WHERE WE STAND ON FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION

Gambia’s parliament recently approved a bill banning female genital mutilation (FGM) and setting high penalties of imprisonment and fines for offenders. The passage of the law came shortly after Gambian President Yahya Jammeh had condemned the practice for not being commanded in the Quran. According to a 2010 report, 63 percent of Gambian woman and children aged from 14 to 49 have been subject to FGM.

FGM was defined in 1997 by the WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA as the “partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” Procedures for circumcision differ according to the ethnic group, but they include removal of the clitoral hood and clitoral glands, removal of the inner labia, and in the most severe form (known as infibulation) removal of the inner and outer labia and closure of the vulva. In this last procedure, a small opening is left for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid; the vagina is opened for intercourse and opened further for childbirth. FGM is conducted from days after birth to puberty and beyond.

FGM is prevalent in 29 African countries, Yemen, Iraqi Kurdistan, and elsewhere in Asia, the Middle East, and other scattered communities around the world. However, of the more than 125 million girls and women alive today who have undergone the procedure, one in four live in Egypt. That is more than any other country in the world. According to a government report released in May 2015, 92% percent of married Egyptian women aged 15 to 49 have been subjected to FGM. This figure is down from 97% in 2010, probably because FGM has been illegal in Egypt since 2008. However, the practice remains woven into the very fabric of Egyptian society, where many see cutting as a way to “purify” a girl and to show she is ready for marriage.

The practice of FGM has been the subject of international concern and is considered to be a global health issue. FGM has no medical benefits and can cause lifelong physical and emotional trauma for the women who have undergone the procedure. The UN has consistently campaigned for an end to FGM, labeling the practice, among other things, gender-based discrimination, torture, an affront to human dignity and an irreparable, irreversible abuse of the human rights of women and girls. However, FGM has proven to be difficult to eradicate.

Experts that have studied the issue point out that part of the difficulty in the campaigns attempting to eliminate the practice is the common misconceptions around FGM. One misconception is that it is men that force FGM on women. In fact, elderly women often do the most to perpetuate the custom. Many women undergo circumcision voluntarily, and joyfully partake in the ritual. For young girls circumcision becomes a way to prove that they are worthy of the challenge of being a woman. Female circumcision is part of demarcating insider and outsider status. By being circumcised girls become members of a group of elder women who have more power in their community. So, even though the argument is being made that FGM is about the control of women and their sexuality and sexual pleasure, data shows that across Africa, the support for the practice is stronger among women than among men. Women who support the practice justify its perpetuation by saying that FCM is women’s business. As in, it is for women to decide this. In the U.S., adult women are capable of giving consent for surgical procedures, some of which are arguably similar in nature as FGM, consider for instance, a breast reduction, a surgical procedure common in the US and other Western countries. The issue is one of free will. What would it take to get a woman in an African country to be in the same position of being able to give consent? Social pressures in the nations that practice FGM are so strong that no woman could ever opt out. Thus, women who undergo the procedure, even those who seem willing and even proud to participate, might not be doing it really because they want to, but because they feel that to be respected members of the community they have to comply with this custom.

The argument about the lack of free will of those being circumcised is even more powerful in cases where children are forced to have the procedure. In half the countries for which national figures are available, most girls are cut before the age of five. Arguing against suggested similarities between FGM and body shaping in Western countries, philosopher Martha Nussbaum has stated that a key difference is that FGM is often conducted on children using physical force.

It is important to note that FGM is not an individual behavior, such as it could be the decision to undergo a certain surgical procedure for cosmetic reasons. Deciding not to circumcise a daughter is not an individual behavior. That decision would have to be explained to the immediate family (husband, siblings, etc.), to the extended family (the in-laws), and the in-laws would have to answer to their friends throughout the community, which makes the decision particularly difficult to make given the societal pressure.

Perhaps the best strategy to eliminate FGM is to warn about the negative health consequences to the women who undergo the procedure. The dangers and lifelong health problems that women experience after the procedure are particularly serious in communities where the traditional way of circumcision does not include sterilized instruments, antibiotics, and other measures to minimize health complications. So far, it appears that these are the arguments that are most effective in persuading those who believe in tradition that there are some traditions that must be ended, and there has been some progress in the drive to end FGM.

So far, 24 of the 29 countries where FGM is concentrated have enacted legislation against FGM. In the countries were FGM is a common practice, the percentage of girls aged 15 to 17 that have had the procedure has dropped from 74.4% in 2008, to 56% in 2015. In May 2015, as one of his final acts as president, Goodluck Jonathan banned the procedure in Nigeria. Somalia recently announced that it will introduce a law that will ban FGM, as well. This is a significant step in the right direction as Somalia has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation in the world. Egypt has announced a plan to reduce FGM by 10-15% in the next five years. If it works, it will mean that for the first time in decades, “uncut” girls would outnumber those who have had the procedure.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR

