JFP 6/15: German paper: Syria rebels did Houla massacre; aid groups denounce Gaza blockade

Just Foreign Policy News, June 15, 2012
German paper: Syria rebels did Houla massacre; aid groups denounce Gaza blockade


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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

Action: Urge Congress to Press Clinton on LGBT murders in Honduras
Honduran human rights groups have reported 70 LGBT murders since the June 2009 coup. The government of Honduras is a close U.S. ally; it receives U.S. military and police aid; there is a U.S. military base there. The State Department could do something about this. Urge your Rep. to sign Rep. Jared Polis' letter to Secretary of State Clinton, urging her to press the government of Honduras to investigate and prosecute the LGBT murders in Honduras. 25 have signed. Urge your Rep. to join them.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/polis-lgbt-letter

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: Syrian Rebels Committed Houla Massacre
The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has run two articles alleging that Syrian Sunni rebels committed the Houla massacre, reporting that the victims were largely from Alawi and Shia minorities in Houla. This is important because the Syrian government has been blamed for the massacre and the massacre has been invoked as a justification for foreign military intervention.
Here are the articles:
http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/neue-erkenntnisse-zu-getoeteten-von-hula-abermals-massaker-in-syrien-11776496.html
http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/arabische-welt/syrien-eine-ausloeschung-11784434.html
And here are English translations from the articles:
http://www.moonofalabama.org/2012/06/prime-german-paper-syrian-rebels-committed-houla-massacre.html
http://www.moonofalabama.org/2012/06/new-faz-piece-on-houla-massacre-the-extermination.html

Max Blumenthal: The Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate
AIPAC board member Nina Rosenwald is funding a fusion of "pro-Israel" and the Islamophobic Right.
http://www.thenation.com/article/168374/sugar-mama-anti-muslim-hate

Conyers: Help Alleviate the Haitian Cholera Crisis
Members of Congress urge UN Ambassador Rice to press the UN to take responsibility for the cholera crisis it caused. Urge your Rep. to sign.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/conyers-letter-cholera

Post and share Just Foreign Policy's Haiti cholera counter:
Tracks deaths, cases, and the number of days that have passed since the UN brought cholera to Haiti. Current: 608 days, 7279 dead, 557,395 ill. And still the UN refuses to apologize or take responsibility.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/haiti-cholera-counter

Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) A group of more than two dozen lawmakers wants the White House to explain the legal justification for "signature" drone strikes, The Hill reports. The House members warned in a letter to President Obama that the "signature" strikes can generate "powerful and enduring anti-American sentiment." "We are concerned that the use of such 'signature' strikes could raise the risk of killing innocent civilians or individuals who may have no relationship to attacks on the United States," they wrote.

Kucinich's press release is here:
http://kucinich.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=299392
The letter is here:
http://kucinich.house.gov/UploadedFiles/Combat_Drones_061212.pdf
Video: Kucinich speaks about the letter here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpRUi-rVa5g]

2) Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants, writes Ibrahim Mothana from Yemen in the New York Times. They are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair. There may be short-term military gains from killing militant leaders in these strikes, but they are minuscule compared with the long-term damage the drone program is causing, he argues. Only a long-term approach based on building relations with local communities, dealing with the economic and social drivers of extremism, and cooperating with tribes and Yemen's army will eradicate the threat of Islamic radicalism, Mothana writes.

3) Pentagon officials admitted it was "spin" when Secretary of State Clinton accused Russia of shipping attack helicopters to Syria that would "escalate the conflict quite dramatically," the New York Times reports. Administration officials say it is likely that Syria sent the helicopters to Russia a few months ago for routine repairs and refurbishing, and they were now about to be returned. Russian foreign ministerLavrov, accused the US of hypocrisy, saying it had supplied weapons that could be used against demonstrators in other countries in the region, such as Bahrain.

