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Category: Human Rights

The Peace of Westphalia?

The Peace of Westphalia?

Nearly 300 young girls are still missing in Nigeria where they were kidnapped nearly a month ago by a murderous group of extremists calling themselves Boko Haram. They have claimed credit for this crime and intend to sell the young girls as sex slaves to help pay for future murders and crimes.

There are many contributing factors to this mass kidnapping, but the primary reason these girls were not rescued immediately or shortly thereafter is the world's persistence acceptance of "national sovereignty" as the dominant paradigm of global governance.

In other words, humanity still accepts the right of every national government to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, to whomever it wants within its own borders. This barbaric paradigm was established nearly 400 years ago by the Treaty of Westphalia and remains today as the primary agreement between nations.

President Obama recently claimed there is nothing we can do about this crime against humanity because Nigeria is a Sovereign state. We offered some help once that government responded to our diplomatic cries, but that took weeks. Now it will be infinitely harder to find these girls and return those that are still alive to their grieving mothers.

The mind-numbing reality is that even if the UN had decided to take action immediately, it couldn't have done so without first getting a decision by the UN Security Council. And, even with it, the UN has no established police force or SWAT team with a mandate or the capacity to protect innocent lives on short notice. National governments, including the US, has made sure of that. That is how strongly we still believe in the supremacy of nations' sovereignty.

The Revocation of Nationality: Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

Most of us take our citizenship for granted, thinking the world belongs to people of one nation or another, but imagine being stripped of it completely.

In a world run by nation-states, there is no universal form of citizenship or birth registration. There are only those recognized by national governments that can and do revoke it for various political motives. The estimated number to date by the UNHCR of stateless persons, families and communities who have no nation to legally call home is 10 million.

The most recent of these tragedies occurred in September, when the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic passed a ruling which de-nationalized an estimated 210,000 Haitian citizens by denying them citizenship and the right to an official ID. This simple act by courts, which has deeply affected the lives of nearly 7 percent of the country’s population either directly or indirectly, receives an overwhelming 83 percent of support from Dominicans.

Having your citizenship taken away can deal a powerful blow to your wellbeing. As one rights activist featured in an Aljazeera piece states, “It’s not that I feel Dominican. I am Dominican. I was born here in the Dominican Republic, and all my documents are from here… I have never been in another country.”

Polio’s Resurgence and the Globalization of Disease

A health volunteer vaccinates a one year old boy against polio in Kabul, Afghanistan, 2009 (UN Photo/Jawad Jalali)

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global health emergency stating that polio is rapidly re-emerging as a threat – its expansion in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and Cameroon is truly concerning despite the disease being nearly eradicated in the last few years. The emergency status used includes requirements that people cannot travel from affected countries without evidence of vaccination, and each country is taking additional steps where possible to step up its anti-polio programs.

It didn’t have to be this way. While polio is a devastating illness that paralyzes and sometimes kills its victims, vaccination usually prevents the disease from taking hold. The problem isn’t just that these states have remote or tribal areas that are difficult to reach with vaccines – many states have remote regions and have been able to reach them with state-, UN-, or donor-operated vaccination programs.

Human Rights Battle: US v. North Korea

Last Monday, North Korea released its own human rights report aimed at the US. This report, a direct response to the critical UN report on North Korea published in February, called the US “the world’s worst human rights abuser.” It also labeled the US as “a living hell, as elementary rights to existence are ruthlessly violated.”

As evidence to these harsh claims, the report cites US poverty statistics, the luxurious life of the president, and the racial discrimination and injustice surrounding Trayvon Martin’s murder. While these cases do hold weight, the facts have been distorted to paint our nation as a human rights abuser on par with North Korea itself. For example, the report rightfully cites Trayvon Martin’s case as an example of racial inequality, but incorrectly labels his killer as a white cop, blurring the line between fact and fiction.

I will be the first to say that the US still has a long way to go to make equality and human rights a reality for all people. However, this report is a bit too much of the pot calling the kettle black. Pointing to North Korea and saying, ‘well at least we’re not as bad as them,’ is no justification for our own problems--but neither is it for them.

North Korea has a terrible human rights record, and just because we cannot get into the country to see it does not mean it doesn’t exist. Pointing the finger back at the US only serves to perpetuate the conversation around North Korea’s own record, effectively defeating the purpose of the report.

With this report Kim Jung-un might be saying, "Hey US, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones." But then again, neither should you, North Korea.

Stop the War on International Law

The Senate’s failure to adopt a single global agreement dealing with human rights, arms control, or the environment since 1997 has damaged the United States’ security, economy, and global leadership.

“The children were all asleep in bed and I was just going off to sleep…when I heard people outside saying chemical bombs were being dropped around us,” said Samer, a Syrian refugee. His children survived the chemical weapons attack in Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus in 2013.

Thankfully, by mid-April of this year, 93% of the Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles have been removed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog arm of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The United States and other parties to this treaty had worked through the UN Security Council and pressured Syria to accede to the Convention.  They are now pushing for the remaining chemicals to be destroyed. 

But despite the successful use of international law to take these horrendous weapons out of play in the Syrian civil war, another kind of war is being fought within the United States.  The frontlines of the War on International Law stretch from the Senate floor to the living rooms of home-schoolers. 

