plentiful weapons, many of which are produced in countries with permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council. Well over half of the countries that emerge from wars eventually go back to war, especially when root causes remain unaddressed, so again South Sudan is not exceptional.

Many countries that were written off as hopelessly stuck in conflict and crisis over the last few decades have emerged and built new futures. Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Mozambique, Rwanda, and many others have emerged from deep crisis. Yes, they all have ongoing issues related to either corruption or restricting political space, but they are light years ahead of where they were just decades ago. More than half of the continent of Africa is at peace and growing economically. Many African countries are building democratic institutions and holding credible elections. Patience and the proper investments can lead to a turnaround in South Sudan, too.

Huge resources have been thrown at the problem for decades. Billions of dollars have supported peacekeeping forces, further billions have underwritten humanitarian assistance, and one peace process after another has tried to break the cycle of violence. But none of these efforts focus on the driving force of the mayhem. In South Sudan, corruption isn’t an anomaly within the system; it is the system itself, the very purpose of the state. There is no attempt to dismantle or counter the kleptocratic networks that benefit more from instability than peace.

The missing ingredient in the international response is the creation of sufficient leverage or influence to shift the calculations of these violent kleptocrats from war to peace, from atrocities to human rights, from mass corruption to good governance. The surest way for the international community to build influence is to hit these “thieves of state” in their wallets.

A young girl hangs a South Sudan flag on a wooden pole on January 30, 2011 (Photo by Timothy McKulka/USAID).

There are a number of internal conflicts within the broader war in South Sudan that will have to be resolved. External and internal change agents can work together to reform the kleptocratic system, build institutions of accountability, and create new incentives for better governance. Ultimately, South Sudanese people will drive reform and determine their future. From the outside, the United States, Europe, the United Nations, the African Union, and other concerned actors around the world can provide support and solidarity to the efforts of South Sudanese people who are on the front lines of efforts to build peace, good governance, and accountability.

However, in many cases it is the policies of external actors (countries, companies, banks, arms providers) that help provide a great deal of the fuel for the fires that burn in South Sudan and other war-torn African states. Therefore, some of the most meaningful actions that can be taken are focused on countering negative policies and commercial arrangements that originate from outside South Sudan and dramatically disadvantage South Sudan’s civilian population.

What is needed is a hard-target search for the dirty money, the ill-gotten gains from the last decade of looting. Choking the illicit financial flows of the kleptocrats is the key point of leverage available to the international community, given the vulnerability of stolen assets that are offshored in neighboring countries or around the world in the form of houses, cars, buildings, businesses, and bank accounts. The kleptocrats are not hiding their money under their mattresses. The points of convergence where illicit financial schemes rely on legitimate global financial infrastructure are where policy, enforcement, and regulatory efforts should be focused. Dismantling the financial networks that enable and benefit from atrocities will give peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts a real chance of success.

Tying accountability and consequences to credible peace efforts aimed at root causes represents the most promising route to peace. The international community needs to help make war costlier than peace for the leaders and their networks of collaborators, and change their cost-benefit analysis, creating targeted and personal consequences for corrupt war-mongers. The perverse incentives that reward violence and theft must be reoriented. The most promising policy approach would combine creative anti-money laundering measures with targeted sanctions aimed at kleptocratic networks, the combination of which would be robustly enforced with the objective of not just freezing a few assets, but rather freezing those willing to commit mass atrocities out of the international financial system altogether.

This is revolutionary, because it would suddenly give international policymakers and diplomats a major point of leverage to impact the calculations of those willing to commit mass atrocities to maintain or gain power. Given the dominant position of the United States in the international financial system, and the extreme vulnerability to which the assets of South Sudan’s kleptocrats are exposed within that system, the United States is uniquely positioned to help alter the incentives for South Sudan’s leaders away from grand corruption and war, and to give peace a chance in that embattled and long-suffering land.

War criminals and their international collaborators should pay a price for destroying so much of the hope that accompanied South Sudan’s birth as an independent nation a mere five years ago, and for their role in creating a full-blown, UN-declared famine. Despite the shadow of a corrupt and brutal history, it’s not too late for that hope to be restored.

Source: Corrupt Leaders Thrust South Sudan Into Famine and Abject Ruin -By John Prendergast | Enough Project via The Daily Beast

John Prendergast is founding director of the Enough Project, and co-founder of The Sentry.


