Interesting things

The Migrant Express – Four days through Central Asia on the crowded Dushanbe to Moscow train. This tender, humane seven-part RFE_RL documentary explores the social and economic consequences of Tajiks migrating to Russia for work.

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Via the CPJ Blog – Afghan journalists are finally speaking with one voice, and are calling for a full investigation into the death of New York Times journalist Sultan Munadi and compensation for Munadi’s family.

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Also on the CPJ Blog – An Iraqi journalist finds refuge in Phoenix, Arizona, but struggles to find work. Eventually, his persistence pays off …he gets a job at Red Lobster.

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Kevin Heller blogs about the inevitable attacks on the Goldstone Commission, and the Goldstone-bashers respond in the comments.

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The slow march of justice in the former Yugoslavia continues. Four former members of the Bosnian Army have been arrested on suspicion of participating in war-time crimes against Bosnian Croats in a village in Herzegovina. Meanwhile, the ICTY trial of Radovan Karadzic is set to begin October 19th.

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The author of this article about expat snobbery and ignorance in Bosnia is someone I know personally, and we were part of the same large social circle in Sarajevo. He makes some important, if painful, points about how things work in the international organizations. However, I do think he exaggerates the extent to which young expats isolate themselves and eschew discovering all that is great about Bosnia. (Older, more mercenary expats are a different story.)  Also, the line, “the foreigners lecturing Bosnia have a fair amount of trouble mustering the necessary vocabulary to order a beer at a local bar” is a tad ridiculous. That’s the first phrase every expat learns.

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From the “things that make me ashamed of my country” files or, alternately, “America’s shitty domestic human rights record”: in eight states and the District of Columbia, many insurance companies consider being a victim of domestic violence a “pre-existing condition,” and thus grounds for denying coverage. Jillian Hewitt at Feministe is spot-on when she writes: “This is so ridiculous that it may make my post seem obvious or unnecessary, but I think it makes it all the more essential to talk about. This is not a controversial talking point; it does not even seem like a political one to me—this is about humanity. Or inhumanity, as it were.”

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This temporary flesh and bone

This is crushingly depressing in that special way something that seems totally unstoppable is.

Via Human Rights Watch, the latest threat against human rights advocates in Chechnya:

Akhmed Gisayev, a Memorial employee who had been working with Natalia Estemirova to investigate a sensitive human rights case in the days before her murder on July 15, 2009, has experienced a series of menacing events in the past days and weeks.

In the evening of August 13, a group of three or four armed men stopped Gisayev and his wife near their apartment in Grozny. The men pointed their weapons at Gisayev and demanded his documents. They refused to identify themselves or explain the reasons for the search. When Gisayev said that he worked at Memorial and showed his Memorial ID card, one of the men said: “And it’s your colleagues who are getting killed? And do you know why they’re getting killed?” They then returned Gisayev’s passport and left. The next morning, on August 14, Russian military and local security personnel conducted a passport check-and-search operation on Gisayev’s street. Such operations used to occur regularly, but have not occurred in Gisayev’s region for a long time. Some of the men who had threatened him the previous evening were among those who searched his apartment.

Prior to these events, Gisayev had observed a car parked next to his house on several occasions. The car had dark windows, a radio transmitter, and a license plate with a number not used for civilian vehicles, leading him to suspect that it belonged to the security services. Gisayev reported these incidents to the prosecutor’s office in Chechnya, but the authorities did not undertake any concrete measures to investigate them or to ensure Gisayev’s protection.

[…]

In the days before Estemirova was killed, Gisayev and Estemirova had been researching the case of a man who had been abducted and tortured by local law enforcement officials. When the man’s relatives began to work with Gisayev and Estemirova to take action on his case, the man was taken into incommunicado detention by local law enforcement from the hospital where he had been receiving treatment for his torture injuries. Memorial staff and the man’s relatives appealed to the local prosecutor’s office in the first week of July. Soon after, Gisayev began to notice the suspicious-looking vehicles outside his home.

Gisayev is an applicant in a case pending before the European Court of Human Rights, relating to his own illegal detention and torture by Russian servicemen in 2003.

The human rights movement does not need any more martyrs. If  Akhmed Gisayev was my friend or co-worker, I would be doing my utmost to convince him to leave Chechnya, to leave Russia and seek asylum somewhere in Western Europe.

