Blasphemy Laws and the case of Aasia Bibi

Yesterday, a two-member bench of the Lahore High Court (LHC) upheld the death sentence given to Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted in 2009 of blasphemy.

On June 19, 2009, in a village near Nankana in Pakistan, Aasia Bibi, 50, a mother of five, was jailed after being accused by her neighbors of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed. According to her neighbors, she was working in a field when she was asked to fetch water. Muslim women laborers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl. She entered into a heated debate with her Muslim colleagues, which is when she is alleged to have made the blasphemous remarks.

A few days later, the co-workers went to a local cleric and recounted the blasphemy allegations. Shortly thereafter, Bibi was incarcerated and charged with blasphemy. During her trial, recorded statements of eight prosecution witnesses were presented, and on November 8, 2010, she was sentenced to death by hanging. Bibi became the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law.

In Pakistan, Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which was enacted in 1986, mandates capital punishment for “use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet.” This blasphemy law has become an all-purpose tool in the service of intolerance. Even though there are parts of the law could technically serve to protect all religions from blasphemy, only the Muslim majority has invoked the provision against the Christian minority.

Bibi’s case attracted the attention of then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, who visited her in jail and denounced her conviction as well as the blasphemy law. A couple of months later, Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri. Another high-profile politician, minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti was also murdered in 2011 after calling for reforms to the blasphemy law and describing Aasia Bibi’s trial as flawed.

According to Pew Research, an American research firm, 22% of countries have laws that penalize blasphemy or the insulting of religious symbols. Most of these countries are Muslim and the laws prohibit insults to Islam’s prophet or holy book. However, the list also includes other countries where old laws banning blasphemous or religiously disrespectful speech have remained on the statute books, albeit rarely if ever invoked. Such countries include Denmark, Greece and Germany. As recently as 2009, Ireland introduced a blasphemy law which penalizes “the publication or utterance of blasphemous matter” with a fine of up to €25,000. This law covers blasphemy to other religions as well as Christianity.

As for Bibi’s case, a two-judge appellate panel has dismissed her appeal, but her attorneys can still appeal the case to the Supreme Court for further review.



In recent weeks, Islamic State militants have decapitated American and British hostages, while four French journalists held by some of the same captors were released earlier this year. A former U.S. ambassador to Mali has said the French government paid $17 million to free the French hostages who were kidnapped in Niger in 2010 and subsequently handed over to Al Qaeda.

The latest hostage shown in an ISIS propaganda video is British journalist John Cantlie. In the video Cantlie says European hostages were freed because of actions taken by their governments. The assumption is that the actions to which he refers have to do with paying a ransom for the release of hostages. That is something Canada, Britain and the U.S. have asserted they will not do. The killing of the American journalist James Foley, a few months after the release of his European colleagues held captive alongside him, has underlined the disparities in national policies towards paying ransom, and leads us to examine the merits of such policies.

Hostage-taking is defined under international law (International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, adopted December 17, 1979) as the seizing or detaining and threatening to kill, injure, or continue to detain a person in order to compel a third party to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the seized or detained person. In 2013, all major western countries signed an accord reinforced by a UN Security Council resolution, not to pay ransom to terrorist groups for hostages. However, by all appearances, only the US and the UK have stuck to that commitment. Other European states – including France, Italy, Spain and Germany – have found ways of channeling money to militant groups in exchange for the release of their citizens.

According to reliable sources, Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just last year. The countries that have a policy of not paying ransom for hostages claim that payment of ransom money has unintended but inevitable consequences. The most obvious is that the money paid funds terrorist organizations and furthers their goals. Additionally, the paying of ransom inflates the price for other captives, putting the cost beyond the reach of families or employers trying to negotiate privately.

But those who question the policy of not paying ransom argue that when a human life is at stake a government has an obligation to do anything in its power to save that life. On July 31, 2009, three Americans, Joshua Fattal (27), Sarah Shourd (32), and Shane Bauer (28) were taken into custody by Iranian border guards for crossing into Iran while hiking near the Iranian border in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iran subsequently claimed the three were spies but was never able to offer any evidence to support its contention. Sarah Shourd was released 14 months later on “humanitarian grounds.” Fattal and Bauer were convicted of “illegal entry” and “espionage” two years after their arrest and each sentenced to eight years in prison. However, both were released on September 21, 2011 after payment of 5 billion rial (about US$465,000) bail which was arranged by the Sultan of Oman. Regarding the US policy of not paying ransom for hostages, Fattal has said that “[a]s someone who was held and who was released in part because of a ransom, it seems like it’s important to have the U.S. government be supporting U.S. citizens abroad.”