4) A leak of one of the most controversial chapters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) reveals that extreme provisions have been agreed to by U.S. officials, Public Citizen reports. Although the TPP has been branded a "trade" agreement, the leaked text of the pact's Investment Chapter shows that the TPP would limit the ability of governments to regulate foreign firms, with requirements to provide them greater rights than domestic firms.

5) The former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency has proposed that the IAEA offer Iran a grace period to disclose any past nuclear weaponization research, along with assurances Iran will not be punished for such disclosures, Laura Rozen reports. "Without such a grace period, it is unlikely that Iran would fully cooperate with the IAEA or voluntarily declare any past violations," Pierre Goldschmidt wrote. Goldschmidt says there's been almost no feedback on his proposal, although the paper has been circulating on the Twitter feeds of Washington's circles of Iran watchers and non proliferation experts.

6) Two central factors are driving Washington's negotiation strategy with Iran at this point, writes Trita Parsi in the New York Times. The first is Congressional obstructionism and President Obama's limited room to maneuver in an election year. The second is outsize expectations about what the current sanctions against Iran can achieve. Both must be abandoned if talks are to succeed.

Haiti
7) Expanding on the Christian Science Monitor article on the unpopularity of UN troops in Haiti, the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes other examples of allegations of human rights abuses by UN troops in Haiti that have not properly investigated or prosecuted. CEPR notes that the UN has still not formally apologized for bringing cholera to Haiti, nor taken leadership in efforts to end Haiti's cholera crisis. Minustah has, from its inception, been widely viewed throughout Haiti as a foreign army of occupation with little or no legitimacy, CEPR notes.

Israel/Palestine
8) Fifty international aid groups and U.N. agencies urged Israel to open Gaza's borders, saying its border blockade violates international law and indiscriminately harms Gaza's 1.6 million people, AP reports. The appeal was issued on the fifth anniversary of the imposition of the blockade. Aid agencies say the blockade mainly punishes ordinary Gazans by crippling the territory's economy.

9) U.S.-based NGO Save the Children and British aid group Medical Aid for Palestinians say Israel's blockade of Gaza has led to severe contamination of Gaza's drinking water, resulting in numerous health issues that particularly affect Palestinian children, International Business Times reports. MAP described Gaza's sewage system as "completely broken," saying much of its infrastructure was destroyed during Israel's military offensive in 2008. "Crucial equipment needed to repair the sewage and water system remains blocked," MAP said.

Ten percent of Gaza's children under 5 have stunted growth due to prolonged exposure to malnutrition, the groups said. Anemia affects 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, 68.1 percent of children nine to 12 months old and 36.8 percent of pregnant mothers.

Bahrain
10) Human Rights First denounced the failure of the Bahrain authorities to quash all verdicts on medical personnel for treating injured protesters. Dr. Ali Al Ekri was sentenced to five years in prison. "Today was a moment of truth for the Bahrain regime, one it failed miserably," said Human Rights First's Brian Dooley. "The truth from today is that medics are to be jailed for treating the injured and for telling the world about the regime's crackdown, and that the regime is still trying to keep the world from knowing what's happening in Bahrain by shutting out Human Rights First and other international organizations." Human Rights First called on the U.S. to speak out publicly against the verdicts.

Contents:
U.S./Top News

1) Lawmakers want legal justification for drone strikes
Jeremy Herb, The Hill, 06/13/12 10:48 AM ET
http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/operations/232523-lawmakers-want-legal-justification-for-drone-strikes

A group of more than two dozen anti-war lawmakers wants the White House to explain the legal justification for "signature" drone strikes, in which drone attacks can be launched when the identity of those killed is not known.

The Obama administration gave the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) the new authority in Yemen to target al Qaeda militants, as the administration has stepped up its drone program there this year.

The House members warned in a letter to President Obama Tuesday that the "signature" strikes can generate "powerful and enduring anti-American sentiment."

"We are concerned that the use of such 'signature' strikes could raise the risk of killing innocent civilians or individuals who may have no relationship to attacks on the United States," they wrote. "The implications of the use of drones for our national security are profound. They are faceless ambassadors that cause civilian deaths, and are frequently the only direct contact with Americans that the targeted communities have."

