Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Reviving the Israel-Palestine Negotiations: The Indyk Appointment

Appointing Martin Indyk as Special Envoy to the upcoming peace talks was to be expected. It was signaled in advance. And yet it is revealing and distressing.

Richard Falk

The only other candidates considered for the job were equally known as Israeli partisans: Daniel Kurtzer, former ambassador to Israel before becoming Commissioner of Israel’s Baseball League and Dennis Ross, co-founder in the 1980s (with Indyk) of the AIPAC backed Washington Institute for Near East Policy; handled the 2000 Camp David negotiations on behalf of Clinton.

The winner among these three was Martin Indyk, former ambassador to Israel (1995-97; 2000-01), onetime AIPAC employee, British born, Australian educated American diplomat, with a long list of pro-Israeli credentials.

Does it not seem strange for the United States, the convening party and the unconditional supporter of Israel, to rely exclusively for diplomatic guidance in this concerted effort to revive the peace talks on persons with such strong and unmistakable pro-Israeli credentials?

What is stranger, still, is that the media never bothers to observe this peculiarity of a negotiating framework in which the side with massive advantages in hard and soft power, as well as great diplomatic and media leverage, needs to be further strengthened by having the mediating third-party so clearly in its corner. Is this numbness or bias? Are we so accustomed to a biased framework that it is taken for granted, or is it overlooked because it might spoil the PR effect of reviving the moribund peace process?

John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, whose show this is, dutifully indicated when announcing the Indyk appointment, that success in the negotiations will depend on the willingness of the two sides to make ‘reasonable compromises.’ But who will decide on what is reasonable? It would be criminally negligent for the Palestinians to risk their future by trusting Mr. Indyk’s understanding of what is reasonable for the parties. But the Palestinians are now potentially entrapped. If they are put in a position where Israel accepts, and the Palestinian Authority rejects, “(un)reasonable compromises,” the Israelis will insist they have no “partner” for peace, and once more hasbara will rule the air waves.

It is important to take note of the language of reasonable compromises, which as in earlier attempts at direct negotiations, excludes any reference to international law or the rights of the parties. Such an exclusion confirms that the essential feature of this diplomacy of negotiations is a bargaining process in which relative power and influence weighs heavily on what is proposed by and acceptable to the two sides. If I were advising the Palestinians, I would never recommend accepting a diplomatic framework that does not explicitly acknowledge the relevance of international law and the rights of the parties. In the relation of Israel and Palestine, international law could be the great equalizer, soft power neutralizing hard power. And this is precisely why Israel has worked so hard to keep international law out of the process, which is what I would certainly recommend if in Tel Aviv’s diplomatic corner.

Can one even begin to contemplate, except in despair, what Benjamin Netanyahu and his pro-settler cabinet consider reasonable compromises? On what issues can we expect Israel to give ground: borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security?

It would have been easy for Kerry to create a more positive format if he had done either of two things: appointed a Palestinian or at least someone of Middle Eastern background as co-envoy to the talks. Rashid Khalidi, President Obama’s onetime Chicago friend and neighbor, would have been a reassuring choice for the Palestinian side. Admittedly, having published a book a few months ago with the title Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Undermined Peace in the Middle East,the appointment of Khalidi, despite his stellar credentials, would have produced a firestorm in Washington. Agreed, Khalidi is beyond serious contemplation, but what about John Esposito, Chas Freeman, Ray Close? None of these alternatives, even Khalidi, is as close to the Palestinians as Indyk is to the Israelis, and yet such a selection would have been seen as a step taken to close the huge credibility deficit. Yet such credibility remains outside the boundaries of the Beltway’s political imagination, and is thus inhabits the realm of the unthinkable.

It may be that Kerry is sincere in seeking to broker a solution to the conflict, yet this way of proceeding does not. Perhaps, there was no viable alternative. Israel would not come even to negotiate negotiations without being reassured in advance by an Indyk-like appointment. And if Israel had signaled its disapproval, Washington would be paralyzed.

The only remaining question is why the Palestinian Authority goes along so meekly. What is there to gain in such a setting? Having accepted the Washington auspices, why could they not have demanded, at least, a more neutral or balanced negotiating envoy? I fear the answer to such questions is ‘blowin’ in the wind.’