And yet, if every human rights advocate in a dangerous place took that advice, there would be no one to track down disappeared prisoners, uncover unmarked graves, and amplify voices of living victims. In the North Caucasus, this is lonely and, for many, eventually lethal work. Allies and colleagues in Brussels, Washington, London, New York and even Moscow can do little more than wait in dread by their phones and keep their computer screens open to email.

The condemnation of an activist’s murder in the Russian Federation now has its own form letter; all one needs to add is the who, where, and how. Everyone knows the why.

What more can one even say?

Stay safe? Good luck? Solidarity?

What international justice looks like

Former paramilitaries Milan and Sredoje Lukic were sentenced to life and 30 years imprisonment, respectively, by the ICTY.

The cousins were found guilty of burning alive 130 civilians –most of them women, children and elderly men– near the Bosnian town in Visegrad in 1992, murdering an additional 12 civilian men, and beating prisoners in a detention camp.

According to the BBC:

Judge Patrick Robinson, reading his verdict, said: “The perpetration by Milan Lukic and Stredoje Lukic of crimes in this case is characterised by a callous and vicious disregard for human life.”

The burning alive of Muslims, he said, was extraordinarily brutal, and “exemplified the worst acts of humanity that one person may inflict on others”.

You can watch a video of the verdict here.

Good news, bad news, and dumb news

Good:

Dostum’s day of reckoning may be approaching, albeit slowly:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has ordered his national security team to investigate reports that U.S. allies were responsible for the deaths of as many as 2,000 Taliban prisoners of war during the opening days of the war in Afghanistan.

Obama told CNN in an interview that aired Sunday that he doesn’t know what how the U.S.-allied Northern Alliance behaved in November 2001, but he wants a full accounting before deciding how to move forward.

I’m often displeased with the Obama Administration’s approach to justice at home and internationally, but it’s pretty clear that this administration doesn’t hold its predecessor’s view that war crimes aren’t really war crimes when they are committed by U.S. allies.

Bad:

Akbar Ganji on the “Rise of the Sultans” and the evolving authoritarianism of the Iranian state:

Khamenei and his supporters have been snuffing out dissent among intellectuals, political parties, labor unions, clerical seminaries, and civil society groups. They have been enhancing ideological uniformity at the senior level of government by defaming previously high-ranking officials, such as former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. They have also been extending their control over state corporations, large industries, and banks in a bid to create a state-run form of capitalism that would benefit them.

Khamenei and Ahmadinejad’s plan has already received a warm welcome from Iranian arch-conservatives, some Islamic fundamentalist groups in the Middle East, and members of Israel’s political right who oppose peace in the region. Should it materialize, the resulting state would resemble the totalitarian militaristic bureaucracies of Latin America in the 1980s and of certain countries in the former Soviet bloc.

Like those states, the new Iranian regime would be hell-bent on restructuring the ruling class, eliminating influential opponents, and accumulating capital. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad may speak in the name of the people and the nation, but they have methodically resisted the demands of any professional group and have defied the formation of trade unions, syndicates, and political parties. They are fundamentally against democracy, including even those semi-democratic institutions that currently exist in Iran, such as elections and the parliament. Their ideal regime would create a state-run capitalist class eager to profit in international markets to the detriment of blue-collar workers in Iran and any independent private sector. It would be a rentier state based on political allegiances, brimming with discrimination and corruption and maintained by the machineries of oppression. If left unchecked, Khamenei’s efforts would further consolidate power in the hands of a select few — all but guaranteeing the ultimate triumph of sultanism in Iran.

Dumb:

Via Registan:

[…] if the Azerbaijani regime seriously can’t handle a video of a guy dressed in an oversized animal costume playing a violin it can’t be a good omen for freedom of speech on the interwebs in Central Asia.

Yeesh. Facepalm.

Hooray impunity!

This makes me very, very, very, very angry. And not just “I’ll-post-this-on-my-blog-and-write-that-I’m-angry-about-it” angry. No, I’m angry in real life.

Robert Litt, a former top Clinton administration Justice Department prosecutor, said Obama should focus on moving forward with anti-torture policy instead of looking back.

“Both for policy and political reasons, it would not be beneficial to spend a lot of time hauling people up before Congress or before grand juries and going over what went on,” Litt said at a Brookings Institution discussion about Obama’s legal policy. “To as great of an extent we can say, the last eight years are over, now we can move forward -that would be beneficial both to the country and the president, politically.”

