Posts Tagged ‘Human rights’

Today is Human Rights Day

December 10, 2013

2013-10-16-humanrightsfinalThe Universal Declaration of Human Rights was approved by vote of the U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.  The vote was 48 to 0, with eight abstentions—six Communist delegates, plus Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

A commission headed by Eleanor Roosevelt and representing 18 nations spent two years drafting the declaration.  As a declaration rather than a treaty, it does not have the force of law, but it provides the philosophical and moral basis for later human rights treaties.

Click on The Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the full text.

Click on Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic Social and Political Rights for background information from Wikipedia.

David Graeber’s The Democracy Project

October 21, 2013

I recently finished reading David Graeber’s The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement.  Graeber gives a first-person account of the origins and fate of the Occupy Wall Street encampment, describes Occupy as a prototype of a future anarchist democracy and explains why he thinks the present-day American political and economic system cannot be reformed from within that system.

What his book shows is that there are other alternatives to the bipartisan Democratic-Republican establishment besides the radical reactionary Tea Party movement.  Despite what so many politicians and commentators say, a better world is possible.

DGCAnarchism is radical democracy, Greaber wrote.   Anarchists want a society based on voluntary cooperation mutual aid. His capsule definition of anarchism is a society in which nobody has the right to give orders and then call on people with guns for backup if orders aren’t obeyed.

Occupy Wall Street was a prototype for such a society.  It began with an article in a small, radical magazine called Adbusters, calling for activists to try gather in Wall Street on August 6, 2011.  The whole movement might have taken a different course if one tiny group of radicals had taken charge rather than another.

When David Graeber and his anarchist friends showed up that day, members of an organization called the Workers World Party were acting as if they were in charge.  The WWP, like the old Communist Party, represents what Graeber called “vertical” radicalism. “Vertical” radicals try to get themselves into positions of power and leadership in organizations, and leverage these positions to spread their influence.

“Horizontal” radicals, on the other hand, have a concept more like the Christian idea of the “servant leader.”  Their goal is to empower people to articulate their own grievances, desires and ideas, and to move forward on that basis.   While the “horizontals” may have their own ideas, they are willing to allow them to emerge in action.

The Occupy General Assemblies were organized with the stated goal of giving everybody a voice and preventing any individual from dominating the proceedings by virtue of articulateness or forceful personality.  Within the anarchist community, Graeber wrote, there are trained facilitators who are expert at making the group process work well staying in the background.  I would think this takes a lot of skill and self-restraint.

Setting up Working Groups to draft specific proposals helped with this. Nobody could be on more than one Working Group, so no single individual could dominate everything.  The stack method of calling on people to speak gave everybody an equal chance to speak.

The People’s Microphone, used in lieu of forbidden actual microphones, had the audience amplify speakers’ words by repeating them, phrase by phrase, and this had the side benefit of ensuring speakers didn’t waste the group’s time by speaking without thought.

The most dubious part of the General Assembly procedure was the consensus decision-making.  No decision could be made unless everybody, or at least an overwhelming majority, was willing to accept it.  I think this can work well with people who are working toward the same goal and who are committed to restraint, but it leaves the General Assembly open to sabotage to those who oppose or misunderstand its goals, including agents provocateurs.   Graeber acknowledged it sometimes is necessary to expel people from the group.

The decision-making process can be cumbersome.  But once the decision is made, the fact that virtually everyone understands and accepts it evidently makes the Occupy movement more effective in action than a top-down organization would be.

The proof is that the Occupy Wall Street encampment, operating under circumstances of virtual military siege, was able to function, to provide food and shelter to newcomers and also to indigents which the police encouraged to go to their site, and to take concerted actions.

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Target cotton picked by Uzbek slave labor

October 7, 2013

philebersole:

The former Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan in Central Asia each year drafts children who should be in school to work in its cotton fields.  A hundred companies, including Target, have pledged not to buy slave-picked Uzbek cotton, but Target buys from the Korean conglomerate Daewoo, which, according to activists, buys about 20 percent of the crop.

