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The Dictator Diplomacy Dilemma

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

He will be remembered…for his commitment to peace and for strengthening understanding between faiths.

So said British Prime Minister David Cameron following the death of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah on January 24th. These words were spoken of a man whose kingdom is widely lambasted for its draconian justice system, marginalization of women, suppression of dissent, and turning a blind eye to terrorist funding. How could Cameron or other world leaders praise someone whose policies stand at such odds with their own?

The answer lies in resolving a fundamental dilemma of diplomacy in a time when liberal democracy has not reached every nation, but cooperation is required to achieve mutual and global goals. If we make alliances with dictators, are we supporting their crimes? If we shun them as criminals, will we suffer the consequences of ignoring our self-interest while leaving the oppressed to suffer?

How do we resolve the conflict between two seemingly bad choices?

Encouraging Chinese Influence in North Korea

Courtesy of The Telegraph (UK)

China’s international mantra is that human rights start with a socio-economically stable foundation--before democratization. In other words, people need to eat breakfast before they cast ballots.

China is also an advocate of sovereignty and emphasizes not interfering in other countries’ internal affairs. This comes from interference by Western powers in the past, particularly Great Britain during the opium wars, who told the Chinese Imperial Court to give up its protests about the drugs being smuggled into the Chinese Empire, despite the social ills it was causing to Chinese society.

It’s unrealistic to ask China to demand that North Korea end its political prison system or to accept North Korean escapees as political refugees. China itself has the largest number of political prisoners in the world. Lists such as this one indicate only some of the thousands of people in China held in political prisons.

China also has many citizens who escape it or are deported from it as political refugees, such as Wei Jingsheng and Harry Wu, to name a few.

Overall, China has human rights issues similar to North Korea. It does, however, allow people slightly more freedom of expression than North Korea does as long as the Communist Party is not subject to rhetoric that undermines it.

For example, people have the right in China to say that things aren’t perfect, and people can sometimes air their opinions about certain issues like economic problems that need to be resolved.

The Criminal Misogyny of Boko Haram

Women at a Nigerian traditional coronation ceremony. (Source: Linda Adiele/Wikimedia Commons)

We all remember #BringBackOurGirls, a movement built around protesting the kidnapping of over 200 girls from Chibok Government Secondary School in Borno State, Nigeria.

Boko Haram has continued to abduct women and children in the eight months since that mass kidnapping. A December raid just north of Chibok included a kidnapping of at least 185 women and children. In a recent kidnapping that crossed over into neighboring Cameroon, Boko Haram took as many as 80 victims, with as many as 50 being children. Following the attack on Baga, in which as many as 2,000 were slaughtered, 300 women and children were imprisoned in a school. During that assault on Baga, reports indicate a woman was murdered while giving birth. The list goes on.

Russell Davenport: World Citizen, Political Strategist

Voice of America: We Want Willkie, Wendell Willkie Poster Stamp (Courtesy of

 Progress results only from the fact that there are some men and women who refuse to believe that what they know to be right cannot be done.

--Russell Davenport

With the US presidential campaign preliminaries already being discussed in the Democratic and Republican parties, it may be useful to recall one of the most innovative of campaign strategists: Russell Davenport, the spirit behind those chanting “We want Willkie” at the 1940 Republican convention in Philadelphia.

Russell Davenport was one of the founders of the early 1939 World Citizens’ Association along with Quincy Wright, professor of international law at the University of Chicago, and Adlai Stevenson, then a young Illinois lawyer. Davenport was a resolute opponent of the isolationist movement then strong in the Republican Party (and among some Democrats as well). As he wrote,

There come times in history of every people when destiny knocks on their door with an iron insistence…the shape of things to come depends on us: our moral decisions, our wisdom, our vision and our will.

However, it was less because of his role in the world citizens’ movement than because he was the editor of Fortune in Henry Luce’s publishing empire that early supporters of Wendell Willkie brought the two men together in the summer of 1939 at a Fortune brainstorming session with industrialists, bankers, labor union leaders, economists, and sociologists.

Long Live Freedom of Speech?

The Eiffel Tower at Night. The Eiffel Tower went dark for five minutes on Thursday, January 8, to mourn the dead from the terrorist attacks of the previous day.

Following the despicable terrorist attacks on the staff of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7th, a public discussion on the importance of free speech in global society has ensued. While discussion has ranged from the importance of free speech in general and satire in particular to the need to temper speech with respect, these discussions are themselves emblematic of a kind of triumph over narrow-minded extremism: public argument, whether civilized, vulgar, or anything in between, is beyond what a fundamentalist society could permit.

However, the public conversation has been too quick to argue merely for the virtues of free speech in the face of Islamist dogma or against hate speech in favor of conciliation when a much more sinister threat faces global society. Our opportunity to thrive, as nations and as a global people, is harmed more directly and more deeply by institutional limits on free speech than by the occasional attack from outside. These limits take many forms: censorship, media imprisonment and intimidation, domestic spying, to name just a few.

But as we permit—and in some cases, even endorse—these limitations on freedom of speech and expression throughout our societies and around the world, we critically harm the fabric of democracy and individual rights. Institutional restrictions on free speech hamper our ability not only to freely express our own conscience, but also our ability to understand social and political issues and make informed decisions. Furthermore, such restrictions enable the powerful to stockpile their resources and limit the freedom of billions.

