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
HRC Calls on U.S. Government to Help Stop Anti-LGBTQ Atrocities in Russia -By Jeremy Kadden | Human Rights Campaign

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


Recommended….
Dan Rather Slams Journalists Who Hailed Donald Trump’s Bombs As ‘Presidential’-By Hillary Hanson | Huffington Post
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

Chemical Weapons, Barrel Bombs, & Massacres – A Litany of Atrocities in Syria

A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria, on April 4, 2017 (YouTube Photo by Ammar Abdullah / Reuters).

The decision came on April 6 on Air Force One on the way to Florida. Mr. Donald Trump assembled his National Security Council on his plane, some by secure video link, as the generals made the case that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had to learn there was a price to pay.

Mr. Trump claimed he was shaken by photos his staff had shown him of children dying after the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack — far more graphic than those the public had seen — so he did not need a lot of convincing: “What happened in Syria is truly one of the egregious crimes, and it shouldn’t have happened,” he told reporters when he poked his head into the press cabin. “And it shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

Two hours later at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, Mr. Trump gave the order to unleash 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles (at a cost of $500,000 per missile) at Al Shayrat airfield in western Syria, where the chemical weapons attack originated. His generals had given him the option of delaying a day, but Mr. Trump chose not to wait.

It had been only 63 hours from the chemical attack to the American strike.

With its missile strike on Shayrat air base in central Syria, Washington signaled that it had judged President Bashar Assad responsible for the horrific chemical weapons attack in northern Syria that drew international outrage last week. But it is not the first or even deadliest atrocity of the war. Rights groups and many Middle Eastern and Western nations say Assad is responsible for a litany of war crimes in the six years he and his supporters have struggled to extinguish a popular uprising and armed insurgency against his rule.

The violence started early on, with detentions, torture, and summary executions, and escalated to bombardment, massacres, sieges, and chemical warfare. Various monitors put the war’s toll at over 400,000 killed. The United Nations has recorded over 5 million refugees from the conflict, and says about half the country’s population is displaced within Syria’s borders or abroad.

Assad has denied responsibility for all specific allegations of war crimes. He maintains his war is one against terror, though he acknowledges that civilians have sometimes been caught in the cross-fire.

Here are some of the 6-year-old war’s worst atrocities:

Abdul-Hamid Alyousef, 29, holds his twin babies, who were killed during a suspected chemical weapons attack, in Khan Sheikhoun in the northern province of Idlib, Syria, April 4, 2017. Alyousef also lost 22 members of his family, including his wife, two brothers, nephews and many other family members in the attack that claimed scores of his relatives. (Photo: AP)

BARREL BOMBS
Though not the deadliest weapon in the government’s arsenal, the so-called barrel bomb is now synonymous with Syria’s civil war. The crude, unguided munition — oil barrels packed with explosives and shrapnel — is emblematic of the government’s determination to brutalize its opponents. Soldiers roll them off of helicopters above opposition areas to slam into markets, hospital, schools and military baes below. Sometimes squadrons will bomb an area twice, minutes apart, to kill the first responders who have gathered in the area — a grisly scenario dubbed a “double tap” attack. Thousands of people have been killed in documented barrel bomb attacks, though Assad denies they even exist.

BAYDA AND BANIYAS MASSACRES
On May 2 and 3, 2013, government troops and government-backed militias stormed the towns of Bayda and Baniyas on Syria’s coast and, according to a Human Rights Watch investigation, went door to door burning homes and shooting families in cold blood. At least 248 people were killed. The troops were allegedly looking for army defectors and other dissidents.

It was one of the most widely reported killings in a string of tit-for-tat massacres by pro-government and pro-opposition forces that hardened the conflict’s sectarian dynamics. Bayda and the affected neighborhood in Baniyas are predominantly Sunni districts in a coastal region distinguished for its high proportion of Alawites and Christians. Assad is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and he has crafted the image of his government as a bulwark against Sunni terrorism. Though the initial protests against him represented a cross-section of Syrian society, the spiraling sectarian violence in 2012 and 2013 fractured the country along religious lines, and now opposition forces are dominated by Sunnis.

