Archive for the ‘State Department Human Rights Country Reports’ Category

The great flaw in the Iran nuclear deal: The U.S. says it is not legally binding

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

Developing

See

Felicia Schwartz, “Iran Nuclear Deal, If Reached, Wouldn’t Be ‘Legally Binding,’ Kerry Says; But an Iran deal would have enforcement mechanisms, the secretary of state says,” Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2015 (Updated 9:39 p.m. ET).

Stephen Collinson, “Iran deal: A treaty or not a treaty, that is the question,” CNN, March 12, 2015 (Updated 6:13 AM ET).

Adam B. Lerner, “State Department: Iran deal ‘nonbinding’,” Politico, March 15, 2015 (Updated )1:40 PM ET).

The most bizarre aspect of the hoped-for nuclear deal with Iran is that, according to the U.S., it will be a “political deal” only, and not be legally binding under International Law.

If the Start I and Start II arms control treaties were full of incredible detail and mutual obligations, and were legally binding, why should the Iran nuclear deal not be legally binding as well?

The answer may have to do with Barack Obama’s assessment of whether he could secure Senate ratification of the Iran nuclear deal by the United States Senate.

Whether the other parties to the potential agreement (Iran, France, U.K., Russia, China and Germany) view the potential agreement as legally binding or not is not clear. Moreover, it is difficult to comprehend how the obligations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) under the “agreement” and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on which it is partly based can be formalized without what is known as a “treaty” under the 1961 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Furthermore, whatever the U.S. view, the nuclear agreement with Iran itself is likely to fulfill all of the requirements for a treaty under the Vienna Convention, unless the parties specifically stipulate in its text that it is their intent not to be legally bound by the agreement.

Why would any of them want to do that?

Unfortunately, it appears that Obama’s end-run around the Senate’s constitutional authority to give its “advice and consent” to a formal treaty –and arms control agreements have traditionally be regarded as treaties requiring Senate ratification — will deprive the Iran nuclear agreement of the most important kind of commitment that might ensure its full and complete performance — its binding nature under international law.

If it is a treaty in the sense of the Vienna Convention, there are a number of legal rules that define violations and their consequences.  The concept of “material breach” found in domestic law is highly significant here, and is also found in the Vienna Convention, which lays down the rules for the interpretation of treaties. If the agreement is not legally binding and only a “political” agreement, there are no guidelines for interpretation or on what to do in the event of a violation.

One suspects that the lawyers in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser were not fully consulted, or that their advice was not heeded, on the question of whether or not to treat the Iran agreement as legally binding or merely as a “political agreement”.

It sounds more like a White House decision made on the basis of purely domestic political considerations.

We need clarification on the issues raised above. Do the other parties consider the agreement to be legally binding under International Law?

What will happen if some parties view it one way and other parties view it differently?

Will the agreement explicitly express the intent of the parties that the agreement not be legally binding under International Law?

One further possibilty may exist. Technically, it may be possible for President Obama to treat the agreement as an Executive Agreement with Congressional approval. This would require the approval of only a majority of the House and of the Senate, instead of two-thirds of the Senate.

It seems clear that the agreement would be more “binding” on Iran if it were legally binding as a “treaty” under International Law and the Vienna Convention. Such a “treaty” in the International Law sense could be either a treaty (in the domestic law sense) approved by two-thirds of the Senate or an Executive Agreement approved by both houses of Congress.

Perhaps President Obama’s general lack of interest in International Law can account for the curious situation the U.S. finds itself in, asserting that the Iran nuclear deal will not be legally binding but only a “political agreement”.

In ant event, the President owes us a full explanation of this anomaly.

For those who are concerned about whether Iran will fully implement the agreements’ provisions, it may not be too late to insist that the final agreement assume legally binding form under International Law.

The Trenchant Observer

Lessons for Iran from the Greek debt negotiations

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

Two deadlines loom on June 30:

1) Agreement between Greece and the EU, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on an extension of the program of continuing loans in exchange for structural reforms; and

2) Agreement between the P5+1 countries (the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) with Iran on restrictions on its nuclear program and their verification in exchange for a lifting of bilateral and multilateral sanctions.

We have just witnessed the collapse of the Greek debt negotiations. There are important lessons to be learned from the breakdown of the talks which Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei should take directly to heart, and act upon, if a deal between the P5+1 and Iran is still to be achieved.

