First Verdict for Top Khmer Rouge Leaders Handed Down at the ECCC

I wrote a blog post on the guilty verdict announced this morning at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) – also known at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – on the Sithi Blog.

This morning, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) – better known at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – handed down its first verdict in Case 002, against two of the most senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge: Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. Both were convicted of crimes against humanity – including murder, political persecution and other inhumane acts – undertaken as part of a joint criminal enterprise (JCE) and sentenced to life in prison.

The guilty verdict is a welcome step forward in achieving justice for the victims and survivors of the Khmer Rouge. But with the first verdict against senior leaders* coming down over 35 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, there are concerns that justice will mean too little at this point in time, especially as many of the Khmer Rouge’s survivors have passed away in the meantime.

Read more here.

The World Cup – or when people accidentally become stupid and racist

Oh the World Cup. I won’t lie – I’m a big fan of this every-four-year ritual of rooting for men kicking around a ball and feeling a renewed sense of national pride (or national embarrassment, when the French team goes on strike again).

What I’m not a big fan however, is that, apparently, it’s also  a time for many people to lose all common sense and become racist.

First in line, Delta Airlines, via Twitter, celebrated the US’s win over Ghana with this awesome graphic:

Delta Tweet

via BuzzFeed

Lovely photograph of that giraffe – they might have wanted to google whether or not there were actually giraffes in Ghana first. Hint: there aren’t.

Then we have the Guardian’s “Tech” twitter account:

via Africa is a Country

via Africa is a Country

Apparently no one at the Guardian saw how that tweet could go wrong …

And then we have my all-time favorite thus far: Global Post’s masterpiece article, entitled “Here’s what World Cup teams would look like if immigrants weren’t allowed to play.” Many people have posted on Facebook and other social media as this great, let’s highlight how people who are anti-immigrant are stupid article, but if you stop and think about it for just 2 seconds … well frankly, it’s beyond shocking. Here’s why.

First off, “broadly defining “foreigner” as anyone with at least one foreign-born parent,” which the author says in the introduction, is wrong. There’s no other way to put it. The author then goes on and makes it worse by equating that definition of foreigners with “Immigrants” (with the article’s title), which is not only wrong but extremely dangerous. Broadly and vaguely defining “immigrants” and “foreigners” is exactly what extreme rights wings party do to justify their xenophobic policies.

The French team, minus "immigrants," according to the Global Post

The French team, minus “immigrants,” according to the Global Post

Speaking with regards to the French team, the majority of the players labelled as “immigrants” in the article were born in France (which, by the way, includes Martinique) and thus are not immigrants. The only 2 who were not born in France are Patrice Evra (who was born in Dakar, Senegal, and came to France at the age of 3) and Rio Mavuba (who was born on a boat in international waters and apparently didn’t have a nationality at birth). All others were born in France and, I will repeat this, are not immigrants.

Rather than highlighting the idiocy of those who want to kick immigrants out, this article perpetuates the stigmatization of individuals because one of their parents was born in a different country. It labels someone as “immigrant” not because they have themselves immigrated anywhere, but because one of their parents did. There is enough existing racism against football players who have different names and different skin colors without needing this article to wrongly label them as immigrants.

I’m sure there are many more examples out there of stupidity and racism rolled all into one but frankly, I don’t want to go out looking for them.

In defense of human rights lobbying

Since over 100 people, including Nobel Peace laureates, sent a letter to Human Rights Watch (HRW), asking them to “close” their “revolving door” to the U.S. government, there’s been an increasingly flurry of criticism of the organization’s work and, to some extent, of the larger [American] human rights community and its tactics for affecting human rights change.

However, HRW’s close ties to the U.S. government call into question its independence. For example, HRW’s Washington advocacy director, Tom Malinowski, previously served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and as a speechwriter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In 2013, he left HRW after being nominated as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights & Labor under John Kerry.

The signatories of the letter end with recommendations to HRW:

We therefore encourage you to institute immediate, concrete measures to strongly assert HRW’s independence. Closing what seems to be a revolving door would be a reasonable first step: Bar those who have crafted or executed U.S. foreign policy from serving as HRW staff, advisors or board members. At a bare minimum, mandate lengthy “cooling-off” periods before and after any associate moves between HRW and that arm of the government.

The letter, which was circulated on the internet, has made waves because of the signatories, but also because it does raise points about the nature of human rights organizations – and particularly American human rights NGOs – that cannot be ignored. Just as there are concerns when politicians and policy-makers have close links with private sector lobbyists and lawyers, there are concerns with human rights activists and staff of human rights organizations (which are, in my opinion, actually two very different types of “jobs”).

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On kidnappings, campaigns and Twitter (and other random thoughts)

The recent kidnapping of over 200 girls in northern Nigeria, and what has followed – i.e. absolutely no one cared and then all of a sudden everyone cared – has made me want to put my thoughts down on paper again. I know this issue is being discussed left, right and center, so I’m not claiming to make any new arguments. To the contrary, I’m more interested in sharing some of what I’ve read on the issue and how I feel about the different arguments being made.