And so we can expect to witness yet another charade falsely advertized as ‘the peace process.’ Such a diversion is costly for the Palestinians, beneficial for the Israelis. Settlement expansion and associated projects will continue, the occupation with all its rigors and humiliations will continue, and the prospects for a unified Palestinian leadership will be put on indefinite hold. Not a pretty picture. More

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

[Human Rights] in the CDM

After this weekend’s CDM reform workshop, ECO has new hope for the CDM’s ability to address human rights.

For the first time in the history of the CDM, Parties had an open dialogue about the impacts of CDM on human rights. It is important to recall that Parties agreed to “fully respect human rights in all climate change related actions.” The review of the CDM Modalities and Procedures provides a critical opportunity for the CDM to make this a reality.

CAN's Leadership Development Program

A case in point…The Barro Blanco project is a hydroelectric dam that is currently under construction on the Tabasará River in western Panama. Once completed, the dam is projected to flood homes, schools, and religious, historical and cultural sites in Ngäbe indigenous territories, threatening the Ngäbe’s cultural heritage. In addition, the dam will transform the Tabasará River – critical to the Ngäbe’s physical, cultural, and economic survival – from a flowing river to a stagnant lake ecosystem. This will severely affect the Ngäbe’s lands and means of subsistence, and result in the forced relocation of many families.

CDM rules require investors to consult with local stakeholders and to take their comments into account during the registration process. However, the company did not consult the Ngäbe communities regarding the Barro Blanco project and its impacts. In February 2011, the Ngäbe, in collaboration with civil society groups, submitted comments to the CDM Executive Board. The comments documented the Ngäbe’s concerns, in particular the fact that the Ngäbe were not given notice of the consultation process and were never consulted. Despite concrete evidence that the Barro Blanco project violated CDM rules on stakeholder consultation, in 2011, the CDM Executive Board registered the Barro Blanco as a CDM project.

Now that Barro Blanco has been registered, there is no process that allows the Ngäbe to raise their concerns regarding the project’s social and environmental impacts. Over the past two years, the SBI has been negotiating an appeals procedure that would allow stakeholders to challenge registration decisions under the CDM. However, ECO is dismayed that, as discussions currently stand, this procedure would not provide a means of recourse for affected communities once a project is under construction or operational.

More than 6,500 projects are registered under the CDM, and these projects will be operational for many years to come. ECO calls on Parties to revise the CDM Modalities and Procedures to: establish international safeguards to protect human rights; strengthen requirements on how to conduct local stakeholder consultations; establish a grievance process that allows affected peoples and communities to raise concerns about harms associated with CDM projects; and develop a process to deregister projects where there are violations of CDM rules.

To learn more, join us at a side event on CDM and human rights TODAY at 6:30 pm in Room Solar. You will meet on Monday at 6:30 pm, wWeni Bakama, a Ngäbe activist, and other panelists who will discuss how we can integrate human rights protections in the CDM. More

Today, we are writing to ask you to sign an ACTION ALERT in support of the Barro Blanco campaign and our broader CDM advocacy efforts. We launched this petition two weeks ago, asking James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to recommend reforms to protect communities that are adversely affected by CDM projects, such as Barro Blanco. In astatement released at the end of his recent visit to Panama, Special Rapporteur Anaya described his visit to the Ngäbe communities and highlighted the Barro Blanco project as an example of the many large-scale development projects that threaten the rights of indigenous peoples in Panama. In the coming months, Mr. Anaya will be preparing his final report, which provides an opportunity for the Special Rapporteur to document the ways in which the existing CDM rules are inadequate to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

by signing this alert to urge Special Rapporteur Anaya to make recommendations to the CDM and the Panamanian government, calling for both to respect human rights for development projects that generate social and environmental impacts, with particular attention to indigenous rights. Also, please share with your lists and promote via Facebook/Twitter. Our goal is to reach 1000 signatories by the end of the week.

CIEL Newsletter

July 19, 2013


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We need your help. Will you add your name and support to a letter asking James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to recommend reforms to protect indigenous communities in Panama?

Yesterday, Mr. Anaya began his ten-day visit to Panama. At the request of CIEL and adozen other organizations, Mr. Anaya will meet with community representatives in the Ngäbe-Buglé territory in Panama who are directly affected by the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam. He will hear firsthand about how the Panamanian state has violated the rights of affected indigenous communities to free, prior and informed consent on a project which threatens to violate their right to traditional land and territories. When completed, the dam would flood historic and religious Ngäbe-Buglé sites and compromise the ecosystem upon which their traditional diet depends.