A similar massacre a year earlier in the town of Houla, near the Lebanese border, also stoked Sunni fears. A U.N. investigation said government forces and pro-Assad militias carried out that attack, which killed 108 people, including 49 children.

GHOUTA SARIN GAS ATTACK
On Aug. 21, 2013, exactly one year and one day after then President Barack Obama issued his “red line” warning against chemical weapons use and transfers, a horrific sarin nerve gas attack killed hundreds of people in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus. Shocking images of residents suffocating in the streets were seen around the world, and one survivor, Kassem Eid, said he saw neighbors dropping dead “like it was judgment day.” In hospitals, medical workers produced videos of victims convulsing and gasping for breath, while others lay motionless, white foam coating their mouths. Doctors lifted patients’ eyelids to reveal their pupils shrunken to the size of pinpricks, just like victims of the attack last week in the opposition-held northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun.

A U.N. investigative team determined that sarin gas was used in the Ghouta attack, but its report did not identify a culprit. The U.S. and other nations said Assad’s government was responsible. Human Rights Watch said the government was the “likely” culprit and the rockets that carried the gas were likely fired from one or more of a string of military installations that ring the capital.

An injured Syrian child waits for treatment at a makeshift hospital in the rebel held area of Douma, north east of the capital Damascus, following reported air strikes by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad on February 2, 2015. More than 400,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict started, and around half of the country’s population has been displaced. (Photo: Getty Images)

NAPALM-LIKE WEAPONS ATTACKS
Five days after the gas attack on Ghouta, government aircraft bombed a school in the town of Orem al-Kubra, near Aleppo, with a napalm-like weapon, activists reported. Fuel clung to students like jelly, witnesses said, burning skin and flesh. At least 10 people were killed. Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of attacks where the Syrian government used so-called “incendiary weapons” in the conflict. Their use in civilian areas is against international law. Schools are also frequent targets of the government’s airstrikes.

THE SIEGE OF EAST ALEPPO
After four months of siege and non-stop bombardment, government forces retook the eastern sector of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, last December. By the end of the campaign, every medical facility had been bombed at least once, according to the Syrian American Medical Society. More than 20,000 civilians and fighters agreed to evacuate from the city to other opposition areas in northern Syria instead of face the government’s feared security forces; thousands more crossed first into government parts of the city then continued on to opposition-held Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

A U.N. investigative panel said the evacuation, made under crushing duress, amounted to forced displacement of civilians from their homes, a war crime. Other such actions have dislodged tens of thousands more dissidents to opposition areas of northern Syria, part of a population shift that is changing the demographics of the country.

The U.N. panel also blamed Syrian jets for bombing a humanitarian convoy in the Aleppo countryside during the siege, killing more than a dozen relief workers. It said the attack was a war crime.

TARGETING THE MEDICAL SECTOR
Human rights organizations and international medical charities say Assad’s forces target hospitals, clinics and ambulances in opposition-held areas. Earlier in the conflict, doctors said they were tortured by security forces for helping wounded protesters at anti-government rallies. According to Physicians for Human Rights, government and allied Russian forces have killed 727 medical workers in the course of the conflict.

Sources & Recommended Reading…
Syrian Civil War Timeline | Wikipedia

Chemical Weapons Attack Latest in Litany of Syria Atrocities | AP via The New York Times
63 Hours: From Chemical Attack to Trump’s Strike in Syria -By Michael D. Shear & Michael R. Gordon | The New York Times
World Report 2017: Syria | Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International Annual Report 2017: Syria | Amnesty International
Syria’s War on Doctors -By Ben Taub | The New Yorker
The War on Syria’s Doctor -By Ellen Francis | Foreign Policy

Michigan Doctor Is Charged for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

A young girl cries after being circumcised in Bandung, Indonesia on April 23, 2006. The families of 248 girls were given money to have their children circumcised in a mass circumcision celebration timed to hon​or the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday. While religion was the main reason for circumcisions, it is believed by some locals that a girl who is not circumcised would have unclean genitals after she urinates which could lead to cervical cancer. It is also believed if one prays with unclean genitals their prayer won’t be heard. The practitioners used scissors to cut the hood and tip of the clitoris. The World Health Organization has deemed the ritual unnecessary and condemns such practices. Background Image: A young girl screams while being circumcised in Bandung, Indonesia on April 23, 2006. (Photos by © Stephanie Sinclair | Female Circumcision in Indonesia Series).