Those against giving in to the terrorists demands argue that paying ransoms backfires because once a ransom gets paid, the terrorist group has an incentive to take more hostages from your country.  So if a country’s goal is to prevent its citizens from being kidnapped by terrorist groups, the argument goes, the wisest thing to do is to set a policy of not paying ransoms. If terrorist groups think the country will pay, they will be likely they are to abduct its people. On the other hand, given the way these kidnappings often take place, namely, that terrorist groups just kidnap a group of people, often not knowing their nationalities, and then decide what to do with their captives, the question of incentive to kidnap depending of nationality is irrelevant.

There are no easy answers to the question of whether to pay ransom to terrorist groups for hostages; however, one has to wonder, if terrorists kidnapped President Obama’s daughters would a ransom be paid? Would a third country be given authority to negotiate their release? Or would their fates be determined by their captors’ wishes?







More than 4,000 people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone have contracted Ebola since March, according to the World Health Organization. To date, more than 2,300 people have died, mostly in West African countries.

ZMapp, an experimental drug to treat those infected by the Ebola virus has been developed by the biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., based in San Diego. So far, there are some individuals who have been provided with the experimental drug. Two American aid workers, who were the first patients treated for the Ebola virus at a hospital in the United States, recovered from the disease. William Pooley, the first Briton to contract Ebola during the outbreak, was given the experimental drug ZMapp and also recovered. However, father Miguel Pajares, a Spanish Catholic priest who contracted the disease in Liberia was also treated with the experimental drug but he did not respond and died of Ebola on August 12. More recently, on Sept. 5, an American doctor who was infected with the disease arrived in the United States for treatment. In total, 5 out of 7 people treated with ZMapp have recovered.

Mapp Biopharmaceuticals said in a statement that its drug, Zmapp, was only identified as a possible Ebola treatment in January of this year, and has not yet been evaluated for safety in humans or approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. However, while it is true that the FDA must grant permission to use experimental treatments in the United States, the FDA does not have authority over the use of such a drug in other countries, therefore, in theory, the antidote could be administered in other countries with their government’s permission.

As people in Africa continue to die of the disease some have wondered why the experimental drug has not be made available to them. Should untested, experimental drugs to combat Ebola be made widely available?

There are other issues that appear of concern to those studying the spread of Ebola. The WHO says conventional means of controlling the outbreak, which include avoiding close physical contact with those infected and wearing personal protective equipment, are not working in African countries. The reason could be linked to burial practices, which can include touching the body and eating a meal near it. There are also not enough resources in the affected countries to treat Ebola patients. The aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres has expressed the frustration of health workers at the largest treatment centre in Monrovia, Liberia, being completely overwhelmed with the lack of medical supplies and about not having sufficient beds to treat people infected, having to turn people away who might be infected with the virus.

Some have argued that the seriousness of the current Ebola outbreak means there is a moral imperative to abandon normal stringent testing and get the experimental drugs to sufferers as quickly as possible. There are those who even go to the extent of hinting at an underlying racism in the administration of the Ebola experimental treatment. They argue that African lives are worth less than Western ones, and that it is highly likely that if Ebola were now spreading in Western countries, public health authorities would give at-risk patients access to experimental drugs or vaccines.

However, the issue surrounding the moral obligations other countries might have about providing help to those African counties affected by the disease is not limited to the ethics of making widely available an experimental drug to people in Africa, but also about the moral imperative of providing help with the basic resources needed to combat the disease, such as hospitals, beds, medical supplies, etc. These are resources easily available for Western governments and for which no FDA approval is required.

It is difficult to fathom that there would not be a massive response to such a public health situation if the same circumstances were found in Europe, the US or some other place with greater impact on the global economy. The reality is that the response to the spread of Ebola in West Africa has been lethargic, poorly coordinated and devoid of a sense urgency that should always be present when human lives are in peril.


Ugandan’s notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act is overturned but for the wrong reasons

A Ugandan constitutional court declared the country’s anti-gay law illegal. The reason was that parliament did not have a quorum when it was passed. The five judge constitutional court ruled that the speaker of parliament had acted illegally when she allowed a vote on the measure despite the lack of a quorum when the bill was passed. They also found the speaker ignored objections by the prime minister to this effect.