Recommended…
A Mission That Was Set Up to Fail -By Column Lynch | Foreign Policy
South Sudan: Killings, Rapes, Looting in Juba | Human Rights Watch
How The World’s Newest Country Went Awry: South Sudan’s War, Famine, and Potential Genocide -By John Prendergast | Enough Project
South Sudan Violence Is Tribal ‘Genocide’-By Rodney Muhumuza | ABC News
South Sudan Faces Famine, Potential Genocide in Civil War | Interview between NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Simona Foltyn and John Janoub | PBS Newshour
This Woman Has First-Hand Experience of the Atrocities in South Sudan -Aryn Baker | TIME
World Food Program ‘Horrified’ as South Sudan Workers Killed | ABC News

Fears of Ethnic Cleansing Resurface in South Sudanese Town as Militia Kill 10 -By Ludivica Iaccino | Newsweek

Is There Any Hope for Peace in South Sudan? -By Jacey Fortin | The New York Times
Is There Any Hope Left for South Sudan? -By Justin Lynch | The New Yorker

A Photographer on the Ground in South Sudan: A New nation, in Crisis -By Vaughn Wallace; Photography by Fabio Bucciarelli | Al Jazeera America (Photos)

Chechnya LGBTQs Subjected to Torture, Murder, and ‘Gay’ Concentration Camps

Hundreds of activists gather outside the Russian Embassy in central London in protest against the treatment of homosexuals in Chechnya. (Photo by Stephen Chung/LNP/REX/Shutterstock); Background photo by Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev.

First, two television reporters vanished. Then a waiter went missing. Over the past week, men ranging in age from 16 to 50 have disappeared from the streets of Chechnya. International human rights activists are decrying reports that at least 100 gay men have been arrested, and three killed, in the Russian region of Chechnya.

Novaya Gazeta, a leading Moscow-owned Russian opposition newspaper confirmed a story already circulating among human rights activists: The Chechen authorities were arresting and killing gay men. The paper cited claims by federal law enforcement officials who said the men, ranging in ages from 16 to 50, were detained “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.”

The sweep, like so much else in Russian politics today, was entangled in the country’s troubled politics of street activism. It began, Novaya Gazeta reported, after a Moscow-based gay rights group, GayRussia.ru, applied for permits to stage gay pride parades in four cities in Russia’s predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, of which Chechnya is a part.

The group had not focused on the Muslim areas. It had been applying for permits for gay parades in provincial cities around Russia, and collecting the inevitable denials, in order to build a case about gay rights and freedom of assembly with the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France. It had applied to more than 90 municipal governments. Nikolai Alekseev, a gay rights activist coordinating this effort, told Novaya Gazeta he had chosen this tactic rather than staging risky, unsanctioned gay parades.

The group had not applied for a permit in Chechnya, but in another Muslim region in southern Russia, Kabardino-Balkaria. The mere application there — denied, as usual — had prompted an anti-gay counter-demonstration. In the restive Muslim regions, Mr. Putin has empowered local leaders to press agendas of traditional Muslim values, to co-opt an Islamist underground. The gay pride parade applications became a galvanizing issue.

“In Chechnya, the command was given for a ‘prophylactic sweep’ and it went as far as real murders,” Novaya Gazeta reported. According to the report, the authorities set to finding and arresting closeted gay men, partly by posing as men looking for dates on social networking sites. “Of course, none of these people in any way demonstrated their sexual orientation publicly — in the Caucasus, this is equal to a death sentence,” the newspaper wrote of those detained in the sweep. “I got numerous, numerous signals,” about the sweep of gay men, said Ekaterina L. Sokiryanskaya, Russia project coordinator for the International Crisis Group, and an authority on the North Caucasus. “It came from too many sources not to be true.”

Gay men have begun deleting online accounts, or fleeing the region. One user of Vkontakte, a Russian social networking site, wrote that a 16-year-old boy had been detained in a village in Chechnya. He returned days later, according to the post, “all beaten, just a sack with bones.”

The newspaper published contact information to aid men wanting to leave Chechnya for relatively more tolerant parts of Russia. But reaching communities of closeted gay men in the remote mountain region poses challenges. “Even delivering the information is very difficult,” Ms. Sokiryanskaya, who is familiar with the aid effort, said. “They are just small islands, isolated.”

The reports, however, were quickly dismissed as “absolute lies and disinformation” by a spokesman for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. The spokesman, Alvi Karimov, then suggested that no gay people were living in the Muslim-majority region. “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” he said, according to The New York Times.

As The Advocate points out, however, Karimov’s statement failed to quash the arrest claims. An April 4 Novaya Gazeta report doubled down on their initial report, with a source telling the newspaper that the Muslim-majority region’s anti-LGBTQ efforts include concentration camps. Detainees in those camps, which have been likened to those in Nazi Germany, are allegedly being subjected to physical abuse at the hands of government officials while being ransomed to their families. Those who are released, sadly, may face additional persecution, as extrajudicial “honor” killings have been known to take place, according to The Washington Post.

