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Author: jbunting

International Leaders Stand Up for Internet Freedom

International officials met in The Hague for a two-day conference on internet freedom sponsored by Google and the Dutch government. Much of the focus was on how nations can better prevent their companies from exporting goods to oppressive, authoritarian regimes (you can read here for a blog with more background info on this issue). U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke Thursday, calling on nations and private businesses to fight the use of Western technology for tyrannical purposes.

Secretary Clinton lauded the right of all people to a free and open Internet, saying, "When ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled and people constrained in their choices, the Internet is diminished for all of us." She added, "There isn't an economic Internet and a social Internet and a political Internet. There's just the Internet."

European Commissioner Neelie Kroes also pledged the support of the European Union for activists currently living under repressive regimes who have been using social media and technology to organize. Kroes said that the EU will announce a strategy for helping them on Monday. The plan is expected to outline several tools available to cyber activists to bypass internet restrictions and to shield themselves from surveillance.

Kroes urged companies to notify their governments when they find their technology to be in use by autocratic governments, saying "If technology is used by certain repressive governments to identify innocent citizens and put their life or freedom in danger, we ought to know." She added that this is a moral issue while also being bad for business, claiming that "being known for selling despots the tools of their repression is, to say the least, bad PR."

Criminal Minds: Assad's Interview with Barbara Walters

Barbara Walters and Bashir Al-Assad

There was a really great fictional drama on television last night, featuring an in-depth psychological profile of a psychopathic criminal mastermind. No, I’m not talking about an episode of Law and Order or Criminal Minds. I’m talking about the Barbara Walters interview of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the first interview he’s done with an American media outlet since a political uprising began in his country almost nine months ago.

I don’t think anyone was surprised that Assad defended the actions of his regime over the last several months. What was shocking was the level of delusion he exhibited in his defense. We’re talking about a man who has forbidden state-run hospitals from treating anyone injured while participating in peaceful protests against his regime. You would think it would be hard to be shocked by the actions of a tyrant like that. Still, Assad proved last night that he was capable of shocking the international community with his level of sheer lunacy when discussing the current state of affairs in Syria.

Assad started the interview by telling Walters that he wanted to convey the reality of the situation in Syria to the outside world. When she asked him what that reality was, he said that it was too complicated to explain and she should ask a more specific question. So right from the beginning, we knew Assad wasn’t going to be very clear and direct in answering questions.

Then the real fun starts. When Walters asked how Assad would respond to claims that he has become a dictator or a tyrant, he said that Syria was far from a dictatorship and lauded the reforms the country has made, particularly during the last nine months. I wasn’t aware that torturing and killing women and children is considered reform, but then again we may have different definitions of what constitutes progress.

Celebrate Human Rights!

2011 has been an incredible year for human rights. People worldwide, from the Arab Street to Wall Street, have taken an unprecedented stand for their basic human rights and dignity. That's why the United Nations has declared "Celebrate Human Rights" as the theme of the upcoming International Human Rights Day, commemorated this Saturday, December 10.

International Human Rights Day marks the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was passed on this date in 1948. The declaration is accepted by virtually all nations and includes 30 articles that establish a broad range of essential rights that all people are entitled to. It happens to be the most translated document in the world, written in 382 languages. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva and U.N. offices throughout the world are hosting events to celebrate the anniversary.

Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a statement on the upcoming event, declaring that millions of individuals have "dusted off the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and demanded 'freedom from fear and freedom from want.'" Thousands of people have marched, rallied, and occupied public spaces to demand that their voices be heard, empowering themselves against governments to which they have long been powerless.

This international movement has transformed the entire world order. Pillay said, "In 2011, the very idea of 'power' shifted.  During the course of this extraordinary year, it was wielded not just by mighty institutions in marble buildings, but increasingly by ordinary men, women, and even children, courageously standing up to demand their rights." Citizens have reminded regimes long-known for weak human rights records that their legitimacy is entirely derived from popular support.

