Posts Tagged ‘The Economist’

Major piece by departing High Commissioner in the Economist

August 31, 2018

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who steps down on 1 September wrote a long and hard-hitting piece under the title “Grassroots leaders provide the best hope to a troubled world” in the Economist of 30 August 2018. Just some excerpts here, please read the whole thing:

If they are growing in number it is because (with exceptions) many other politicians are mediocre. They, too, are focused on their own image, the vanities associated with protocol and re-election. Too busy with themselves, or too afraid to stand up to the demagogues and for others, they seem to shelter in the safety of silence and shuffled papers. Only when they leave public office do some speak up, discovering their courage rather belatedly. Many come and go; no one really notices.

In consequence, too many summits and conferences held between states are tortured affairs that lack profundity but are full of jargon and tiresome clichés that are, in a word, meaningless. What is absent is a sincere will to work together, though all will claim—again, under the lights and on camera—that they are wholly committed to doing so. The systems for states to act collectively at higher levels in pursuit of solutions are decomposing. There are signs of it everywhere we care to look.

….

I believe it is only a matter of time, for example, before we see a Takfiri confrontation with Buddhist extremism in Asia. Where this is likely to occur, geographically, and who is likely to be involved, can already be surmised. The how and the when are, as always, indeterminate. It will depend on the outcome of regional presidential elections and how the situations in Cox’s Bazaar and Myanmar play out. The current signs are not encouraging. What is clear is that our systems for fixing this are broken.

When Myanmar inflicts enormous suffering on the Rohingya—burns them in their homes, cuts the throats of their children, rapes and terrorises, sends 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh in only three weeks—and the government pays no penalty for this—what are we saying to the perpetrators? Or to the victims? And to other potential perpetrators across the globe? Xi Jinping openly backs the government of Myanmar and, unusually for the US, given the extent of the horrors, President Trump did not even mention Rakhine when he addressed the UN General Assembly in September 2017. Strong evidence indicates the Burmese military and others may have committed acts of genocide. How much more cruel can humanity be, and how much chaos and pain are we fomenting?

….

And when multiple stress fractures already exist—the result of decades of mediocre leadership—all that’s required is a tripwire. To heal those fractures, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, we must think differently, think more about human rights, and do this with some urgency.

A fracture within society is often shorthand for human suffering or the existence of burning grievances. Before conflicts begin, suffering stems from three types of human rights violations. One is the denial of fundamental freedoms, such as of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly, creating a situation where life and fear of the state become inseparable. A second is the deprivation of basic services, such as legal and social protections or rights to education and healthcare, which often only confirms the hold of political elites over others. And third, feeding the first two, discrimination, structural and deep, propped up by racism, chauvinism and bigotry.

When multiple stress fractures already exist—the result of decades of mediocre leadership—all that’s required is a tripwire

…If we do not change course quickly, we will inevitably encounter an incident where that first domino is tipped—triggering a sequence of unstoppable events that will mark the end of our time on this tiny planet.   Can we swerve in time?   

My hope lies in a set of people not widely known internationally, but familiar to those in the human rights community. Unlike the self-promoters—the elected xenophobes and charlatans—these people do have courage. They have no state power to hide behind: instead, they step forward. They are the leaders of communities and social movements, big and small, who are willing to forfeit everything—including their lives—in defence of human rights. Their valour is unalloyed; it is selfless. There is no discretion or weakness here. They represent the best of us, and I have had the privilege of knowing some of them personally, while others are well known to my office. 

Suffering reflects a massive dereliction of the duty to serve, by those who exercise sovereignty on behalf of their people

This is what true leaders look like. Bertha Zuniga Caceres from Honduras, the young daughter of the murdered environmental activist, Bertha Caceres, who has bravely continued her mother’s struggle. Dr Sima Samar in Afghanistan, who leads the country’s independent human rights commission and is utterly fearless, even when threats to her personal safety abound. The same could be said of Senator Leila de Lima in the Philippines, who has now been arbitrarily imprisoned without trial for 18 months. Pierre Claver Mbonimpa from Burundi, a gentle yet principled soul, undeterred even after his son was murdered and he himself survived repeated attacks.

I have also been deeply impressed by the dignity and courage of Denis Mukwege from the Democratic Republic of Congo, an extraordinary human being by any measure. Likewise, I have been humbled by the determination of Angkhana Neelapaijit from Thailand, whose husband, a lawyer, disappeared in 2004 leaving her to become a most courageous activist, fighting against enforced disappearances. 