Details of the alleged detainments remain frustratingly vague. Chechen activist Kheda Saratova, who is on Kadyrov’s human rights council, dismissed the claims, saying she hasn’t had “a single request” on the issue in a Russian radio interview cited by The Guardian. Much like Karimov before her, however, Saratova downplayed the existence of gay people in the region at large. “In our Chechen society, any person who respects our traditions and culture will hunt down this kind of person without any help from authorities,” Saratova said, “and do everything to make sure that this kind of person does not exist in our society.”

Meanwhile, a number of leading human rights organizations have spoken out against the allegations. On Tuesday, GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis called on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to condemn the alleged attacks and press for an investigation.

The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights First echoed those sentiments, calling upon Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to speak out against the reports. “In his confirmation hearings, [Tillerson] responded to a question on the human rights of LGBTQ people by noting that ‘American values don’t accommodate violence or discrimination against anyone,’” advocacy counsel Shawn Gaylord said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “Now is the time for him to put the power of his office behind that statement and raise this issue directly with his counterparts.”

Amnesty International, meanwhile, launched a petition of its own, demanding that Chechnya to “stop abducting and killing” gay men.”The Chechen government won’t admit that gay men even exist in Chechnya, let alone that they ordered what the police call ‘preventive mopping up’ of people they deem undesirable,” the petition, which had over 25,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, read.

On April 12, LGBTQ rights activists in London staged a protest outside of the city’s Russian embassy in response to the reports. “We are seeing very little response to this in the mainstream media, and government action so far is poor,” Steve Taylor, who is the communications director for the European Pride Organizers Association (EPOA) told Gay Star News. “We must not be bystanders, and we must challenge this inhumanity.”







Sources & Recommended Reading…
Alleged Gay ‘Concentration Camps’ In Chechnya Spark Global Outrage -By Curtis M. Wong | Huffington Post
Chechen Authorities Arresting and Killing Gay Men, Russian Paper Says -By Andrew Kramer | The New York Times
Honor Killings -By Elena Milashina | Novaya Gazeta
Chechnya Is Torturing Gay Men in Concentration Camps -By Daniel Reynolds | The Advocate
Gay and Terrified in Chechnya -By Editorial Board | Washington Post
Europe, U.N. Urge Russia to Intervene as Chechnya Allegedly Tortures and Kills Gay People -By Emily Tamkin | Foreign Policy
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Russia Ministry of Justice Moves to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘Extremist’ Organization

The Jehovah’s Witnesses elders Vyacheslav Stepanov, 40, left, and Andrei Sivak, 43, are facing trial on charges of inciting division and hatred ​(Photo by James Hill​).​

On April 5, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation began consideration of a claim from the Ministry of Justice to liquidate the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia.  If the Ministry of Justice succeeds, Jehovah Witnesses will be banned as an extremist organization, a move that would lead to the seizure of the church’s headquarters near St. Petersburg and the outlawing of the group’s organized worship. The Russian justice ministry’s call for the country’s Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters to be shut down represents an attempt to “eliminate the legal existence” of the religion, said the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The USCIRF is a bipartisan federal commission, with commissioners appointed by the president, the Senate and the House.

The justice ministry suspended the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in St. Petersburg last month, alleging that its activities “violate Russia’s law on combating extremism.” The Russian branch of the U.S.-based religion said a ban on its headquarters would directly affect around 400 local branches in the country and all 2277 of its religious groups, with their 175,000 followers. The USCIRF said that if the court sides with the justice ministry it would constitute the first time Russia has banned an organized religious organization.

“If the Supreme Court rules in April that this group is ‘extremist’ it would mark the first time that Russia legally has banned a centrally-administered religious organization and would effectively criminalize all Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activity nationwide. USCIRF calls on the Russian government to stop its harassment of this peaceful religious group.”

The ruling would also cap off years of increased restrictions by the Russian Federation against minority religions. Last summer, Russia introduced an anti-terrorism law that also restricted evangelism, and a regional court ordered the deportation of six missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 2015, a court banned the Church of Scientology’s Moscow branch.

Russia’s dominant religion is Russian Orthodox Christianity, which comprises about 72 percent of the population, up from just 31 percent in 1991, according to analysis from the Pew Research Center.