What’s most interesting for me, looking at this case from a broad point of view, is the lessons we can draw from it, when it comes to awareness-raising, advocacy, campaigning. For those of us who work in development, human rights, conflict resolution or related fields, either as advocates, researchers, journalists or even policy-makers, we are always faced with this dilemma: how can we raise-awareness, how can we get an issue on the table, in a way that doesn’t cause more harm than good? And how can we do this in a way that creates long-lasting change, rather a two-week frenzy that will die down as quickly as it took life? I think the case of the Chibok girls highlights these dilemmas.

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Trying Hissène Habré: international justice in Senegal’s courts

Over the past two weeks, the investigating chamber (chambre d’instruction) of the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system, undertook a mission in Chad as part of its case against former Chadian president, Hissène Habré. Habré has been indicted by the court for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed in Chad from June 7th, 1982 to December 1st, 1990.

The Chambers came about after years of negotiations between and decisions by Senegal, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other players – including the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and Belgium. The Chambers were eventually created after a July 2012 ruling by the ICJ (Justice in Conflict blogged about the case in March 2012 here; iLawyer has a great analysis of the decision here) that Senegal – where Habré fled to after being overthrown in 1990 – was obligated to prosecute Habré if it did not extradite him to Belgium, where courts had been  trying to prosecute him for years.

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On the [il]legality of a military intervention in Syria

Since reports started coming out that the Syrian army was using chemical weapons, it’s becoming increasingly likely that there will be some kind of military intervention in Syria by the US, with support from the UK and France, maybe as soon as tomorrow (Thursday). For some background on the alleged chemical attacks and the on-going situation, the BBC has a good overview here. There is also a very useful article outlining military options.

I won’t reiterate what is being said very eloquently elsewhere, so instead, here’s a round-up of various analyses of the legality (or illegality) of a potential military/humanitarian intervention in Syria by the US, the UK and/or France, without UN Security Council approval.

The Legality of a Syrian Military Intervention: Russia, France, and the UK Weigh In” – post by Julian Ku on Opinio Juris

It sounds like the UK and France are both going to need to come up with some international law theory to justify their support for an attack, and the UK seems interested in the “humanitarian intervention” justification.  If the U.S. goes along with this, it would be interesting to see if the “invisible college of international lawyers” will endorse this legal theory.

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France Calls for Action in Syria after Reports of Devastating Chemical Attack

La Jeune Politique reports on the possibility of France intervening in Syria in the aftermath of reports of chemical attacks. Something to follow closely!

France Calls for Action in Syria after Reports of Devastating Chemical Attack.

Prince William wants his son to grow up in the bush … sort of

Prince William is hoping to pass along his love of Africa to his newborn son, Prince George, starting with his son’s nursery. William, 31, told CNN that George’s room will be decorated with an African theme. “I’ll have toy elephants and rhinos around the room,” the new dad said in CNN‘s one-hour special, “Prince William’s Passion: New Father, New Hope.” “We’ll cover it in, you know, lots of bushes and things like that. [We’ll] make him grow up as if he’s in the bush,” he added.

CAR gets brand-new AU peacekeeping mission, no one cares

Two days ago, on August 14, the UN Security Council (UNSC) met to discuss the on-going situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) – which is just getting worse and worse, without anyone paying any attention. Valerie Amos, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in her briefing to the UNSC, describes the overall situation as follows:

The Central African Republic is not yet a failed State but has the potential to become one if swift action is not taken […] If inadequately addressed, this crisis threatens to spread beyond the Central African Republic’s borders and to further destabilize a region already facing significant challenges.

For those unfamiliar with the African continent, CAR is bordered by Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Cameroon – none of which can really afford to have CAR’s conflict spreading across their borders. And within the country, the situation is pretty dire:

All 4.6 million Central Africans had been affected by the crisis and 1.6 million people were in dire need of assistance, including food, protection, health care, water, sanitation and shelter, [Amos] said.  More than 206,000 people had been internally displaced and nearly 60,000 had sought refuge in neighbouring countries.  Many people continued to hide in the bush and remote areas in poor sanitary conditions and without access to basic services or clean water.

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Voluntourism – some personal opinions and resources

Living in Cambodia, I hear from so many well-intentioned people who want to “do good” for a few weeks (or worse, a few days, a few hours …) by volunteering in Cambodia (or other developing countries). There has been tons of great articles and opinion pieces written lately about why this is not necessarily a good thing, so I won’t reiterate why here. That being said, short-term volunteering and “voluntourism” keep growing as an industry so there is a clear need to continue talking about it, as it seems that not enough people are being exposed to the counter-arguments.

In brief, however, I strongly believe (based on my experiences working in a developing country for a local NGO) that short-term (read: less than three months) volunteering is, in the great majority of cases, not a good idea. That being said, I would identify the following as key points to keep in mind when considering volunteering:

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