Protecting the Voices of the Arab Spring

It's no secret that technology and new media have fueled recent revolutions throughout the world, particularly the Arab Spring. Facebook pages allow protestors to rally together around a cause or share thoughts in honor of martyrs. Smart phones let witnesses take photos and videos of violence and then immediately Tweet the multimedia. Organizing and planning for protests and marches is done almost entirely online. Information from places where journalists are forbidden is relayed to friends and relatives abroad through Skype, email and instant messaging. Social media and other new technologies are some of the biggest winners of the Arab Spring, empowering protestors becoming worldwide symbols of the power of free speech and democracy in action.

While this story is inspirational, the relationship between technology and revolution is not always that rosy. Just as protestors can use technology as a tool for democracy, autocratic governments have also been able to use technology as a tool to control and repress those who try to rebel. Governments have increasingly blocked social networking sites and interfered with internet and phone service in an attempt to impede the efforts of protestors. Even worse, governments have used the internet to track and monitor, and then punish, the most vocal proponents of the uprisings.

Frank La Rue, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, said "Governments are using increasingly sophisticated technologies and tactics which are often hidden from the public to censor online content and monitor and identify individuals who disseminate critical or sensitive information, which frequently lead to arbitrary arrests and detention." These tyrannical regimes are using the Internet not just to cut off communication amongst protestors but also to track and then abuse opposition leaders.

Secretary Clinton Calls for Protection of Gay Rights Worldwide

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech today in Geneva in honor of the upcoming International Human Rights Day. Secretary Clinton's speech focused on promoting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender rights worldwide. The statement marks the first time a U.S. official has pushed for gay rights abroad.

Secretary Clinton said, "Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They also weren't thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity."

Secretary Clinton also said that ensuring protection of gay rights is a crucial component of U.S. foreign policy. Her statement comes the same day as a Presidential Memorandum on respecting gay rights, at home and abroad. She also announced the creation of a Global Equality Fund to support civil society organizations that promote this issue worldwide.

You can visit the State Department's website to read the full text of Secretary Clinton's remarks. International Human Rights Day will be observed this Saturday, December 10, 2011.

U.S. Needs to Wake Up on Climate Change

As climate change talks in Durban, South Africa head into their second week, hope increased for the passing of a universal, legally-binding agreement to cut greenhouse gases. China's representative Xie Zhenhua made a statement this morning, laying out their criteria for accepting an agreement. These conditions include a new round of Kyoto targets for cutting emissions in developed nations and advances on climate aid and low-carbon technology sharing.

This statement renewed optimism that a substantial deal could be met during the talks in the Durban. The discussions are being held amongst the members of the U.N. Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in their 17th annual conference. World leaders are meeting to discuss reducing carbon emissions and the disbursement of funds from industrialized nations to developing countries to invest in greener technologies.

The United States has been one of the firmest roadblocks to any serious new agreement on climate change. It is one of the few nations to not have signed the UNFCCC's Kyoto Protocol, which would have set legally binding targets for emission reduction. And it is also the most resistant to establishing a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires next year.

Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace, said that the U.S. is trying to push any commitment on emission reduction beyond 2020 and is trying to halt talks. "If the U.S. cannot see the way forward, we're going to be calling on them to step out of the way and let the rest of the world move forward," he said.

Update: Cote D'Ivoire's Gbagbo turned over to ICC

Cote D'Ivoire's ex-president Laurent Gbagbo was transferred to The Hague last night just hours after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest. Gbagbo was indicted for crimes against humanity he committed during violence resulting from his refusal to cede power after losing the presidential election last year. More than 3,000 civilians died and many more were injured or assaulted in the post-election conflict between supporters of Gbagbo and the newly elected president Alassane Ouattara .

The ICC launched an investigation into the events that occurred after the election in October.  Speaking about the arrest of Gbagbo, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said, "It is exactly a year since the presidential election that led to one of the worst episodes of violence Cote d'Ivoire has ever known, with ordinary Ivorians suffering immensely, and crimes allegedly committed by both parties. We have evidence that the violence did not happen by chance; widespread and systematic attacks against civilians perceived as supporting the other candidate were the result of a deliberate policy."