Under a Russian law passed in 1997, there is freedom of religion, but four faiths are designated to be traditional—Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism—and other religious organizations must register with the government. Some groups, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are registered, still face bureaucratic and legal hurdles. Jehovah’s Witness leaders estimate that there are 175,000 Russian-based adherents to the faith, which was founded in the United States the 1870s. Unlike Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is the son of God but do not believe in the Trinity.

“They would basically be prosecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses as criminals,” David Semonian, international spokesperson for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, says of the pending court declaration. “Anyone who would actually would have our publications could be criminalized. It is of great concern.”

The statement from the group added: “The treatment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reflects the Russian government’s tendency to view all independent religious activity as a threat to its control and the country’s political stability.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses have filed a counter claim asking the court to rule the Justice Ministry’s actions as political repression. A ruling in favor of the ministry would make it a crime for Jehovah’s Witnesses to worship in the Russian Federation and dissolve the faith’s legal means to own or rent Kingdom Halls, their places of worship. In 2015, the Russian Federation banned the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ website JW.org, and customs officials stopped shipments of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bibles, citing the possibility they were extremist literature. Last year, Russia threatened to close the group’s national headquarters.

Roman Lunkin, a human rights fellow at the Wilson Center and an expert on church-state relations in Russia, says that Russian authorities have been targeting minority religions as “extremists” in an effort to demonstrate support for the Russian Orthodox Church and to marginalize organizations with suspected pro-western sympathies. “The treatment of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reflects the Russian government’s tendency to view all independent religious activity as a threat to its control and the country’s political stability,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a statement on April 4.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses are no threat to either the Russian Orthodox Church or to the Russian Government,” Semonian says. “The constitution guarantees freedom of worship, and that is all we are asking, to have the same rights as other religious groups have so we can go about our ministry in a peaceful way.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses are pacifists, and their religious beliefs require them to abstain from political activity. They declare allegiance only to God, not to a state or political entity. They do not vote, lobby, protest, or join military. This lack of participation can be seen as a threat if a state demands nationalist and patriotic activity.

“The persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is very much tied to the resurgence of a new view of nationalism, where everything within the state is fine, but anything outside of the state has to be crushed,” Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, a U.S. commissioner for International Religious Freedom appointed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, says.

“A pacifist group that tells its members that their allegiance is to something outside of the government is immediately a group that will be perceived as dangerous to the regime.” -Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz

Other minority Christian groups in Russia, like evangelicals, have not yet faced the same level of scrutiny. Lunkin says it is impossible to accuse evangelicals of extremist activity because their literature and Bible translation matches that of the Russian Orthodox Church. Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own translation of the Bible, and they also have their own magazine and educational materials. Evangelicals also have closer relationships with government officials, he says. “It’s [about] a protection of traditional religions, and the Orthodox identity of Russian people,” Lunkin says. “But in fact it is about protecting personal power, because the main fear is changing of regimes in Russia.”

Jehovah’s Witness church leadership has reached out to the U.S. State department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the U.S. Helsinki Commission for aid. “We will do everything within our legal means to have the judgment reversed,” Semonian says. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are known worldwide for our peaceful activities, and under no circumstances would we ever resort to violence or any other activity that could be misunderstood or considered extremist.”

Jehovah’s Witness leaders have also asked their eight million members worldwide to write letters to Russia officials, including President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, to ask them to intervene. Instructions tell writers to “be candid but respectful,” and to mention how the faith has benefited their families. “Keep in mind that ‘a mild answer turns away rage,’ and ‘a gentle tongue can break a bone,’” the instructions say, quoting the Biblical book of Proverbs.

The decision will come as the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is finalizing its annual report identifying countries of concern, its first such report for the Trump administration. The Commission is a bipartisan government advisory group that makes policy recommendations to the President, Congress, and the Secretary of State. Since 2009, the group has designated Russia as a “Tier 2” nation, on the watch list one step below countries of particular concern. “The fate of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is the fate of any religious group that does not pledge its allegiance to the Russian government,” Arriaga says. “April [sic] will definitely mark a new chapter of religious persecution in post-Soviet Russia.”

Source: Russian Supreme Court Considers Outlawing Jehovah’s Witness Worship -By Elizabeth Dias | TIME


Recommended….
United States: Russia’s Ban of Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘Extremist’ Shows That Moscow Views All Independent Religions as a Threat -By Jason Le Miere | Newsweek
Russia Moves to Ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as ‘Extremist’ -By Andrew Higgins | The New York Times

Charles Blow: War as Political Weapon

Injured boys at a field hospital after airstrikes on the rebel held areas of Aleppo, Syria November 18, 2016 (Photo by Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters/TPX IMAGES). Background image: The Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, pictured above in a 2014 photo, has been described as a “living hell” and “the “worst place on Earth.” (Photo by United Nation Relief and Works Agency/Getty Images)

Donald Trump has turned his back on pretty much everything he has ever said about United States military involvement in Syria and launched nearly 60 missiles at an air base in the country.