In the Greek debt negotiations, the positions of the two sides were very close, and indeed a deal might have been reached on the basis of the major concessions Alexis Tsipras made in a counter proposal earlier this week. But the European and IMF creditors overplayed their hand, insisting on still further concessions in a dynamic in which the future of Greece and even the Euro zone fell hostage to personal anger, wounded feelings, a sense of national and personal humiliation, and ultimately something bordering on psychological collapse on the part of Tsipras.

The sticking points were ridiculous in the broader scheme of things:

Should the VAT at restaurants be raised to 23% as the creditors wanted, or held to 13% as Greece proposed? Should the 30% discount on the VAT granted to the Greek islands be abolished as the creditors demanded? Should the corporate income tax rate be raised to 29% as Greece proposed, or be held to 28%? In what year should the proposed pension reforms, raising the retirement age from 60 to 67, be implemented, 2018 or 2022?

These are issues which could have been resolved with good faith negotiations, trust and goodwill in the room. Unfortunately, both sides came to feel that the other side was not bargaining in good faith. Trust had broken down as a result of the negotiating tactics including personal attacks of Tsipras and his government over months of negotiations, and what the Greeks perceived to be the unyielding position of the creditors to demand further austerity without embarking on a path that might lead to growth and an eventual way out of the crisis, and hope for the future.

Facing rebellion among his ranks, and apparently smarting from a highly emotional confrontation in the corridors with EU Council President Donald Trusk on Friday, Tsipras appears to have felt humiliated and to have suffered some kind of emotional or psychological collapse, calling an emergency meeting of his cabinet Friday night, and then announcing in a 1:00 a.m. TV broadcast to the nation that he was calling a snap referendum on the creditors’ last proposal.

For the creditors, calling the snap referendum was the ultimate act of bad faith. They declared the negotiations were over, the deadline of Tuesday, June 30 would not be extended, and they were now working on a “Plan B”  to protect the Eurozone and its financial institutions from the fallout of a Greek default by Wednesday. The ECB, for its part called a meeting for Sunday to decide, among other matters, whether it would extend its support of Greek banks past Tuesday. Without such support, the Greek banking system is expected to collapse beginning next week.

In the last days, Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanus Varoufakis made several grave miscalculations, assuming that the creditors would extend the June 30 deadline to after the July 5 referendum, and that the IMF would not declare them in default, triggering default provisions in a number of debt instruments and even making continued ECB support of Greek banks problematical.

Varoufakis is reported to be an expert on game theory, and recent actions by the Greek government appear to be consistent with the classical game of “chicken” — memorably portrayed in the drag race in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause” with James Dean.

Yet there are two fundamental problems with approaching multiparty negotiations as if they can be represented by the game-theory model of “chicken”.

The first is that the “chicken” model is a two-party game, based on the assumption that each of the parties will act with perfect rationality. In other words, “chicken” is a two-party game based on a rational choice model. Here, however, we are looking at multi-party negotiations.

The second problem is that the actions of the governments that constitute the creditors are the product of complex governmental decision processes and bureaucratic politics, both at the national and at the international institutional level. Similarly, the actions of the Greek government are the product of governmental processes and bureacratic politics, and not the actions of a unitary rational mind.

See the classic studies on the rational actor fallacy:

(1) Graham Allison and Philip Zelikov, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (2d ed. 1999); and

(2) John D. Steinbruner, The Cybernetic Theory of Decision: New Dimensions of Political Analysis (1974, 2nd paperback ed. with a new preface 2002)

Consequently, using game-theory approaches to guide decisions is fatally flawed. The negotiations are not a one-time occurrence. Rather, pushing matters to the brink, as one might do in a one-time two person game to “win”, can have disastrous effects on the trust that may be necessary to maintain relationships and successfully conclude future negotiations.

There are lessons here to be drawn by Iran. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s recent and repeated statements that Iranian military facilities are not to be subject to inspection for verification of compliance with the terms of any nuclear deal with the P5+1 are tantamount to statements that there will be no nuclear deal. The Iranian parliament’s recent passage of a law prohibiting such inspections offers a similar sign.

However clever these moves may seem as putting pressure on the P5+1, or managing disparate interest groups and political forces inside Iran, their net effect may be to undermine the essential trust upon which any nuclear deal must be based.

Already, senior U.S. officials who have been involved developing and implementing policy towards Iran have spoken out, loudy, about what is required to secure an adequate deal with Iran, and the importance of being able to walk away from a bad deal.