Twenty-six lawmakers who signed the letter, led by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), including anti-war Republicans Reps. Ron Paul (Texas) and Walter Jones (N.C.).

The lawmakers want the White House to tell Congress the process by which signature strikes are authorized and the legal justifications for conducting them.

The new signature drone attacks in Yemen, which were first reported by The Washington Post in April, has been a tactic used for drone attacks in Pakistan.

2) How Drones Help Al Qaeda
Ibrahim Mothana, New York Times, June 13, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/opinion/how-drones-help-al-qaeda.html

[Mothana, a writer and activist, is a co-founder of the Watan Party.]

Sana, Yemen - "Dear Obama, when a U.S. drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda," a Yemeni lawyer warned on Twitter last month. President Obama should keep this message in mind before ordering more drone strikes like Wednesday's, which local officials say killed 27 people, or the May 15 strike that killed at least eight Yemeni civilians.

Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair. Robert Grenier, the former head of the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism center, has warned that the American drone program in Yemen risks turning the country into a safe haven for Al Qaeda like the tribal areas of Pakistan - "the Arabian equivalent of Waziristan."

Anti-Americanism is far less prevalent in Yemen than in Pakistan. But rather than winning the hearts and minds of Yemeni civilians, America is alienating them by killing their relatives and friends. Indeed, the drone program is leading to the Talibanization of vast tribal areas and the radicalization of people who could otherwise be America's allies in the fight against terrorism in Yemen.

The first known drone strike in Yemen to be authorized by Mr. Obama, in late 2009, left 14 women and 21 children dead in the southern town of al-Majala, according to a parliamentary report. Only one of the dozens killed was identified as having strong Qaeda connections.

Misleading intelligence has also led to disastrous strikes with major political and economic consequences. An American drone strike in May 2010 killed Jabir al-Shabwani, a prominent sheik and the deputy governor of Marib Province. The strike had dire repercussions for Yemen's economy. The slain sheik's tribe attacked the country's main pipeline in revenge. With 70 percent of the country's budget dependent on oil exports, Yemen lost over $1 billion. This strike also erased years of progress and trust-building with tribes who considered it a betrayal given their role in fighting Al Qaeda in their areas.

Yemeni tribes are generally quite pragmatic and are by no means a default option for radical religious groups seeking a safe haven. However, the increasing civilian toll of drone strikes is turning the apathy of tribal factions into anger.

The strikes have created an opportunity for terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Ansar al-Sharia to recruit fighters from tribes who have suffered casualties, especially in Yemen's south, where mounting grievances since the 1994 civil war have driven a strong secessionist movement.

Unlike Al Qaeda in Iraq, A.Q.A.P. has worked on gaining the support of local communities by compromising on some of their strict religious laws and offering basic services, electricity and gas to villagers in the areas they control. Furthermore, Iran has seized this chance to gain more influence among the disgruntled population in Yemen's south.

And the situation is quite likely to get worse now that Washington has broadened its rules of engagement to allow so-called signature strikes, when surveillance data suggest a terrorist leader may be nearby but the identities of all others targeted is not known. Such loose rules risk redefining "militants" as any military-age males seen in a strike zone.

Certainly, there may be short-term military gains from killing militant leaders in these strikes, but they are minuscule compared with the long-term damage the drone program is causing. A new generation of leaders is spontaneously emerging in furious retaliation to attacks on their territories and tribes.

This is why A.Q.A.P. is much stronger in Yemen today than it was a few years ago. In 2009, A.Q.A.P. had only a few hundred members and controlled no territory; today it has, along with Ansar al-Sharia, at least 1,000 members and controls substantial amounts of territory.

Yemenis are the ones who suffer the most from the presence of Al Qaeda, and getting rid of this plague is a priority for the majority of Yemen's population. But there is no shortcut in dealing with it. Overlooking the real drivers of extremism and focusing solely on tackling their security symptoms with brutal force will make the situation worse.