The anti-gay bill, which has been very disputed by international rights groups (and discussed previously in this blog), was signed into law in December by President Yoweri Museveni. The bill provided for homosexuals to be jailed for life, outlawed the promotion of homosexuality and obliged Ugandans to denounce gays to the authorities or be charged with promotion of homosexuality.

Anti-homosexuality sentiment is prevalent in Uganda, and critics have said that Mr. Museveni signed the law to win domestic support ahead of a presidential election scheduled for 2016, which will be his 30th year in power. But Western nation opposed to the bill responded with aid cuts to Uganda’s government in protest since the law was passed. Rights groups say the law triggered a sharp increase in arrests and assaults of members of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community

The government could call for a new session with quorum or appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court.


Since the onset of the ground invasion of Gaza 10 days ago the total Palestinian death toll has risen to 1,058 after 147 bodies were recovered from ruined buildings over the past day (28 July 2014). Israel also announced that another soldier was killed, bringing its total military losses to 43. To this one should add the three civilians that have been killed in Israel by rockets fired from Gaza.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has released a report showing that 218 children – some as young as three months old – have been killed in Gaza, and children comprise 21 per cent of the Palestinian killed to date. Many people in Gaza, Israel and the world are horrified by the death of civilians during the conflict. No one should be surprised about this outcome; armed conflict inevitably results in death, and not just the death of soldiers, but also of civilians. However, the Palestinian Authority,  Hamas, and the Israeli governments have been guilty of serious human rights violations for some time prior to this latest renewal of armed hostilities.

In 2009, the U.N. Human Rights Committee (“HRC”) commissioned a fact-finding mission to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009. The fact-finding mission (known as the “Goldstone Report”) found Israel liable for several violations during the 2008-2009 Gaza Conflict. Specifically, the mission found violations of the: (1) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), (2) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, (3) International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, (4) Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“CAT”), (5) Convention on the Rights of the Child, and (6) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Hamas, the Islamist political party that holds the majority of the seats in the Palestinian parliament, and notoriously hostile toward Israel, has been designated by the European Union, the United States, and Israel, a terrorist organization. It has been estimated that 1,750 rockets and 1,528 mortar bombs were fired from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip against communities in southern Israel in 2008 alone. Hamas’s leadership in Gaza has led to a substantial increase in hostilities toward Israel. Since Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, Palestinian groups, including Hamas, Fatah, Palestine Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Resistance Committees have indiscriminately launched more than 6,000 mortar bombs and rockets on Israel. With no more than a handful of possible exceptions, virtually all the attacks have been on civilian targets as much of the artillery used has little or no guidance or military targeting.

Palestinian and Israeli attacks in Gaza clearly violate many provisions of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. In fact, the attacks violate one of the most basic rules of international humanitarian law: the rule of distinction, which requires combatants to aim all their attacks at legitimate targets—enemy combatants or objects that contribute to enemy military actions. Violations of the rule of distinction constitute war crimes.  One of the corollaries of the rule of distinction is a ban on the use of weapons that are not aimed at legitimate targets. The weapons being used by both sides have been launched in areas where civilian casualties were likely and should have been expected. Such indiscriminate attacks clearly violate international humanitarian law (i.e. the laws of war).

The Palestinian attacks must also be seen as terrorist attacks under a related international convention: the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. This convention makes it a crime to bomb public places (such as city streets) with the intent to kill civilians. This Convention relates to bombings carried out by persons that are non-nationals of the state of which the victims are nationals. Also under this Convention, the Palestinian attackers are considered international terrorists.

To expect or even suggest that a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible might be idealistic and perhaps even unrealistic at this juncture. However, doesn’t the international organization in charge of monitoring compliance with human rights law have certain obligations to innocent civilians dying as a result of the conflict? What could the United Nations do on behalf of the civilians who are stuck in the crossfire of this seemingly never-ending conflict? Is the United Nations stuck by the politics of the Security Council composed by nations concerned with their own political interests? Is the UN losing credibility as an international organization when it allows human rights violations such as the ones occurring in Syria, Gaza, South Sudan, Central Republic of Africa, Nigeria, Ukraine, etc.?


