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The Criminal Misogyny of Boko Haram

Women at a Nigerian traditional coronation ceremony. (Source: Linda Adiele/Wikimedia Commons)

We all remember #BringBackOurGirls, a movement built around protesting the kidnapping of over 200 girls from Chibok Government Secondary School in Borno State, Nigeria.

Boko Haram has continued to abduct women and children in the eight months since that mass kidnapping. A December raid just north of Chibok included a kidnapping of at least 185 women and children. In a recent kidnapping that crossed over into neighboring Cameroon, Boko Haram took as many as 80 victims, with as many as 50 being children. Following the attack on Baga, in which as many as 2,000 were slaughtered, 300 women and children were imprisoned in a school. During that assault on Baga, reports indicate a woman was murdered while giving birth. The list goes on.

Russell Davenport: World Citizen, Political Strategist

Voice of America: We Want Willkie, Wendell Willkie Poster Stamp (Courtesy of Amazon.com)

 Progress results only from the fact that there are some men and women who refuse to believe that what they know to be right cannot be done.

--Russell Davenport

With the US presidential campaign preliminaries already being discussed in the Democratic and Republican parties, it may be useful to recall one of the most innovative of campaign strategists: Russell Davenport, the spirit behind those chanting “We want Willkie” at the 1940 Republican convention in Philadelphia.

Russell Davenport was one of the founders of the early 1939 World Citizens’ Association along with Quincy Wright, professor of international law at the University of Chicago, and Adlai Stevenson, then a young Illinois lawyer. Davenport was a resolute opponent of the isolationist movement then strong in the Republican Party (and among some Democrats as well). As he wrote,

There come times in history of every people when destiny knocks on their door with an iron insistence…the shape of things to come depends on us: our moral decisions, our wisdom, our vision and our will.

However, it was less because of his role in the world citizens’ movement than because he was the editor of Fortune in Henry Luce’s publishing empire that early supporters of Wendell Willkie brought the two men together in the summer of 1939 at a Fortune brainstorming session with industrialists, bankers, labor union leaders, economists, and sociologists.

Long Live Freedom of Speech?

The Eiffel Tower at Night. The Eiffel Tower went dark for five minutes on Thursday, January 8, to mourn the dead from the terrorist attacks of the previous day.

Following the despicable terrorist attacks on the staff of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7th, a public discussion on the importance of free speech in global society has ensued. While discussion has ranged from the importance of free speech in general and satire in particular to the need to temper speech with respect, these discussions are themselves emblematic of a kind of triumph over narrow-minded extremism: public argument, whether civilized, vulgar, or anything in between, is beyond what a fundamentalist society could permit.

However, the public conversation has been too quick to argue merely for the virtues of free speech in the face of Islamist dogma or against hate speech in favor of conciliation when a much more sinister threat faces global society. Our opportunity to thrive, as nations and as a global people, is harmed more directly and more deeply by institutional limits on free speech than by the occasional attack from outside. These limits take many forms: censorship, media imprisonment and intimidation, domestic spying, to name just a few.

But as we permit—and in some cases, even endorse—these limitations on freedom of speech and expression throughout our societies and around the world, we critically harm the fabric of democracy and individual rights. Institutional restrictions on free speech hamper our ability not only to freely express our own conscience, but also our ability to understand social and political issues and make informed decisions. Furthermore, such restrictions enable the powerful to stockpile their resources and limit the freedom of billions.

An Activism and Safety Case Study: North Korea and The Interview

The recent movie The Interview released by Sony Pictures on December 25, 2014 has caused a huge amount of controversy. Some say it’s an expression of freedom of speech. Others call it a blunder that threatens US Security and/or claim that we really shouldn’t be surprised by North Korea’s response to this film.

North Korea is known to the world as one of worst violators of human rights as it seeks to control every aspect of its citizens’ lives, and those who don’t abide by the regime can face life-threatening consequences in the form of extra-judicial executions or imprisonment in gulags. Some human rights and democracy advocacy organizations seeking a politically freer North Korea plan to drop bootleg copies of the movie so that citizens can view it in the privacy of their own homes like some have done with other foreign movies.

These foreign movies have helped many North Koreans see beyond the propaganda they are fed by the state despite the risks involved. For instance, the Hollywood Reporter quotes a North Korean refugee who said that watching Titanic made her realize that ultimate devotion doesn’t have to be solely directed toward the leadership of one’s country; instead, it could occur between a couple where one partner sacrifices him- or herself so that the other lives.

In some cases, authorities even turn a blind eye when they find out that the material people have been watching doesn’t harm the state’s security.

Palestine and the ICC: National Sovereignty vs. Human Rights

One day after a failed bid at the UN to push a Middle East peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority President announced a move for the PA to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a way of seeking to get international judicial support for its ‘war crimes’ allegations against Israel. Now UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has indicated that the Palestinian Authority will be allowed to join the ICC.

Israel’s Netanyahu noted that the Palestinian Authority really should refrain from taking this case to the ICC because of Hamas’s own rocket attacks on Israeli population centers and their use of civilians as human shields. ICC prosecutors have made it clear in the past that they will investigate all allegations of misdeeds in a dispute, not just those of one side.

Most unprejudiced people would agree that there must be accountability for anyone committing war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. Unfortunately, at present the ICC can work only in those cases where nation-states, even those accused of crimes, allow it in their jurisdiction. This is another example of the miserable state of the present international system where unlimited national sovereignty is allowed to trump human rights. Even though 139 countries have signed the 1998 Rome Statute establishing the ICC, the most horrific crimes against humanity perpetrated in the past decade—in North Korea, Syria and Sri Lanka, among other places—presently remain outside of the ICC's reach. 

