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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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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2 must-watch videos: forced evictions in Cambodia & the road to the ATT

Directed by Christine Chansou and Vincent Trintignant-Corneau, “Even a Bird Needs a Nest” (or “Même un oiseau a besoin de son nid” in French) won the prize for best documentary at the 35th Annual Films de Femmes Festival. The documentary focuses on Boeung Kak Lake and the activism of women like Tep Vanny – who by the way just won the 2013 Vital Voices Award!

Here’s to hoping French politicians are paying attention to what’s going on in Cambodia …

ps: props to Keo Chan on Khmeropean for writing about this first.


Just a few days ago, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) was adopted by the UN General Assembly. Amnesty International produced a video highlighting the Control Arms campaign that helped us get here. The ATT has been a long-time coming and I think there’s a lot to be learnt from that campaign for similar efforts in the future.

Happy International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action!


France & Cambodia – continued

France has released a short video summarizing the Prime Minister’s (Jean-Marc Ayrault, or JMA as I’ve decided to nickname him) visit to Cambodia to attend the funeral of former King Sihanouk (read this post for background information and some more random thoughts). I tried (multiple times) to embedded the video but apparently I’m not as tech-savvy as I thought I was. In any case, the video is available here: Voyage au Cambodge: l’essentiel – Vidéo Dailymotion.

A few interesting things about the video:

  • The emphasis is on France’s interests in engaging with the region/ASEAN and strengthening links with Cambodia.
  • JMA mentions that France is the only Western country to have been invited to the funeral – but mentions that in the context of France wanting to engage with the region – as if that was why France was invited and not because it’s the former colonial power ….
  • The few shots of French-funded projects are basically like a commercial for French foreign aid.
  • Aside from shots of the funeral clearly gleaned from Cambodian state TV (you can hear Khmer in the background), there’s almost no talk of King Sihanouk, his legacy, his relationship with France, etc. I know it’s a touchy subject but I would have expected JMA’s visit on this occasion to … well … talk about the occasion a bit more.

Nevertheless, the Cambodia Daily (update 8 Feb 2013: available here) is reporting that JMA raised human rights issues during his meeting with Cambodian PM Hun Sen – specifically bringing up the cases of Sam Rainsy and Mam Sonando! He apparently also discussed the case of Daniel Laine, a French journalist (who is still in France) who convicted on charges of sex trafficking after having made a documentary on the sex trade in Cambodia and sentenced to 7 years in prison, in a case widely thought to be baseless.

According to the Cambodia Daily, JMA “stressed the French nationality of the three men, and told Mr. Hun Sen that France was awaiting ‘positive future developments’ regarding the cases.”

Of course, Information Minister and Cambodian government spokesman Khieu Kanharith responded, saying that:

For the government, these issues are under the jurisdiction of the courts and have nothing to do with politics or with French nationality. [Sam Rainsy and Mam Sonando] were accused of criminal offenses, not involving political activity or journalistic work.

It would be nice to see France raising human rights concerns with Cambodia on a more regular basis and not just when it concerns individuals with French citizenship – but at least this is a step in a right direction.

Update 8 Feb 2013: there’s another video available where JMA talks a bit more about the French-Cambodia relationship and colonialism.

France’s UPR (Part II)

A few days ago, I blogged (here) about France’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which took place on the 21st, and the implications for and insight into its foreign relations. The unedited, draft report from that UPR is now available publically here. France has until the 23rd Session of the Human Rights Council in June 2013 to provide responses, which will make for a much more interesting analysis, but in the meantime, here’s a few highlights and initial thoughts.

During the “interactive dialogue” portion of the UPR, 84 states made statements, which are summarized in the draft report. The draft report also includes 165 recommendations. Although a lot of the recommendations repeat each other, it’s quite insightful to see which issues are most commented upon, as well as which countries care about which issues. Building on the last post I wrote on this topic, I’ve focused on the recommendations related to discrimination, minority rights and religious freedom below.

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France’s UPR, National Policies & Foreign Relations

On 21 January 2013, France underwent its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the first having been in 2008. You can watch the video of the whole thing (about 3.5 hours) here. I’ll write a follow-post to this one once the outcome report (see below) is published as my internet connection here in Cambodia is a bit too dodgy for internet streaming, but here’s a few thoughts about the UPR process in general (as it relates to foreign relations) and about the recommendations to France from its 2008 UPR.

First things first, for those that don’t know or unclear on what is a Universal Periodic Review … Since April 2008, the United Nations – through the Human Rights Council – has been reviewing the human rights practices of all countries in the world. Each state is reviewed every four and a half years, with 42 states being reviewed each year during 3 “working group” sessions of 14 states each. Results of each UPR are published in an “outcome report” which lists recommendations – provided by other states – the country under review is expected to address before its next UPR. The website UPR Info has a detailed explanation of the entire process for those interested in learning more, as well as all national reports, outcome reports, etc.

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