Only a long-term approach based on building relations with local communities, dealing with the economic and social drivers of extremism, and cooperating with tribes and Yemen's army will eradicate the threat of Islamic radicalism.
[...]

3) Copters in Syria May Not Be New, U.S. Officials Say
Eric Schmitt, Mark Landler and Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times, June 13, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/world/middleeast/copters-in-syria-may-not-be-new-us-officials-say.html

Washington - When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accused Russia on Tuesday of shipping attack helicopters to Syria that would "escalate the conflict quite dramatically," it was the Obama administration's sharpest criticism yet of Russia's support for the Syrian government.

What Mrs. Clinton did not say, however, was whether the aircraft were new shipments or, as administration officials say is more likely, helicopters that Syria had sent to Russia a few months ago for routine repairs and refurbishing, and which were now about to be returned.

"She put a little spin on it to put the Russians in a difficult position," said one senior Defense Department official.
[...]
In response to Mrs. Clinton's allegations, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, accused the United States of hypocrisy on Wednesday, saying it had supplied weapons that could be used against demonstrators in other countries in the region. Mr. Lavrov, during a visit to Iran, repeated Russia's claim that it is not supplying Damascus with any weapons that could be used in a civil war.

"We are not providing Syria or any other place with things which can be used in struggle with peaceful demonstrators, unlike the United States, which regularly supplies such equipment to this region," Mr. Lavrov said. He singled out a recent delivery to "one of the Persian Gulf states" - perhaps a reference to Bahrain. "But for some reason the Americans consider this completely normal."

[This was almost certainly a reference to Bahrain. Russia is giving the exact same defense of its arms shipments to Syria as the U.S. has given of its arms shipments to Bahrain - it's ok, because the government is not using our weapons for internal crackdown. Arguably the US position is more extreme, as the Syrian government is facing substantial armed attacks and the Bahrain government is not - JFP.]

4) Controversial Trade Pact Text Leaked, Shows U.S. Trade Officials Have Agreed to Terms That Undermine Obama Domestic Agenda
After Two Years of Closed-Door Negotiations, Trans-Pacific Partnership Text Replicates Alarming Bush Trade Pact Terms That Obama Opposed as Candidate, and Worse
Public Citizen, June 13, 2012
http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/pressroomredirect.cfm?ID=3630

[Public Citizen's analysis of the leaked text is here:
http://www.citizen.org/documents/Leaked-TPP-Investment-Analysis.pdf]

Washington, D.C.– A leak today of one of the most controversial chapters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) reveals that extreme provisions have been agreed to by U.S. officials, providing a stark warning about the dangers of "trade" negotiations occurring under conditions of extreme secrecy without press, public or policymaker oversight, Public Citizen said.

"The outrageous stuff in this leaked text may well be why U.S. trade officials have been so extremely secretive about these past two years of TPP negotiations," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "Via closed-door negotiations, U.S. officials are rewriting swaths of U.S. law that have nothing to do with trade and in a move that will infuriate left and right alike have agreed to submit the U.S. government to the jurisdiction of foreign tribunals that can order unlimited payments of our tax dollars to foreign corporations that don't want to comply with the same laws our domestic firms do."

Although the TPP has been branded a "trade" agreement, the leaked text of the pact's Investment Chapter shows that the TPP would:

- Limit how U.S. federal and state officials could regulate foreign firms operating within U.S. boundaries, with requirements to provide them greater rights than domestic firms;
- Extend the incentives for U.S. firms to offshore investment and jobs to lower-wage countries;
- Establish a two-track legal system that gives foreign firms new rights to skirt U.S. courts and laws, directly sue the U.S. government before foreign tribunals and demand compensation for financial, health, environmental, land use and other laws they claim undermine their TPP privileges; and
- Allow foreign firms to demand compensation for the costs of complying with U.S. financial or environmental regulations that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms.
- While 600 official U.S. corporate advisors have access to TPP texts and have a special role in advising U.S. negotiators, for the public, press and policymakers, this leak provides the first access to one of the prospective TPP's most controversial chapters. In May, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), chair of the Senate Finance Committee's Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness – the committee with jurisdiction over the TPP – filed legislation to open the process after he and his staff were denied access even to the U.S. proposals for the TPP negotiations.

