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

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

Smart drones, the goal of peace, and the future of mankind

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

In an Op-Ed piece by Bill Keller published in the New York Times on March 16, 2013, Keller describes the high probability that “smart drones” will be introduced in the future, in which the aerial-borne robotic machine and its computer will decide which targets and individuals and groups to fire upon, without human intervention. Keller notes that Israel, in fact, has already introduced such an aircraft, the Harpy. Keller notes,

Israel is the first country to make and deploy (and sell, to China, India, South Korea and others) a weapon that can attack pre-emptively without a human in charge. The hovering drone called the Harpy is programmed to recognize and automatically divebomb any radar signal that is not in its database of “friendlies.” No reported misfires so far, but suppose an adversary installs its antiaircraft radar on the roof of a hospital?

–Bill Keller, Op-Ed, “Smart Drones,” New York Times, March 16, 2013.

The entire op-ed piece speaks of advances in warfare based on the underlying assumption that continued warfare is inevitable, and that the most we can aspire to is to limit some forms of warfare or weapons used, such as land-mines. While there is a great deal to be said for international treaties and institutions that limit types and the extent of warfare–international humanitarian law or “the law of war” has precisely that aim, it seems that humanity has fallen into a downward spiral in its thinking and aspirations relating to war, and into what is in fact a profound moral abyss.

In 1945, no one doubted that the goal of international society and the new United Nations Charter and Organization should be the prevention of war, and the maintenance of international peace and security. This goal was almost self-evident to generations which had suffered the ravages of World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945).

But today our leaders no longer espouse the goal of international peace. Like President Barack Obama in his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech or Lecture in 2009, they have no vision of peace as an overriding goal to which other objectives should be subordinated. Rather, permanent war is in the minds of the leaders of today. Obama, in thinking about his pivot to Asia, is thinking about military deployments in the region to check China’s rising military power. In the stand-off with Russia and China in the United Nations Security Council over Syria, the larger question of the goals and vision of international society has been lost, primarily but not exclusively as a result of Russian and Chinese obstinacy.

At best, particularly under Obama, we have a dearth of American leadership in world affairs in general and in the maintenance of international peace and security in particular. Here, France has stepped into the vacuum, first acting as a catalyst in Libya and more recently, acting by introducing French forces into Mali to halt the fall of that country to Islamic terrorist groups and Tuareg guerrillas.

But who, and in which countries, dares today to articulate a powerful vision of peace and how to get there?

Without a powerful vision of peace, such as that originally laid out in 1945 in the Preamble and Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nations Charter, humanity will continue to stumble down the terrible path of war, now to be mechanized with smart drones, and also soon to be characterized by an imminent breakdown in the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

In five years, or at most 10, Iran will have nuclear weapons. In five years, or at most 10, North Korea will have weapons and delivery vehicles that can land a nuclear bomb in Seattle or Los Angeles, if not Washington, New York, Moscow or London.

Is it not time that we in the United States seek to purify ourselves of the flawed thinking of the Bush and the Obama administrations about the inevitability of war, about the malleability of our most sacred moral values such as the inviolability of the human person, about the central importance of respect for fundamental human rights, of every person–even enemy combatants–and begin to concentrate with all our mental, social and political powers on the question of peace, and how to achieve it?

Is not war, and the pursuit of war, evil, and are not the pursuit of international peace and the fundamental human rights of all persons in all countries goals which embody our highest moral values?

Should we, then, not act on the basis of those values, and turn all of our efforts to developing our visions of peace and our roadmaps on how to get there?

It is perhaps no exaggeration to assert that a positive future for mankind depends on our visions of peace and our efforts to achieve them, far more than it depends on the technological “advances” we might make in developing ever-better machines of war.

Now, let’s think one step further and ask whether peace can be established without international rules that are binding in nature. Is there any realistic vision of peace that does not rest, ultimately, on the development and observance of international law and institutions? That was the vision of the founders of the League of Nations in 1919, and of the founders of the United Nations in 1945.

Is it not time for a renewal of hope, of positive goals, of our own deeply-felt visions of peace, and of our own stalwart and courageous actions to secure that peace?

The Trenchant Observer

Instead of issuing statements with no legal force, the Security Council should act now to maintain international peace and security in Mali

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

ECOWAS and the African Union may provide the troops for military intervention to assist the French and Malian forces in repelling the advances of Islamist groups and Tuareg insurgents in Mali, but they are not up to the task of leading and coordinating the whole effort.

Such leadership must come from the U.N. Security Council, which must work much harder now than it did before in passing Resolution 2085 on December 20, 2012.

Under the United Nations Charter, the Security Council has primary responsibility for maintaining and restoring international peace and security. Instead of issuing meaningless Press Statements which, though they have no legal force, mislead the world into thinking they are actually doing something when they are not, the members of the Security Council should get on with it, and take effective action under Chapter VII of the Charter.

Otherwise, they will become as irrelevant in Mali as they have become in Syria.