In recent weeks U.S. government reports have revealed that Iran continues to support terrorist activities, and that its observance of fundamental human rights remains abysmal.

In these circumstances, Iran as well as the United States would do well to bear in mind the Greek tragedy that is now playing out in the Greek debt negotiations.

Negotiations are not a two-party rational choice game of “chicken”, or a two party negotiation in an Iranian bazar. Governmental processes, such as action by Congress, can block implementation of any deal. Politics in the 2016 presidential election could produce a shift in the U.S. position.

As in the Greek debt negotiations, if Iran or even the P5+1 overplay their hand, if they negotiate in a manner that undermines the trust required to reach and implement any agreement, forces may be unleashed that kill the deal or its implementation.

The failure of the Iran negotiations, like the failure of the Greek debt negotiations, would be particularly unfortunate given the fact that, in both cases, a deal has seemed within reach.

Human beings, not rational-actor machines, will determine whether a nuclear deal is reached with Iran. Iran would be well advised to act in a manner that builds confidence and trust on the part of the P5+1 countries.

Otherwise they could find that when trust and confidence are needed to bridge final differences, they are nowhere to be found.

The Trenchant Observer

Nowruz 2015: “Eide shoma mobarak!” President Obama’s Persian New Year Greeting to Persians

Friday, March 20th, 2015

President Barack Obama has issued his traditional Persian New Year greeting to Persians in Iran and around the world.

For the text in English, see “Remarks by President Obama on Nowruz,”The White House, Press Office March 19, 2015.

For the video, click here.

Unlike in previous years, he text in Farsi has apparently not yet been published ny the White House.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama seeks to block publication of Senate torture report; Pillar of democracy at stake

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

Background — See

(1) “Sicherheitsbedenken: US-Regierung bremst Veröffentlichung von CIA-Folterbericht,” Der Spiegel, 6. Dezember 2014 (19:55 Uhr).

Der US-Senat wollte umfassende Informationen über geheime Foltermethoden der CIA publizieren. Nun blockiert die Regierung in Washington in letzter Sekunde die Veröffentlichung – und begründet dies mit Sorge vor neuer Gewalt im Nahen Osten.”

(2) Reuters (Washington), “Kerry urges caution over timing of releasing U.S. torture report,” Reuters, December 5, 2014 (7:40pm EST).

(3) Matthew Lee and Ken Dilian, “Kerry to Feinstein: Consider timing of CIA report,” Associated Press (AP), December 5, 2014 (6:26 PM EST).

(4) “Obama: ‘We tortured some folks…It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks (our law enforcement and our national security teams) were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.’” (full transcript), The Trenchant Observer. August 1, 2014.

(5) “Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2013.

One of the fundamental pillars of any democracy is the right of the people, those who in the U.S. elect the president and members of the Senate and the House, to know what actions the government has carried out with their money and in their name.

To the extent secret laws, secret courts, and doctrines that prevent the adjudication of the constitutionality and legality of the government’s actions prevent the people, the electorate, from learning what actions the government has taken and what crimes it has committed, the very edifice of democracy is eroded as the structure that remains becomes a hollow shell.

Now we hear the wholly specious argument, from Secretary of State John Kerry no less, that publication of the Senate’s Torture Report must be “delayed” because it will cause violence in the Middle East and South Asia, and will expose American hostages to risks and other Americans to being taken as hostages by extremists. (See Reuters aarticle above.) Release of the Report has already been delayed, for years.

Let there be no confusion over the high probability that further “delaying” the publication of the Torture Report will mean blocking its release. When the Republicans take over control of the Senate in January, it appears very likely they will block dissemination of the Report, if it has not already been distributed.

Kerry’s plea for delay has all the markings of an artful maneuver by Obama to block publication of the Torture Report while claiming he favors its release.

The statement by Kerry’s press spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, that he had called Senator Diane Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to ask for delay, came on Friday–well-timed to avoid coverage in the leading U.S. newspapers over the weekend.

So, the fault here according to the Obama administration is that those who want to learn and publish the facts regarding torture by the U.S. government, or extraordinary rendition to “black” prisons in places like Poland, in flagrant violation of human rights treaties, the laws of war, and customary international law, will endanger the country’s interests and its citizens abroad. The enemy, in short, is the truth.