A Michigan doctor has been accused of performing genital genital mutilation on two 7-year-old girls at a medical clinic, in a case that federal officials believe to be the first prosecution under a law banning the brutal practice.

The doctor, Jumana Nagarwala, 44, was arrested on Wednesday on charges that she performed the genital cutting at an unnamed medical clinic in Livonia, Michigan; transported minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; and lied to federal agents. According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court on Wednesday, Dr. Nagarwala performed the procedure on two girls from Minnesota who traveled to the clinic with their parents in February. The complaint also said that “multiple” other girls, including some from Michigan, may have been victimized between 2005 and 2007.

One of the girls told investigators that she thought she and the other girl had gone to the doctor because “our tummies hurt.” The other said the cutting procedure was so painful that she screamed and could barely walk afterward. She drew a picture of the room where the procedures were allegedly carried out, marking an “X” on the spot where she said she had bled on the examination table, according to the complaint.

“Dr. Nagarwala is alleged to have performed horrifying acts of brutality on the most vulnerable victims,” Kenneth A. Blanco, an acting assistant attorney general with the Justice Department’s criminal division, said in a statement on Thursday. “The Department of Justice is committed to stopping female genital mutilation in this country, and will use the full power of the law to ensure that no girls suffer such physical and emotional abuse.”

Dr. Nagarwala appeared in court on Thursday and was ordered held in jail until another hearing on Monday. The doctor’s lawyer, Shannon M. Smith, could not be reached by phone for comment on Thursday. According to the complaint, Dr. Nagarwala said she had never performed genital cutting on any children.

Dr. Nagarwala, who practices emergency medicine at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, has been placed on administrative leave, said David Olejarz, a spokesman for the Henry Ford Health System.“The alleged criminal activity did not occur at any Henry Ford facility,” he said in an email. “We would never support or condone anything related to this practice.”

Female genital cutting involves removing parts of the genitalia. The World Health Organization has documented the practice in 30 countries, most of them in Africa. The procedure, which is illegal in the United States, is typically performed on girls before they reach puberty and can lead to infections, childbirth complications or pain during urination or menstruation.

The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide, more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of genital cutting. A study last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than a half million women and girls were affected by, or at risk of, genital cutting in the United States in 2012.

Genital cutting has been illegal in the United States since 1996, but that law was amended in 2013 to outlaw what is sometimes referred to as “vacation cutting,” or transporting a girl overseas to carry out the procedure.

The Michigan case is significant because it can help to raise awareness of an issue that often flies under the radar, said Shelby Quast of Equality Now, an international women’s rights advocacy organization. She said people who might see evidence of genital cutting, such as teachers and health care providers, are not always aware of obligations to report it. “We need better information about exactly where they are,” Ms. Quast said of practitioners of genital cutting. “We know that this is a child abuse issue, and we know that we need to start training our child protection folks better.”

Source: Michigan Doctor Is Accused of Cutting 2 Girls -By Jacey Fortin | The New York Times


Recommended…
Father Imprisoned for Genital Cutting Is Deported to Ethiopia -By Daniel Victor | The New York Times
Female Circumcision in Indonesia | Stephanie Sinclair (Photos)

Beyond International Women’s Day, Honoring Women Who Defend Land and Human Rights

Photo credit (above): Women of Green; Featured image (background): People gather to form a woman symbol to celebrate International Women’s Day at Manila’s Rizal Park on March 8, 2014. (Photo: AFP/Jay Directo)

Women around the world stand at the forefront of rising movements to defend and protect the health of water, land, air and diverse communities. While we celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, it is vital to honor the women defenders who, with incredible courage and effort, are taking on corporations and governments to say “no” to resource extraction and the continued violation of human rights, women’s rights and the rights of indigenous peoples and front-line communities. Through their work, these women act so that the generations to come may yet stand a chance of inheriting a sustainable and livable planet.