An Activism and Safety Case Study: North Korea and The Interview

The recent movie The Interview released by Sony Pictures on December 25, 2014 has caused a huge amount of controversy. Some say it’s an expression of freedom of speech. Others call it a blunder that threatens US Security and/or claim that we really shouldn’t be surprised by North Korea’s response to this film.

North Korea is known to the world as one of worst violators of human rights as it seeks to control every aspect of its citizens’ lives, and those who don’t abide by the regime can face life-threatening consequences in the form of extra-judicial executions or imprisonment in gulags. Some human rights and democracy advocacy organizations seeking a politically freer North Korea plan to drop bootleg copies of the movie so that citizens can view it in the privacy of their own homes like some have done with other foreign movies.

These foreign movies have helped many North Koreans see beyond the propaganda they are fed by the state despite the risks involved. For instance, the Hollywood Reporter quotes a North Korean refugee who said that watching Titanic made her realize that ultimate devotion doesn’t have to be solely directed toward the leadership of one’s country; instead, it could occur between a couple where one partner sacrifices him- or herself so that the other lives.

In some cases, authorities even turn a blind eye when they find out that the material people have been watching doesn’t harm the state’s security.

Palestine and the ICC: National Sovereignty vs. Human Rights

One day after a failed bid at the UN to push a Middle East peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority President announced a move for the PA to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a way of seeking to get international judicial support for its ‘war crimes’ allegations against Israel. Now UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has indicated that the Palestinian Authority will be allowed to join the ICC.

Israel’s Netanyahu noted that the Palestinian Authority really should refrain from taking this case to the ICC because of Hamas’s own rocket attacks on Israeli population centers and their use of civilians as human shields. ICC prosecutors have made it clear in the past that they will investigate all allegations of misdeeds in a dispute, not just those of one side.

Most unprejudiced people would agree that there must be accountability for anyone committing war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. Unfortunately, at present the ICC can work only in those cases where nation-states, even those accused of crimes, allow it in their jurisdiction. This is another example of the miserable state of the present international system where unlimited national sovereignty is allowed to trump human rights. Even though 139 countries have signed the 1998 Rome Statute establishing the ICC, the most horrific crimes against humanity perpetrated in the past decade—in North Korea, Syria and Sri Lanka, among other places—presently remain outside of the ICC's reach. 

11 January: Human Trafficking Awareness Day

The recent interception by the Italian Navy of two ships filled with refugees from Syria and other countries has dramatically highlighted the ever-growing trade in persons.

11 January has been designated by the UN General Assembly as a day to develop awareness of human trafficking. Awareness has been growing, but effective remedies are slow and uncoordinated. These remedies often are not accessible to victims of trafficking due to gaps between setting international standards, enacting national laws, and then implementing them in a humane way.

The international standards have been set out in the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The Convention and the Protocol standards are strengthened by the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The worldwide standards have been reaffirmed by regional legal frameworks such as the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

Despite clear international and regional standards, many countries have poor implementation due to limited government resources and infrastructure, a tendency to criminalize victims, and restrictive immigration policies.

Walter F. Hoffmann: 1924-2014

As 2014 drew to a close, we said goodbye to a beloved global citizen. Walter F. Hoffmann, prominent civil rights attorney and tireless advocate for world peace, died at age 90 on Wednesday, December 31. 

Passionate for UN reform, Walter was a member of World Peace Through Law, founder of the Campaign For UN Reform, the Center for UN Reform Education, and Executive Director of the World Federalist Association in Washington, DC.  In 1993, he was appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives to serve on the Commission on Improving the Effectiveness of the United Nations. 

Born in Newark, Walter grew up in Glen Ridge and spent most of his adult life in Wayne, NJ. Walter was an Eagle Scout, graduated from Glen Ridge High School in 1942, and served with the Marine Corp in the Pacific in World War II.  He was stationed on Tinian Island as a member of the 18th Anti-Aircraft Battalion when the Enola Gay took off from Tinian for Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945.

Walter graduated from the University of Michigan in 1948 and the University of Chicago Law School in 1951, where he was an editor of the Law Review. He was a trial attorney for the National Labor Relations Board and a staff attorney for the US House Ways and Means subcommittee investigating the administration of the IRS.  He then returned to New Jersey and was a founding partner of Hoffmann, Humphreys & Lafer, in Wayne.

As a civil rights attorney in the 1960s, he successfully challenged residential covenants in NJ communities that excluded homeowners based on race and religion.

Walter served as Adjunct College Professor at William Patterson and Ramapo Colleges, teaching courses in Government and Political science.

New Year, Same Problems, Global Solutions?

2014 has been quite a year: from climate change to the World Cup to the recent revelations about the US’s torture strategies, it is clear that we still have a ways to go. And while it is easy to remain cynical as we enter a new year, there is still room for hope. The same problems may not, in fact, have the same solutions (or lack thereof) in 2015.

Take climate change. We have already seen advances in technology that are leading to possible solutions all over the world. These local programs – such as recycling programs, solar-powered boats, and a revolutionary biofuel clean up project using algae – all have the potential one day to be global solutions.

In fact, many of my posts have implicitly highlighted this: local solutions are often the stepping-stone to global policies and practices. Whether it is at the country level, the company level, or at the much more local level, small changes can culminate in widespread results.