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Category: Human Rights

Kenya's Questionable Motives

The Parliament of Kenya passed a motion to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Coincidentally, this is happening just before Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto are to face trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity. The defense counsel made some efforts to have the cases dropped or moved closer to home, but were unsuccessful. The prosecution will charge Kenyatta and Ruto with orchestrating violence following the 2007 elections, in which 1,200 people were killed. Parliament's intentions are suspicious. Proceeding with this withdrawal could set a bad precedent of countries nixing international cooperation to further their own agenda.

In support of Parliament's decision, majority leader Adan Duale points out that the United States is not an ICC member; Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both refused to join in order to protect US citizens from politically-motivated prosecutions. Duale says, "I am setting the stage to redeem the image of the Republic of Kenya."

According to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, a state may withdraw with written notification to the UN's secretary-general. However, withdrawal does not take effect until the following year and does not affect the state's obligation to comply with criminal investigations and proceedings already underway. It is unclear whether the Kenyan government intends to honor this obligation if they move forward with the withdrawal.   

The Bitter Truth About Chocolate

“When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”

This is what Amadou, a former child laborer on a cocoa farm, said in an interview with Free the Slaves. 

Amadou was one of an estimated 109,000 children exploited by cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast, a West African nation that produces almost half of the world’s cocoa.  Collectively, farms in West Africa are the source of about 75 percent of all chocolate, including products made by Hershey, Nestlé, Mars, and Cadbury.

One problem with the cocoa industry is its long supply chain.  The middlemen between farmers and manufacturers frequently take advantage of the farmers’ lack of industry knowledge and use ploys to buy their cocoa for lower than market value.  In order to stay afloat and keep their prices competitive, cocoa farmers may resort to irresponsible labor practices, including the use of child labor.  The children they employ typically are impoverished and have no other recourse; are sold to the farmer by their relatives; or are abducted and trafficked from neighboring countries like Mali.

Over the course of the workday, child and adult laborers alike spend long hours in grueling heat, use dangerous tools such as machetes, and are exposed to harmful pesticides.  Their accommodations are often substandard; they are housed in small windowless buildings, fed cheap food, and given no access to clean water.  Journalists Sudarsan Raghavan and Sumana Chatterjee documented several cases in which workers were held on farms against their will, forced to work, and locked in at night.  Sometimes they were whipped for working too slowly or for trying to escape.

From Russia With(out) Love: Fighting for Democracy in Russia

What does modernization and the "LGBT propaganda law" have to do with each other? With every great ruler of Russia has come a push to modernize - a move to integrate with the outside world, to trade, to bring in new ideas and to consolidate the vast country. Each cycle has been met with mixed success but always leaves more to be desired and often reverts to authoritarian rule. We are seeing the beginning of the end of this cycle with President Putin and his crackdown on the LGBT community.

The law is the latest in a string of undemocratic laws that are indicative of a shift in Putin's power base in Russia away from the moderate urban youth that represents Russia's strongest advocates of a democratic and liberal society and a shift towards extremist, nationalistic elements that support backwards, repressive laws and are suspicious of the West and democracy in general. No longer is Putin's legitimacy as a leader derived from high growth rates; people are demanding less corruption and more representative government.

 The more moderate opposition are increasingly being oppressed as seen with the arrest of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny on trumped up charges, the arrest of punk rock band Pussy Riot, and the Kremlin's laundry list of abuses goes on. Also troubling is Putin's fanning of anti-West sentiment and attack on humanitarian efforts. Passage of an NGO law requiring that NGOs receiving money from a foreign country register with the government ensures that only NGOs with the Kremlin's blessing can operate. Political activists are also characterized as foreign agents. These undemocratic practices are all happening in the lead up to the G20 summit in St. Petersburg and the 2014 Sochi Olympics which gives the United States a great opportunity to press President Putin on these issues. If action isn't taken, more of the same policies are bound to follow.

Is Internet Access a Basic Human Right?

internet access human right

Not Quite the World Wide Web: a three-part series about the importance of full access to the internet for all

Only one third of the world's population has internet access; both Mark Zuckerberg and the UN think this is unacceptable. Sure, I like checking Facebook as much as the next girl but is a connection to the internet a basic human right? This is a question that international leaders have been debating over the last few years. The UN Human Rights Council unanimously decided, in 2012, that free expression and a connection to the internet are human rights. The resolution encourages nations with poor internet access to take steps to increase connectivity and admonishes nations with filters and blocks on certain parts of the internet. The Council recognized the two basic issues within this subject; providing access to people who don't have it, and liberating the internet for those who do. These two concerns will be addressed in the next installments of, "Not Quite the World Wide Web" series.

Syria : Chemical Weapons and Restraints in War

There was a recent political drawing in the International Herald Tribune which showed high piles of skulls with signs on them which said "Killed by Assads Machine Guns", "Killed by Assads Tanks" and two men with UN on their coats saying "If they really were killed by chemical weapons we’ll have to stop Assad."

The accusations of the recent use of chemical weapons (cw) in the Syrian conflict has led to a UN investigation as well as discussions at the UN and in national capitals as to the appropriate response to what has been called "a clear violation of international norms." Yet there has been little discussion of why chemical weapons are prohibited and not tanks, and machine guns which in practice have killed many more people in Syria. To be more accurate, the drawing should have also shown piles of skulls with signs saying "Killed by armed opposition machine guns, snipers etc".