It doesn’t seem to occur to President Obama or elected officials who acquiesce in such government secrecy that it is the government’s actions and crimes themselves that cause the damage to the nation’s interests. While the Islamic State and other groups are growing by the day, it doesn’t occur to these leaders that the torture itself has imposed an immeasurable cost on the idea of America in the world, and the country’s interests.

With John Brennan sitting as Director of the CIA, and the failure of the Obama administration to prosecute those responsible for policies and acts of torture, in flagrant violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, America has never made a clean break with torture.

The simple fact that  one of the key figures in the torture program has never been prosecuted for torture as required by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, and publishes op-eds in newspapers like the Washington Post every time the there is a threat that the truth about the actions he led might come out, reveals how far America is from making a clean break with its policies of torture in the past.

See

(1) Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., “Today’s CIA critics once urged the agency to do anything to fight al-Qaeda,” The Washingtonn Post, December 5, 2014.

(2) “Key CIA official involved in Bush torture program criticizes “Zero Dark Thirty” for inaccurate depiction of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’,” The Trenchant Observer, January 7, 2013.

One can understand Rodriguez’ anguish over crimes he apparently was complicit in, believing he was acting in accordance with the orders of the highest officials in the country, without agreeing with his arguments and conclusions. He poses serious questions. The best answer to them is publication of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on Torture.

Publication of the Senate Report can begin to correct the government policies that led to torture and that tolerate the non-prosecution of those responsible for torture. If we are ever to diminish the hatred toward America felt by jihadists and many others in the world, it will not be by continuing to hide our crimes behind a wall of secrecy–which only confirms the worst fears and suspicions of the jihadists and those they seek to recruit–but rather by letting the light of truth uncover these crimes and point us down a path that will ensure that they will never happen again.

Barack Obama, in his typically cute way, is seeking to avoid personal responsibility for blocking publication of the report (actually only it’s Executive Summary), seeking through Kerry to block its release while putting out the word that he favors publication.

This is utterly disingenuous on his part.

This is what it’s like to live in a national security and surveillance state where the most important decisions for the life of a democracy are left in the hands of unelected intelligence officials who are themselves complicit in the commission of the crimes to be reported. CIA Director John Brennan is the leading case in point.

Who is in charge of the government, President Barack Obama and the Congress, or John Brennan and the other intelligence chiefs?

If Obama wants to publish the Executive Summary of the Senate Report, he should do so, taking broader considerations into account than those in the narrow purview of secretive intelligence operatives.

Moreover, as soon as possible after publication of the Executive Summary, the full report should be published.

The only redactions that should be accepted are those that are critically important to protecting present sources and methods, and not those aimed at avoiding embarrassment or the revelation of complicity in crimes.

The Trenchant Observer

Human rights abuses by Putin’s puppets: The seventh report of the OHCHR on the human rights situation in the Ukraine (with link to full report)

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Draft

By launching a war of aggression in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine, in flagrant violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter, Russian President Vladimir Putin is directly responsible for the deaths, both military and civilian, that have occurred in the Ukraine.

The latest (Seventh) report by the U.N. OHCHR on the human rights situation in the Ukraine (see below) makes for chilling reading.

Behind all the lies and distortions of Putin and his war propaganda machine, lie the grisly facts regarding what has been happening in the Donbass and the Crimea following the Russian invasions of these regions.

The so-called “separatists” in the Donbas were led by Russian special forces and intelligence agents from the very beginning, when they lauched a highly sophisticated and coordinated campaign to seize government buildings and then to organize the establishment of so-called “People’s Republics” in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. When the Ukrainian government sought to put down this “rebellion”, as permitted by domestic and international law, regular Russian military forces intervened directly, engaged them, and pushed them back.

On September 5, 2014, in an effort to forestall the imposition of harsher “stage 3″ sectoral sanctions by the EU and the U.S., Russia and the leaders of the two “People’s Republics” signed an agreement with the Ukrainian government to implement an immediate ceasefire and follow a 12-step process for the restoration of peace and stability in the region.

The resulting Minsk Protocol of September 5 and the ceasefire and other measures it provided for, including a withdrawal of foreign fighters and a sealing of the frontier with Russia, has broken down.

Full compliance with its provisions remains, however, the best hope for ending the war and reestablishing peace in the Donbas.

For insights into the atrocities and other violations of fundamental human right committed by the so-called “separatists” in the Donbas and in the Crimea, see

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Serious human rights violations persist in eastern Ukraine despite tenuous ceasefire – UN report,” November 20, 2014.

