On December 22, 2008, Guinea’s longtime dictator Lasana Conte died. Since then, military officers led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara staged a coup and Camara declared himself president. In the months since Camara has been in charge there has been outrage from the African Union, European Union, the United States, and from the Guinean people. All had different ideas of where the country should go, but they all agreed that there was a very small window for an end to dictatorship and a chance towards democracy. Camara and his military cronies had just about enough on September 28th when 55,000 demonstrators showed up at the national stadium in Conkary rallying for democracy. Guinea’s answer was violence, 157 unarmed civilians were either shot or trampled while trying to flee the stadium while the army openly fired on innocent victims. There were reports of rape, torture, and inside sources say that Camara himself was the one that ordered the shootings. While the rest of the world was in disbelief, China made a move before the dust even could settle.
15 days after the killings in the stadium, the junta government announced a $7 billion deal with China. The deal includes oil and mineral rights in return for infrastructure This is a win-win situation for both countries. Camara and his thug government now have some cash and international credibility while China, unshaken by the brutality of the government they are doing business with now have new resources to feed their booming economy. The Chinese government has long proclaimed a policy of non-interference, making parts of Africa ripe for China’s picking. While the human rights agencies of the west fight ferociously to stop western firms from supporting brutal dictatorships across the world, China is now coming in and squashing any real progress. And who is feeding China’s desire for natural resources? Take a look at yourself in the mirror, actually take a look at the back of your mirror. It is probably made in China, as well as your sneakers and most of the other items that fill the room you are in. If something was going to stop China from working with bad governments it would have to be the west boycotting the materials being made in China. With the recession taking place in the United States and one on the forecast in Europe, dollars are going to be stretched and the way you make the most out of your buck is usually buying something with a label saying “MADE IN CHINA”.
By Chris Pedersen
Last Tuesday I attended “Reckoning with Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the War on Terror,” co-presented by PEN American Center and the ACLU at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. The event brought together more 17 well-known writers and human rights workers to read from the War on Terror’s chilling record.
I attended this event not long after screening Steve York’s Confronting the Truth, a documentary about the use of truth commissions to respond to the needs of victims of mass atrocities. The film focused on examples from South Africa, Peru, Morocco, and Indonesia, which, while varying in methodology, all aimed to create a space for victims’ voices to be heard and become part of the public record. This documentary helped me frame “Reckoning with Torture” as an attempt at public truth telling.
When I walked into the Great Hall I was greeted by two floor-to-ceiling screens showing images of handprints of Iraqis detained in U.S. military jails, which had had been manipulated by artist Jenny Holzer. On the armrests of our seats were sheets of paper marked with the handprints of those who had died while under U.S. custody during the War on Terror. All of the images, which also included censored memoranda and reports, had been made available by way of the Freedom of Information Act, used since 2003 by NGOs and others to petition for their release.
With these haunting images as backdrop, I listened as participating authors read testimony from the War on Terror taken from official state documents, legal memos, and victims’ statements. Some segments were outrageous, like a statement by GW Bush reaffirming the United States’ adherence to the Geneva Convention in the aftermath of the Abu Graib scandal. Other parts were devastating, like watching video footage of Guantánamo detainees disclose the details of their treatment in detention or hearing autopsy reports of those who died in U.S. prisons.
The readers of these testimonies (including such luminaries as Art Spiegelman, Eve Ensler, and Paul Auster) were themselves moved and left a powerful impression on me. Yet it also wasn’t about them. They were there to draw an audience to bear witness to and create a public record of the atrocities committed during the War on Terror, whose victims are dispersed around the world, some still in prison. The likelihood that a formal truth commission will emerge to recognize and record their stories seems slim. I hope you’ll take the time to see and hear what took place last week in the Great Hall.
The full hour and a half-long event is available to watch on PEN’s website here.
By: Karen Phillips
By Nhu Truong
Why have women been counted out of the equation for development? Why is it important that foreign aid should direct more focus to educate and empower women in ways that can allow and create opportunities for greater female involvement in society and the economy? And, finally, how do we identify the invisible pressures of culture and tradition that are visibly tied to prevalent perceptions of women’s place in the family, society, and a country’s development as a whole?
Joined by the Wagner Women’s Caucus and Professor John Gershman, students participated in IPSA’s Reading & Discussion Group on October 15, 2009 for a discussion on these important questions about the effect of development on women. The discussion was grounded on a reading of two articles: “The Women’s Crusade,” and “Rights Versus Rites.”
On Thursday, September 24, the Wagner community was graced with the presence of Philip Alston, a professor at NYU Law and the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, in the first Conflict, Security and Development Series. Professor Alston’s talk, “What Can the UN do about Extrajudicial Killings?” focused largely on his role as a Special Rapporteur and the capabilities and limitations of the position.
The ambiguity of the Special Rapporteur position, of which there are over 30 for various topics, allows a broad mandate for the individuals in charge, but, at the same time, little to no funding from the UN creates a difficult environment in which they work. With a small staff, Alston produces multiple reports per year along with roughly three country visits. The greatest tool for the Special Rapporteurs is simple ‘naming and shaming’ for abuses since there are few enforcement mechanisms at their disposal.
Alston also relayed stories from the field, particularly focusing on a recent trip to Kenya.