The writers of this article describe the conditions under which Uzbek cotton is picked—a six-year-old crushed under a load of cotton, a 16-year-old killed by touching a live electric wire, an 18-year-old beaten to death for leaving the field without making his quota—and they call upon Target to police its supply chain.

Originally posted on Tiffany's Non-Blog:

Just days ago, a 6-year-old boy suffocated under a load of cotton during this year’s cotton harvest in Uzbekistan.

Men, women and children forced to pick cotton will continue to suffer threats, injuries, and worse, if this form of modern slavery continues in the Uzbek cotton fields.

TAKE ACTION NOW: Call on Target to stop doing business with companies that support slavery in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan. 

_______________________________________


“A young woman died because of cotton. Who is responsible for her death?” – witness to Makhlie’s death1

Makhlie should have been in a classroom days ago when the Uzbek school year began. Instead, she and her classmates were working in the cotton harvest in the fields of Uzbekistan where an accidental brush with a live electrical wire stopped her heart. She was only 16.

Makhlie should never have been in that field picking cotton, but the Uzbek government…

View original 388 more words

David Graeber’s “rape, torture and murder” test

October 2, 2013

I’m reading David Graeber’s The Democracy Project, which is about the Occupy movement.  I came across this passage which I like so much that I’m going to make a separate post about it.   He started out by talking about how writers use phrases such as “human rights abuses” or “unsavory human rights records” when they mean “rape, torture and murder.”  He went on to write:

… I find what I call the “rape, torture and murder” test very useful.  It’s quite simple.  When presented with a political entity of some sort or another, whether a government, a social movement, a guerrilla army or, really, any other organized group and trying to decide whether they deserve condemnation or support, first ask “Do they commit, or do they order others to commit, acts of rape, torture or murder?”

DGCIt seems like a self-evident question, but again, it’s suprising how rarely—or, better, how selectively—it is applied.  Or, perhaps, it might seem surprising, until one starts applying it and discovers conventional wisdom on many issues of world politics is instantly turned upside down.

In 2006, for example, most people in the United States read about the Mexican government sending federal troops to quell a popular revolt, initiated by a teachers’ union, against a notoriously corrupt governor in the southern state of Oaxaca.  In the U.S. media, this was universally presented as a good thing, a restoration of order; the rebels, after all, were “violent,” having thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails …

No one to my knowledge has ever suggested the rebels had raped, tortured or murdered anyone; neither has anyone who knows anything about the events in question seriously contested the fact that forces loyal to the Mexican government had raped, tortured and murdered quite a number of people in suppressing the rebellion.

Yet somehow such acts, unlike the rebels stone throwing, cannot be described as “violent” at all, let alone as rape, torture or murder, but only appear, if at all, as “accusations of human rights violations,” or in some other similarly bloodless legalistic language.

 

The emerging American police state

October 30, 2012

If you had asked me 15 years ago what head of state would create a secret paramilitary force whose purpose was to execute an expanding list of death warrants into the indefinite future, I would not have said “the United States.”  I might have guessed Russia or China or North Korea or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  I would have said that such a force is a defining characteristic of a totalitarian government.

But in fact, as the Washington Post revealed recently, this is the policy of the United States, as carried out by a supposedly liberal Democrat who holds the Nobel Peace Prize.

The U.S. government has a policy of open-ended undeclared war, implemented by flying killer robot drones.  We have government surveillance in which every message and transaction carried over an electronic network is available to the state.   Our police are being increasingly militarized, as if they are preparing to put down an uprising.

I don’t think George W. Bush or Barack Obama are comparable to Hitler, but between the two of them, they have established an institutional and legal structure in which a Hitler, if he came to power, would lack no power to make his dictatorship total.  If you have the power of life and death without accountability, if you have the power to act in secret and prosecute those who reveal your secret, what power do you lack to be a dictator.  No, I don’t think George W. Bush or Barack Obama are comparable to Hitler, but having lived through their administrations, I find it easier to understand how the German people could come to accept Hitler’s rule as normal.

There are two things I find hard to understand.  Right-wing Republicans think that President Obama is secretly plotting against American constitutional liberties.  Yet these same Republicans are perfectly content to give this same President unlimited, unaccountable life-and-death powers exercised in secret.  They opposed the President’s health care plan because they imagine it would create death panels, yet they support the creation of real death panels.