For the full text of the 49-page Report, wich is summarized below, see

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine,” 15 November 2014. The text is found here.

See also “U.N. report describes widespread violations of human rights in areas of Ukraine under Russian or Russian puppet control,” The Trenchant Observer, October 9, 2014.

The OHCHR summary of the Report states the following:

GENEVA (20 November 2014) – Civilians have continued to be killed, unlawfully detained, tortured and disappeared in eastern Ukraine, and the number of internally displaced people has risen considerably despite the announcement of a ceasefire on 5 September, according to a new UN human rights monitoring report released Thursday.

“Violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law persist,” the report states. “The situation in the conflict-affected area is becoming increasingly entrenched, with the total breakdown of law and order and the emergence of parallel governance systems in the territories under the control of the [self-proclaimed] ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the [self-proclaimed] ‘Luhansk people’s republic’.”

“The continuing presence of a large amount of sophisticated weaponry, as well as foreign fighters that include servicemen from the Russian Federation, directly affects the human rights situation in the east of Ukraine,” the report adds. “Guaranteeing the protection of those who live within the conflict-affected area must be of the highest priority. A peaceful solution must be found to end the fighting and violence, to save lives and to prevent further hardship for those people living in the eastern regions.”

According to the UN Human Rights Office, from mid-April to 18 November, at least 4,317 people were killed and 9,921 wounded in the conflict-affected area of eastern Ukraine. Since the ceasefire began, from 6 September up to 18 November, 957 fatalities were recorded – 838 men and 119 women, although some may have been killed prior to the ceasefire, with the data only recorded later. The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) has also sharply increased from 275,489 as of 18 September to 466,829 on 19 November, according to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.*

The report itself, the seventh produced by the 35-strong UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, covers the period between 17 September and 31 October 2014. The report states that serious human rights abuses by the armed groups continued to be reported, including torture, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, summary executions, forced labour and sexual violence as well as the destruction and illegal seizure of property.

The report itself, the seventh produced by the 35-strong UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, covers the period between 17 September and 31 October 2014.
The report states that serious human rights abuses by the armed groups continued to be reported, including torture, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, summary executions, forced labour and sexual violence as well as the destruction and illegal seizure of property.

Reports on the use of cluster munitions in both urban and rural areas must be urgently and thoroughly investigated, the report states, as must all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law.

“Accountability and an end to impunity are at the core of ensuring peace, reconciliation and long term recovery,” the report stresses, adding that crimes must be promptly investigated, perpetrators held accountable and victims provided with an effective remedy, as well as with the required help and support.

It notes that secret and illegal places of detention continue to be in operation, with individuals detained incommunicado and allegations of torture and ill-treatment. Thousands of individuals remain missing. Ad hoc graves continue to be found and exhumed to establish the identities of those buried in them and to allow their bodies to be handed over to relatives.

There were also worrying accounts of the conduct of prisoner exchange processes, including reports that individuals were actually deprived of their liberty for the purpose of the exchange, the report says.

Severe curtailment of the economic, social and cultural rights of people in Ukraine is also of grave concern. One particularly pressing concern is the threat of interrupted treatment of nearly 60,000 HIV-positive and around 11,600 multi-drug resistant tuberculosis patients in all regions, due to non-completed tenders for the purchase of essential life-saving medicine.

“Discontinuation of treatment is life-threatening for more than 70,000 patients and may lead to the uncontrolled spread of epidemics,” the report warns. “Provision of essential medicines is one of the core obligations of the State to ensure the satisfaction of the minimum essential level of the right to health.”

The situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is marked by reports of increasing human rights violations and protection challenges, especially for vulnerable minority and indigenous groups, and most notably for the Crimean Tatars.

issioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein welcomed the decree, which he hoped would place a greater, sustained emphasis on the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. However, he stressed that good laws and policies need to be accompanied by a genuine political commitment to implement them.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein … Zeid expressed deep dismay at the lack of significant progress on accountability for violations and abuses perpetrated so far, and for continued violations of the ceasefire.

“The list of victims keeps growing. Civilians, including women, children, minorities and a range of vulnerable individuals and groups continue to suffer the consequences of the political stalemate in Ukraine,” Zeid said.