11 January: Human Trafficking Awareness Day

The recent interception by the Italian Navy of two ships filled with refugees from Syria and other countries has dramatically highlighted the ever-growing trade in persons.

11 January has been designated by the UN General Assembly as a day to develop awareness of human trafficking. Awareness has been growing, but effective remedies are slow and uncoordinated. These remedies often are not accessible to victims of trafficking due to gaps between setting international standards, enacting national laws, and then implementing them in a humane way.

The international standards have been set out in the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The Convention and the Protocol standards are strengthened by the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The worldwide standards have been reaffirmed by regional legal frameworks such as the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

Despite clear international and regional standards, many countries have poor implementation due to limited government resources and infrastructure, a tendency to criminalize victims, and restrictive immigration policies.

Palestine Joins the International Criminal Court

Palestinians carry belongings salvaged from their destroyed home in Gaza

Palestine’s accession to the International Criminal Court last week is a crucial step toward accountability for grave crimes in the region and toward a peaceful resolution of one of the world’s longest running conflicts. The ICC’s jurisdiction will take effect on April 1st, making Palestine the 123rd state party.

In joining the Court, Palestine also submitted a declaration to the ICC under Article 12.3 of the Rome Statute granting the Court jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed on Palestinian territory since 13 June 2014—the date of the initiation of the Israel-Gaza hostilities this past summer.

“The Coalition fully supports Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute,” said William R. Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the ICC. “For 12 years, the Coalition has urged all states to exercise their right to join the ICC, and key members have made special appeals to both Israel and Palestine to join the Court during the last year, which saw some of the deadliest and most destructive armed conflict between the two countries.” 

“We hope this move will contribute to ending the cycles of violence between Israel and Palestine,” Pace continued. “Contrary to the position of some, Coalition members argue that enforcing international humanitarian law strengthens the peace process, while also giving victims recourse to legal remedy.”

Civil society has long urged both Israel and Palestine to join the ICC in order to stem well-documented mass violations of human rights during the course of the decades-long conflict between the two.

Walter F. Hoffmann: 1924-2014

As 2014 drew to a close, we said goodbye to a beloved global citizen. Walter F. Hoffmann, prominent civil rights attorney and tireless advocate for world peace, died at age 90 on Wednesday, December 31. 

Passionate for UN reform, Walter was a member of World Peace Through Law, founder of the Campaign For UN Reform, the Center for UN Reform Education, and Executive Director of the World Federalist Association in Washington, DC.  In 1993, he was appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives to serve on the Commission on Improving the Effectiveness of the United Nations. 

Born in Newark, Walter grew up in Glen Ridge and spent most of his adult life in Wayne, NJ. Walter was an Eagle Scout, graduated from Glen Ridge High School in 1942, and served with the Marine Corp in the Pacific in World War II.  He was stationed on Tinian Island as a member of the 18th Anti-Aircraft Battalion when the Enola Gay took off from Tinian for Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945.

Walter graduated from the University of Michigan in 1948 and the University of Chicago Law School in 1951, where he was an editor of the Law Review. He was a trial attorney for the National Labor Relations Board and a staff attorney for the US House Ways and Means subcommittee investigating the administration of the IRS.  He then returned to New Jersey and was a founding partner of Hoffmann, Humphreys & Lafer, in Wayne.

As a civil rights attorney in the 1960s, he successfully challenged residential covenants in NJ communities that excluded homeowners based on race and religion.

Walter served as Adjunct College Professor at William Patterson and Ramapo Colleges, teaching courses in Government and Political science.

New Year, Same Problems, Global Solutions?

2014 has been quite a year: from climate change to the World Cup to the recent revelations about the US’s torture strategies, it is clear that we still have a ways to go. And while it is easy to remain cynical as we enter a new year, there is still room for hope. The same problems may not, in fact, have the same solutions (or lack thereof) in 2015.

Take climate change. We have already seen advances in technology that are leading to possible solutions all over the world. These local programs – such as recycling programs, solar-powered boats, and a revolutionary biofuel clean up project using algae – all have the potential one day to be global solutions.

In fact, many of my posts have implicitly highlighted this: local solutions are often the stepping-stone to global policies and practices. Whether it is at the country level, the company level, or at the much more local level, small changes can culminate in widespread results.

Peace on Earth, Peace of Mind, Piece of Cake

What holiday treats await foreign policy wonks?

Our team here at Citizens for Global Solutions is hoping that US foreign policy will continue to embrace international cooperation. The global challenges that we face internationally do not lend themselves to quick fixes. It is extremely difficult for America to act unilaterally to solve the problems to which our prosperity and way of life are inextricably connected.

We believe that the world wants and needs global leadership. And we believe that the US remains uniquely capable of providing it. Engaged, cooperative US leadership--not necessarily direct US power--will produce better outcomes in Syria, the Ukraine and elsewhere.

The US can and should be more selective and more circumspect about intervening militarily, responding to Americans’ strong support for more economic and diplomatic engagement in the world instead. Promoting democracy as a matter of economic, diplomatic, and political relations is and should continue to be an enduring part of US foreign policy.

As we get ready to enjoy the holiday season with our friends and families and make plans for the New Year, let us pause to take a look back from where we’ve come. The challenges of weak and failing states affect us all, and global problems require citizens—like you—for global solutions. We need to work together even more this year to help those living in abject poverty, changing environments, and oppressive regimes.

To our friends and colleagues in the Citizens for Global Solutions community, we wish you a joyful holiday season and a happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year!  May you celebrate and bask in the warmth of your family and friends. Our CGS staff and leadership are grateful that we can continue our work with you to abolish war, protect our environment, and solve problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone.

In Peace,

The Citizens for Global Solutions Team