I have been giving the great opportunity to tour Israel and Palestine through the Inter-Faith Peace Bulders Deligation. This program routinely brings a diverse intergerational group of people to the region to learn about the conflict and visit many different organizations and individuals who are rarely seen in the normal media. This campaign is being sponsored by US Campaign to End the Occupation.
After being here for a few days and touring a few settlements, I already have too much to say that can condense in a digestible form. What comes immediately to mind is the degree to which the Israeli government is explicitly dealing with the Palestinian question. Settlements are a hot topic now, but when you see the tunnels and roads that bypass Palestinian communities and see the maps of how they engulf all of the contiguous ethnically homogeneous communities, you begin to see a through plan.
Nof Zion is a settlement that strategically sits looking out at prime real estate as it encroaches on East Jerusalem, an important portion of the city that the Palestinian effort deeply wishes to claim as their future capital. A woman named Sarah from the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions showed us in clear terms the extent this portion of the city is being challenged by Israeli law. From the random demolitions, to the insurmountable fees for construction, you begin to forget what side of the green line this area is in. The legal structures permits relative dissolution of Palestinian neighborhoods and land. The narrative in the West about this region is that there are two different lands in conflict but the reality is that one is in the belly of the other. Only after visiting the separation wall in Abu Dis –a recent 30 foot concrete barrier that penetrates straight through a community thought as a possible secondary capital–does it begin to set in that the settlement locations and the wall are short term plans that are successful in hindering the development of a cohesive Palestinian community near and within Jerusalem. Silwan, a small Palestinian community located near the Western wall and faces constant problems with ideological settlers (a small minority to the large number of heavily subsidized settlers from all over the world claiming Israeli citizenship) is only another example of real estate interests of several different powers that jeopardize any hope of a Palestinian state.
It is very common to hear in the media about the two-state solution as a possible answer but as I see it, there is no "Palestine" outside of this growing Israel. This places a hard question to consider when the expanding Palestinian and non-Jewish population within the Israeli border outnumbers the Jewish inhabitants. This could happen within two decades. Will Israel be prepared to become less and less democratic for the sake of a Jewish Identity? I do not see a long term plan coming from the Israelis. I only see a short term remedy that involves the dehumanization of one people, and borderline racism within the nation of Israel.
Dheisheh Refugee Camp Al-Phoenix Community Center
For my internship, I recently travelled to Ayacucho, Peru, a region whose name means, “Land of the Dead” in the local, indigenous dialect. It is called “Land of the Dead” because as far back as the rule of the Inca, many bloody battles took place in this region. In more recent history, Ayacucho has continued to earn the name “Land of the Dead”, for it was in a rural university campus in this region that Professor Abimael Guzman formed the Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path in the 1970s. What started as a revolutionary movement soon turned into an armed guerrilla organization that committed horrendous atrocities against political opponents and citizens alike. The Peruvian government responded by sending armed forces-which were equally brutal-into the region and between 40,000 and 60,000 people were killed or disappeared in the resulting civil war. Many of the victims were indigenous people from Ayacucho.
The aftermath of the civil war is still felt in Ayacucho today. Although in the last decade the region has experienced peace and is now safe for visitors, it still remains very poor. In addition to the poverty, there are a lot of social problems. Many people have turned to alcohol to numb the painful memories of the civil war and often times alcoholism leads to domestic abuse and incest.
The organization I am working with, CHIRAPAQ, is an indigenous-led organization that seeks to build up leadership potential among members of Peru’s indigenous populations. The project I am working on is a series of educational workshops for indigenous youth on sexual and reproductive health. The organization seeks to empower these youth with knowledge of their bodies and an understanding of their rights. CHIRAPAQ hopes that through the workshops it will help reduce unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, both of which are very high in Ayacucho. As sexual and reproductive health is still a taboo issue between parents, teachers and youth in this region, I strongly believe the work CHIRAPAQ is doing is both important and effective. This week I am off to the Central Jungle for our next workshop. I will keep you posted…
I arrived in Bhopal 3 weeks ago and my team quickly started creating our research methodology and questions. With virtually no literature on the villages we were going to visit and the child reporters program itself, we were left with only our foreign trained minds to guide us. The aim of our case study is to find out how the capacities of village children improved since the inception of the program. So, we thought that asking the community (parents, teachers, children, etc.) what they thought child rights were would be a good way to start. When we presented this question to our supervisors ,they responded with laughter. The idea of rights is so alien to those communities, both to women who have been traditionally disadvantaged and even men who are disempowered because of their poverty, that the idea of children having rights was not only unheard of, but humorous as well. We decided to first ask if the people if they had ever heard of child rights and, if yes, to continue with follow up questions on what they were.
We went to three villages and spoke with parents, teachers, angandwadi’s ( health care workers for children ages 0-6), and children. Our findings were split. Some parents had heard of this phrase “bachon adikar” and some had not. Those who had went on to say that children had the right to live and to education and some even said to roam freely (the idea of children, even teenagers, wandering around inside or outside the village unaccompanied is very much taboo). The extent to which these people believe in these rights cannot be determined by a simple interview. In fact, I saw many instances, especially with the treatment of female children, that makes me believe that many who claimed to believe in these child rights do not actually practice them in full. Still, I am impressed. I understand that it takes a long time to change the traditions and views of people. However, the fact that we received a response, even if many were just repeating sound bites given to them by local NGOs, is the beginning of change itself.