There are others too, from Bahrain for example: the Khawaja family, Nabeel Rajab, Maytham Al Salman and Ebtisam Al Sayegh, who have all have shown extraordinary courage in the face of considerable adversity. Hatoon Ajwad Al Fassi and Samar Badawi in Saudi Arabia: courageous leading voices for the rights of Saudi women, both currently in detention. Amal Fathy in Egypt and Radhya Al Mutawakel in Yemen are also two brave individuals who have put their own safety at risk as they have spoken out against injustice and on behalf of victims of human-rights violations. 

Likewise, Ludmila Popovici, an activist against torture in Moldova. In Poland, Barbara Nowacka has been active in organising protests against measures to pull back women’s rights. Sonia Viveros Padilla in Ecuador is fighting for the rights of people of African descent. Close by, in El Salvador, Karla Avelar, the courageous transgender activist, deserves high praise—as does the Peruvian Maxima Acuna, a well-known environmental human rights defender.   

I could continue. There are grassroots leaders of movements against discrimination and inequalities in every region.  These names are just a sample of the real store of moral courage and leadership that exists among us today.      

While some speak from an individual vantage point, fighting specific battles on behalf of their local communities, others lead broader social movements. World-wide, they are not coordinated. But what if they were? What would happen if all the movements supported each other, openly and actively?  

There are grassroots leaders of movements against discrimination and inequalities in every region…the real store of moral courage and leadership among us.

……What if this coordinated, focused, human-rights movement had the backing of business leaders? There are business leaders who are also real leaders, and who have thought seriously about human rights; people like Barbara Novick of Blackrock, Paul Polman of Unilever, Microsoft’s Brad Smith and Deepmind’s Mustafa Suleyman. This has never been done before; but if we did do it, it might just deliver a sort of shock therapy to those dangerous or useless politicians who now threaten humanity. Maybe, just maybe, it would be enough to stop the rot, so that when a fool tips that first domino or strikes the tripwire they hurt no one but themselves, and we can hope that the injury is only a slight one.  

I leave you with that thought. This is my parting note: one of courage and defiance, and a longing for the leadership of the just.

__________

https://www.economist.com/open-future/2018/08/30/grassroots-leaders-provide-the-best-hope-to-a-troubled-world?

——–

See also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/08/22/change-of-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-at-the-un-optimism-warranted/

Human rights defenders to President Weah: the ball is in your camp

January 23, 2018

Africa on Line of 23 January 2018 report that human rights defenders NGOs have urged Liberian President Weah to prosecute war crimes.

The Center for Justice and Accountability describes the two phases of Liberia civil war, which caused the killings of an estimated 250,000 people and request that the atrocities are investigated and prosecuted. “A report by Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released in June 2009 found all sides responsible for serious violations of domestic and international law, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, widespread and systematic rape and sexual slavery, torture, use and recruitment of child soldiers, and mass executions of civilians,” the release said.

Although the TRC recommended the establishment of an Extraordinary Criminal Tribunal in Liberia to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of serious violations of international criminal and humanitarian law, the only prosecutions to date have been outside of Liberia,” it added. Hassan Bility, Executive Director of Monrovia based Global Justice and Research Project and one of the authors of the open letter said: “Justice must be one of the cardinal points of the President’s new agenda. There must be justice for war crimes, otherwise there will be no lasting peace in Liberia.” Mr. Bility, a former journalist and torture survivor of the civil war, helped initiate the arrests of several Liberian perpetrators in Europe and the U.S. in partnership with the Swiss based NGO, Civitas Maxima.

President Weah, during his inaugural address, assured that his administration would protect human rights and justice for all Liberians: “Today, we Liberians have reached an important milestone in the never-ending journey for freedom, justice, and democracy; a search that has remained central to our history as a nation,” .

Reacting to the speech on Monday, Mr. Bility told FrontPageAfrica the President’s commitment to social justice and human rights would make some difference…“This is an opportunity for him to right many of the things that probably slipped through the safety net of the Ellen administration,” he added.

Recent cases such as the conviction of Jungle Jabbah in Philadelphia and the indictments of other alleged war criminals in Europe and the U.S. have shown that prosecuting war criminals will not reignite the civil war in Liberia, as has often been feared, added  Nushin Sarkarati, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Justice and Accountability. “It is time to bring these examples of justice home, and make ending impunity in Liberia a priority.