DOVE & Globeسنة جديدة سعيدة (Arabic) • 新年快樂 (Chinese) • gelukkig nieuwjaar (Dutch) • Onnellista uutta vuotta (Finnish) • bonne année (French) • Frohes neues Jahr (German) • ευτυχισμένο το νέο έτος (Greek) • kè kontan ane nouvo (Haitian) • שנה טובה (Hebrew) • नया साल मुबारक (Hindi) • felice anno nuovo (Italian) • 새해 복 많이 받으세요 (Korean)• नयाँ बर्षको • शुभकामना (Nepalies) • سال نو مبارک (Persian) • szczęśliwego Nowego Roku (Polish) • feliz Ano Novo (Portuguese) • с новым годом (Russian) • Feliz año Nuevo (Spanish) • Heri ya mwaka mpya (Swahili) • gott nytt år (Swedish) • mutlu Yıllar (Turkish) • chúc mừng năm mới (Vietnamese) • Jabulela unyaka omusha (Zulu)

 

 

WHAT IS THE TPP AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Fort the last five years largely secret talks have unveiled the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a free trade agreement between 12 countries: the US, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru (China is notably absent). Some say it is one of the most ambitious free trade agreements ever signed.

What is a free trade agreement?

A free trade agreement (FTA) is a Treaty between two or more countries to establish a free trade area where commerce in goods and services can be conducted across their common borders, without tariffs or any other indirect trade barriers. There are many FTA’s signed between different countries around the world. An example of such type of treaty is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, the US and Canada. In addition to tariffs, FTAs also cover areas such as government procurement, intellectual property rights, and competition policy.

A difference between a trade agreement and a customs union, such as the European Union, is that capital or labor may not move freely in a free trade area, whereas in a common market it can. Additionally, in a custom union there are common external tariffs (CET) on imports from non-member countries.

The TPP

The magnitude of the TPP in the world economy is significant. The TPP is meant to address tariffs on most good and services, intellectual property laws, and general economic policy. The 12 countries involved in the agreement have a collective population of about 800 million, which is almost twice that of the European Union’s single market. In fact, the 12-country bloc is currently responsible for 40% of world trade. Therefore, the economic and public policy effect of the TPP will not only be seen between the nations involved but also around the world.

Most goods and services seem to be involved, but not all tariffs are going to be removed and some will take longer than others. On textiles and clothing, they will be removing all tariffs, but while the US Trade Representative says most tariffs will be removed immediately after the deal is ratified, tariffs on some products will be eliminated over longer timeframes as agreed by the TPP Parties.

It is not clear which tariffs and services will be immediately affected or which services and countries fall into which category given that the full text has not yet been published.

In favor of the TPP

Those in favor say this trade deal will unleash new economic growth among countries involved. It is also an argument that this agreement will take away some of the power from China, and will empower the trading abilities of the countries involved. Additionally, it will remove all indirect barriers of trade between the countries parties to the agreement and facilitate political relations.

Against the TPP

One of the downsides of FTAs is that it gives powerful economies the ability to impose their will over smaller, developing economies. Most often, this comes in the form of a smaller economy making more concessions than are beneficial in the long term, while the larger economy keeps its trade restrictions in place. Furthermore, critics argue that FTAs promote large, competitive trading blocs that could create economic instability in other parts of the world.

Some also fear that the TPP could mean jobs will move from the US to developing countries, and that it will intensify competition between countries’ labor forces.

When will the TPP be implemented?

It will be sometime before implementation of the TPP. In the next few months, details of how the deal will be implemented will be argued out in individual countries’ legislatures before being ratified. In the US, Congress has granted the President “fast-track” authority over the deal. Presidential “fast track” authority, also called “trade promotion authority,” is the authority of the President of the United States to negotiate international agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster.

Discussions over the deal are likely to take place before Congress in the midst of the presidential primaries, so it will probably turn into a political point for both parties. What is clear is that the TPP is a reality that will affect everyone and thus, it is important to keep informed of new developments.

 

 

PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE: THE REFUGEE CRISIS IN EUROPE

A BRIEF STORY OF THE CONFLICT

The conflict began in March 2011, when pro-democracy protests erupted in the southern city of Deraa, after the arrest and torture of some teenagers who had painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. Security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing several, which followed with more people taking to the streets. These events triggered nationwide protests of people demanding the resignation of President Assad. By July 2011, hundreds of thousands were taking to the streets across the country demanding that President Assad step down.

Supporters of the opposition began to take up arms, first to defend themselves from security forces, and later to expel them from their local areas. Violence escalated and a civil war ensued. By early 2012, fighting had reached Damascus and the city of Aleppo. By June 2013, the UN estimated that 90,000 people had been killed in the conflict. By August 2014, that figure had more than doubled to 191,000, and continued to climb to 220,000 by March 2015.

The conflict that began with prodemocracy demonstrations between those for or against President Assad, quickly acquired sectarian overtones, pitching the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alawite sect. The rise of the jihadist groups, including Islamic State (IS), the extremist group that grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq added a further dimension.

Presently, Islamic State has taken control of large areas of territory across northern and eastern Syria, as well as neighboring Iraq, and are now involved in a “war within a war,” battling rebels and jihadists from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, as well as Kurdish and government forces.

The Islamic State, which has been defined by the UN as a terrorist group, has been waging a campaign of terror in large areas of territory in northern and eastern Syria inflicting severe punishments on those who transgress or refuse to accept its rule, including torture, public executions and amputations. Its fighters have also carried out mass killings of rival armed groups, members of the security forces and religious minorities, and beheaded hostages, including several Westerners.