Last month, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk defended the unprecedented secrecy of TPP negotiations by noting that when the draft of a major regional trade pact was released previously, it became impossible to finish the deal as then proposed.

"The top U.S. trade official effectively has said that the administration must keep TPP secret because otherwise it won't be able to shove this deal past the public and Congress," said Wallach. "The airing of this one TPP chapter, which greatly favors foreign corporations over domestic businesses and the public interest and exposes us to significant financial liabilities, shows that the whole draft text must be released immediately so it can be reviewed and debated. Absent that, these negotiations must be ended now."

The TPP is the first trade pact the Obama administration is negotiating. Today's leak further complicates the administration's goal of completing TPP negotiations this fall. Already the TPP timeline was generating political headaches for the Obama re-election campaign, as repeated U.S polling shows that majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans oppose more NAFTA-style trade deals.

The TPP may well be the last trade agreement that the U.S. negotiates. This is because TPP, if completed, would have a new feature relative to past U.S. trade pacts: It would remain open for any other country to join later. Last month, USTR Kirk said that he "would love nothing more" than to have China join TPP.

The TPP offered an opportunity to develop a new model of trade agreement that could deliver the benefits of expanded trade without unduly undermining signatory nations' domestic public interest policies or establishing special privileges for foreign corporations. President Barack Obama and countless members of Congress campaigned on fixing these investment rules to better protect the public interest. But Public Citizen's analysis of this text shows that the U.S. positions do not reflect any of the changes that candidate Obama pledgedwhen he recognized the threats posed by the NAFTA-style investment provisions in trade agreements.

The leak also reveals that:

- Australia has refused to submit to the jurisdiction of the "investor-state" private corporate enforcement foreign tribunal system;
- U.S. negotiators are alone in seeking to expand this extra-judicial enforcement system to allow the use of foreign tribunals to enforce contracts that foreign investors may have with a government for government procurement or to operate utilities contracts and even related to concessions for natural resources on federal lands;
- Other countries are proposing safeguards for financial regulation and limits to the corporate tribunals that the U.S. has not supported.
[...]

5) Former nuclear watchdog: IAEA should offer Iran "grace period" for disclosures, extended access
Laura Rozen, The Back Channel/Al Monitor, June 13, 2012
http://backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2012/06/former-nuclear-watchdog-why-iaea-should-offer-iran-grace-period-for-disclosures-extended-access/

Last month, Pierre Goldschmidt, the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), proposed a solution to one of the trickiest parts of the Iran nuclear diplomacy puzzle. In short, why should Iran confess alleged past research on suspected military dimensions of its nuclear program to the IAEA, if doing so will almost certainly lead, at this stage, to new sanctions, punitive measures and isolation?

Goldschmidt's idea, outlined in a paper and speech to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Estonia last month, would make sense to any US defense attorney or prosecutor: essentially, offer Iran a "grace period" to confess to the IAEA, and the disclosures acknowledged would not be punished.

"On the contrary, Iran should be assured that it will be praised for its cooperation with the IAEA," Goldschmidt wrote, as was the case for Libya after it acknowledged a nuclear weapons program in 2004. "Without such a grace period, it is unlikely that Iran would fully cooperate with the IAEA or voluntarily declare any past violations."

(Should evidence later emerge that it had withheld information, that would be cause for additional sanctions, however, the other part of Goldschmidt's suggestion goes.)

The "grace period," Goldschmidt argues, should be granted to Iran as soon as it formally agrees to offer extended access rights to IAEA inspectors at least for a period of time.

The logic of such an arrangement is multiple: it incentivizes Iran to come clean, offers it a pathway in from the cold if it is interested. It could also help rebuild confidence and restore damaged relations between Tehran and the nuclear watchdog agency.