Europe and the “Right to be Forgotten”

With its odd sounding name “The right to be Forgotten” has made its way in recent months into the discussion of privacy/data protection and the internet. This “right” is little more than a long held feeling that an individual should have the ability to remove information from the internet at some point in time based on such reasons as it being incorrect, being unfairly placed on the internet, or simply being having occurred long ago and no longer relevant.

The “Right to be forgotten” was enshrined in the in the 1995 European Data Protection Directive (Directive 95/46 EC). (Directives direct all member States to enact an enforceable framework of laws to give them effect, and form one of the principal bases of governance in the EU). Under Article 12 of the Directive private citizens in the EU were permitted to request removal of information from the Internet. Specifically, Article 12 on the “Right of access” states:

Member States shall guarantee every data subject the right to obtain from the controller:

(b) as appropriate the rectification, erasure or blocking of data the processing  of which does not comply with the provisions of this Directive, in particular because of the incomplete or inaccurate nature of the data;

(c) notification to third parties to whom the data have been disclosed of any rectification, erasure or blocking carried out in compliance with (b), unless this proves impossible or involves a disproportionate effort.

A recent ruling Judgment of the Court (Grand Chamber) in C-131/12 Google Spain v AEPD and Mario Costeja Gonzalez (13 May 2014), has given new teeth to the right to be forgotten and sounded the alarm for search engines, Internet Service Providers and others.  The case began in 2010 when a Spanish citizen presented a complaint against a Spanish newspaper and Google with the Data Protection Agency of Spain. Mr. Costeja alleged that a notice of auction in connection with a bankruptcy notice that appeared in Google’s search results violated his right to privacy because the matter to which the notice related had been completely resolved for several years and was no longer relevant. He initially asked that the newspaper be required to either delete the information or change the pages at issue so that the personal data would cease to appear online; and also, that Google Spain or Google Incorporated be ordered to not make the information relating to him available through searches with his name.

The Spanish Audiencia Nacional (similar to a US District Court) decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union for opinion on the following broadly stated questions:

(a) Whether the Directive 95/46 EC applied to search engines such as Google;

(b) Whether Directive 95/46 EC applied to Google Spain, given that the company’s data processing server was in the United States;

(c) Whether an individual has the right to request that his or her personal data be removed from accessibility via a search engine under Article 12 (the ‘Right to be Forgotten’).

In answer to these questions, the Grand Chamber, which is comprised of 15 judges (including the president and vice-president) found that:

a) Even in cases where the actual server is located outside of the EU, the laws and Directives of the EU are applicable to search engine providers if they maintain a physical presence in any Member State and carry out business intended toward garnering revenue within the the EU;

b) Search engines should be considered “controllers” of personal data. That by search engines qualify by “…exploring the internet automatically, constantly and systematically in search of the information which is published there, the operator of a search engine ‘collects’ such data which it subsequently ‘retrieves’, ‘records’ and ‘organises’ within the framework of its indexing programmes, ‘stores’ on its servers and, as the case may be, ‘discloses’ and ‘makes available’ to its users in the form of lists of search results.” As such the right to be forgotten as enshrined in 95/46 EC also applies to them.

c) As to the last question the Court concluded that the Right to be Forgotten extends to “not only from the fact that such data are inaccurate but, in particular, also from the fact that they are inadequate, irrelevant or excessive in relation to the purposes of the processing, that they are not kept up to date, or that they are kept for longer than is necessary unless they are required to be kept for historical, statistical or scientific purposes.” It went on to state that: “even initially lawful processing of accurate data may, in the course of time, become incompatible with the directive where those data are no longer necessary in the light of the purposes for which they were collected or processed.”

The Court does go on to that the right to be forgotten is not without limits and must be balanced against “the legitimate interest of internet users potentially interested in having access to that information…”  The Court goes on to explain that, “when appraising such requests made in order to oppose processing such as that at issue in the main proceedings, it should in particular be examined whether the data subject has a right that the information relating to him personally should, at this point in time, no longer be linked to his name by a list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of his name.” Interestingly, the Court makes explicit that eth party requesting removal need not establish “that the inclusion of the information in question in the list of results causes prejudice to the data subject.”

With this ruling the EU has confirmed one of the basic rights which to date remained little more than an aspirational right.  The question is whether this ruling applies to specific cases affecting an individual’s right to privacy over information that is no longer relevant or inaccurate, or whether it serves as a harbinger of court intervention to establish such other Internet rights as the right to Opt-In, greater protection from Cookies, or the right to be obscure on the Internet?