The Barro Blanco dam is registered under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a carbon-market mechanism of the UN convention on climate change. The CDM allows developed countries to claim emission reductions by paying for mitigation efforts – in this case a hydroelectric dam – in developing countries. Unfortunately, the CDM has no standards for human or indigenous rights, nor does it have a way for communities that are negatively affected by CDM projects to even register complaints.

Following Mr. Anaya’s Panama trip, he will present a report on his findings of concerns related to indigenous peoples in Panama, including the human rights violations against the indigenous people affected by Barro Blanco. As Special Rapporteur and as part of his mandate, Mr. Anaya is in a unique position to give advice and recommendations to the CDM as well as other UN-related mechanisms that affect the rights of indigenous peoples.His recommendations could help to halt and prevent human rights violations

Friday, July 26, 2013

Aaron Huey: Seven Years on Pine Ridge: Human Rights in America

Aaron Huey started photographing on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in 2005 as part of a superficial story about poverty in America. In beginning it was all just statistics: 90% unemployment, a %70 school dropout rate, and a male life expectancy of 47 (roughly the same as Afghanistan and Somalia). Over time it became a story about a prisoner of war camp, a story about genocide, a story about stolen lands.

Huey's extensive work documenting the poverty and issues of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation gained wider recognition in 2010 with his talk at TEDxDU at the University of Denver, America's Native Prisoner's of War. The talk was selected to run on which gave it global exposure. The talk outlines the precarious and often violent relationship between the United States government and the people of the Sioux Nation, the history of their treaties, and the effect it has had on the descendants of both parties. A book of Huey's images from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Mitakuye Oyasin (meaning "all my relations"), will be released by Radius Books in Spring 2013.

7 years after beginning this project, the story and Huey's relationships there are more complex than ever. This talk will look at the evolution of a story from journalism to activism, and finally beyond Huey's own imagery towards a collaborative Community Story Telling project that lives online.

Aaron Huey is a photojournalist who works primarily for the National Geographic Society magazines, where he has shot over 20 features including the August 2012 cover story on the Oglala Lakota of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Huey is also a Contributing Editor at Harper's Magazine and was a 2012 Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University and a lecturer at

The Scariest Quote You'll Read From the Trial Nobody Is Talking About

There has been a lot of legal debate throughout the U.S. over the last few weeks. Maybe that has dulled Americans' appetite for major trials.

One case in particular that is now reaching its climax has seemingly flown under the radar: that of Bradley Manning. Though the case will likely be a watershed moment in terms of journalism, whistleblowing, and national security policy, the Manning trial has not seen the same media attention given to other proceedings this summer.

And this is the biggest moment yet. After eight weeks of trial, scores of government witnesses, and six hours of closing argument, Pfc. Bradley Manning's military prosecutor, Capt. Ashden Fein, on Thursday got to his point: the WikiLeaks source who provided the controversial site with loads of classified documents is about to get what's coming to him.

What Fein said in those closing arguments was absolutely chilling.

“Pfc. Manning was not a humanist; he was a hacker,” Major Fein noted.

“He was not a whistle-blower. He was a traitor, a traitor who understood the value of compromised information in the hands of the enemy and took deliberate steps to ensure that they, along with the world, received it.”

The quote is scary.

Critics of this case have warned that a Manning conviction of “aiding the enemy” would criminalize journalism. Even here in this quote, Fein alludes to journalists as being "the hands of the enemy."

As the New York Times explains:

"As the trial has moved toward its conclusion, the more philosophical questions confronting [Col. Denise Lind] are re-emerging center stage — including whether WikiLeaks played a journalistic role and whether providing information to the anti-secrecy group was any different, for legal purposes, from providing it to a traditional news outlet."

It is believed that a guilty verdict for aiding the enemy would establish a government precedent that giving information to an outlet that publishes it online is the same as handing it over to an enemy, the Times adds.

The leash around the watch dog's neck is being pulled tighter.

The Fourth Estate is already in the government's cross-hairs. In a major ruling on press freedoms last week, a divided federal appeals court ruled that an investigative reporter for the New York Times, must testify in the criminal trial against his own sources after he was leaked information from them.