With increased frequency however, many of the women and men who advocate daily in defense of a just world are being systematically criminalized, attacked and murdered with impunity. According to 2016 reports by Global Witness, 2015 was the most dangerous year on record for land defenders, with at least three people per week killed for nonviolent opposition to mining and fossil fuel projects, agribusiness, hydroelectric dams, logging and other extractive industries.

Indigenous peoples defending ancestral territories represent upward of 40 percent of those killed. Women, and indigenous women in particular, face even greater challenges and dangers as they navigate the brutal intersection of environmental devastation, cultural dislocation and sexual violence and gender-based persecution.

Tragedies such as the 2016 murder of Honduran activist Berta Caceres indicate the acceleration of these trends, which have prompted United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous rights Victoria Tauli-Corpuz to warn of an “epidemic” of murder of Earth defenders. The violation of women’s rights and land defenders speaks in a profound way to the derangement of our times, and to the dangerous worldviews of domination and exploitation, which sit at the root of both degradation of Earth’s natural systems, and violence against women of the world.

Despite experiencing the impacts of environmental harms with disproportionate severity, women are rising in diverse manifestations to demonstrate that they hold the knowledge, skills and heartfelt passion needed not only to protect their homelands, but also to build substantial and creative solutions needed to avert the worst impacts of environmental destruction and the climate crisis.

In this context, standing in solidarity with women defenders is critical — to uphold fundamental human rights, to protect front-line communities and to ensure sustainability on Earth. Front-line women can also be supported by demanding governments and corporate actors comply with indigenous rights and sovereignty, issues which often lie at the root of violations.

On International Women’s Day, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network shared the stories of just a few of the world’s countless women human rights and Earth defenders, and raises the call to visibilize, support and honor all frontline women defenders for their fierce dedication and unrelenting voice and action for justice.

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Click the image above to see the full sized image and read the name of the featured frontline woman.

Melania Chiponda, Zimbabwe
After bearing witness to violence and sexual abuse of women by security and military forces attempting to suppress local opposition to mining, Melania Chiponda of Marange, Zimbabwe began advocating as a woman defender, working independently and with WoMin. For many years, Melania has been speaking out against actions by the diamond mining industry to forcibly break the connection between women and their ancestral lands. For her work to protect indigenous women’s land rights and stop land grabbing and militarization of mining regions, Melania has been arrested, detained and threatened many times. She commented recently as part of the #DefendHer campaign.

“If you take away land from women in the rural areas, you take away their livelihoods; you take away the very thing that they identify with. Then we fight. Because we have nothing else to lose.”

Josephine Pagalan, Philippines
In the Philippines, Manobo indigenous woman leader Josephine Pagalan is fighting to protect her people’s ancestral lands from mining and logging operations. Following the murder of several of her colleagues, Josephine was forced to leave her community to seek safety in the city, fearing that impunity in her remote village would lead to her own death. Despite harassment, Josephine continues representing the public face of the many indigenous Lumad women who are on the front lines demonstrating, documenting human rights abuses and filing legal suits in opposition to the militarization, violation of community rights and environmental devastation taking place across their homelands.

Josephine explained to Womens E-News, “We want the government to be made accountable for the human rights violations and attacks. Mining companies promised too many things in the past but they did not deliver. We don’t want to give up our land because money can be consumed but land will not perish.”

Ana Mirian Romero, Honduras
In Honduras, Ana Mirian Romero, leader of the Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz and San Isidro Labrador Indigenous Council, is standing for land rights for the region’s indigenous peoples, working most recently in opposition to the Los Encinos hydroelectric dam, a project which never received free, prior and informed consent, as required by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Repeatedly since 2014, Ana Mirian has been subject to harassment, death threats, raids, beatings by police while pregnant, arson attacks and gunmen outside her home. In 2016, while being awarded the Front Line Defenders Award for outstanding contribution to the protection of human and land rights despite the immense personal risk endured, she explained, “We defend the river, the forests and the pure air that we breathe. That is all we want — land, air and water that is not contaminated by the dams. We are persecuted and threatened for this, but we do it for our children’s future.”