By Ivan Mercado


Gibraltar has been a British Overseas Territory since 1713, when Spain, under the Treaty of Utrecht, ceded it to Britain in perpetuity. The territory is just 2.6 square miles in size, and its population is estimated to be around 30,000. Gibraltar applied for full UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) membership and was accepted by the UEFA Congress in May 2013. Therefore, the Gibraltar “national” team will be able to compete in the UEFA European Championship beginning with the 2016 edition of the tournament.

The political situation of Gibraltar has been in dispute for decades. Spain argues that presently Gibraltar is much bigger than it was in 1713, and that in fact, part of its airport as well as housing on the west side of the island are built on reclaimed land. Spain asserts that the cession in the Treaty of Utrecht 1713 does not include the isthmus with the airport on it and the territorial waters, as the Treaty makes no mention about reclaimed land or territorial waters.

Gibraltar demands its right of self-determination pursuant to the universally recognized principle of international law, but Spain cites the UN principle of territorial integrity, through UN Resolution 1514 (XV), which says “any attempt at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” Under the UN Principles of Decolonization, territorial integrity takes precedence over Gibraltar’s right to self-determination. So, Spain argues that Spanish integrity takes precedence over Gibraltar’s right to be independent.

The UK notes that Gibraltar was ceded by Spain in the Treaty of Utrecht 1713, giving “the full and entire propriety of the town and castle of Gibraltar, together with the port, fortifications, and forts there unto belonging… forever, without any exception or impediment whatsoever.” It cites longevity of occupation, and argues that the UN principle of territorial integrity, as per UN Resolution 1514 (XV) does not override the principle of self-determination. The same resolution says: “All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status.”

There was a referendum in Gibraltar in 1967, which called on both Spain and the UK to take into account the “interests” of the people of Gibraltar. In the referendum, 12,138 of the 12,237 voters chose “voluntarily to retain their links with the UK.” The referendum was condemned by the UN General Assembly, and not recognized by any international body or state. In 2002 after diplomatic talks between the UK and Spain, a sovereignty referendum was held. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan to share sovereignty over Gibraltar between the UK and Spain. People from Gibraltar believe the right of self-determination was given to it by the UK in 1960, and that the UN Charter enshrines the right to self-determination of all colonial peoples.

The UN does not recognize Gibraltar as an independent state or its right to self-determination because, among other things, the population of Gibraltar is a community artificially created from heterogeneous origins since 1713 by “colonial processes” rather than indigenous, and therefore thought it might not fulfill the criteria for any form of nationhood that could be interpreted as giving a right to UN “national” self-determination principles.

A large part of the reason for the conflict between Gibraltar and Spain is about money. Spain has accused Gibraltar of being a corporate tax haven, allowing companies and wealthy individuals to avoid paying millions. Spain also believes the border is being abused and draining Spanish resources. Smuggling – cigarette smuggling in particular – and also alleged circumventing of Spanish residency taxes are claimed to be two of the major trans-border issues. Fishing rights are another point of contention, with both sides complaining about incursions by the other into their territorial waters.

The most recent confrontation between the Spanish and the British authorities in Gibraltar happened in 2013, when the police and naval vessels created a maritime cordon around the Gibraltar tug Eliott and the barge MHB Dole as dozens of purpose-built concrete blocks were dumped into the sea. The Gibraltar Government said the reef would encourage marine life and help regenerate the seabed. However, in marking the boundary of British Gibraltar territorial waters in that area, the line of cement blocks also prevents Spanish fishermen from raking the seabed for conch in breach of Gibraltar laws.

Gibraltar is another example of a population demanding its right to self-determination, and although the UN has clear rules based on international law as to what elements must be met for a people to become independent, conflicts around the world based on the right to self-determination are still prevalent (e.g. Catalonia, Northern Cyprus, Kurdistan, the Basque Country, etc.). When considering the competing claims of Gibraltar and Spain both governments have good arguments for their position, and it does not look that the conflict between Spain and Gibraltar will be resolved any time soon.

But at least the Gibraltar national team will be eligible to play in the Euro 2016 football championships. Gibraltar will play against Germany, Scotland, Poland, the Republic of Ireland and Georgia in Group D of the qualifying rounds. The blind draw had originally put Gibraltar in Group C alongside Spain but the UEFA Executive Committee had decided earlier that Gibraltar could not meet Spain, too much political tension I suppose….