THE REFUGEE CRISIS

Syria’s conflict has devastated the nation. Current estimates indicate that more than 240,000 people have been killed, including 12,000 children. One million more are wounded or permanently disabled. More than half of the country’s population of 22 million has been forced to leave their homes. Many of them have moved multiple times since the conflict began. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 7.6 million have moved within Syria, and more than 4 million have taken refuge in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. About half of those displaced are children. Absorbing the influx of refugees has been an overwhelming challenge for Syria’s neighbors, with strong implications for the stability of the entire region.

THE EU’S POSITION

Generally, asylum is granted to people fleeing persecution or serious harm in their own country and in need of international protection. Asylum is a fundamental right; granting it is an international obligation, first recognized in the 1951 Geneva Convention on the protection of refugees. At present, 145 countries of the world, including Europe, Canada, the United States and most Latin American countries, are signatories to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Protection of Refugees.

An asylum seeker is a person who has applied for asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention on the Status of Refugees on the ground that if she is returned to her country of origin she has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political belief or membership of a particular social group. A refugee, in the context of the current crisis, means a person fleeing civil war or a natural disaster, but not necessarily fearing persecution as defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention.

In the EU, an area of open borders and freedom of movement, States have usually used a joint approach to guarantee high standards of protection for both, asylum seekers and refugees. However, the current refugee crisis prompted by the Syrian civil war has resulted such an overwhelming arrival of people to some countries, that it is becoming a challenge to reach agreement among the EU States.

Nearly half a million migrants crossed the EU’s borders from January to August 2015, compared with just 280,000 during the whole of 2014. The majority came from Syria but there are also people who came from Libya, Sudan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Kosovo, Iraq, Iran, Darfur, Somalia and other countries in the hope of a new life somewhere like Germany, France or the UK. Under an EU rule known as the Dublin regulation, refugees are required to claim asylum in the member state in which they first arrive. But some EU countries, such as Greece, Italy, and Croatia, have been allowing migrants and refugees to pass through to countries where they may have better prospects.

Yesterday the European governments reached a divisive deal to impose refugee quotas; they agreed to distribute 120,000 refugees among member states. The decision was reached on a majority vote with the objections of four eastern members. Although Slovakia threatened to take court action against the resettlement quotas, the other three countries that voted against quotas reluctantly accepted the plan, but not without expressing their disagreement.

Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, accused Germany of “moral imperialism” over the refugee crisis stating that even if Germany decides to take in more refugees, it should not try to force other countries to do the same. Britain refused to take part in the EU refugee-sharing scheme because it does not belong to the Schengen “open borders” zone in continental Europe, and it opted out of the discussions. Later, David Cameron pledged that Britain would take 20,000 Syrians from camps by 2020.

THE US POSITION

The White House stated last week that the US would take at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year, which begins October 1. Secretary of State John Kerry announced Sunday that the U.S. will raise the annual number of total refugees it accepts over the next few years. The Wall Street Journal reports that under the new plan, the U.S. will take on 85,000 refugees in the fiscal year 2016, which starts in October, and 100,000 in 2017, up from a current annual total of 70,000. The 2016 total would include the 10,000 Syrian refugees the Obama administration has already said it would like to admit.

According to the UN, worldwide, nearly 60 million people have been forcibly displaced. Of that number, 38.2 million are internally displaced, 19.5 million are refugees, and 1.8 million are asylum-seekers. Under the new plan, the U.S. will accept 85,000 refugees next year. This number is undoubtedly large, but it pales in comparison to the scale of the problem, and what other countries, sometimes much poorer than the US, are doing in response. The top six countries to host refugees are Turkey (1.59 million), Pakistan (1.51 million), Lebanon (1.15 million), Iran (982,000), Ethiopia (659,500), and Jordan (654,100).

CONCLUSION

There is no easy solution to the refugee crisis in the world. Although the civil war in Syria, and the resulting flux of refugees in Europe has made the problem more palpable in the last few weeks, the sad reality is that there are millions of individuals that are forced every year to leave their homes for fear for their safety, and almost half of them are children.

Countries in the world have a choice to make: they either provide meaningful help in the resettlement of refugees, or they do not. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that Germany could take as many as 800,000 refugees this year, as compared with the 85,000 the US has indicated it would accept in 2016, and the 20,000 that Britain has committed to accept by 2020.

As long as there are undemocratic regimes in the world, political turmoil, wars and natural disasters happening around the globe, there will be asylum seekers and refugees asking for help. And even though there is no easy solution to the refugee problem in the world, there is something that can be concluded easily, asylum seekers and refugees are people, like us, looking for a safe place to live and raise their families.

SEAFOOD, SLAVERY, AND THE FISH WITH A STORY

Thailand is the world’s third largest exporter of seafood and seafood products. The European Union imported more than $1.15 billion worth of seafood from Thailand in 2013, while the value of seafood imports by the United States exceeded $1.6 billion in 2014. If you live in the US or Europe and purchase shrimp at your local supermarket, it likely came from Thailand, and it is just as likely that it came from slave boats. The situation is pervasive, occurring across sectors, from fishers to processors and in different species, so it is not just shrimp but other seafood products as well.