LaDonna BraveBull Allard and Joy Braun, North Dakota, United States
Joy Braun (Cheyenne River Sioux Peoples) and LaDonna Brave Bull Allard (Standing Rock Sioux Peoples) are two of the extraordinary indigenous women defenders of the Standing Rock Dakota Access Pipeline resistance movement, both taking action to protect water and life since the first day of the encampments. For many months, both women and their families have been exposed to violence, militarized police forces, raids and surveillance.

Joy Braun works in the region of North Dakota where rampant fracking (which would supply the Dakota Access Pipeline if it becomes operational) has been taking a devastating toll on the health and safety of indigenous women for many years.

LaDonna’s home, and the grave of her son, overlook the Missouri River at the point of Dakota Access Pipeline crossing. During a fall 2016 interview she pronounced:

“First and foremost we are water protectors, we are women who stand because the water is female, and so we must stand with the water. If we are to live as a people, we must have water, without water we die. So everything we do as we stand here, we must make sure that we do it in prayer, and that we do it in civil disobedience. We do it with goodness and kindness in our hearts, but we stand up. We will not let them pass. We stand. Because we must protect our children and our grandchildren.”

When women land and water protectors are harmed we must speak out and take action to resist and repudiate these abuses, and acknowledge that these women put their bodies on the line for the survival of all of us. Though the challenges and dangers faced are dire, we cannot help but remember the proverb which says: “They tried to bury us, they forgot that we are seeds.”

For each woman persecuted for her courageous defense of people and planet — let 100 more rise to build the world we seek.

Source: On International Women’s Day, Honoring Women Who Defend Land and Human Rights -By Osprey Orielle Lake and Emily Arasim | Moyers & Company


Osprey Orielle Lake is the founder and executive director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International and serves as Co-Chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. Follow WECAN International on Twitter: @WECAN_INTL.

Emily Arasim is an avid photojournalist, writer, seed saver and farmer from New Mexico. She has served as WECAN International‘s communications coordinator and project assistant since 2014.

Fault Lines – The Economic, Racial, & Social Inequality That Persist in South Africa

All photography by Johnny Miller.

In Makause, a sprawling settlement of overcrowded shacks built on an abandoned gold mine, some 30,000 residents face the leafy streets and gracious homes of Primrose, an affluent suburb of Johannesburg. Separated only by a narrow highway, the two neighborhoods offer a stark reminder that, 22 years after apartheid was abolished, South Africa is still defined by massive inequality and stark segregation.

This is where apartheid was born. When British financier Barney Barnato arrived in Johannesburg, not long after miners struck gold there in 1886, it was little more than a tent city, with a single hotel and a handful of saloons. The following year, Barnato founded his first mine just outside the settlement, and named it after his daughter, Primrose. The city’s fault lines were quickly established: Black Africans lived in cramped barracks, set apart from affluent whites.

Today, the residents of Makause live sardined in small shacks constructed from corrugated tin, scrap metal, and wooden planks. The ground is contaminated with toxic chemicals. Water was not available until 2008, when two pumps were installed. Fires are common. One, in 2012, destroyed 18 homes before fire trucks lingering across the street in Primrose finally arrived.

Photographer Johnny Miller moved to South Africa that year and set out to chronicle the country’s segregation from the skies. “Drones have an incredible ability to transform how we see the world,” he says. “There is an electricity in the air in South Africa right now, a nervous tension. People are tired of relying on platitudes and promises from 22 years ago. They want to see change.”

A sprawling settlement borders the Papwa Sewgolum Golf Course in Durban.

The settlement of Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay has few toilets and no sewage system for its more than 15,000 residents. The shacks are just a stone’s throw from sprawling homes.

Leafy trees and swimming pools in the middle-class suburb of Bloubosrand border the Kya Sands settlement in Johannesburg.

The Killarney industrial park borders Dunoon, an informal settlement on the northern outskirts of Cape Town.

Source: South Africa’s Fault Lines | New Republic


Johnny Miller is a freelance documentary photographer and filmmaker based in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow on Twitter @UnequalScenes