Sinn Féin’s president, Gerry Adams, was arrested last week and questioned about his alleged role in one of the most notorious murders during the Troubles. In 1972, Jean McConville, 37, a Protestant-born Catholic convert, was dragged away from her home in the Divis flats complex in west Belfast in front of her children. She was driven across the border to the Irish Republic, shot in the head at a remote coastal spot in County Louth, and then buried in secret. She became the most famous victims of what have come to be known as the “Disappeared.”

The Disappeared make up part of one of the ugliest aspects of the history of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland.  During this time, it is said that a specialist IRA unit was created, allegedly headed by Gerry Adams, and tasked with rooting out informers within communities and making them “disappear.” Some 16 victims were killed by the unit, many beaten and tortured before they were killed, and then hidden around the Republic of Ireland in a effort to strike fear in the nationalist community. Mr. Adams has always denied being involved with the unit or ever being a member of the IRA.

The Troubles, as Northern Ireland’s conflict came to be known, refers to a violent thirty-year conflict that began with a civil rights march in Londonderry on 5 October 1968 and formally concluded with the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 1998. The conflict centered on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. Catholic Irish nationalists, seeking to unify with the Irish Republic to the south, began a violent campaign against Britain and the Loyalist Protestant paramilitaries who supported British rule. This conflict resulted in more than 3,500 people killed and thousands more injured.

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 officially put an end to the Troubles. The deal represented a historic compromise. It created a semiautonomous government body comprising both Catholics and Protestants, and called for disarmament of paramilitary groups, release of jailed combatants, and reorganization of the police force (at the time, 93 percent Protestant). Thus, minority Catholics gained a share of the political power in Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland a voice in Northern Irish affairs. In return, Catholics were to relinquish the goal of a united Ireland unless the largely Protestant North voted in favor of it.

The signing of the Good Friday Agreement offered hope for peace. In a dual referendum held on 22 May 1998, voters in Northern Ireland approved the accord by a vote of 71%, and in the Irish Republic by a vote of 94%. In June 1998, voters chose the 108 members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the locally elected government. However, in June 1999, the peace process stalled when the IRA refused to disarm prior to the formation of Northern Ireland’s new provincial cabinet. Sinn Féin insisted that the IRA would only give up weapons after the new government had been assembled; the Ulster Unionists, Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant party, demanded disarmament first. The new government did not form and brought the entire process to a halt.

By November 1999, a new government was finally formed, and on December 2nd the British government formally transferred governing powers over to the Northern Irish parliament. However, Sinn Féin had made little progress toward disarmament, and so on 12 February 2000, the British government suspended the Northern Irish parliament and once again imposed direct rule.

On 6 May 2000, the IRA announced that it would agree to put its arms “beyond use” under the supervision of international inspectors. Britain returned home rule powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly on May 30th. However, while the IRA did allow for the inspection of some of its arms dumps, the months passed without any real progress on disarmament. The fragile peace process faced another crisis when violence broke out again in Belfast. The clashes began after a group of schoolgirls and their parents were stoned by Protestant youths as they left a Catholic primary school. Rival mobs hurled gasoline bombs, stones, and bottles and set fire to cars.

At the end of 2001, the IRA announced that it had begun to disarm, and it appeared that the peace process had once again been rescued. However, in mid-June British and Irish political leaders called for emergency talks to try to stem the rising tide of violence that had been ongoing in Belfast for several weeks. The street disturbances continued into July, and a 19-year-old Catholic man was shot dead.

In July 2002, during the annual Orange Order parade through Portadown, Northern Ireland, Protestant supporters of the Orangemen (those who march in the parades) hurled stones and bricks to protest the ban on marching down Garvaghy Road, past a Catholic enclave in the town. Many police officers were injured and several people were arrested. Members of the Orange Order march to celebrate the military victory of Protestant King William of Orange over the Catholics in 1690. The “marching season” generally refers to the months April to August in Northern Ireland and “Orange Walks” are held in Protestant communities throughout Northern Ireland.

By late 2002, the situation had deteriorated. The last straw was the discovery of an alleged IRA spy operation within the Northern Ireland Assembly. The power sharing government was again suspended on Oct. 14, 2002; and, in response, the IRA suspended contact with the arms inspectors who were overseeing the disarmament of Northern Ireland’s guerilla and paramilitary groups.