“Respect for the ceasefire has been sporadic at best, with continued outbreaks of fighting and shelling resulting in an average of 13 people a day being killed during the first eight weeks of the ceasefire,” he added. “All parties need to make a far more whole-hearted effort to resolve this protracted crisis peacefully and in line with international human rights laws and standards.”

* Figures contained in this paragraph have been updated beyond the period covered by the report. The casualty figures are estimated by OHCHR and WHO; and the figures for displacement by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

Julia Smirnova of Die Welt lays out proof that Russian regular troops are fighting in the eastern Ukraine

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Despite Vladimir Putin’s blatant lies asserting that Russian troops have not entered the Ukraine, seasoned reporter Julia Mirnova of Die Welt lays out irrefutable evidence that Russian regular forces have been and are fighting and dying in the eastern Ukraine, in Putin’s “secret war”. Repercussions at home, back in Russia, are starting to be felt.

See Julia Smirnova, “Putins Soldaten wissen nicht, dass sie in den Krieg ziehen,” Die Welt, 26. August 2014 (22:34 Uhr).

Putins Soldaten wissen nicht, dass sie in den Krieg ziehen; Erstmals gibt es Beweise dafür, dass Russland die Separatisten in der Ostukraine nicht nur mit Technik, sondern auch mit Soldaten der regulären Armee unterstützt. Das belastet die Minsker Gespräche.

To acess this article in languags other than German, use Google Translate, found here.

The Trenchant Observer

Extraordinary rendition in Italy: Inside details revealed in 2003 CIA Milan abduction of Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

See

Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy Washington Bureau), “U.S. allowed Italian kidnap prosecution to shield higher-ups, ex-CIA officer says,” McClatchy, July 27, 2013.

Greg Miller, “Ex-CIA operative convicted in Italy of kidnapping Muslim cleric is detained,” July 18, 2013 (updated July 19 8:58 a.m.).

See also

“European court of human rights condemns Macedonia for “extraordinary rendition” to cooperating CIA officials, in Khaled el-Masri case,” The Trenchant Observer, December 28, 2012.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And the claims of law for justice, the claims of international law for punishment of violators of fundamental human rights so that justice be done, are dogged, persistant claims. They will not go away. Violators will always have those claims hanging over them. They will always be subject to arrest and punishment for their crimes, even if it takes 50 years to bring them to justice.

The Trenchant Observer

U.N. Commission of Inquiry Report on Syria (Doc. A-HRC-23-58); Seizure of al-Qusair; Use of Chemical Weapons by al-Assad

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

The latest report Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria was released on June 4. 2013.

See Human Rights Council, United Nations, “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” Advance Unedited Version, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/23/58, June 4, 2013.

The full text of the report in English is found here.

The full text of the report in Arabic is found here.

The Human Rights council held a dialogue with the Commission on June 4.

See “Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria,” United Nations Human Rights, June 4, 2013.

The Report provides a superb account of the facts of atrocities by the al-Assad regime in Syria, and also reports on war crimes and abuses by the insurgents.  But it falls short when it suggests, in conclusion, that the best path forward is “a diplomatic surge”.

The phrase “diplomatic surge” is meaningless.  It’s use is equivalent to throwing one’s arms up into the air. Diplomats have been working on the issue of Syria for over two years.  Diplomacy is not what has been lacking, but rather action on the ground that might halt the commission of war crimes, cirmes against humanity and other atrocities by the Syrian regime and its accomplices, Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and China. Still, the task of the Commission was to report on the crimes that have been committed, and in accomplishing this task they have done a superb job.

A good account of the report is provided by Daniel Serwer in the following article:

Daniel Serwer, “Wishing doesn’t make it so,” peacefare.net, June 5, 2013.

The Report describes the horrors of the war taking place in Syria. Those horrors continue to unfold, day after day. Among the most important recent developments have been the taking of the town of al-Qusair by the forces of Bashar al-Assad joined by Hezbollah militia members from Lebanon, and the surfacing of evidence that the al-Assad regimes has used chemical weapons, crossing Obama’s so-called “red line”. Britain and France have stated publicly that they are convinced by the evidence. Indeed, France’s Le Monde had reporters who were with the rebels for a two-week period during which such attacks took place. Obama, not surprisingly, said more investigation and evidence are needed.

See

Liz Sly (Beirut), “France says it is ‘certain’ that Syrian government has used sarin gas,” Washington Post, June 4, 2013 (9:53 a.m.). Sly reports:

France “now is certain that sarin gas was used in Syria multiple times and in a localized way,” according to a statement issued by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, which said tests carried out by a French laboratory on samples taken from victims showed the presence of the nerve gas.