A coordinated and well-funded opposition is doing everything it can to stop the US from ratifying any multilateral treaties. And, to the detriment of our nation and the world, they’re winning.  The Senate’s failure to adopt a single global agreement dealing with human rights, arms control, or the environment since 1997--when it agreed to the Chemical Weapons Convention--has damaged the United States’ security, economy, and global leadership. 

Missing Nigerian Girls: Where is the Media Now?

On April 15th, 234 Nigerian school girls aged 16-18 were abducted from their school by a known terrorist group, Boko Haram. The next day a South Korean ferry sank, killing 260+ people on board, most of who were students. Both of these events are newsworthy tragedies. But while most of you reading this know about the ferry in South Korea, many probably never heard about the missing Nigerian girls.

Most media chose to ignore this story, and reports they may have been pulling together were eclipsed by the ferry disaster. For the past two months CNN continued almost non-stop coverage of the search for Malaysia Airlines plane 370, which went missing in early March. Where are those green screens and field reporters for these missing girls? Only now, almost a month later, has there been any significant news coverage on the efforts to locate and rescue the Nigerian girls.

Anyone who watches crime shows can probably tell you that the most crucial time to find kidnapping victims is in the first 12-24 hours. The Nigerian government stated 24 hours after the abductions that all of the girls had returned safely, when in fact almost no effort had been made to even begin looking for them, let alone coordinate a rescue effort. The 30 girls who have made it back home escaped of their own initiative with no help from the government.

Will Assad Dodge Justice Again?

By, CC BY 4.0,

Happy belated Day of Remembrance for all Victims of Chemical Warfare

This sad memoriam is observed annually on April 29th to "honor past victims and liberate future generations from the threat of chemical weapons," as noted by UN Secretary Ban Ki Moon. Regretfully, there are individuals alive today who may fall under its call for remembrance next year.

President Bashar al-Assad recently attacked his countries’ citizens with chlorine and ammonia gas. The effects were deadly. Victims’ lungs were burning and contact with the gases caused burning, irritated eyes and skin. It’s maddening to think that any leader could kill their countries’ citizens using crude barrel bombs and chemical gasses. It’s more enraging to think this is happening in an era of unprecedented international law.

Let’s not forget that Bashar has already used Sarin gas against the Syrian population back in 2013. Those attacks prompted President Obama to threaten Bashar with airstrikes citing the Responsibility to Protect. Yet Russia came to the rescue of its ally and forged a deal that kept Assad in power, dismantled Syria’s chemical weapons, and made Syria ascend to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

Is South Sudan Sliding Into Chaos?

South Sudan soldiers ride on a truck in Bor, about 100 miles outside the capital.(Photo:James Akena/Reuters /Landov)

Violence has re-escalated in South Sudan as a new wave of attacks this month have included a UN base, places of worship, and other sites typically treated as neutral ground in conflicts. With the conflict taking on an increasingly ethnic and retaliatory tinge, we now must worry about how we might prevent these setbacks from spiraling into something far worse.

The last few months of conflict in South Sudan originate from a political falling out between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, when Kiir dismissed Machar and the entire cabinet in July 2013. After months of recriminations, a rebel movement began attacks in December 2013. Machar took responsibility for this movement and its continued operations just two weeks after a public ceasefire agreement between Kiir’s government and rebel groups in January.

That ceasefire has been broken repeatedly in the months since, and is all but dead in the wake of this recent wave of attacks.

One Year Since Bangladesh Building Collapse

April 24th marked the one-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

This devastating collapse killed more than 1,100 people and injured 2,500 more. By no means the first industrial accident in Bangladesh's history, though certainly the most devastating, the collapse was the result of turning a blind eye to the factory's structural problems by the local owner and the failure of international corporations like Walmart to properly ensure that their supply chains meets minimum safety standards for workers in countries such as Bangladesh.

The garment industry plays an enormous role in Bangladesh's economy. It is now the world's second largest apparel producer, behind China, and Bangladesh's 5,600 garment factories employ 4 million people, 90 percent of whom are women, and produce $20 billion in exports every year. Because this industry dominates the economy, workers often have no choice but to take jobs in unsafe factories for what little income they can earn. The Rana Plaza factory produced clothing for as many as 28 foreign brands,including Walmart and Benetton.

Global 911: It's Time for a UN Emergency Peace Force

PHOTO: U.N. peacekeeper walks with children/Wikipedia

Genocide, mass atrocities, violent oppression; these acts, these words, invoke fear, disgust, anger and beg the question why? Human history is littered with examples of these heinous crimes against humanity and yet it took one of the darkest moments in world history to garner a response.

That event? The Holocaust.

An estimated eleven million people died as a direct result of the Holocaust. Of that eleven million, nearly six million Jews were systematically eliminated in what was called the Final Solution.

In the wake of the terror of World War II the world said it had enough. For the first time in history countries came together to lay framework of cooperation, peace, and most importantly, prevention. The United Nations was founded in the wake of the horrors of WWII, a means to protect the human family.

The UN has evolved since its foundation and so has the means by which the UN meets its goals. One of the primary tools of the UN is its peacekeeping function.

Peacekeeping in itself has evolved over time, from observer missions to peacekeeping to building and enforcing. All with two primary goals in mind; prevent a third world war and eliminate the threat of genocide.

While the former has been prevented to date, the latter is far from. Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and the Central African Republic, ravaged by ethnic cleansing and threats of genocide. In these cases the slow response of peacekeeping operations has undoubtedly led to unnecessary loss of life.