Trafficking of men and boys from Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand onto fishing boats by brokers is widespread. The majority of these boys and men are illiterate, recruited from rural areas where jobs are scarce. Unfortunately, Thai government officials for years have either turned a blind eye or are complicit in these abuses. Even though last year the State Department blacklisted Thailand for failing to meet minimum standards in fighting human trafficking, placing the country in the ranks of North Korea, Syria and Iran, there were no additional sanctions. The United States continues to buy about 20 percent of the country’s $7 billion annual exports in the industry.

Research conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Labour Organization (ILO), Thai academic institutions, international and national nongovernmental organizations, and global trade union federations has uncovered that work on Thai fishing vessels is extremely abusive. Problems include widespread and systematic use of forced labor, frequent physical abuse leading in some cases to extrajudicial killings, excessive work hours ranging up to 20 hours per day, non-payment of wages, inadequate food and medical services, and dangerous working conditions causing serious injuries to workers.

Crewmembers have reported being punched, beaten with metal rods, deprived of sleep, imprisoned without food or water, and forced to continue working after injury. Travel documents are often confiscated and withheld; cases of abandonment are also reported. Violations of fair and promised pay are common, particularly the extraction of “agency fees” and the withholding of pay at the end of the contract period. Recruited crew members may pay up to several times their supposed monthly wage for these “fees”, and there have been reported examples of fishers working without pay for several years.

The Thai fishing industry remains heavily reliant on trafficked and forced labor. Poor and chaotic fisheries management has resulted in the majority of Thailand’s fisheries becoming over-exploited. As boat operators have looked to cut costs, working conditions and wages have suffered, causing many workers to turn away from the industry. This situation has led to a significant labor shortage, with a shortfall estimated to be as high as 50,000 people and increasing. This labor shortage fuels abusive practices in the fishing industry, with employers and brokers resorting to deception, corruption, coercion and violence in order to meet the demand for workers.

Fishing boat owners and captains have regularly resisted efforts to regulate conditions of work on fishing boats, and have denied that abuses occur. The profit margin for them is considerable. Widespread human trafficking and abuse is allowed to continue, in part, because the supply chain remains a black box, even to those within the industry. Even though most distributors, buyers, and exporters of seafood are aware that human rights abuse is a problem in the industry, most of them do not believe it happens in their company’s supply chain.

Consumers are also blind to this situation on many fronts. Between 25 and 70 percent of all fish sold in North America and Europe is mislabeled—wrong species or wrong country of origin. As a result of mislabeling, consumers do not know what kind fish they buy, where it comes from, or the human cost involved in fishing it. The fish we buy and eat do not have a story.

Customers are willing to pay for a story, and that willingness to pay can be a vehicle for profound environmental and social change. For instance, Starbucks tells its customers the story of Fair Trade coffee, and customers at the supermarket buy cage-free eggs and grass-fed beef based on the story behind the products. These labels and the stories they tell are about making the world a better, fairer and more compassionate place, and customers are willing to pay for that.

With regards to seafood, a consumer who understands that the reduced price of seafood at the local supermarket is the result of the slavery and inhumane treatment of those who fish it, or the result of unsustainable fishing practices, might prefer to pay a higher price for seafood caught by a local fisherman who fishes sustainably and who treats its employees with dignity. The story matters.

Bar codes and auditable traceability technology can help the supply chain carry better stories. However, customers must also do their part and demand a more responsible fishing industry even if prices for seafood increase. Some argue that customers will not pay more for their seafood regardless of where it comes from, but fifteen years ago, many argued that no one would pay extra for coffee that delivered a guaranteed price to farmers, and today Fair Trade coffee is everywhere. For those who care about human rights and sustainability, the first step is to ask for the fish with a good story.

 

UNIVERSAL JURISDICTION AND JUSTICE FOR THE VICTIMS: THE CASE AGAINST HISSÈNE HABRÉ

After a two-decade campaign for justice by the victims, the trial in Senegal of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré is set to begin July 20, 2015. Habré will stand trial on charges of crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes before the Extraordinary African Chambers (the chambers) in the Senegal court system.

Habré seized power in 1982, in a CIA-backed coup, and ruled with an iron fist until his overthrow in 1990. In December 1990, the CIA and state department’s Africa bureau loaded C-141 cargo planes with weapons and proceeded to save the dictator in return for his eight-year collaboration with Ronald Reagan’s covert effort to destabilize Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. Since 1990, he lived with impunity in Dakar for 22 years.

Habré’s regime has been described as oppressive, cruel and inhuman. Souleymane Guengueng, a former bookkeeper recounts how he was held on insignificant political charges for nearly three years. First, he was held in solitary confinement, then packed so tightly with other prisoners they could not even lay down to sleep. Being kept alternately in total darkness or blazing electric light, 24-hours-a-day for months on end, left him nearly blind. He was hung from his testicles after being caught leading prayers for other prisoners. While in captivity he suffered from malaria, pulmonary edema and hepatitis, losing the ability to walk for months. What he suffered exemplified Habré’s regime.

Guengueng survived until he was freed with thousands of other prisoners in December 1990, when a new set of rebels, led by Chad’s current president, Idriss Déby, ousted Habré. Habré escaped to Senegal, with some $12m he had pilfered from national bank accounts, enough for him to live comfortably and buy him political supporters in Senegal to protect him for years.

