Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Spanish judge exposes hypocrisy of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez

Posted by sanityinjection on March 1, 2010

Honestly, sometimes I think I could write a whole blog just about Venezuela’s strutting thug of a caudillo, Hugo Chavez. I’m sure others have done just that. Whether it’s trying to rule Honduras through one of his bullyboy stooges or declaring that the United States somehow deliberately engineered the Haiti earthquake as a pretext to take over that country, Chavez is a headline news writer’s dream – always good for some copy.

 For now, let me just comment on one aspect of Chavez’ foreign policy. As even the most casual follower of international issues knows, Chavez casts himself as the chief opponent of the United States in the Western Hemisphere. Everything in Latin America is the fault of US imperialism, according to Chavez. Chavez reserves particular spite for neighboring US ally Colombia. Relations between Venezuela and Colombia have deteriorated drastically since Chavez gained power. Chavez frequently accuses the US of planning to invade Venezuela with Colombian help to overthrow him, while at the same time denying accusations that Chavez’ Venezuelan military and intelligence services have provided aid to the FARC rebels in Colombia.

In fact, it is Chavez, and not the United States or Colombia, who is actively engaged in attacking other nations by funding and training rebels and terrorists. Support for this comes from a judge in faraway Spain, whose recent indictment accuses Chavez’ government of not only harboring terrorists from Spain’s ETA and Colombia’s FARC, but actually presiding over explosives training involving both groups.

Of course, allegations of this type have been coming from the US and Colombia for a while now, but this comes from an essentially neutral source (personal friction between the Spanish King and Chavez notwithstanding.) It will be much harder for Chavez to brush this off as US propaganda, though it is unlikely to have any direct consequences.

Meanwhile, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has members from Argentina, Brazil, and Chile as well as the US, has issued this 150-page report detailing the systematic way in which Chavez has undermined democracy, freedom, and human rights in his country. Again, not new information, but when you put it all together in one place it’s a staggering condemnation. The Commission, of course, like its parent group the Organization of American States, is toothless, but in Chavez’ world, sometimes propaganda counts for a lot. It is getting harder and harder for Chavez to present himself and his government as victims when the evidence is mounting that they are the victimizers.

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Why most international organizations are useless

Posted by sanityinjection on February 5, 2010

One of the principal differences between the Right and Left in the area of foreign policy has to do with international organizations. The Left loves them, the Right hates them. Whether it be the UN, the World Court, or any of a hundred other organizations, the Left believes that international organizations are more moral actors than individual governments, and that we would all be better off if everything were decided by these groups rather than by individual nations acting to further their own selfish interests. The Right counters that these organizations, by their very multilateral nature, are inefficient and ineffective.

Case in point: Last May, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights issued a finding against the government of Kenya. The Commission found that that the Kenyan government violated international law by forcibly evicting members of the Endoroi tribe in order to turn their land into a wildlife park.  At a recent summit, the African Union, which groups together the heads of state of most of the nations of Africa, recently confirmed and endorsed that finding. The Left is hailing this decision as a “landmark decision that sets a precedent for recognizing the land rights of indigenous people in Africa.”

So what’s the problem? The evictions in question took place in the 1970s -over thirty years ago. That’s right, it took thirty years for African organizations to agree that booting native tribes off their land is bad. How much comfort do you think the Endoroi people will take from this “landmark decision”? You can rest assured there is a zero chance of any of them getting their land back.

By contrast, imagine if the United States, at the time of the expulsions, had acted unilaterally, without “consulting with our allies.” The US could have denounced the expulsions and warned the Kenyan government that if it did not reconsider its actions, all US aid to Kenya would be cut off. Given that Kenya was quite a bit poorer back then, such a threat would have carried a lot of weight.

As an analogy, imagine if there was a road delta near your home with grass that had become overgrown and needed to be cut. You could contact the Town and ask them to do it and be told that there isn’t enough funding. You could try to get a bunch of neighbors together to chip in to get it taken care of , only to find that half of them don’t care and some actually like the grass the way it is. Or you could take your lawnmower and just go do it.