"Such disclosures could be very beneficial for confidence building," Goldschmidt wrote. "If Iran were to admit that it had been working towards becoming a nuclear threshold state and has undertaken some weaponization activities in the past, it would help persuade the international community that this time, Tehran has indeed opted for full cooperation and transparency."

The arrangement would also overcome a weakness inherent to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), he said.

"Any state can become a nuclear threshold state"-which he defined as a country which has the capacity to build one or more nuclear devices in less than one year-"without being in breach of the NPT," the former IAEA safeguards chief said in a telephone interview from Brussels Tuesday.
[...]
What's been the reaction to his paper so far? "It's gotten almost no feedback," he said-although the paper has been circulating on the Twitter feeds of Washington's circles of Iran watchers and non proliferation experts.
[...]

6) Give Obama Elbow Room on Iran
Trita Parsi, New York Times, June 13, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/opinion/give-obama-elbow-room-on-iran.html

Washington - The last round of nuclear negotiations with Iran ended in stalemate, and prospects appear dim for a breakthrough at next week's meeting in Moscow.

Two central factors are driving Washington's negotiation strategy at this point. The first is Congressional obstructionism and President Obama's limited room to maneuver in an election year. The second is outsize expectations about what the current sanctions against Iran can achieve. Both must be abandoned if talks are to succeed.

Mr. Obama needs a continuing diplomatic process to calm the oil markets because of the coming election. Yet, precisely because of the election, he has limited ability to offer the Iranians relief from sanctions in return for nuclear concessions.

Congress is actively seeking to make a deal on the nuclear issue impossible by imposing unfeasible red lines, setting unachievable objectives - and depriving the executive branch of the freedom to bargain.

Just before last month's talks in Baghdad, Congress passed a resolution that endorsed the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's red line on the nuclear issue (Iran can't have a uranium-enrichment capability), as opposed to the red line adopted by the Pentagon and the president (Iran can't have a nuclear weapon). The problem is, Mr. Netanyahu's red line isn't feasible and doesn't leave any room for negotiations.

For three years, Congress has prevented a sensible American policy on Iran. It was largely Congressional pressure that turned Mr. Obama's Iran policy in 2009 into "a gamble on a single roll of the dice," in the words of one senior State Department official. Diplomacy had to work right away or not at all.

Then, in 2010, it was again domestic politics and the activities of Congress that ultimately caused the Obama administration to reject a nuclear breakthrough brokered by Brazil and Turkey, which would have cut Iran's uranium stockpile in half and deprived it of any pretext for enriching uranium to higher levels.

In Baghdad, Congress succeeded in depriving American negotiators of the political space necessary to reciprocate Iranian concessions. The Iranians focused on what they could get. Mr. Obama had to focus on what he wouldn't give.

For the sake of peace, Congressional obstructionism must end. Sanctions against Iran should be used as leverage in negotiations to extract tangible, verifiable and valuable Iranian nuclear concessions.

The second problem with Mr. Obama's strategy is an exaggerated belief in what sanctions can actually achieve. Many American officials seem to think that the embargo on Iranian oil can bring down the entire mullahcracy. Believing that such results are within reach, Washington appears mesmerized by its own sanctions and seems to doubt the utility of using them as a bargaining chip. Consequently, there is growing resistance to lifting them, regardless of what concessions Tehran might offer.

That would be a serious mistake.

We have seen this trap before. Whenever either side believes it has the upper hand, the desire for compromise diminishes, and the desire to checkmate the other side increases. But if we don't negotiate when we are weak (because we are weak), and we don't negotiate when we are strong (because we don't have to), then when do we negotiate?
[...]