However, as the the Economist on 4 January 2018 says: Yet there are doubts about the kind of leader Mr Weah will be. Since his election as a senator in 2014, he has rarely attended parliament. Nor has he introduced or co-sponsored any legislation. Mr Weah’s relative lack of education, though, only seems to make him more popular. His supporters see the former slum-dweller as one of them—a champion from their streets. Much will depend on the ministers and advisers with whom he surrounds himself. Liberia needs better roads and schools, more jobs and electricity, and a thousand other things. Presidents, unlike footballers, must aim at multiple goals.

http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/news/6709-human-rights-groups-urge-president-weah-to-prosecute-war-crimes

https://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21734008-far-beautiful-game-champion-footballer-george-weah-wins-liberias

Silencing of Miriam Rodriguez Martinez in Mexico: a loud voice for the disappeared

June 21, 2017

Since December 2012, on average two human rights defenders have been killed every month in Mexico. During his recent visit to Mexico (25 January 2017), United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, highlighted the particular dangers faced by indigenous rights defenders and those campaigning to protect the environment from the impact of mega development projects. The situation of human rights defenders in Mexico is conditioned by the criminalisation of their activities through the deliberate misuse of criminal law and the manipulation of the state’s punitive power by both state and non-state actors, to hinder and even prevent the legitimate activities of defenders to promote and protect human rights,” said Forst. “The failure to investigate and sanction aggressors has signaled a dangerous message that there are no consequences for committing such crimes. This creates an environment conducive to the repetition of violations”Two major contributory factors are the impunity enjoyed by organised criminal gangs and the failure by state authorities to provide protection to HRDs or to bring the perpetrators of attacks to justice. Nothing demonstrates the problem better than the work and life of Miriam Rodriguez Martinez, who was gunned down on 10 May 2017.

The obituary in the Economist of 20 May 2017 tells the sad story of this enormously courageous woman in detail: http://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21722139-campaigner-mexicos-disappeared-was-50-obituary-miriam-rodr-guez-mart-nez-died-may

see also: https://socialistworker.org/2017/05/18/justice-for-miriam-rodriguez

and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/

A symposium on the 1965 massacre in Indonesia is not enough to address impunity

April 23, 2016

As the main author of a book on “Indonesia and the Rule of Law” published as far back as 1987 (Pinter Publishers ISBN 0-86187-919-8; International Commission of Jurists) I cannot be but very interested in the way the Indonesian government deals with the mass atrocities that took place in 1965. It had promised in the elections (Nawacita) to investigate and this is also laid down in its National Medium Term Development Plan (RPJMN) 2015-2019. Under the title “Indonesia: What next after symposium on 1965 massacre, Mr. President?” the Asian Human Rights Commission on 21 April comments on the half hearted start the Government made with a symposium held on 18 and 19 April 2016 in Jakarta. The government, represented by the President’s advisory body, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), the Press Council, and also representatives from other government institutions attended the symposium. Read the rest of this entry »

The remarkable crackdown on lawyers in China in July 2015

July 29, 2015

On 10 July 2015 over 250 lawyers and support staff were detained or questioned by the police in China in one of the largest crackdowns in recent years. Many newspapers and NGOs have reported on this phenomenon. This is the situation on 29 July: Read the rest of this entry »

Asia and human rights defenders: the shrinking space for NGOs

May 26, 2015

In a few recent posts I drew attention to the trend of shrinking space for NGOs in countries such as Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Cambodia [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/draft-laws-on-civil-society-restrictions-also-pending-in-kyrgyzstan-and-cambodia/]. On 9 May 2015, The Economist’s column on Asia (Banyan) was devoted to the same issue, concluding that “Democratic Asian governments as well as authoritarian ones crack down on NGOs“. Under title “Who’s afraid of the activists?” it mentions China, Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

It lists the usual ‘complaints’ that both authoritarian and democratic leaders use against the activities of NGOs, which range from:

  • threats to national sovereignty
  • promotion of ‘Western’ values
  • hidden agenda (such as conversion to Christianity)
  • blocking development through environmental objections.