I am not saying that all international organizations are without merit. It’s good to have venues where nations can communicate and talk about their issues. It’s good to have groups that can coordinate long-term initiatives like disease eradication and shared water usage. But when there is a need for timely and effective action to solve an immediate problem, such as a troublesome dictator developing nuclear weapons, international organizations by their very nature are basically useless.

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The new face of women’s rights: Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein

Posted by sanityinjection on August 3, 2009

I want to introduce you to this brave Sudanese lady who is currently at the frontline of the battle for women’s rights. Ms. Hussein was arrested at a restaurant in the Sudanese capital city of Khartoum. Her crime? Wearing trousers – considered “indecent clothing” under a Sudanese law called Article 152. The punishment involves a fine and a number of lashes with a whip on the clothed body.

Such arrests are not unusual in the northern half of the country where the population is predominantly Muslim and sharia law governs. However, enforcement is haphazard. I’m betting that the authorities are already wishing that they hadn’t chosen Ms. Hussein to arrest that night. Unlike many Sudanese women who lack formal education and would be afraid to challenge authority, Ms. Hussein is a journalist who works for the United Nations. Instead of plea bargaining for a reduced sentence as other women who were arrested for the same crime have done, Ms. Hussein is appealing her sentence of 40 lashes, claiming that Article 152 is not only unconstitutional but un-Islamic as well:

“If some people refer to the sharia to justify flagellating women because of what they wear, then let them show me which Koranic verses or hadith say so. I haven’t found them.”

Ms. Hussein made a point of wearing the same outfit to her first court hearing that she was wearing when she was arrested, so that everyone present could judge for themselves whether her clothing was indecent. Here is a photo:

 (Photo credit: Agence France-Presse)

Even by Middle Eastern cultural standards regarding the exposure of flesh, it’s hard to argue this outfit is indecent. Ms. Hussein plans to appeal her case all the way to the top, and says she is prepared to take 40 or even 40,000 lashes if necessary.

The authorities, trying to avoid publicity, tried to see if Ms. Hussein’s position with the UN qualified her for diplomatic immunity, so they could make the whole thing go away without having the law challenged. However, Ms. Hussein threatened to quit her job if they did that and waived any right to immunity, as she wants to challenge the law once and for all.

What’s especially nice about this case is that it can’t be dismissed as a bunch of do-gooder human rights NGOs trying to impose Western values on a Muslim country. Ms. Hussein is clearly calling her own shots on this one, though she may be getting financial assistance. Rather than the challenge coming from outside, this is a Sudanese woman standing up for the rights of her countrywomen. I can only imagine how inspirational she must be for other Sudanese women – if they are even allowed to know about the case at all.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

How the Internet saved free speech in Canada

Posted by sanityinjection on May 5, 2009

In the June edition of the libertarian magazine Reason, Canadian publisher Ezra Levant tells the story of his fight to defend himself against the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission. Levant’s crime? Offending Muslims by reprinting the now-famous Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Of particular interest is the role the Internet played in Levant’s victory. Levant credits support from ordinary citizens – both written and financial – with helping him sustain his defense until his accusers ultimately withdrew their charges in the face of mounting public criticism.

However, the fact that Levant had to go through such an ordeal at all should serve as a wake-up call for freedom-loving people everywhere. Canada may be more politically correct than most democracies, but it is not a great leap to see similar tendencies in the US and elsewhere. There are those who would happily establish the equivalent of the Alberta HRC in every state or province of every Western country. In our desire to uphold human rights, we must not allow ourselves to be deluded into mistaking the right to never be offended as one of them. Thus, I may find Dan Brown’s books to be offensive and bigoted, but I strongly defend his right to write them and have them made into movies no matter how much they may offend me.

Over half a century has passed since George Orwell first introduced us to the Thought Police in 1984. (And if by chance, dear reader, you have never got around to reading this book, please do so at once.) How horrified would Orwell, a passionate socialist, be to know that Canada of all places has come so far in bringing his dystopia to life?

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Quote of the Week

Posted by sanityinjection on April 23, 2009

“A lot of people feel it’s not worth fighting for their rights because they are so likely to fail. They don’t know that the big victories are won by adding up many, many small wins and actions.” – Cheng Hai

Mr. Cheng is a Beijing lawyer who has endured beatings by Chinese police because of his legal representation of members of the banned Falun Gong sect. Although he spoke about the situation in China, his words apply to any country and any situation where the rights of citizens are threatened or denied.