A Manning verdict is expected as early as Friday. More


America: It used to be 'Land of the free and home of the brave, It has however, become 'Land of the Paranoid and home of the National Defense Authorization Act.' Editor


Thursday, July 25, 2013

UN human rights chief denounces Israel's Bedouin resettlement plan

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on Thursday slammed Israeli plans to resettle up to 40,000 Bedouin and demolish 40 villages in the Negev region, urging the government to reconsider them.

"I am alarmed that this bill, which seeks to legitimize forcible displacement and dispossession of indigenous Bedouin communities in the Negev, is being pushed through the Knesset," High Commissioner for Human Rights Pillay said in a statement.

The so-called Prawer-Begin Bill calls for the relocation of 30,000-40,000 Bedouin, the demolition of about 40 villages and the confiscation of more than 70,000 hectares of land in the Negev.

The bill was approved by the Israeli government in January and by the parliament in a first reading in June, and two more votes on it are expected.

"If this bill becomes law, it will accelerate the demolition of entire Bedouin communities, forcing them to give up their homes, denying them their rights to land ownership, and decimating their traditional cultural and social life in the name of development," Pillay said.

"As citizens of Israel, the Arab Bedouin are entitled to the same rights to property, housing and public services as any other group in Israel," she said.

"The government must recognize and respect the specific rights of its Bedouin communities, including recognition of Bedouin land ownership claims," Pillay added, regretting that Israel "continues to actively pursue a discriminatory policy of forced displacement against its own Arab citizens."

There are about 260,000 Bedouin in occupied Palestine, mostly living in and around the Negev in the arid south. More than half live in villages unrecognized by Israel without utilities. Many also live in extreme poverty.

Bedouins, which makes up a third of all Palestinians living on the lands occupied by Israel since 1948, have roots in the area that go back to the fifth century BC. The Israeli authorities have subjected the Negev’s people to repeated attempts at “resettlement” and land expropriation, trying to force as many Palestinians as possible to settle within the confines of a small area in order to seize their lands.

The Israeli government has said it would "as much as possible" grant legal status to Negev villages that are currently unrecognized by Israeli authorities if they met a minimum population criteria. But those criteria have never been stated.

A cabinet statement has said "most" residents – who do not currently receive government or municipal services – would be able to continue living in their homes after the villages are granted legal status. More


BBC redefining international law.

Jonathan Cook

Remember when in 2009 the BBC reneged on its commitment to the Disasters Emergency Committee by refusing to run ads to raise money for the homeless and destitute in Gaza, arguing that such broadcasts were not charitable but political (presumably because that was the way Israel saw them).

The BBC's intransigence infuriated the British public and even embarrassed the British government, which was forced to criticise the BBC position.

Well now the BBC is striking out on its own to redefine international law and British foreign policy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In reports it has started to describe all of Jerusalem as Israeli, as Israel itself does, rather than just the western side of the city. When challenged by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, the BBC Trust refused to consider the complaint based on the advice of the BBC’s Senior Editorial Strategy Advisor, Leanne Buckle.

Being even more pro-Israel than the current government, the Trust concluded:

“The advisor [Buckle] acknowledged that Israel’s sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem was not recognized under international law. However, she considered that Israel had de facto control over the entire city in a political, administrative and military sense. She also noted that Jerusalem was administered as a single entity by the Jerusalem municipal authority which made no distinction between East and West.”

Oh, I see. So Israel's self-serving interpretation of international law is all that counts for the BBC. On this kind of logic, maybe the BBC should start calling most of the West Bank, so-called Area C, "Israel" too. More

(h/t Media Lens)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Child Casualties As A Result Of U.S. Drone Strikes

U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have caused the death of 178 children. Accompanying report:


Not all secrets are alike

When it comes to national security, there are two kinds of secrets. One is the strict military secret. Examples would include the design specifications of a new weapon or planned troop movements.

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Giving such secrets to an adversary may tip the military balance and is clearly damaging to national security. Most people have little trouble seeing those who give away such secrets—like Manhattan Project physicist Klaus Fuchs, who gave design details of the first atomic bomb to the Soviets—as traitors who should be punished.