After his release, Guengueng spent months quietly collecting testimonies of other prison survivors and eventually gathered over 700 testimonies. Eventually, an American Human Rights lawyer, Reed Brody, took an interest in the case, turning those testimonies, years later, into the core of a groundbreaking legal effort by Chadian victims and Chadian and international attorneys to hold Habré accountable for his crimes. Traveling with Guengueng and other Chadian victims, Brody and his team filed the first criminal complaint against Habré in Dakar in January 2000.

Habré’s trial will be the first in the world in which the courts of one country, based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes. The term “universal jurisdiction” refers to the idea that a national court may prosecute individuals for any serious crime against international law — such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and torture — based on the principle that such crimes harm the international, which individual States may act to protect. Generally, universal jurisdiction is invoked when other, traditional bases of criminal jurisdiction do not exist, for example: the defendant is not a national of the State or the defendant did not commit a crime in that State’s territory or against its nationals.

The first precedent for Universal Jurisdiction was seen in the case of General Augusto Pinochet. He was indicted for human rights violations committed in his native Chile by Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón on 10 October 1998. He was arrested in London six days later and held for a year and a half before finally being released by the British government in March 2000. The judiciary committee of the British House of Lords (the United Kingdom’s supreme court) concluded that “international law has made it plain that certain types of conduct . . . are not acceptable conduct on the part of anyone.” Pinochet was eventually authorized to return to Chile to face charges for a number of crimes. The interpretation of international law in Ex parte Pinochet grants any magistrate anywhere in the world the power to demand extradition of a person accused of crimes against international law.

The ideal behind the concept of Universal Jurisdiction for international crimes is that it would permit governments to prosecute the perpetrators of crimes against humanity wherever they were found. Mass killers who had fallen from power could be punished regardless of where they were found. In cases where the government of the country where the atrocities took place might be too weak or compromised to prosecute, some government without a history of complicity in the crimes could reach out and punish an international criminal. The thought is that the prospect of being prosecuted anywhere might motivate some rulers to put a stop to massive crimes.

Detractors of Universal Jurisdiction state that it becomes an impediment to national reconciliation procedures set up by new democratic governments to deal with their countries’ questionable pasts. Additionally, they claim that once the Pandora’s box of jurisdiction has been opened, the political pressures on international prosecutions are difficult to control. A good example is Belgium, which, until recently, had a statute providing for jurisdiction over international crimes, whether there was any connection to Belgium or not. Its courts became a haven for political claims against national leaders, claims that had no chance in the country where the events took place. Complainants sought to prosecute Ariel Sharon for abuses in Lebanon, and former president George H.W. Bush for a bombing in Baghdad during the first Gulf War. U.S. The law was eventually amended when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, threatened to withdraw NATO headquarters from Brussels, Belgian parliament weakened the jurisdiction to the point where it is available only if the victim or the accused is Belgian.

In the case of Hissène Habré, President Obama has publicly praised Senegal’s establishment of the Extraordinary African Chambers to try the worst crimes of Habré’s government. Obama said the United States would provide resources to support the work of the tribunal. Reed Brody, counsel for the victims has stated that “[i]f Hissène Habré’s trial is conducted in a fair and transparent manner it could mark a turning point for justice in Africa.”

After 22 years seeking justice, a trial in this case is also turning point for the victims and perhaps a step in the right direction in the development of justice for international crimes.

ALL THE FUSS ABOUT KILLER ROBOTS

This week in Geneva, Switzerland, the United Nations’ Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) is once again hearing from technical and legal experts on the subject of “Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems” (LAWS), which are weapons that can make lethal decisions without human involvement—i.e., killer robots.

Parties to the CCW will consider policy questions about LAWS and whether there should be a protocol added to the CCW that would regulate or ban LAWS. Experts will debate what level of “meaningful human control” robots, or any weapon, should be required to have. The conclusions of this meeting could have far reaching ramifications for the future of war.

The following questions have been previously raised by UN experts in a 2013 report:

  • …is it morally acceptable to delegate decisions about the use of lethal force to such [autonomous] systems?
  • If their use results in a war crime or serious human rights violation, who would be legally responsible?
  • If responsibility cannot be determined as required by international law, is it legal or ethical to deploy such systems?

What are killer robots?

That depends on whom you ask. Manufactures of this technology would define a killer robot as, a robot that can make a decision to use lethal force without human intervention. However, Human Rights Watch broadens the definition to include any robot that can choose to use any type of force against a human, even if that force is not lethal. What is agreed is that all LAWS are already regulated by existing International Humanitarian Law (IHL). LAWS that cannot comply with IHL principles, such as distinction (from civilians and combatants) and proportionality (an attack must not be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated) are already illegal.

The phrase “meaningful human control” has caused some debate among diplomats. A great deal of the discussion in the LAWS debate is about humans and the term “loops”, which can be explained as follows:

-Human “in the loop”: the robot makes decisions according to human-programmed rules, a human hits a confirm button and the robot strikes.

-Human “on the loop”: the robot decides according to human-programmed rules, a human has time to hit an abort button, and if the abort button is not hit, the robot strikes.