Shorter Robert Litt: “Tsk, tsk, you fussy human rights lawyers. Enough of this ‘accountability’ nonsense. Don’t you know that the rules are different for the powerful? Just let us move on and forget all this, err, unpleasantness.”

SOB!

“What does a country do when compelling evidence shows its leaders have authorised international crimes?”

This is the question Phillipe Sands asks in his latest Op-Ed piece in the Guardian.

Sands argues that the next administration will have to deal with the legacy of human rights abuses left by the Bush Administration, or risk leaving torture and other international crimes open as options for future administrations, poisoning American politics for years to come. Furthermore, Sands argues that if the US doesn’t investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes like torture, other countries will. The Pinochet treatment will await Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzalez, and their co-conspirators.

Sands sees some progress stateside:

Over recent months, Congress has been looking into the role of senior officials involved in the development of interrogation rules. These have attracted relatively scant attention; little by little, however, senators and congressmen have uncovered the outlines of a potentially far-reaching criminal conspiracy.

The first hearings were convened before the judiciary committee of the House of Representatives, at the instance of its chairman, Congressman John Conyers, apparently off the back of my book Torture Team. Parallel hearings have been held before the Senate armed services committee.

The evidence that has emerged is potentially devastating. It confirms, for instance, that the search for new interrogation techniques for use at Guantánamo began not with the local military but in the offices of Donald Rumsfeld and his chief lawyer, Jim Haynes.

But he’s not hopeful that anyone will be prosecuted in the end of the day. His piece in the Guardian, as well as his Vanity Fair articles and his book, The Torture Team, all reiterate Sands’ argument that, when it comes down to it, Bush Administration will be tried in European courts, in countries with universal jurisdiction laws, if they are ever tried at all.

The American commenters at Comment is Free did not like this conclusion.

Quiet a few brought up the ICC, apparently after not reading Sands very carefully or not understanding that the ICC has nothing whatsoever to do with any of this, but most simply argued against “foreign interference.” The comments were, by and large, a good illustration of the profoundly different and presently irreconcilable American and European views on international justice. Here’s a sampling of the (mostly negative) responses to Sands.

“It is interesting to see the rebirth of European colonialism in a new Human Rights-friendly guise so obvious on CiF. But somehow I’d start with someone smaller. Stepping in to get America’s house is order is a little bit beyond the Europeans and their pet ICC.”

“No American is accountable to you. Ever. You Europeans may buy into the whole collective responsibility thing. We Americans do not. We never have, and we never will. If we did, we would have bought into the ICC, rather than got a nearly global exemption from it. The fact of the matter is, the Constitution is the supreme law for all Americans. Its people are accountable to its tenants. Everything else… every Geneva convention, UN resolution or international treaty… they’re just nice pieces of paper and sentiments. They do not apply to me, or any other American. And I will not be held accountable by anyone except my peers, my brothers, my countrymen. So good luck picking that fight. You want to come after American citizens over the War on Terror? You’re welcome to try. You will find nothing so quickly rallies and unifies Americans than foreigners intruding where they don’t belong. To put it bluntly, keep that crap on your side of the pond. We want nothing to do with it, and we will not be bounded by it.”

“Just to add one last thing, good foreign friends: don’t get in our way while we deal with this. This is our affair; trust it will be dealt with in a satisfactory manner, and don’t bug us. There are many emotions that any American feels when others meddle in affairs that are not theirs to meddle in before we have been proven incapable of dealing with our own business. We are not Germany, we are not defeated, if you want to hold a court to judge us, please defeat us first, and then get the court. Look, dear friends, but don’t touch. If foreigners involve themselves in this matter, then this matter will never be successfully resolved, because America takes care of American business, not the business of foreigners, even that of our dear foreign friends.”

They’ll try. They can’t help themselves. For centuries they’ve speculated and been perplexed why Americans are nothing like them, and moreover want to be nothing like them. They’ve never understood why we don’t aspire to be like them, and why their ideas and ours are often at odds. That we actively try to insulate ourselves from much of what they aspire for the world only frustrates them. They’ve never understood it, and they never will. So they’ll try. They’ll step over that red line, and it will blow up in their face.

And on and on they go, in this fashion, for dozens more comments.

I suspect Sands’ predictions will come true. I expect at least one or two former Bush Administration officials to go to Oktoberfest, or decide they’ve always wanted to see the Louvre, or attend a real Spanish bullfight, and end up in handcuffs shortly after leaving the airport, thanks to some principled prosecutor.