The second kind of secret is what anthropologists call the “public secret.” These are denied yet known. Their ambiguous status as simultaneously public and secret torques them with psychological conflict. The concept of the public secret can best be grasped through examples from family life. It may be a public secret that a man is having an affair, but as long as his family does not confront him, the pact of silence allows everyone to behave as if he really does work late a lot at the office. It may be a public secret that a woman is an alcoholic, but as long as no one mentions the bottles stashed in odd places or the mysterious mood swings, public appearances can be maintained. As anyone familiar with such family situations knows, the consequences of saying publicly what everyone knows privately can be profound, forcing corrections in behavior or breaking families apart. Not infrequently, as Henrik Ibsen famously dramatized in his play An Enemy of the People, opprobrium attaches most harshly not to the transgressor, but to the person who tells the truth out loud.

It is not just families that have public secrets. Religious institutions do too, as we learned from the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. And states have public secrets. For example, as the political thinker Michael Ignatieff has written, in Argentina under the military junta that ruled from 1976 to 1983, it was a public secret that activists and radicals were quietly being abducted by the military, tortured, and killed. This policy, under which between 15,000 and 30,000 citizens disappeared, was not publicly announced, and wealthy elites who had a vested interest in not knowing felt confident in denying it. Still, it was widely known in the way that whispered things are known. Eventually the ambiguity of the public secret was resolved and the facts were made public thanks to the indefatigable activism of the group the Mothers of the Disappeared, who demonstrated weekly in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, and a truth commission appointed by President Raul Alfonsin. While the Mothers of the Disappeared could be dismissed as crackpots, a state commission armed with official documents finally had to be believed. As Ignatieff writes, the truth commission stripped the public secret of its deniability, forcing it into the open and working “to reduce the number of lies that can be circulated unchallenged in public discourse.” He observes that “its work has made it impossible to claim, for example, that the military did not throw half-dead victims into the sea from helicopters.”

Often the state’s greatest rage is directed at those who reveal public secrets, not military secrets. Richard Nixon called Daniel Ellsberg “the most dangerous man in America” not because he shared military secrets with the Vietcong (he did not), but because in giving the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times (and thus the American people), he made it impossible to deny what many already suspected—that the US government had lied about the reasons for the Vietnam War and about progress in fighting it.

US national security officials have likewise been enraged by Bradley Manning, the US Army soldier who gave WikiLeaks 250,000 diplomatic cables and 500,000 Army reports. Although the Obama administration claims that Manning and WikiLeaks gave away military secrets, for the most part they caused embarrassment by revealing public secrets. Many Americans had long been sure that, military propaganda notwithstanding, some American troops in Iraq were prone to using violence indiscriminately, killing innocents, and enjoying the act of killing, but Manning’s release of the “collateral murder” video, shot from a US military helicopter, gave visceral and undeniable form to inchoate knowledge. Likewise, in 2011 there were few Tunisians who did not know that their government was corrupt, but the people did not rise up against their government until WikiLeaks revealed that the US ambassador had cabled that "Corruption in Tunisia is getting worse. Whether it's cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali's family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants."

Even though he has yet to be found guilty, Manning has been punished harshly. The United Nations special rapporteur on torture complained that Manning—held for months in solitary confinement, often naked, and deprived of sleep—had been subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture.”

Like Manning, Edward Snowden gave away a public secret, revealing that the National Security Agency does not just spy on foreigners, but in violation of the legal framework established after the Vietnam War, also harvests vast quantities of information on the communications of American citizens, including email messages, browsing histories, postal records, and telephone metadata. When public rather than military secrets are given away, the state always insists that military security has been damaged, so it should not surprise us that the Obama administration claims Snowden gave away military secrets that will help those bent on attacking the United States. But there is a reason the top leadership of Al Qaeda has communicated for years by personal courier, and it would be a terrorist or insurgent with a very short life expectancy who would communicate by cell phone or unencrypted email. Snowden’s real crime was to reveal incontrovertibly what some already guessed and others might prefer not to know: The US government has secretly created a massive apparatus of domestic surveillance on the edge of the law.