Liberal Democrats are afraid of what Mitt Romney would do if elected President.  Yet they are content to give the President unlimited, unaccountable, life-and-death powers exercised in secret, as if there never will be a time when these powers are handed over to a right-wing Republican.

Click on Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. plans to keep adding to kill lists for the Washington Post report on the Obama administration’s “disposition matrix”.

Click on Obama moves to make the War on Terror permanent for Glenn Greenwald’s analysis.

Click on US legislation targets anyone in the world it deems a threat – that could be you for the larger picture.

 

When the Mountains Tremble

October 10, 2012

This prize-winning 1984 documentary, When the Mountains Tremble, described the Guatemalan government’s atrocities in 1982 and 1983 against the rebellious poor peasants and native Mayan Indian people.  The documentary and its outtakes are being used as evidence against General Jose Efrain Rios Montt, the military dictator of Guatemala at that time.   Aside from that, the documentary is well worth watching in itself.  It throws a lot of light on what is going on in Guatemala and the rest of Latin America today—for example, why so many Guatemalans and other central Americans have made their way through Mexico and entered the United States illegally to find work.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole documentary, you might just watch one of the two segments below, the first dealing with the military struggle in Guatemala and the second with the religious struggle.

I don’t claim that all the problems of Latin American society are due to the United States, nor that the Latin American left has all the answers.  I do say that the people of Latin America have the right to work out their problems without outside interference, and that they would be much better off if the U.S. government had allowed them to do so.

Click on Granito: How to Nail a Dictator for a report on how the When the Mountains Tremble documentary was used to bring General Rios Montt to justice.

When the Mountains Tremble showcases the testimony of Rigoberta Menchu, a poor Guatemalan Mayan Indian woman who says her story is the story of Guatemala.  Click on Rigoberta Menchu wiki for her Wikipedia biography.

Click on Network in Solidarity With the People of Guatemala for background on Guatemala today.

[Update 5/11/13]  Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison after being convicted of genocide. 

Click on Eighty Years in Prison for Guatemalan Ex-Dictator for details.

Click on Ronald Reagan: Rios Montt was “totally dedicated to democracy” for background.

Granito: How to Nail a Dictator

October 9, 2012

General Jose Efrain Rios Montt took power in Guatemala in a military coup early in 1982.  He suspended the Constitution, set up secret tribunals, and began a campaign of kidnapping, torture and killing to suppress opposition to the government.  In order to suppress a revolutionary guerrilla movement, the Guatemalan army began a campaign of annihilation against poor Mayan Indian peasant villagers from whom the guerrillas drew their support.

Amnesty International estimated that 10,000  Guatemalan peasants and Mayan Indians were killed just from March to July 1982.  A 1999 United Nations Commission said the army under Rios Montt wiped out 600 villages.  Other estimates say that tens of thousands of people were killed and as many as 1.5 million were driven from their homes.   Rios Montt himself was overthrown by another military coup in August, 1983, but the killings continued.

The documentary movie, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, describes the campaign to put Rios Montt on trial for his crimes.  Under the Spanish Constitution, a person can be indicted for crimes against humanity even when those crimes are committed outside Spain.   Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan peasant leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, filed charges in Spain of torture, genocide, illegal detention and state-sponsored terrorism against Rios Montt and four other Guatemalan generals, including two ex-Presidents.  Spanish Judge Santiago Pedraz issued an international arrest warrant against Rios Montt in 2006, but the Guatemalan government refused to hand him over.  However, in January of this year, Rios Montt was indicted in Guatemala itself on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide.

This is an important precedent.  It shows that just because you are the head of a government does not give you impunity to commit crimes.  So long as there is impunity, mass killings and other crimes against humanity will continue.   So far accountability extends only to the rules of small countries, and not to the great powers, but I hope that this case and others like it will lay the legal groundwork for ending impunity in powerful countries such as the United States.

I was brought up to believe that the English-speaking world was the home of the ideal of liberty under law.  But at the present time, this principle is understood a great deal better in Spain and Guatemala than it is in Britain or here in the United States.