-Human “off the loop”: the robot makes decisions according to human-programmed rules, the robot strikes, and a human reads a report a few seconds or minutes later.

-Finally, there is “robot beyond the loop”, where there is the largest concern. In this case, the robot decides according to rules it learns or creates itself, the robot strikes, and the robot may or may not let humans know.

What is the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW)?

Also known as the “Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects,” there are 120 nations that are ‘high contracting’ or state parties, including all five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

The CCW was adopted in 1980 and contains five separate protocols on various weapons and explosive remnants of war, already covering non-detectable fragments, mines and booby traps, incendiary weapons, blinding lasers and the explosive remnants of war. The CCW also provided a useful incubator for efforts to address the humanitarian consequences of antipersonnel landmines in the 1990s and cluster munitions in the 2000s. A Protocol VI added to the CCW banning “off the loop” LAWS, might be an option.

The Case for and Against Killer Robots

There are already plenty of examples of how technology has changed warfare. For the military, war robots can have many advantages: They do not need food or pay, they do not get tired or need to sleep, they follow orders automatically, and they do not feel fear, anger, pain or remorse. Furthermore, no one would mourn if robot soldiers were destroyed on the battlefield. The most recent and controversial example of how new technologies have changed war is the rise of drone warfare. But even these aircraft have a pilot who flies it by remote control, and it is the humans who make the decisions about which targets to pick and when to fire a missile.

On behalf of not banning LAWS some argue that robots should be regarded more as the next generation of “smart” bombs. They are potentially more accurate, more precise, completely focused on the strictures of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and thus, in theory, preferable even to human war fighters who may panic, seek revenge or just make human mistakes.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch, in a report released before the CCW meeting, has argued that fully autonomous weapons would make it difficult to attribute legal responsibility for deaths caused by such systems. As the report notes: “[a] variety of legal obstacles make it likely that humans associated with the use or production of these weapons – notably operators and commanders, programmers and manufacturers – would escape liability for the suffering caused by fully autonomous weapons.”

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (CSKR), an international coalition working to preemptively ban fully autonomous weapons formed by a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 2012, advocates for a ban on LAWS similar to the ban on blinding lasers in Protocol IV of the CCW and the ban on anti-personnel landmines in the Ottawa Treaty. They argue that killer robots must be stopped before they proliferate, and that tasking robots with human destruction is fundamentally immoral. The biggest concern is the potential next generation of robotic weapons: “robots beyond the loop,” the ones that make their own decisions about who to target and who to kill without human control, a scary thought, indeed.

THE FEAR OF CYBER ATTACKS, THE GOVERNMENT, AND THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY

In response to a series of major data breaches at US companies in recent months including Sony, Anthem and Target, President Obama unveiled a series of cyber security proposals in his last State of the Union address in January. Obama followed up on this declaration of intent by signing a new executive order during the Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection organized by the White House at Stanford University in February.

Obama’s executive order encourages the development of Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations (“ISAOs”), providing legal-liability protection to make it easier for businesses and government to share online threat data specific to their industry or geographic region. The order also increases the role of the Department of Homeland Security in the data-sharing process by permitting it to enter into agreements and coordinate the ISAOs.

Mr. Obama’s renewed focus on cyber security has been mostly welcomed by the tech industry, however, the president continues to encounter some of the same suspicions over the privacy of online data that were so effectively highlighted by the Edward Snowden revelations about the NSA in 2013. Although Cyber terrorism is a reality, the concern is that unless there is a balancing between governmental intrusion and the individual’s right to privacy, people’s rights will be violated as they have in the past.

The right to privacy has been affected previously by extraordinary events around the world such as terrorism. While society has not been willing to sacrifice individual civil liberties lightly, it has done so in circumstances where the prevalent belief was that personal security has been threatened. In recent times, surveillance regimes that have been adopted as anti-terrorism measures have had a profound, chilling effect on other fundamental human rights.

The most drastic change affecting privacy in the laws of the United States occurred in response to the 9/11 attacks, when President Bush signed into law the anti-terrorism statute titled Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, more commonly known as the USA PATRIOT Act. Among other things, the Patriot Act expanded the wiretapping and electronic surveillance powers of federal law enforcement authorities, and increased the information-sharing powers of investigative agencies. It also allowed law enforcement to demand libraries, bookstores, and businesses to produce tangible items, such as papers, books, and records, about persons of interest, while forbidding disclosure of such a demand. It further authorized searches conducted without giving contemporaneous notice of the search or an actual warrant for the search.

At the end of 2005, an article appeared on the front page of the New York Times chronicling widespread monitoring of telephonic and Internet communications by the NSA—National Security Agency.   These intercepts occurred with the direct authorization President Bush, and were undertaken without approval or oversight by the judiciary, beginning shortly after the 9/11 terrorists attacks. This wide-ranging program targeted interception of email and telephone calls with the number of those targeted ranging from the hundreds to possibly thousands. The effect of such wholesale violation of the right to privacy caused uproar among regular citizens who thought that such governmental intrusion on their personal affairs was overreaching and unwarranted.