A short review of the prohibitions on the use of chemical weapons, the UN response, and the use of chemical weapons in conflicts in the Middle East may be useful as background to a discussion of appropriate responses.

The Intervention Not Being Talked About

"Make no mistake: President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious, and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny," said Secretary of State John Kerry at an August 26th press conference referring to the gas attacks in Syria. Earlier Monday, Sec. Chuck Hagel used less fiery rhetoric, saying,"We are analyzing the intelligence. And we will get the facts. And if there is any action taken, it will be concert with the international community and within the framework of legal justification." It is clear the administration wants to act and most media speculation suggests limited air strikes in concert with U.S. allies but nothing is certain yet.

 What is certain? 3,600 were treated for neurotoxic symptoms and of those, 355 died. There are close to 2 million refugees in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan. U.N. Security Council action is unlikely with Russia calling any intervention without UNSC approval a "grave violation of international law" and characterizing international concerns about the attacks as "hysteria". Syria is densely populated; any military intervention is likely to cause collateral damage and civilian casualties.

Global Leadership on Global Violence: Time to Sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)

What three things would you wish for given the chance? One wish may be to be wealthy, another may be to have done something differently in the past, or perhaps you would wish for world peace. These are usually what you would think of given such a hypothetical because they are largely regarded as unlikely or even impossible - relegated to wishful thinking. Though world peace is often derided in popular culture as being unrealistic, analogous to anything that would be desirable but ultimately impossible; The truth is there are concrete steps that can be taken that would make the world safer. The United States could sign the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at the UN in September.

In fact, there is great support for the President to do just that. Today 33 national organizations have thrown their support behind the treaty. Amnesty International, the Arms Control Association, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam America, and, among others, have all sent a letter to President Obama emphatically urging him to sign the treaty at the United Nations in September. In search of bi-partisan middle ground, President Obama has neglected commonsense policies in the past in favor of ones more palatable to conservatives. This is not the time to listen to unfounded fears of gun grabbing when real progress can be made in quelling violence in conflict regions.

OMG Samantha Power Empowers Youth Activism

"OMG," Samantha Power is excited about viral videos and social media as a lever of change.  The youngest US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at age 42, gave her first speech as an Ambassador to the Fourth Estate Leadership Summit this weekend.  The event was hosted by Invisible Children, an advocacy NGO with the goal of bringing members of the Lord’s Resistance Army to justice and ending child conscription in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Her speech was current and geared toward encouraging the world’s youth to take action in whatever creative or unconventional forms.  She praised the work of Invisible Children in their “Stop Kony” campaign and the efforts they have taken since their viral video release last year.  “Today ordinary citizens don’t just advocate for change and action, they force change and they take action themselves,” Powers remarked.   She gave examples of how today’s youth don’t have to become Washington lobbyists to catalyze global change like Invisible Children’s effort to design fliers that encourage LRA fighters to defect, to distribute them to LRA-affected areas in DRC and the Central African Republic, and to build radio stations in areas of high LRA activity.

While Power embraces youth movements such as viral videos and social media, she also stressed the importance of result focused action saying, “everything else is just noise. But this new generation understands that the video is not what matters; the number of twitter followers is not what matters. These are just means to an end… What matters is the real world scoreboard.” 

Can We Get Past Putin and Focus on the Athletes?

Photo courtesy of

The Olympics, at least as I have always understood them, are known for their spirit of unity. I’ve always watched - partially for the melodramatic music playing over the rags-to-riches success story of this runner or that rower; for the close-ups of athletes crying on the podium as they hear their national anthems being played; and, perhaps most importantly, for the sense of camaraderie among the participants despite the national boundaries that separate them.

Overall, the spirit of teamwork and internationalism pervades - despite the basic fact that each country is competing against every other one. However, it is impossible to deny that the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia will be an intensely politicized affair.

The controversy is over a bill signed into law in June by President Vladamir Putin, banning “homosexual propaganda.” This law makes it illegal to give anyone under 18 information about homosexuality, and anyone deeming to be promoting gay rights can be arrested, or in the case of foreigners, detained and deported. Although Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister said the law would not “infringe on rights of people based on sexual orientation, either at the Olympics, or before or after,” the bill is intentionally vague, and comes amidst crackdowns on homosexuality throughout Russia.

Ambassador Samantha Power: Inspiring U.S. Leadership in the UN

Vice President Biden swears in Samantha Power as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

Last night I watched a really great TED talk by Simon Sinek, called "How Great Leaders Inspire Action." The argument Mr. Sinek makes is that effective leaders inspire change not by focusing on what they do, but by focusing on why they do it. To back up his argument, Sinek cites incredibly influential leaders throughout history, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Wright brothers. These leaders changed the course of history because they focused first on the motivation behind their actions and let the outcomes be a byproduct of that motivation.

The talk ultimately made me think of a young American leader who was recently confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations: Samantha Power. During this time when the UN faces many difficult issues, I can think of no one better to head U.S. leadership at the UN, largely because of the passion Ambassador Power brings to the issues she confronts. President Obama recognizes this passion, and he said in a statement following the Senate confirmation, "As a long-time champion of human rights and dignity, she will be a fierce advocate for universal rights, fundamental freedoms and U.S. national interests." Having been a foreign policy columnist, Ambassador Power has seen human rights abuses, genocide, and war from the frontlines — first-hand experiences that reaffirm her passion for the "responsibility to protect."