At the end of the day, someone has to lead. If it is to be the French, with American support, let them lead through the Security Council. All the ideological language about the intervention force being “African-led” should be dropped at once.

The objective here is not to have an “African-led” force, but rather to have an effective force that is capable of defeating the jihadists and revolutionaries who have seized much of Mali, and–at least until the French intervened–were advancing on Bamako.

The world does not need another Afghanistan, or a country like what Syria is becoming. The world must act, and the institution through which it must act is the Security Council.

Leadership is needed, now. If France is to take the lead, the U.S. and the other Security Council members should pull behind France and provide full support, acting through the Security Council.

In any event, the terms of Resolution 2085 have been overtaken by events on the ground. Consequently, the Security Council needs to immdiately negotiate and adopt a new resolution on Mali which takes current realities into account.

The Trenchant Observer

Reflections on the struggle for justice and the rule of law: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Barack Obama, and President Jimmy Carter

Friday, January 18th, 2013

There was an article in the Washington Post recently that suggested that Barack Obama plans to draw the maximum mileage out of the coincidence that his second inauguration will take place on the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday.

See Wil Heygood, “Inauguration will cement ties between Obama, Martin Luther King Jr.” Washington Post, January 15, 2012.

The Observer thinks of Martin Luther King’s courageous struggle as one to liberate not only black people but also white people from the scourge of racism that has plagued our country. The leitmotifs of that struggle were non-violence and a deep moral demand for legislation that gave effect to the fundamental civil and human rights of all Americans, and in particular the black citizens of America who had for so long been deprived of the benefit of the fundamental rights promised to them in the Constitution.

King fought for justice and the rule of law in the United States, and also had a deep appreciation of the struggles of other peoples to achieve respect for their fundamental rights.

On January 21, 2013, the day celebrating his life and moral perserverance, and also the day the first African-American president will be inaugurated for a second term, what are we to make of the connection between Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream, the racial progress that has undeniably been made in America since 1968 and yet the vast progress that remains to be achieved, and the fact that we have  a an African-American, a black man, as President of the United States?

King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963, is worth recalling. He said, in part:


So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its Governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and before the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the mount with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the genuine discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, pray together; to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom forever, knowing that we will be free one day.

And I say to you today my friends, let freedom ring. From the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, let freedom ring. From the mighty mountains of New York, let freedom ring. From the mighty Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snow capped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only there; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill in Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”

That so much of King’s dream has been accomplished, in 50 years, is cause for celebration, and also cause for a rededication of efforts to achieve that part of his dream which has not been realized with, in a phrase used elsewhere in the speech,  “the fierce urgency of now”.

Yet we must also recall that Martin Luther King, Jr. did not represent African-Americans alone. He also represented white people, and others. He drew on the non-violent tradition and spiritual force of Gandhi, who helped inspire South Africans early in the 20th century, and later to liberate the subcontinent of India from British rule.  King’s own message and moral example also inspired others, most notably Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who shared a similar dream and acted effectively to bring it about.

On January 21, 2013, we must also acknowledge that Martin Luther King, Jr. was the moral hero of millions of white men and women in the United States, as well as in Europe, and of many millions of men and women of other ethnicities throughout the world. He does not belong to African-Americans alone. Indeed, he belongs not only to all Americans, but to all of humanity, to “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics.”

By 1967, when he spoke out against the war in Vietnam, if not long before, King made it clear that “all of God’s children” were not limited to those who lived in the United States.

If he were alive today, there can be little doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. would be an ardent supporter of the struggle for human rights and democracy throughout the world.

In this connection, it is worthwhile to consider again the points made by former President Jimmy Carter in his op-ed in the New York Times on June 24, 2012, in which he seeks to hold America to account for its human rights violations.

See

Jimmy Carter, “A Cruel and Unusual Record,” New York Times (op-ed), June 24, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “REPRISE: ‘A time to break silence': Dr. King on the Vietnam war, and President Carter on America’s human rights violations,” January 6, 2013 (originally published June 27, 2012).

Jimmy Carter was also an heir of Martin Luther King, Jr., and one who  has done more than any other recent American president to advance the cause of respect for international human rights throughout the world.

So, as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. King on January 21 with the second inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States of America, let us also celebrate those other individuals of all races and from all countries who, like former President Jimmy Carter and former President Nelson Mandela, have fought valiantly for the respect and observance of the fundamental human rights of all individuals, from whatever country or ethnic group they may come.

That struggle, too, is a critical part of Dr. King’s legacy, and one which the first African-American president should take up in his second term, with “the fierce urgency of now.”

President Obama could start by pushing for Senate ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights, signed by President Jimmy Carter and submitted to the Senate for ratification in 1979. Almost all the countries of the Americas have ratified the treaty, though the new authoritarian states of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua are now attacking its institutions and threatening to withdraw their ratifications. Without Senate action, the president could immediately renew cooperation with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with respect to cases brought against the United States.

The Trenchant Observer