In 2004, negotiations were again underway to reinstate the Northern Ireland assembly.  However, in early 2005, the brutal murder of Belfast Catholic Robert McCartney by the IRA, diminished the IRA’s standing, even in Catholic communities that had once been IRA strongholds. On July 28, 2005, the IRA stated that it was entering a new era in which it would unequivocally renounce violence.

Shortly after parliamentary elections in March 2007, Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, and Rev. Ian Paisley, the head of the Democratic Unionist Party, met face to face for the first time and hashed out an agreement for a power-sharing government. Local government was restored to Northern Ireland in May 2007 as Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, and Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Féin, were sworn in as leader and deputy leader, respectively, of the Northern Ireland executive government, thus ending direct rule from London.

On Feb. 5, 2010, with the signing of the Hillsborough Castle Agreement, Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen, prime ministers of England and Ireland, created a breakthrough in the Northern Ireland peace process. Pursuant to the accord, Britain would hand over control of the six counties’ police and justice system to Northern Ireland.

Since 2010, violence in Northern Ireland has diminished but never completely stopped. In 2011, the Northern Ireland riots, a series of riots in June and July 2011, resulted in hundreds of injured and over 50 arrests. In July and August 2012, marches by the Orange Order and Royal Black Institution, both Protestant organizations, erupted into violence when one of the bands marched outside a Catholic church and played an anti-Catholic tune. The incident resulted in three consecutive nights of violence. In 2013, more than 40 days and nights of violence were triggered by a decision to cut back on the flying of the Union Jack over the City Council building in central Belfast. More than 100 police officers were injured, along with dozens of protesters and bystanders.

Even though the guns have remained largely silent since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, street violence has continued in Northern Ireland, particularly during the summer months of “marching season.” Maintaining peace in the area is a delicate process.  Some say that Gerry Adams recent arrest has “galvanized” republicans and that his arrest in connection with the 1972 IRA abduction, murder and disappearance of Ms. McConville had sharpened Sinn Féin for the election battle. There is also concern that tearing open old wounds will result in a step backward in the peace process.

John Larkin, Northern Ireland’s attorney general, recently advocated for an end to prosecutions for Troubles-related killings, and a stoppage of police investigations, inquests or inquiries into any related killings that took place before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Mr. Larkin says that his proposal would not be a formal amnesty, but a logical consequence of the Agreement.

So far, the UK government has rejected all suggestions of an amnesty. Prime Minister David Cameron called the proposal “rather dangerous,” while Northern Irish politicians angrily asked how time’s passage could make murder undeserving of investigation and prosecution. Those opposed to the concept of a blanket amnesty argue that victims want truth and justice, and by denying victims the notion of justice they are being eliminated from the peace process, and their pain is ignored.

It is a complicated decision. On the one hand, a blanket amnesty would put the past behind for everyone and focus on forgiveness, while on the other; it could be denying the victims of any type of justice for their losses.  A third option proposed is the formation of a truth recovery agency that could offer limited immunity for perpetrators who spoke frankly about crimes they committed during the Troubles. This is reminiscent of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) assembled in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid.

The Troubles remain a sad reality in Northern Ireland and their legacy continues on with no clear end in sight. There are no easy answers, the Protestants and Catholics of the North of Ireland are bound by history to share a land and they must figure out a lasting way to live as one.


Any parent can only imagine the horror of their child being kidnapped. Now multiply that by over 300. Then, add the fear of knowing that your child is in the hands of a volatile terrorist group, the frustration of seeing how your government fails in its duties to protect their people, and the impotence of not being able to speak up for fear of retribution against your child.

On April 14, men dressed in military uniforms abducted over 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Given the number of attacks by jihadists at many schools in the state Borno, the girls initially believed that the unexpected visitors had come to take them to a safe place. Instead it was islamist group Boko Haram that later claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

The group’s name is a Hausa phrase, which translates, as “Western education is sinful.” The terrorist organization seeks to establish a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law, and to stop what it deems “Westernization.” Educating girls goes against their ideals. Boko Haram has been fighting an insurgency in northern Nigeria for the past five years and is responsible for thousands of deaths. This year alone, more than 1,500 people have been killed in the violence.

The girls kidnapped were between the age of 15 and 18, while 53 escaped, more than 276 are still being held captive. There have been unconfirmed reports that some of them had been forced to marry their captors or were taken to neighboring Chad and Cameroon and sold as brides for $12. As former British prime minister Gordon Brown, who is now United Nations special envoy on education observed, the girls’ desperate families do not know “whether they’re about to be murdered or used as sex slaves”.