The documentary is nearly 90 minutes long, which is a lot to watch on a computer screen, but I think it is well worth the effort.  It is divided into three segments, so you don’t have to watch the whole thing all at once.

Much of the information used to indict Rios Montt came from a 1983 documentary film When the Mountains Tremble and outtakes from that film.  It, too, is nearly 90 minutes long, but broken up into segments.   If you have the time, watch When the Mountains Tremble and then Granito: How to Nail a Dictator for the whole story of Guatemala since a CIA-sponsored coup overthrew the democratically-elected government in 1954.

Click on When the Mountains Tremble to view the earlier documentary.

Click on Efrain Rios Montt wiki for Rios Montt’s Wikipedia article.

Click on Network in Solidarity With the People of Guatemala for background on Guatemala.

Hat tip to Larry Lack.

Why Kazakhstan matters

May 17, 2012

In the 2006 movie Borat, Sasha Baron Cohen treated the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan as an object of ridicule, a prime example of ignorance and backwardness.  But in fact Kazakhstan is emerging as a key player on the international scene.  This central Asian nation, which is larger than western Europe and borders on Russia and China, is the world’s largest producer of uranium and an important producer of oil and natural gas.  The government of Kazakhstan recently bought a 7.7 percent interest in Westinghouse Corp., one of the two major U.S. manufacturers of nuclear weapons.

President Barack Obama, in talks recently in Seoul, South Korea, conferred one-on-one with Khazakhstan President-for-Life Nursultan Nazarbayev about forging closer ties with the two countries.   The U.S. military provides aid and training for the Kazakhstan armed forces.  A consortium of American universities, including the universities of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, are advising on construction of Nazarbayev University, which will enroll 20,000 students who will be taught entirely in English.

The problem with this, as investigative journalist Allen Ruff said in an interview on the Real News Network, is that the Nazarboyev regime is one of the world’s most brutal and corrupt.  The situation he described reminded me of U.S. relations with the Shah of Iran, prior to the Shah’s overthrow in 1979.   Our government overlooked his human rights violations and encouraged his development of a nuclear energy program because he was considered a key ally and energy supplier.  All this blew up when he was overthrown.

Click on US Befriends Kazakhstan Dicator, Now World’s Largest Producer of Uranium for a transcript of the highly informative broadcast.

Click on RuffTalk for Allen Ruff’s web log.   His recent posts go into the Kazakhstan situation in great detail.  Ruff said Bill Clinton and his Clinton Foundation played a key role in helping Nazarbayev overcome U.S. objections to his Westinghouse acquisition.

Gay marriage, money power and state’s rights

May 10, 2012

President Barack Obama said he believes that same-sex couples have a right to be married.  There are two things to remember about this.

  • His statement comes after gay rights organizations throttled back on contributions to Democratic candidates.  Donations in the 2010 mid-term elections fell by 50 percent from the 2006 mid-term elections.  Evidently the Democratic leaders got the message.  The military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was repealed in the 2010 lame-duck session of Congress.  In 2011, the Obama administration stopped defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, a1996  law that forbid any federal government recognition of gay marriage.  And now, with the 2012 Presidential elections coming up, the President endorses gay marriage.
  • President Obama did not propose to support any federal law or Constitutional amendment in support of gay marriage.  He would leave the issue to state governments, which is how things were before he issued his statement.   I happen to think that is the correct position.  I don’t believe in federalizing laws of marriage and divorce either.   But it makes Obama’s statement a mere expression of personal opinion.  It doesn’t change anything.

Mitt Romney for his part has signed a pledge to the National Organization for Marriage to support a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and said he would defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.  While Barack Obama has done little to advance gay rights, he isn’t trying to turn the clock back.

Click on Don’t Ask, Don’t Give and Gay Rights Political Donations Plummet for the story of the gay fund-raising boycott.  Hat tip for the links to Making Light.

Click on Obama and Gay Marriage for Radley Balko’s comment on The Agitator.

Click on Obama’s historic affirmation of same-sex marriage for Glenn Greenwald’s comment in The Guardian newspaper.  [Added 5/11/12]

Click on Mitt Romney reiterates opposition to gay marriage for Huffington Post’s comparison of Obama’s and Romney’s positions.