American leaders say they will avoid future Mannings and Snowdens by segmenting access to information so that individual analysts cannot avail themselves of so much, and by giving fewer security clearances, especially to employees of contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton, where Snowden worked. This will not work. Segmentation of access runs counter to the whole point of the latest intelligence strategy, which is fusion of data from disparate sources. The more Balkanized the data, the less effective the intelligence. And, as Dana Priest and William Arkin make clear in their important bookTop Secret America, intelligence agencies are collecting so much information that they have to hire vast numbers of new employees, many of whom cannot be adequately vetted. Since 9/11 the National Security Agency’s workforce has grown by a third, to 33,000, and the number of private companies it relies on for contractors has tripled to close to 500. The more people know your secrets, the more likely it is they will leak out.

But, in the final analysis, the reason there will be more Mannings and Snowdens is that so many American secrets are not strict military secrets but scandalous public secrets pertaining to ways the US national security state behaves that are at odds with national or international law, or in conflict with fundamental national values. Whether one condones what Snowden did or not, it is clear that he was motivated by a deep sense of indignation that his government was doing something profoundly wrong. "If you want a secret respected,” said Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the country's greatest commentators on secrecy, “see that it's respectable in the first place." More


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How long will the international community allow Gaza to suffer?

Hamas: Egypt destroyed 90% of tunnels between Egypt and Gaza

Hamas representative Sam Abu Zuhri states that the Egyptian army has destroyed 90 percent of the tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip following the ousting of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on 3 July.

The tunnels represented a lifeline for residents of Gaza, under Israeli siege since 2007, and a majority of basic goods including materials, food and fuel was brought in through the tunnels.

Abu Zuhri added that the Palestinian Authority in Gaza has attempted to negotiate an alternative to the tunnels with their Egyptian counterparts, but to no avail. More


UN envoy talks Syria, crimes against kids there

UNITED NATIONS — A top U.N. official said Monday she was overwhelmed by the suffering of children during a recent visit to Syria and warned officials and rebel commanders alike that they risk prosecution as war criminals for atrocities against minors.

Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said she met parents whose children were killed in bombings, children who saw siblings die in front of them and teenagers who had fought with armed opposition groups. She visited both Syria and neighboring countries that are hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from the civil war.

Around 7,000 children under the age of 15 have been killed during Syria's more than two-year-old conflict. Half of the 1.7 million Syrian refugees are children, and inside the war-ravaged country, more than 3 million children are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

A recent U.N. report placed the main rebel umbrella group, the Free Syrian Army, on its "list of shame" for recruiting child soldiers. Syrian government forces were added to the list for detaining minors and often torturing and sexually assaulting them.

Zerrougui said one of her main goals during her visit was to make clear to both sides that the United Nations is keeping track of atrocities and that perpetrators would not escape persecution.

"You can't imagine when you go to a hospital and you see a child without a leg ... and then you see the brother lying on the bed who lost a kidney, who lost a pancreas and the mother is sitting near. Those are the realities that you see," Zerrougui said at a news conference.

"One day Syria will come to peace, and those committing the atrocities will have to face, I hope, justice," she said.

Zerrougui said she met teenagers who fought with armed opposition groups. She said the U.N. is verifying reports that armed groups were forcing some families to send their teenage children to war in exchange for protection. But many minors, she said, were following relatives to war, making it important to convince commanders not to let such children join their ranks.

She said it was a difficult message to get across: Most commanders on the ground denied recruiting children and insisted everyone in their ranks was at least 18. That denial came even though the leadership of the Free Syrian Army has acknowledged the problem and sent Zerrougui a letter asking for guidance on how to get off the "list of shame."

The government of President Bashar Assad recently passed a law prohibiting child soldier recruitment. But Zerrougui said she emphasized to Syrian government officials that if they consider child soldiers victims, authorities must stop detaining them as criminal suspects. She said Syrian authorities continue detaining children on security charges or because their families are suspects of sympathizing with the opposition.

Zerrougui said she feels a political solution is the only way out for Syria, but she was struck by the polarization that is making compromise more difficult.

Of the four government ministers she met, Zerrougui said, "three had lost a sister, a son or a brother, killed by the other side. This is the reality of Syrian families. This creates a lot of anger and polarization."

The Syrian regime feels "it has no other option but to win this war," she said. More


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Eleven year old speaks out on child marriage



Bypassing the Rule of Law: This Egyptian struggle transcends borders

What is going on in Egypt is not merely a political crisis but also an Egyptian struggle which transcends borders and will, no doubt, affect the Islamic world, putting the latter at a crossroads. Will the people rise up for freedom from external influences or will they revert to an era of slavery the extent of which only God knows?