Gbagbo refused to step down from office and ignored international diplomacy efforts, resulting in a military campaign to remove him from power by forces loyal to Ouattara. Gbagbo has been under house arrest since forces backed by the United Nations and France, ousted him from power last April. Both Gbagbo and Ouattara's forces are being investigated for atrocities committed during the brief conflict, including murder, rape, persecution and inhuman acts.

Don Kraus, CEO of GlobalSolutions.org said, "Gbagbo's detention at the International Criminal Court has demonstrated yet again that tyrants and human rights abusers around the world-even if they are heads of state--will not enjoy immunity from international law, and will be held responsible for their crimes."

Egyptians Flock to Polls in Historic Elections

Egyptians continued voting in parliamentary elections for a second day Tuesday, marking a historic change for a nation that was under authoritarian rule less than a year ago. The elections to fill the People's Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, are the first held since the ousting of former dictator Hosni Mubarak, who resigned from power following massive uprisings earlier this year. The first days of voting have seen an unexpectedly high level of participation (authorities estimate participation to be above 70%) amongst a population optimistic that their votes will finally matter after decades of totalitarian governance. The elections have also been surprisingly peaceful and free of obstructions that many feared would put a damper on the watershed moment for the budding democracy.

The election of a new Parliament is a months-long process, done in regional stages that will not be completed until March. This vote will set the stage for the creation of a new constitution next spring as well as a presidential election to be held next summer. The success of the voting thus far gives hope that the resulting government at the end of this process will be truly democratic and representative of the Egyptian people.

The lack of violence is also a relief to those concerned following recent unrest in the last week, as civilians again took to the streets to protest the severity of the military-controlled transitional government. While there are doubts as to how much power the ruling generals will actually hand over to the new Parliament, huge numbers of Egyptians came out to prove their commitment to their Revolution and the ideals of democracy. It is also a positive sign for the region as a whole, as countries throughout the Middle East work to build new democratic institutions following the uprisings of the Arab Spring.

Arab League and China Stand Up to Assad

Syrian President Bashar Assad's despotic regime received major setbacks today, as the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called on Syria to better cooperate with the Arab League the same day that body approved economic sanctions against the regime. The moves further isolate the deteriorating government, cutting off almost all trade and investment between Syria and other Arab nations and demonstrating the distance Syria's traditional allies are putting between themselves and the tyrannical actions of Assad.

Hong Lei, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters today that "China believes that the Syrian issue should be solved within the framework of the Arab League." While the Chinese did not officially comment on the League's sanctions, this is still a bold change of tune for Chinese officials, who have until now been some of Assad's most stalwart protectors against attempts for international action to reprimand the Syrian regime.

China was one of two nations to veto a watered down resolution considered by the U.N. Security Council in October that would have condemned Assad's regime for violence perpetrated against peaceful protesters. Chinese officials warned at the time that the resolution could provoke unrest and came close to violating Syrian national sovereignty by pushing for regime change. Now, two months and 1,000 additional deaths later, China is finally recognizing that the international community must respond to Assad's crackdown on the Syrian people.

CEO Don Kraus Quoted on Rick Perry's Syria Flub

Don Kraus, CEO of GlobalSolutions.org, was quoted in an article entitled "Rick Perry Puts His Foot In It With Syria Answer" in Talking Points Memo today. Rick Perry, Texas governor and current Republican presidential candidate, stirred controversy by saying that he would respond to the uprising and violence in Syria by imposing a no-fly zone unilaterally, without waiting to coordinate with the U.N. or the larger international community. Kraus called this "gunboat diplomacy" and stressed that it "would leave the United States holding the bag instead of sharing the costs” of such a campaign.

Click here to read the article in full and here to read Don’s op-ed about what action is needed to stop the violence in Syria.