E.g. the Indian home ministry claims that 13 billion $ in foreign money has gone to local charities over the past decade and that 13 of the top 15 donors were Christian outfits. Interestingly, similar complaints come from the biggest Indian NGO, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which itself has “strong foreign links, draws on an Indian diaspora in America and elsewhere for support, and dishes out help across borders, such as in Nepal following last month’s earthquake”.

Quite rightly the article concludes that in the long run, such limitations only rally political opponents, while (local) NGOs may face close scrutiny themselves one day (when the Government has changed hands): “Battering-rams, after all, have two ends.”

Who’s afraid of the activists? | The Economist.

Charlie Hebdo and PEN: free speech deserves protection, not necessarily an award

May 6, 2015

Last night two members of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, received – under thundering applause –  the “James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award” from American PEN. It followed a raging 10-day debate over free speech, blasphemy and Islamophobia in the social media and op-ed pages worldwide. It started when six prominent writers, including Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje and Francine Prose, pulled out from the gala dinner to protest what they saw as Charlie Hebdo’s racist and Islamophobic content.  Some 200 PEN members signed a letter of protest saying that the award crossed a line between “staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable, and enthusiastically rewarding such expression.” [“To the section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized,” they wrote, “Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering.”]

Others, such as Salman Rushdie,vigorously defended Charlie Hebdo and the prize. PEN quickly found new table hosts, including the cartoonist Art Spiegelman, and the writers Azar Nafisi and Neil Gaiman.

Even The Economist on 5 May stepped into the debate with a historical analysis of Charlie Hebdo [“Since it was founded in 1970, with its roots firmly on the political left, Charlie Hebdohas prided itself on a defiant spirit of irreverent provocation. This fits a long tradition of savage French satire, dating back to the bawdy anti-royalist pre-revolutionary cartoons mocking Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI. Many of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are tasteless, silly and offensive. So silly, in fact, that its circulation had dropped to just 45,000 or so before the terrorist attacks. Most of its targets are political. It gave Nicolas Sarkozy, a former centre-right president, a particularly hard time. These days, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, is a favourite figure of ridicule. Indeed, an analysis by Le Monde newspaper shows that, between 2005 and 2015, 336 of their 523 covers were political, and only 38 religious. Of the latter, 21 concerned Christianity, including an image of a toothy Virgin Mary, her legs apart, giving birth to baby Jesus. Just seven portrayed only Islam.”]

But I think that is not really the issue here. We all (well 99%) agree with the statement of Charlie Hebdo editor Gérard Biard: Being shocked is part of democratic debate ..Being shot is not. SoI stand by my ‘Je suis Charlie’ position [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/charlie-hebdo-attack-intolerance-extreme/], but this does not mean that the magazine should get an award. Many (dead) journalists do not get awards. Awards normally have a bit of ‘role model’ function (in addition to recognizing courage and giving support). The lone protester in front of the building where the ceremony took place held a handwritten sign that in my view captures the issue well: “Free speech does not deserve death / Abusive speech does not deserve an award.”

It is pity that the controversy overshadowed the PEN’s Freedom to Write Award 2015, given to the Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova, who has been imprisoned since early December after writing about corruption allegations against the family of Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev. [http://www.brandsaviors.com/thedigest/award/freedom-write-award]

among the many sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/06/nyregion/after-protests-charlie-hebdo-members-receive-standing-ovation-at-pen-gala.html?_r=0

The Economist explains: The new Charlie Hebdo controversy | The Economist.

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/paris-magazine-attack/award-french-magazine-charlie-hebdo-divides-prominent-writers-n353901

Peace comes dropping slow says The Economist in relation to Malala being passed over for Nobel Prize