Last Monday militants from Boko Haram kidnapped eight more girls from a Nigerian village. The abductions came hours after Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was seen on a widely-circulated video vowing to continue kidnapping the daughters of Christians, forcing them to convert to Islam, and selling them into slavery. “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” said the man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in the video.

Nigeria is a Federal Constitutional Democracy and the most populous country in Africa. Its economy (GDP) in 2014 became the largest in Africa, and the world’s 26th largest. Nigeria is expected to become one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2050 and is considered to be an Emerging market by the World Bank. Additionally, Nigeria is one of three countries that have just announced their endorsement of a Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, an initiative by the British government, which has been signed by more than three-quarters of UN member states.

It has been three weeks after the girls were seized, and there is mounting anger in Nigeria about the government’s failure to locate and rescue them. Two days after the kidnappings, the Nigerian military said that the girls were free, which turned out to be untrue. For three weeks, President Goodluck Jonathan said nothing and has yet to visit the region. When he finally began speaking about the abductions, he criticized the parents for not cooperating with the police and not sharing information. He has said his government is doing all it can to rescue the girls, however, his wife, first lady Patience Jonathan, has been accused by activists of ordering the detention of protest leaders who were calling for more action from authorities to rescue the teenagers. It was reported that she called some of the mothers to meet with her and told them to be quiet, as they were bringing shame and embarrassment to Nigeria.

It is believed that the Nigerian schoolgirls are still alive – and could be rescued. On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that U.S. intelligence officials would head to Nigeria to help with the search of the abducted girls. The Nigerian government needs to step up to the plate, take advantage of the help being offered, and bring the girls to safety. Soon.

When Lethal Injection Becomes Torture

Yesterday, April 29, 2013, in the execution chamber of the Oklahoma state penitentiary in McAlester, OK, Clayton D. Lockett was put to death, or, better stated, tortured to death. His execution did not go according to plan and was horribly botched by the state prison officials in attendance resulting in agonizing pain and suffering at the hands of the state officials charged with the execution.  According to published reports, the State of Oklahoma was for the first time using a three drug “cocktail” in which the drugs to be administered were “midazolam” followed by “vecuronium bromide” and ending with “potassium chloride.”

Witnesses described Lockett as convulsing and writhing on the gurney, as well as struggling to speak, before officials blocked the witnesses from seeing anything else by pulling down the blinds to the execution chamber and announcing that there had been a “vein” failure. Lockett’s writhing in pain went on for some three minutes after the first drug was administered. In total he lasted 16 minutes without being pronounced dead, which precipitated the lowering of the blinds and a halting of the execution.

Bizarre as this set of facts may sound, it is not the first reported case of a botched execution by lethal injection. The case of Dennis McGuire in Ohio was widely reported after his execution in January, 2014 also involved his being able to speak after the administration of sedatives and his dying declaration that, “I feel my whole body burning…”  Or the case of Joseph Clark, also in Ohio, in which the execution was reported to have taken some 90 minutes during which, also after administration of sedating drugs, the condemned man was heard saying, “it don’t work. It don’t work.” And in yet another case of a botched execution, Angel Diaz in Florida agonized for 34 minutes and only succumbed after a second IV was inserted and drugs re-administered.  During this entire ordeal, according to published reports, Diaz continually appeared to mouth words.

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Additionally, there is little doubt that the US government is bound by the general jus cogens principle of international law  that states unequivocally that torture is illegal. Torture is expressly prohibited in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948), The American Convention on Human Rights (ratified by the US in 1977), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ratified by the US in 1992) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratified by the US in 1990). The United States Government has certain legal obligations to ensure that they are not participating in activities that can be defined as torture. By experimenting with different drug combinations and refusing to divulge the exact drugs used at each execution the states are effectively using human beings as Guinea Pigs in the search for an effective means for bringing about death. Until the right drug combination is found more people will continue being tortured in the process.

There is no doubt that Clayton Lockett, Dennis McGuire, Joseph Clark and Angel Diaz were all tortured during their executions in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and universally recognized principles of international law.  The case of Clayton Lockett is just the latest indication that an immediate moratorium on all executions should be put in place until appropriate medical studies may be undertaken to ensure that those put to death are not tortured to death.

By:  Ivan E. Mercado