Acts of terrorism and a fear for our personal security have historically intersected the privacy protections recognized by governments, and at times, served to take a few steps back in the universal recognition of the right to privacy. However, the government’s unsound arguments positing that the only way to offer protection was to infringe in our right to privacy have not been successful in the long term. People have recognized the obvious flaw with the proposition that there must be a trade off between privacy and security. Our willingness to sacrifice our privacy for security has been short-lived, and eventually, the tide has had to turn back by popular demand.

Upon further reflection and discourse on the effect of excessively curtailing civil liberties, the conclusion must be that a balance between security and respect for human rights is necessary in a civilized society. The two are not mutually exclusive; it is possible to demand cyber security and the protection of the right to privacy at the same time. The government must be very careful not to institute measures that will encroach on peoples’ hard fought civil liberties. The efforts made by Obama through his new initiative must carefully be monitored so that the right to privacy of individuals is sufficiently protected both by government and private entities.

MEXICO HAS TO CLEAN HOUSE: BUT THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY MUST HELP

On September 26, 2014, in the southern state of Guerrero, a group of 80 students from a Rural Teachers Training School in Ayotzinapa were attacked by the municipal police of Iguala. According to reports of witnesses in the area, the police opened fire without warning and then captured 43 young men. It was later revealed that the 43 men were subsequently turned over to a criminal gang known as Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors), which then caused the disappearance of all 43. It is known that at least one student was tortured, his eyeballs taken out and his face skinned. To this day, the actual whereabouts of the missing students remain unknown.

It is hard to believe that police could be involved with criminal gangs and actively participate in such a heinous crime, but it is even worse because in Mexico corruption goes beyond the police. Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam found evidence that Jose Luis Abarca, the arrested former mayor of Iguala, and his wife were working with Guerreros Unidos and ordered police to attack the students because the mayor feared they would disrupt an event to promote his wife’s political ambitions. In addition to the mayor of Iguala and his wife, several local police officers were also on the payroll of the criminal organization, and dozens were believed to be involved in the kidnapping and alleged murder of the students.

The disappearance of the students and the protests throughout Mexico in connection with them has shocked the world. The White House, Pope Francis and the EU have all taken up the matter in recent public statements. However, the tragedy of the students’ disappearance is miniscule as compared with the broader problem Mexico has with crime and the drug cartels that dominate the landscape of the country from one end to the other.

Mexico is the third largest poppy producer in the world, and 60% of it is grown in Guerrero state alone. Guerrero is considered a “narco state” and the war between cartels there has been savage. Guerreros Unidos fights other gangs such as La Familia and Los Rojos for control of the smuggling routes. So, in Iguala, a Guerrero key city for drug trafficking, disruptions to average citizens are part of every day life. However, what goes on in the state Guerrero is only part of a much broader and serious problem across the whole country.

In the last eight years, in the context of the war against drugs, about 120,000 people have been killed, more than 30,000 have disappeared, and a quarter of a million have been displaced in Mexico. A UN report estimated that 17,958 people were killed worldwide in terrorist attacks in 2013. The Mexican government reported that there were 31,532 homicides in the country between January and November of 2013 including 16,736 labeled as “intentional” murder and 14,796 as “negligent” manslaughter. This figure released by the Mexican government does not take into account individuals who have disappeared but not been labeled yet homocides.

A major investigation into mass graves in Mexico found the corpses of 24,000 people, all of them related to “narco crimes” of one type or another. Entire cities and towns have erupted into war zones replete with military checkpoints and drug cartel roadblocks. Armed with military grade weapons, including grenade launchers, the drug gangs are an equal match for Mexican soldiers and those police who have not been corrupted and are still willing to fight the gangs.

Given this reality, it is hard to distinguish between criminals and law enforcement. Many local politicians, federal and state lawmakers, party leaders, police chiefs and military bosses are closely tied with or identified with the criminal gangs. Drug cartel assassins, the military, and the police have all committed atrocities and violated human rights. Dismembered body parts have been left on streets or found decomposing in barrels of acid. Dead bodies with mouths duct taped often hang from commuter bridges. Women are raped and murdered, and journalists who expose law enforcement corruption are kidnapped and killed. People are afraid to report any crimes for fear of reprisals, and the current rate of unsolved murders is somewhere between 96 and 98%.

Mexico’s largest and most powerful drug gangs are the Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel. The Zetas operate in more than half of Mexico’s states and overtook their rivals (the Sinaloa cartel) in 2012 in terms of geographic presence and control. The Zetas’ brutal violence gave the gang an advantage over the Sinaloa cartel, which has always preferred to use bribes (mainly to police and politicians) to acquire territory and take over drug smuggling routes. Although the arrests of Zeta leader Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales in 15 July 2013, and of Gulf cartel (the oldest Mexican drug gang) leader Mario Armando Ramirez Treviño in 17 August 2013, were expected to have an impact on their respective organizations and on the overall problem, there has been no decrease in drug related violence since their arrests.

Despite President Enrique Peña Nieto’s stated efforts and various initiatives to combat drug cartels, drug related violence in Mexico continues to increase.  Before taking up office, he said he would break with the approach of Felipe Calderon, his predecessor, who had deployed the army to go after cartel kingpins and had declared “war” on the drug gangs. Mr. Peña Nieto promised a lower-profile approach aimed at tackling the violence on a local level by setting up a national police department to handle drug related crimes. However, when the violence escalated in Michoacan, he too sent the army to back up federal and local police forces. He also decided to strike a deal with vigilante groups, allowing them to keep their weapons as long as they agreed to be integrated in the official security forces.