Haiti
7) In Wake of Scandals and Cholera, Anger Rises Against Minustah
Center for Economic and Policy Research, Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch, Thursday, 14 June 2012 09:47
http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/relief-and-reconstruction-watch/in-wake-of-scandals-and-cholera-anger-rises-against-minustah

A piece yesterday on the Christian Science Monitor's website, written by investigative journalist Kathie Klarreich, discusses the increasing unpopularity of UN troops in Haiti in the wake of multiple sexual abuse incidents and the introduction of cholera in late 2010. As the article explains, the negative feelings that these scandals have stirred up among Haitians are compounded by the general lack of accountability of foreign soldiers and police personnel that are part of the UN Stabilization Mission for Haiti, or MINUSTAH.

The Monitor highlights two recent sexual abuse cases involving MINUSTAH personnel, both of which we've documented on the Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch blog: the rape of an 18 year-old boy by Uruguayan soldiers in Port Salud last year and the rape of a fourteen year-old boy by Pakistani police officers. In both these cases, after the scandals became public, the alleged rapists have faced judicial pursuits in their countries of origin, though the Pakistani officers only received a one-year sentence, and the trial of the Uruguayan soldiers has moved forward at a snail's pace.

But there's no indication that other abuse incidents involving MINUSTAH have resulted in judicial pursuits of any kind. The Monitor mentions the case of "more than 100 Sri Lankan troops expelled in 2007 on suspicion of sexual exploitation of Haitian women and girls." But, writes Klarreich:

"no information about what happened to those Sri Lankan peacekeepers was ever made public by either the UN or Sri Lanka. Member states are not required to divulge the outcome of their internal inquiries."

In a report that focuses on the case of the Port Salut rape case, Haiti's National Human Rights Defense Network, lists a number of other cases of human rights abuses allegedly committed by MINUSTAH agents since 2005 that – as far as we know – haven't been properly investigated or prosecuted.

But, as the Monitor underscores, "perhaps most damaging to MINUSTAH's reputation has been the death of more than 7000 people from cholera, and the infection of half a million others nationwide." The UN has failed to acknowledge responsibility for the epidemic, despite overwhelming evidence indicating UN responsibility. Meanwhile, Haiti's leading human rights lawyers – the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux – and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti have filed a multimillion dollar claim against the U.N. on behalf of 5000 victims of cholera. Klarreich writes:

"No one contacted at the UN would comment on the cholera lawsuit, saying only that its legal counsel was reviewing the claim and that an independent panel concluded it was not possible to determine the cause of the outbreak. This contradicts claims by five scientific studies, more than a dozen scientists, and a statement by former President Bill Clinton indicting the Nepalese as the source of the virus."

Interestingly, Klarreich reports that UN spokesperson Silvie Van den Wildenberg has recognized that the damage the abuse cases and cholera "have to done to MINUSTAH is irreparable":

"What happened is ying and yang," says Van den Wildenberg. "It is the opposite of why we are here, to defend the highest values and ideals and this is killing our credibility worldwide.... We will always wear the scar." She says MINUSTAH and the UN are very sorry for what happened but their apologies are "not being heard anymore."

Yet, despite these expressions of regret, MINUSTAH and the UN have in reality failed to offer the Haitian people, and particularly the victims of abuses and cholera, a formal apology. Were the UN to officially recognize their responsibility for these abuses and offer apologies, it would be a useful first step toward the accountability of MINUSTAH in Haiti.

Beyond the recent scandals that have occurred around cholera and sexual abuses, it's important to remember that MINUSTAH has, from its inception, been widely viewed throughout Haiti as a foreign army of occupation with little or no legitimacy. UN troops first arrived in the country in mid-2004, during the turmoil surrounding the coup that forced elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide into exile earlier that year. As the Gerard Latortue regime oversaw a brutal repression of pro-Aristide groups in popular neighborhoods, MINUSTAH soldiers stood by and even allegedly participated in acts of repression as well. Most notable is the July 6, 2005 assault on Cité Soleil which resulted in dozens of civilians killed or injured, including women and infants. Declassified cables from the U.S. Embassy noted that MINUSTAH soldiers had fired an astonishing 22,000 shots in 7 hours.