Fabius said his government is confident that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for at least one of the two instances in which France had confirmed the use of the gas.

“In the second case, there is no doubt that it is the regime and its accomplices,” Fabius told the France 2 television station in an interview. “We have integrally traced the chain, from the attack, to the moment people were killed, to when the samples were taken and analyzed.”

His comments followed an eyewitness account by two reporters with France’s Le Monde newspaper describing how canisters containing small quantities of what appeared to be a nerve agent had repeatedly been fired at rebel positions during their two-week stay with opposition fighters in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, a hotly contested battleground where the regime has made significant advances in recent weeks.

–Liz Sly, Washington Post, June 4, 2013

See also:

Le Monde.fr avec Christophe Ayad, “Syrie : la France “a la certitude” que du gaz sarin a été utilisé ‘à plusieurs reprises’,” Le Monde, le 4 juin, 2013 (mis à jour le 5 juin à 8:28 h).

Le Monde, AFP/Reuters, “L’armée syrienne “contrôle totalement” la région de Qoussair,” Le Monde, le 5 juin 2013 (8:22 h).

The Trenchant Observer

Where are the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights?

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

U.S. law requires that the annual State Department Country Reports on Human Rights be published by February 25 of each year.

The seriousness with which the State Department views human rights is reflected by its compliance with this statutory deadline.

The reports are not supposed to be massaged in order to further the foreign policy interests of the United States. The delay in the date of their publication, which has become egregious under President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, fosters perceptions that that is exactly what the foreign policy leaders of the United States are doing.

The fact that the reports are to be delivered to the Congress does not diminish the force of the law, even when Congress does not complain about the delay. The law is not for the benefit of interested Congressmen, but rather for the benefit of the people of the United States.

In the case of the new Secretary of State, John Kerry, the delay is an indication of the importance he gives to compliance with U.S. law, as well as the subject of human rights. Put differently, the delay suggests the extent to which the U.S. stands–in deeds and not just in words–for the rule of law.

To what extent do U.S. officials seek to comply with U.S. law?

Finally, a state characterized by the rule of law is one in which the government takes the requirements of law seriously. Given the history of extended delays in the publication of the country reports on human rights, in this regard at least the United States does not appear to meet this standard.

The Trenchant Observer

John Kerry, Barack Obama, and the future of U.S. foreign policy

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

The most decisive foreign policy dynamic at the moment is the developing relationship between John Kerry and Barack Obama. Kerry needs to be careful not to travel too much, so he can be in Washington, where he should be building a strong team at the State Department, and strong working relationships with other foreign policy principals, including Chuck Hagel at Defense and John Brennan at the CIA. He also needs to establish good working relations with the White House foreign policy team headed by NSC Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy Ben Rhodes.

Nothing is more critical to the future foreign policy of the U.S. than Kerry’s building strong working relationships with these individuals, and in particular with the president. Kerry brings to the table considerable strengths in precisely those areas where the president is weakest: an understanding of diplomatic history, a grasp of international law and its usefulness in achieving U.S. objectives, a deep appreciation of the importance of foreign assistance, and a good sense of the constructive role Congress can play, including the critical function of the Senate in ratifying treaties.

The key question is whether Obama will delegate significant pieces of foreign policy making to the Secretary of State, or rather view him simply as an adjunct of his centralized White House foreign policy operation. Will he listen carefully to Kerry and take his suggestions into account, e.g. prior to a speech on Israel, or just have Ben Rhodes go and write an eloquent document to be read?

If he is to succeed as Secretary of State, Kerry must now place his primary attention on developing a full and flexible relationship with the president, through regular meetings and establishing easy access to the Oval Office. This argues for limiting travel during his first year.

For an optimal relationship to be forged, Obama too will need to make a major effort to empower his secretary of state with lead responsibility in a number of key areas, and to leave him with enough space to take the lead in areas Kerry himself deems to be priorities.

Whether this can be achieved is anyone’s guess.

Perhaps the president’s last chance to recover from the diastrous foreign policy of his first term, and to set the nation on a more positive and promising couse, depends on his and John Kerry’s ability to forge a close and collaborative working relationship, with John Kerry taking the lead on foreign policy issues.

The Trenchant Observer