This struggle is not about President Mohamed Morsi; it is about the hijacking of the democratic will of the people and their revolution. The disastrous effects of the coup will not be contained within Egypt's borders; all Arabs will despair at ever being able to rise against their authoritarian regimes. The resultant frustration and loss of confidence will delegitimise the Arab will in the eyes of the international community.

Even if we assume, for argument sake, that President Morsi was the worst president in the history of mankind, a failure in politics and government. This does not justify exceeding the bounds of the constitution to be rid of him. The overthrow of a democratically-elected president provides the basis for an endless cycle of chaos and confusion. No future president of Egypt can ever feel secure in the mandate given by the electorate or expect to serve a full term in office. Every president has millions of people who did not vote for him, but that doesn't give them the right to overturn the votes of those who did support him and throw him out of office. From now on, the only president who can be sure of his position is the one who gets 99.9 per cent of the vote, and we all know what that means.

By allowing the democratic experience to be pushed aside in this way the people of Egypt have lost the respect of the world. The US has added to this by expressing support for the military-appointed "interim" government.

If President Morsi is to be blamed for anything at all it is lack of experience, which is hardly surprising given our presidential history. If we opt for a president with experience of governance in the discredited Mubarak regime, then why did we have the revolution in the first place?

Whatever the issue is with Morsi, it is a disagreement that is based on details. As long as we have a proper democratic system, we will be able to fix our problems by heading to the ballot box. The coup embodies a deep-rooted problem between the will of the people and the full return of Mubarak's regime and all of its negative characteristics. Should we let our disagreements on the details distract us from our real revolution? More


Friday, July 19, 2013

Upholding the Rule of Law

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - In the years-long campaign to tie a web of sanctions around Iran and stall its nuclear programme, the European Union may just have met its biggest obstacle: its own law courts.

Fearing Tehran is seeking the means to make bombs, Europe's governments have been combing through Iran's political elites and businesses to find people and companies linked to the financing and technical aspects of its nuclear work.

They have frozen their assets, refused visas and banned companies in the European Union from doing business with them. But dozens of those targeted have challenged the restrictions in court and some are beginning to win, embarrassing Europe's policymakers and causing alarm in the United States.

None of the court judgments are yet final. But with Israel brandishing threats against a nuclear programme that Iran insists has no military purpose, Washington worries that any weakening of sanctions may raise the risk of war.

At the heart of the issue is the refusal by EU governments to disclose evidence linking their targets to Iran's nuclear work. Doing so in court, they say, may expose confidential intelligence, undermining efforts to combat the programme.

The courts have effectively rejected that argument, saying that if a case is to be made, evidence must be presented. Lawyers for the Iranians argue there simply is no evidence that proves any link to the nuclear programme - a view supported by British judges who did review some secret material this year.

"It is very clear there is no evidence," said Sarosh Zaiwalla, senior partner at Zaiwalla & Co, a London law firm which has successfully represented Iran's Bank Mellat in litigation against sanctions imposed by the EU.

The bank, one of the biggest private lenders in Iran, won a case in January in the European Union's Luxembourg-based second-highest court. It had challenged an EU move in 2010 to freeze its assets, saying the EU had failed to prove the bank provided banking services for the nuclear programme. The court agreed.

"The chairman of the court asked the EU lawyers, 'can you show me the evidence?'. And they said 'no, it's Iran, and you must presume there is evidence'," Zaiwalla said.

"The judge was very upset and said 'this is a court of law and you cannot assume things'."

In its January 29 judgment, using dense legal language, the General Court said the council of EU governments was "in breach of the obligation to state reasons and the obligation to disclose to the applicant ... the evidence adduced against it".


The lifting of sanctions against Bank Mellat is postponed for now, pending an appeal by EU governments to Europe's highest court. But the case illustrates the dilemma facing the European Union in its push to stop Iran from advancing the atom work.

Government lawyers are telling the courts to trust them and the courts are refusing. To safeguard its sanctions policy and its economic pressure on Iran, the EU may have to present evidence - including sensitive intelligence - in court.

But because of rules governing pan-European courts, all evidence would then become public which may damage clandestine operations and unravel the process of devising sanctions.

"There is nothing in the current rules to enable us to consider sharing information without it becoming public," said one European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"This is the crux of the issue. We cannot just be handing information around."