Click on Christian marriage and civil unions for my argument as to why government should not have the authority to say who’s married and who isn’t.

[Afterthought 5/11/12]   Barack Obama’s statement on gay marriage is historically significant, because no previous President has declared himself so clearly.  So maybe my comment above was a little mean-spirited.   It is not consistent to criticize somebody for being equivocal, and then belittle him when he takes a clear stand.  As Glenn Greenwald wrote, we can’t know people’s motives, all we can judge is their actions, good or bad.

Now you may disagree as to whether his statement was the right thing.  That is a different matter.

[Another afterthought 5/12/12]   As my friend Josh said, this shifts the focus of the Presidential election campaign toward the question of gay marriage (even through President Obama has declared it an issue for the states to decide) and away from the bipartisan consensus on creeping totalitarianism – detention without trial, torture, assassinations, universal surveillance, undeclared wars and governmental impunity.

Two Arab fighters for human rights

May 9, 2012

Julian Assange interviewed two important Arab fighters for human rights, whom I’d never heard of, on his latest The World Tomorrow program, which was broadcast yesterday.  One was Alaa Abd El-Fattah of Egypt, who is living abroad, and the other is Bahrain’s Nabeel Rajab, who was arrested May 5 shortly after his interview with Assange was recorded.  El-Fattah also faces charges of damaging military property, stealing weapons and committing murder–acts of violence he said he would have had to be comic book superhero to pull off.

Both have been subject to midnight kidnapings, beatings, imprisonment and harassment of their families, including their small children.  Both are critical of U.S. policy.  Rajab said the U.S. government is trying to thwart revolution in Bahrain, El-Fattah said the U.S. government is trying to channel and restrict the course of revolution in Eygpt.   Rajab said the struggle in Bahrain has been subject to a news blackout by the main Arabic-language news networks, Al Jazeera and al-Arabiya.

El-Fatah is a long-time blogger, programmer and political activist.  His parents were human rights advocates under Anwar Sadat.  He spent 45 days in jail in 2006 under the Mubarak regime, and was released after a worldwide protest.  In 2011, from abroad, he helped protestors route messages around President Mubarak’s Internet blockade.  He noted, however, that although members of the educated Egyptian middle class, who use the electronic social media, played an important role in the overthrow of Mubarak, but it is a mistake to focus exclusively on them.  “You are ignoring the workers,” he said.  “You are ignoring the street battles.  You are ignoring how much we had to use violence.”

He said he is not sure what form democracy will take in Egypt, but “it is certainly not a boring Western representative democracy, where your nation could go to war, like the UK, without the consent of the populace, where electing the President who promised hope is almost the same thing as electing the President who didn’t promise hope, as happened in the US. … The dream is a democracy that doesn’t give rise to Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London and the Greek riots…”

Rajab was a member of a pro-regime family but became a human rights advocate after graduating from college in 1988.  Together with Abdullah al-Khawaja, he established the Bahrain Center for Human Rights in 2002.  After al-Khawaja was arrested, he led protests calling for his release.   He said the protests in Bahrain are subject to a news blackout from al Jazeera, which is based in the neighboring Persian Gulf Sheikdom of Qatar which, like Bahrain, has a Sunni ruling family.   He said the Bahrain government falsely claims that the Bahrain struggle is instigated by the Shiite government of Iran.  Assange said that U.S. diplomats in Bahrain, in cables obtained by WikiLeaks, acknowledged there is no evidence of this.

The United States and other Western governments are aligned with the Saudi Arabian ruling family, Rajab said; that is why the U.S. government is trying to persuade the Russian government to stop arms shipments to Syria, while U.S. arms shipments to Bahrain continue.

He said he wishes he could keep his family out of the struggle, but this is not possible.   He was beaten in his home in the presence of his 14-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.  But violence in Bahrain is so random, he said, that there would not be any safety in being sildent.

Click on Assange Episode 4 for highlights of the program

Click on Common Dreams for capsule biographies of Alaa Abd El-Fattah and Nabeel Rajab

Click on The World Tomorrow for the TV program’s home page and earlier episodes.


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