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Category: Human Rights

Statement on U.S. Policy Toward Syria

Citizens for Global Solutions Supports the International Rule of Law and Cautions Against Unauthorized Use of Force

Citizens for Global Solutions supports the Obama Administration's push to have Syrian chemical weapons placed under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. We also caution against a unilateral, unauthorized military action to punish Syrian President Assad and his regime for the apparent use of chemical weapons. While the use of chemical and other weapons of mass destruction is abhorrent and offends our collective conscience, we believe the United States must work within the U.N. charter in order to protect the Syrian people and advance international peace and security through the international rule of law.

The goals of U.S. and international action regarding Syria should be to:

  • Protect the Syrian people by ending this humanitarian crisis that has already cost over 100,000 lives and spawned over 2 million refugees;
  • Create space for a political settlement of the conflict;
  • Hold accountable individuals who authorized and implemented the use of chemical weapons and other war crimes and crimes against humanity; and
  • Strengthen the international system's capacity to respond to similar crises in the future.

The unauthorized, unilateral use of force against Syrian chemical weapons facilities will not help to achieve these goals.

Mr. Obama has said the threat of military action is, in part, "about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules." This is a noble aim. But we cannot demonstrate this resolve if, by engaging in unilateral military action for non-defensive purposes, we ourselves flout one of international law's most fundamental rules.

The President, supported by Congress, should immediately:

Delusions of Grandeur: How American Exceptionalism is Killing Our Human Rights Record

RIA NOVOTSI/REUTERS

Leave it to the oft-maligned thorn in the United States' side to eloquently pin down one of our country's greatest flaws. In his now infamous New York Times op-ed, Vladimir Putin closed out the Syria-focused piece by calling Americans out on our arguably engorged self-pride:

"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal."

Say what you will about the rest of the Russian President's article, but this closing sentiment truly hits home.

It was obvious that Putin's op-ed hit a target when a torrent of fiery political indignation hit the internet. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) told CNN that he, upon reading Putin's words, "almost wanted to vomit," while Senator John McCain (R-AZ) alleged that the "op-ed is an insult to the intelligence of every American." Forbes even made an embarrassingly weak attempt at rebutting Putin, claiming in an article the following day that America is exceptional because we are the number one destination for potential migrants worldwide. I guess I'm the first to learn that this is the barometer for being exceptional (read: sarcasm).

U.S. Credibility Begins at Home

Photo Courtesy of The Guardian

Credibility has been the watch word in the run up to a possible, and now delayed, U.S. missile strike against Syrian governmental targets. In the words of John Kerry the issue of retaliation by the United States for a chemical weapons attack, attributed to Syrian forces by a new U.N. report, is "directly related to our credibility and whether countries still believe the United States when it says something." But whether the United States attacks the Syrian government or not, the real issue is not the believability of U.S. follow-through on threats of the use of force. As history has shown, it is clear the United States will back up any threats of military intervention with action.

What is unclear, however, is whether the United States can credibly claim to represent and speak for those who demand the protection of civilians and an end to human rights abuses. Unfortunately, the United States' record in this regard shows a serious deficit in this type of credibility. Guantanamo Bay remains open, drone wars are on-going in Pakistan and Yemen, and the war in Iraq, a war called illegal by Kofi Annon, has only just ended. The United States is also the world's largest weapons exporter. If the United States wants to be a world leader against human rights abuses and violence it needs to lead by example and not by force. 

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 GlobalSolutions.org, 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.