In Washington, anxiety over court rulings is mounting.

"It's a real concern of ours that the EU is having difficulties sustaining some of its designations," David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury Department's Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, told Reuters.

Lawyers for the Iranian plaintiffs paint the conflict as a human rights issue, praising the Luxembourg court for decisions they say amount to taking a stand against government abuse.

"It may be politically embarrassing," said Maya Lester, a London-based lawyer who represents companies and individuals in litigation concerning European sanctions, including the Iranian central bank and the country's main tanker company, NITC.

"But in terms of upholding the rule of law, what the European court has done is impressive and quite brave. It shows it to be a court upholding human rights ... which is not easy given how political Iranian sanctions are." More


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

EU takes dramatic measures on Israeli settlements in occupied territories

The European Union is to start treating Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as separate from Israel and exclude them from all kinds of cooperation.

Catherine Ashton

According to Tuesday's edition of Haaretz newspaper, the "binding" decision is expected to take effect on the ground this Friday.

"The European Union has published a binding directive to all 28 member states forbidding any funding, cooperation, awarding of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone residing in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem," Haaretz said.

The newspaper reported anonymous officials in the Israeli foreign ministry calling the move an "earthquake." The reason, he explained, is that "understandings and quiet agreements that the Union does not work beyond the Green Line were turned into formal, binding policy."

Haaretz also reported that the decision included a demand by the EU for Israel to make clear when it signs any agreement with Brussels that the Israeli settlements are not part of the state of Israel.

Israeli Radio said in the morning that the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is also included in the decision based on the EU position which does not recognise Israeli occupation after 1967.

Europe has long opposed much of Israel's policy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It said in a statement issued in December its "longstanding position is that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law," and it does not recognise Israel's sovereignty over the occupied territories.

In March EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton called for implementing the labelling of products produced in the settlements for sale in Europe. More


Sunday, July 14, 2013

China confiscates Tibetan farmland for hydroproject in Muge

DHARAMSHALA, July 13: In another major incidence of official land grabbing, large areas of farming land and grassland used by Tibetans in the Muge region of Sungchu in eastern Tibet have been confiscated by local Chinese authorities.

The Dharamshala based Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in a report Friday cited sources as saying that local Chinese authorities have appropriated all farmlands in Achu nomadic camp in lower Muge area in the name of hydropower projects to generate electricity.

Traditional grasslands in Achu camp used by local herds for grazing in autumn, in addition to farmlands in neighbouring A-ngag and Agon camps have also been confiscated for ‘development’ projects, the group said.

“The Chinese authorities gave no explanation for the large scale land-grab,” TCHRD noted. “They were not consulted before, during or after the execution of the so-called development projects. Their participation and agency in shaping policies conducive to local conditions were denied.”

The security apparatus in the region has also seen a new boost with the ongoing construction of additional police stations in the region.

“At the time of reporting, a new police station is being built near Muge Monastery. The initial plan was to build the police station within the monastery. But the plan was changed when the authorities met with stiff resistance from the senior monastic staff,” TCHRD said while adding that the upcoming police station has “heightened concerns and tension” among local Tibetans in Muge.

The group said that currently no reports are available on whether any displacement occurred during the confiscation of farmlands, particularly in Achu camp, which lost all farmland. No information is also available on official compensation given to the aggrieved families.

“Local accounts report that local Tibetans are facing enormous challenges in freely expressing their grievances given the violent official reprisals,” TCHRD said. “Addressing these legitimate grievances peacefully should be the priority of to ensure true harmony and stability in Tibet.”

Earlier this year, a Tibetan man Gachoe, around 35, was arrested on January 19 for taking part in a public-led protest against Chinese government land seizures from local Tibetans in Nangchen region.

Protests against land seizures by Chinese authorities in Tibet have led to mass demonstrations and at least two self-immolations by Tibetans.

On September 13, 2012, Passang Lhamo, 62, set herself on fire in China's capital city of Beijing in protesting the illegal land grabbing in her native Keygudo region of eastern Tibet.

She was reportedly taken to hospital where she was treated for "severe burn injuries."

Passang Lhamo was forced to head to Beijing after local authorities in Keygudo refused to allow her to retain her ancestral home following the major rebuilding process in the region in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake. Repeated appeals to the central authorities in Beijing had also failed to yield any concrete results. More