October 14, 2013

The Economist of this week (11 October) carries an interesting piece on peace under the title “Peace comes dropping slow”. It argues that MALALA YOUSAFZAI would have been an appropriate recipient of the Nobel peace prize, but that her admirers should be not be too disappointed that the award went instead to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. For the Western world, and indeed for many of her fellow Muslims, Malala is an extraordinary example of disinterested courage in the face of theocrats who practise tyranny by claiming a monopoly on religion and religious law. She was already famous at the age of 11 as the writer of a blog for the BBC Urdu service, giving an impression of life under the rule of the Taliban in her native Swat Valley.
She has been showered with accolades, as this blog has also shown including last week the European Union’s Sakharov prize. However, the Economist piece says that “people who really wish Malala and her cause well should be more relieved than let down. The Nobel Prize has not always brought blessings to its recipients. Mistakes made by Barack Obama as America’s commander-in-chief will be judged even more harshly because he was granted the award in 2009 as a kind of down-payment before his presidency had really got going. Mikhail Gorbachev will probably go down in history as a peace-maker, but the award (in 1990) did nothing to enhance his domestic standing which was in freefall at the time. And whatever history has to say about Henry Kissinger and North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho, garlanded in 1973, it will hardly describe them as doves of peace“[De Klerk and Arafat are not mentioned!]
In Northern Ireland, the article states the peace prize had in some respects a “kiss of death” [mentioning David Trimble, John Hume, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire] ….”Does 16-year-old Malala really need that? She too comes from a part of the world where international accolades can cause jealousy and cynicism as well as admiration. So she may be better off without the big prize. In any case, Malala will continue to pile up various honours and distinctions; and as with Ms Maguire, there is probably a good chance that she will use her fame to say things that disturb and provoke people, even those who are lining up to admire her.

The Nobel peace prize: Peace comes dropping slow | The Economist.

Nils Muiznieks, European Commissioner for human rights, writes to the Economist about the neo-nazi party

July 30, 2013

In the context of the ongoing debate – here in Greece but also elsewhere – on whether ‘hate speech’ and racist parties should be banned, I refer to the following letter to the Editor of the Economist (6 July 2013) by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights:

The far-right in Greece

http://www.economist.com/news/letters/21580437-iran-greece-germany-majoritarianism

“SIR – I fully agree that “Greece needs a more robust anti-racism law (“Racist dilemmas”, June 22nd). But I do not agree that banning the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn political party “could be counterproductive” and may be contrary to the right of freedom of association. I recently reported on Golden Dawn following an official visit to Greece. The leadership of this party has historical links with the military junta that ruled Greece in the 1970s and is openly contemptuous of democracy.

Greek democracy is under serious threat. I have urged the Greek authorities actively to prosecute individual members of Golden Dawn and others who have engaged in hate speech or violent racist attacks. Under international human-rights law the Greek authorities would be within their rights to ban Golden Dawn as well. The right to freedom of association is not absolute and may be restricted to protect the rights of others. Greece is bound by the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, article four of which calls on states to ban racist organisations.

Moreover, Greece is bound by the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, which has found that, under certain conditions, states can impose restrictions on political parties and their members or supporters.

Such restrictions are possible if a political party has been found to use violence to achieve its goals and deny fundamental rights and freedoms, including the principle of non-discrimination.

Nils Muiznieks
Commissioner for human rights, Council of Europe

Strasbourg”

 

Musing on information overload: time off?

November 1, 2011

Admittedly not the best topic to bring up if one wants to increase traffic to one blog, but honesty dictates to shares my thoughts on this with you. It came about by the coincidence of two things: (1) my internet connection is down for technical reasons (I go on-line to do something and then disconnect again), and (2) I read belatedly Schumpeter’s column in the Economist of 2 July 2011 “Too much information”. The latter does not say anything shockingly new but is a good summing up of the problem. Not only the quantity of information is staggering (and continues to ‘stagger’ by doubling the amount of data stored every 18 months) but also the omnipresence and fragmentation due to ease of constant access (broadband, mobile access) is major factor.

The possible solutions include better filtering although I personally have doubt about the real effect of this. If the filters would successfully trim down the overload, it could well risk to make the feeling of stress even worse as the recipients ends up with a larger amount of important and urgent matters that require action or response. The filtering would only be useful if it would reduce the total amount of things to read or see, and one could feel sure that the stuff eliminated is really not important: a substantive SPAM filter that does not need to be checked.

More promising seems to be the ‘solution’ of time off, i.e. disconnecting from the internet and mobile phones completely for at least a few hours a day. This would restore people’s capacity to focus, thus to be more creative and productive as shown by considerable research quoted in the above-mentioned article.

The effect of this on my blog on Human Rights Defenders? Well, one of its purposes has always been to help people to digest the enormous amount of information available even on a relatively narrow topic such as HRDs. The selection may be biased and the way I summarize may be incomplete, but the blogs are usually short and ..- even if due only to my failing internet – there will be less of them for a while.

Johann Hari’s observation comes to mind: there is a good reason that ‘wired’ means both “connected” and “frantic, unable to concentrate”!