As most nations focus on events in Syria, Egypt, and Iran, another violent struggle that is constantly taking human live is taking place in Mexico. Despite enormous casualties, the turmoil in Mexico does not receive nearly the level of scrutiny or attention that conflicts in other countries do. Everyone recognizes that Mexico has a serious problem with the drug cartels but there has been no concerted international initiative to eradicate it as there has been with terrorism.

The drug problem in Mexico is reminiscent of the drug problem that Colombia had in the nineties. Colombia was the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and heroin and a focal point for money laundering and arms trafficking in the Western Hemisphere. Its government had waged a losing battle against insurgents and drug traffickers for over two decades, and drug-related violence was steadily on the increase throughout the early nineties.

In 1999, the Clinton Administration backed the then newly elected Colombian President Andrés Pastrana’s agenda to curb drug smuggling. “Plan Colombia” included provisions for more aggressive eradication and interdiction efforts, encouraging rural guerrillas to disarm through peace talks, replacing coca farmers’ lost income with alternative crops and employment programs, and strengthening the country’s historically weak government. Of the plan’s initial $7.5 billion cost, the Clinton Administration committed $1.3 billion for eradication and interdiction, the European Community was asked to commit $2 billion for alternate crop development and government reform, and Colombia committed $4 billion overall to the plan. By 2012, the US had spent nearly $8 billion on the initiative.

Since Plan Colombia began in 2000, the positive changes in the security situation in Colombia are undeniable. Under the rubric of “democratic security,” developed by Álvaro Uribe, Colombia’s two-term president (2002–2010), the presence of the national police was extended throughout the country, to all of Colombia’s 1,300 municipalities. Due to the strengthened capacity of Colombia’s security forces and vastly improved intelligence capabilities, kidnappings declined between 2002 and 2009, from nearly 3,000 to just over 200 annually, and killings were reduced by nearly half in the same period. President Juan Manuel Santos, who took office in 2010, built on the foundation established during the Uribe administrations, and also emphasized extending the permanent, regular presence of security forces in small towns. Plan Colombia is today seen as a success for Colombians and for those who supported the initiative.

The situation in Mexico is difficult but not hopeless. Based on the experience of Colombia, there is reason to think that with help, Mexico can also win the war against the cartels and become a safer place. However, the international community must get involved. Merely analyzing the Mexican situation and doing nothing to help should not be an option; the human costs are too great.

 

 

Why have the Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram still not been rescued?

On April 2014, in the northeastern Nigerian village of Chibok, Boko Haram militants abducted 276 girls; seven months later, more than 200 remain in captivity. Boko Haram leader Abubaker Shekau recently released a video mocking any attempts at a rescue. With regards to the girls, he stated: “[w]e have married them off … [t]hey are all in their marital homes.”

Even after all the international outcry and support for the girls when the kidnapping occurred, and Nigeria’s president vows to rescue the girls, why are they still in captivity?

Boko Haram is a powerful religious sect in the north of the country that has claimed thousands of lives over the years in its violent campaign to create a religious state. Bombings, shootings and kidnappings have become common events, and the group is estimated to control an area of northeast Nigeria the size of Rhode Island.

An important reason the girls have not been rescued is due to Nigeria’s failure to effectively counter Boko Haram from a military/policing standpoint. The military has a bad track record when it comes to fighting the militant group. A day after the abduction, they claimed to have rescued the girls, but later had to retract that claim. Then, in May 2014, they released a statement saying they knew where the girls were being held, but would not use force to rescue them. And in a tragic incident early last month, several Nigerian troops were killed by their own air-strikes aimed at Boko Haram hideouts.

Distrust of the Nigerian military from the civil society also contributes to the continued failure in dealing with Boko Haram.  In Nigeria, many civilians consider the Nigerian military to be as bad as Boko Haram when it comes to human rights violations, even in the face of the continued reign of terror that is perpetrated in the north of the country by the terrorist organization. In order to capture key Boko Haram leaders and to cut off funding sources that might weaken the militant group, it would be essential for the government to win the support and trust of communities in that part of the country. Many of these communities feel abandoned by the central government, terrorized by Boko Haram, and yet they still do not trust the military—which makes gaining any traction in the fight against the group extremely difficult.

This poor record on human rights of the Nigerian military also hinders international efforts to lend a hand in the fight. Because of the poor human rights record of the Nigerian military, other countries, including the United States, are hesitant about cooperating more in their efforts to rescue the girls. The US and other countries are concerned about how much they can cooperate because they do not want to be associated with the kind of abuses that have already been documented in connection with the Nigerian military.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women and a United Nations Under-Secretary-General has said that, “[o]ur world must not forget these adolescent girls…. [t]he world must come together and make every possible effort to rescue these girls and bring their captors to justice. We cannot and must not move on with this humanitarian tragedy still unresolved.” This is a statement with which everyone can agree; and the parties involved, including the Nigerian government, its military, and other nations must make more of an effort to ensure that the girls are returned home soon. We must not forget these girls.