The Global Citizen: Human Rights
Between the news of his government's provision of weapons to the murderous Assad regime and his support for legislation that will sharply restrict the Russian people's right to assemble, the past few weeks have delivered a harsh blow to Vladimir Putin's already-dubious human rights record. In an article published late last week, Foreign Policy's Anna Nemtsova shines a light on another one of Russia's continuing human rights abuses, namely, the government's ongoing conflict with Muslim insurgents in Dagestan.
Providing a background to the conflict, Nemtsova writes:
Today featured some more disappointing news from the human rights front in Russia, as the Russian parliament passed a bill that will increase fines for people charged with participating in unauthorized protests.
According to an article by the BBC, the bill will "boost fines for violations from the current maximum 5,000 rubles (£99; $152) to 300,000 for participants and 600,000 for organizers." President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to approve the legislation, having previously voiced support for the bill as a necessary measure to "shield our people from radical actions."
Of course, few would argue that protecting the Russian people from radicalism is truly Putin's motivation for supporting this bill. Since winning a third presidential term, in an election that his opponents claim was riddled with fraud, Putin has faced a series of protests from Russians unhappy with the prospect of another six-year installment of the his presidency. This bill, then, can be seen as an effort to dissuade such demonstrations, intimidating the Russian populace with the prospect of harsh penalties.
"Men want power, women want peace."
Former British Ambassador to Sudan, Alan Goutly quoted this statement from a Sudanese woman in an answer to my question: How important is it to include women in the peace process between Sudan and South Sudan? Such a simple statement sums up what international leaders are now recognizing as an essential element to the peace process: to include women's voices.
Yesterday the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace held a panel discussion with updates about the ongoing conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. After decades of war, South Sudan became its own nation not even a year ago when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in July 2011. Ambassador Princeton Lyman of the United States, former Ambassador Alan Goulty of the United Kingdom, and Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, all gave a tremendous amount of insight into the current conflict and strategies that the United States and the international community can take to avoid an all out war.
While the world focuses on the democratic revolutions in the Middle East, similarly stirring protests in Tibet have seemed to receive less time in the spotlight. The Tibetan people have been protesting the Chinese government for equal rights for nearly 23 years, the longest democratic protest in modern history. As the world shifts its focus away from Tibet, the Tibetan citizens have grown more desperate in their demands for equality and freedom. Since 2009, Tibetan citizens have been setting themselves on fire in order to show the Chinese their dedication to Tibetan freedom. So far 38 people have immolated themselves since 2009, with 25 of these self-immolations happening in 2012. This is a growing trend for protestors, as the most recent self-immolation happened on May 28th and May 31st of this year. Memorials took place in Dharamsala (northern India) for those who sacrificed themselves for the cause they believe in.
Of course, the United States' relationship with China makes this a complicated situation for the U.S. to create a firm consensus on foreign policy. However, this is not an excuse to stand idly by as protestors kill themselves in the name of freedom and equal rights. It's important to support these protestors in order to support freedom, democracy, and civil rights in all situations, rather than only supporting those of political convenience.
No one will blame Kofi Annan for a lack of effort. Over the past few months, the former UN Secretary-General has worked tirelessly to peacefully resolve the ongoing turmoil in Syria. And yet, with the bloodshed continuing to escalate, Annan's peace plan has not come to pass.
The Syrian government's continued defiance of Annan's six-point peace plan, coupled with its ongoing brutality towards its enemies at home, clearly indicates that this regime values power above all else, even if it comes at the expense of its own people. In light of this reality, it is time for the United States and the international community to take firm steps to bring about the end of violence in Syria and secure a transfer of power from the Assad regime before the violence in Syria truly spirals out of control.
Hopes, concerns, and anger have all surrounded the recent results of the Egyptian election earlier this week. The two front-runners of the preliminary elections were revealed earlier this week: Mohamed Mursi and Ahmed Shafiq. Each received 25% and 24% of the vote, respectfully.
Certain groups are worried about the two choices for various reasons. In Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the revolution, protesters chanted against both candidates. Pro-Democracy youth were angered and worried that Ahmed Shafiq is now one of the front runners, as he served as Prime Minister under former President Mubarak. Earlier this week, more protests broke out, leaving Shafiq's campaign headquarters burnt and destroyed.
Others are concerned over Mursi as a front runner, including women's rights groups, pro-democracy groups, and the Christian minority. As a conservative member of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Mursi pledged to implement shariah Islamic law. There are reports that if elected, Mursi would quit the FJP and would appoint a Christian vice president, "if possible." It was further reported that he would not impose the veil on women.
Today, hundreds gathered in Freetown, Sierra Leone to watch the sentencing of Charles Taylor, the former head of state of Liberia responsible for widespread terror amongst civilians by aiding the rebels in Sierra Leone. Taylor was found guilty of all 11 charges of War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity, and International Humanitarian Laws on April 26th in The Hague, Netherlands. As his 50 year prison sentence was administered concluding the almost four-year-long trial, many victims of the terror in Sierra Leone were relieved to know Taylor will be locked up. The trial of Charles Taylor is not simply a victory for the international court systems and those victimized by the rebels aided by Taylor, it is a message to the rest of the world that the international justice system is prepared to hold all parties responsible for breaches of human rights.
Taylor will serve his sentence in a British prison for aiding and abetting vast crimes against humanity by rebel forces in Sierra Leone and his personal profiting from the "blood diamonds". The judgment and sentencing through The Special Court for Sierra Leone is a monumental step in the international court system as a former head of state has not been convicted for war crimes since the Nuremberg Trials in 1945.
Last Friday over 100 people were killed in the predominantly Sunni Muslim region of Houla, including 49 children. Following this horrific event, the United Nations Security Council will meet today to discuss possible action in Syria. Previously, Russia and China have used their veto to block resolutions that called for stronger action, but recent events have increased hopes for tougher consequences for Syria.
The President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, claimed that terrorist were responsible for the mass killing. Witness from the event said that the murders were committed by the Shabiha, a group previously implicated in violence against government protestors. The Shabiha is a Syrian gang, whose loyalties and identities are uncertain. While it is unclear who the Shabiha are working for, it is suspected by many that they are employed by the Syrian government. The group is known for killing innocent people, especially government protestors, and was responsible for killing and maiming protestors during the March 2011 demonstrations. Many believe that the Shabiha commits the crimes that the government cannot do without international condemnation and severe repercussions.
Over the past six decades of its rule, the Chinese government has gained a well-deserved reputation for a disturbing lack of regard for the human rights of its citizens. In light of this reality, it is hardly surprising that, in its annual report on global human rights practices, released this past week, the US State Department directed some harsh criticisms towards the Chinese government for its various human rights abuses.
Given its historically poor track record on the issue, the Chinese government has a fairly low bar to clear when it comes to making "progress" in the arena of human rights. Nonetheless, according to the State Department report, 2011 saw a continued "deterioration" of the country's human rights situation. Among the litany of abuses highlighted by the report:
"We agreed that both, when it comes to economic development and when it comes to peace and security issues, empowering women to have a seat at the table and get more engaged and more involved in these processes can be extraordinarily fruitful. And this is something that we will also be introducing during the G20."
True to his word, President Obama made a historic commitment at the G8 and NATO summits by placing women empowerment as a major part of the summit's agenda this past week. President Obama not only emphasized the importance of protecting women's rights and advancing their participation in the global setting, but recognized that empowering women worldwide is the key to global economic development and international security.
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