Trump’s official statement claimed that the strikes were in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s monstrous chemical weapons attack against his own people. But the statement also went further into the fiction of fear often touted to buttress humanitarian missions: “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

This has echoes of the George W. Bush warning about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” a lie that led us into a near decade-long war.

Not to be indelicate here, but atrocities happen in the world all the time (and have happened on an even larger scale before in Syria). Humans are capable of unimaginable cruelty. Sometimes the victims die quickly and are made visible by media for the world to see. Other times, they die in slow motion, out of sight and out of mind. Sometimes banned weapons are used; sometimes conventional weapons; sometimes, neglect, isolation and starvation.

And the world in general, and America in particular, has a way of being wishy-washy about which atrocities deserve responses and which ones don’t. These decisions can be capricious at best and calculated camouflages for ulterior motives at worst. Indeed, the motivations for military action needn’t be singular at all, but are often multiple, tucked one inside the other like nesting dolls.

Acts of war can themselves be used as political weapons. They can distract attention, quell acrimony, increase appetite for military spending and give a boost to sagging approval ratings. This “rally-around-the-flag” (or “rally”) effect is well documented by pollsters.

As Gallup wrote in 2001 after the attack of 9/11: “In the wake of the terrorist attacks Tuesday, American approval of the way President George W. Bush is handling his job has surged to 86 percent, the fourth highest approval rating ever measured by Gallup in the six decades it has been asking Americans to make that evaluation. Only Presidents George H. W. Bush and Harry Truman received higher ratings — the elder Bush twice during the Gulf War, with 89 percent (the highest ever) and 87 percent ratings, and Truman with 87 percent just after the Germans surrendered in World War II.”

It’s easy to sell the heroism of a humanitarian mission or the fear of terror or the two in tandem, as Trump attempted in this case.

The temptation to unleash America’s massive war machine is seductive and also addictive. Put that power in the hands of a man like Trump, who operates more on impulse and intuition than intellect, and the world should shiver.

The problem comes when the initial glow dims and darkness descends. We punch holes in some place on the other side of the world and the war hawks — many beholden to the military-industrial complex — squawk and parade about with chests swollen. But, feeding the beast of war only amplifies its appetite. Market Watch reported last week, “It could cost about $60 million to replace the cruise missiles that the U.S. military rained on Syrian targets Thursday night,” but Fortune reported that shares of weapons manufacturers, as soon as they began trading Friday, were “collectively gaining nearly $5 billion in market value.”

War is a business, a lucrative one.

Americans, who rightly are appalled by the images of dead children, applaud. They feel proud to slap the hand of a villain without risking American bodies. But now American might is irrevocably engaged. Our thumb is on the scale, and our reputation on the line.

Often, action begets more action, as unintended consequences sprout like weeds. In the most extreme cases, we take down a bad leader in some poor country. In theory, this helps the citizens of that country. But in the complex reality that we have had to keep learning over and over in recent history, it often creates a vacuum where one bad man can be replaced by even worse men.

We are then already in waist-deep. We have to make an impossible choice: stay and try to fix what we broke or abandon it and watch our nightmares multiply. Nobility of the crusade is consumed by the quagmire.

This is why we would all do well to temper the self-congratulatory war speeches and thrusting of pom-poms of our politicians and pundits, some of whom hypocritically opposed the use of military force by President Obama following an even worse chemical attack in Syria in 2013.

As righteous as we may feel about punishing Assad, Syria is a hornet’s nest of forces hostile to America: Assad, Russia, and Iran on one flank and ISIS on another. You can’t afflict one faction without assisting the other. In this way, Syria is a nearly unwinnable state.

We’ve been down this road before. Just over the horizon is a hill: Steep and greased with political motives, military ambitions, American blood and squandered treasury.

Being weary here isn’t a sign of weakness; to the contrary, it’s a display of hard-won wisdom.

Source: War as Political Weapon -By Charles M. Blow | The New York Times


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Donald Trump’s Syrian Civil War Paradox -By Owen Matthews and Sophia Slater | Newsweek
Obama Was Right to Abandon ‘Red Line’ on Syria’s Chemical Weapons -By Christopher Dickey | The Daily Beast
The Real Targets of Trump’s Strike Were His Domestic Critics -By Greg Grandin | The Nation
18 Times Donald Trump Said the U.S. Shouldn’t Bomb Syria -By Ashley Hoffman | TIME