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Should the US talk to Cuba and Raul Castro?

Posted by sanityinjection on April 17, 2009

Recently, Cuban leader Raul Castro stated publicly that he is ready for talks with the US in which all issues could be put on the table, including political prisoners and human rights. This move, something Cuba has not been willing to do before, is being viewed around the world as an overture to the US. Everyone is interested to see how the US will respond.

So far, the Obama Administration’s tone has been positive but cautious. Secretary of State Clinton characterized Castro’s statement as “welcome” and said the Administration is seriously considering how it should respond. In my view, such caution is appropriate. The US has already made a gesture toward Cuba in loosening restrictions on trade and travel with Cuba. That represents a concrete benefit for Cuba; to reciprocate simply by agreeing to talk about human rights offers the US nothing concrete in return.

To those not well versed in international relations, such tit-of-tat considerations may seem silly. What is the harm, they might ask, in simply sitting down to talk with Castro or anyone without preconditions?

Well, nothing, if you believe there is a reasonable chance of accomplishing something. However, with countries like Cuba and North Korea, it is more likely that they desire the talks for reasons of prestige and may not have any intention of coming to an agreement. This would be especially true if the talks involve a high profile such as Clinton or President Obama himself. The regimes would spin that as the US coming to kneel at the feet of their Maximum Leader. For countries such as these where the leader’s personality cult is a critical mainstay of the regime’s power, the PR they can get out of having talks with the US is in itself a victory for them, though it may seem trivial to Americans. In this case, Castro has not given any indication that he is prepared to make any real concessions on human rights.

On the other hand, the US does not want to appear to have rebuffed what looks to the world like a sincere gesture. An appropriate response would be to send mid-level State Department officials to meet with Cuban representatives at the UN in New York and see whether there is potential for some sort of agreement. This is called “back-channel” negotiation and has been used in the past with the USSR during the Cold War. Only if progress seems to be forthcoming would you want to escalate to a more high-profile public negotiation.

The US can also indicate its posture by not attempting to block  the move to reinstate Cuba as a member of the Organization of American States, which it was expelled from in 1962. This move is going to succeed anyway. The US should still vote no, but it will be viewed as significant if the US does not lobby other nations to do so as well.

Posted in Foreign Affairs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Keeping Israel in perspective

Posted by sanityinjection on January 21, 2009

With the Gaza violence finally coming to an end, at least for the time being, Israel’s public image is not in great shape. Even those who understand Israel’s need to defend themselves against Hamas rocket attacks cannot help but be dismayed by the level of devastation in Gaza, much of it suffered by ordinary Palestinians who may or may not have anything to do with Hamas.

You can bet that we will be hearing with renewed fervor the drumbeat of those who call Israel a racist state that persecutes Arabs and violates their human rights. With this in mind, I offer for consideration the recent decision by the Israeli Supreme Court allowing Arab parties to stand in Israel’s upcoming elections.

The Israeli election authority had moved to ban Israeli Arab parties from taking part in the elections. These are Arab politicians who live in and are citizens of Israel proper, not the West Bank or Gaza. The Israeli parliament has long had a handful of Arab legislators.

The reason for the ban was that the Arab parties, which openly sympathize with the Palestinians, had supported terrorism by traveling to Arab nations such as Lebanon and meeting with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. The ban was only on the parties themselves, and not on any individual politicians. However, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned the ban by a unanimous vote.

What is the significance of this? Just that if you are an Arab living in Israel, while you may face social discrimination from the Jewish majority, your freedom of speech and due process rights are protected under Israeli law. You have the right to vote and to run for office.

In the vast majority of Arab countries, on the other hand, even Arabs do not enjoy these rights. In no country do they enjoy all of them. And God help you if you’re a non-Arab, or a non-Muslim in say, Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

In short, if we are going to talk about human rights in the Middle East, Israel is not immune from criticism, but it is hardly the place any rational person would single out as their primary target. Israel treats even its minorities better than Arab countries treat their own people.

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