As Klarreich's piece makes clear, the anger and bitterness towards this prolonged and unjustified foreign military presence is reaching a boiling point throughout Haiti.

Israel/Palestine
8) 50 aid groups demand Israel lift Gaza blockade
Ibrahim Barzak, Associated Press, Thu, Jun 14, 2012
http://news.yahoo.com/50-aid-groups-demand-israel-lift-gaza-blockade-063259102.html

Gaza City, Gaza Strip - Fifty international aid groups and U.N. agencies on Thursday urged Israel to open Gaza's borders, saying its border blockade violates international law and indiscriminately harms Gaza's 1.6 million people.

The appeal was issued on the fifth anniversary of the imposition of the blockade, triggered by the violent takeover of Gaza by the Islamic militant Hamas in June 2007. Two years ago, Israel started allowing imports of most consumer goods, but continues to ban virtually all Gaza exports and travel through Israeli crossings.

Israel has said the blockade is meant to prevent Hamas from building up its military arsenal and Gaza militants from carrying out attacks on Israel. The Hamas founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel, and over its 25-year history, the group has killed hundreds of Israelis in shootings and bombings.

However, international aid agencies say the blockade mainly punishes ordinary Gazans by crippling the territory's economy, forcing foreign donors to spend money on humanitarian relief instead of investing in the economy.

"What Gaza needs is real development, but because of the blockade we are obliged to concentrate on humanitarian work," Filippo Grandi, head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, told reporters in Gaza on Thursday.
[...]
One-third of Gaza's labor force is unemployed, and exports are at only 5 percent of what they were in 2007, he said.

The easing of import restrictions spurred some growth, but mainly because Gaza started from a very low baseline, Grandi said, noting that the per capita GDP in 2011 remained at 10 percent below the 2005 level.

About 60 percent of Gazans are under 18 and youth unemployment stands at 51 percent, according to U.N. figures.
[...]
Egypt went along with Israel until the fall of President Hosni Mubarak last year. Since then, Egypt has allowed more Gazans to enter through its border crossing, but continues to impose some restrictions.

Among the signatories of Thursday's appeal were 43 aid groups and seven U.N. agencies, including the World Health Organization.

9) Israel's Blockade Of Gaza Puts Palestinian Children's Health At Risk: Report
Ryan Villarreal, International Business Times, June 14, 2012 2:33 PM EDT
http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/352344/20120614/gaza-strip-palestinian-israel-blockade-hamas.htm

A new report from two international aid organizations says that Israel's five-year blockade of the Gaza Strip has led to severe contamination of the region's drinking water, resulting in numerous health issues that particularly affect Palestinian children.

U.S.-based NGO Save the Children and British aid group Medical Aid for Palestinians jointly published a report Thursday titled, "Gaza's Children: Falling Behind," which examines the impact of the blockade on children's health in Gaza.

"The blockade is a blight on the lives of Gaza's civilians. It is shocking to see so many children struggling to live a fulfilled and healthy life -- unable to play in safe areas and forced to drink dirty and dangerous water that is making them sick," Aimee Shalan, MAP's Director of Advocacy and Communications, said in a statement.
[...]
MAP described Gaza's sewage system as "completely broken," saying much of its infrastructure was destroyed during Israel's three-week military offensive in late December 2008 against Gaza and the Hamas government, known as Operation Cast Lead, during which Israeli armed forces conducted air strikes, artillery shelling and a ground invasion in response to increasing rocket-propelled grenade attacks from Gaza targeting nearby Israeli cities.

As a result, Gaza's drinking water has been contaminated by fertilizers and human waste.

"Crucial equipment needed to repair the sewage and water system remains blocked and on the restricted list of goods allowed in," read a MAP statement. "Just one-fifth of the equipment needed has been delivered to date, with the remainder sitting unused in warehouses."

Israel announced an easing of the blockade in June 2010, but the aid groups' report says "this has only resulted in an increase in consumer goods, not reconstruction materials, entering Gaza from Israel and only a slight increase in the exports allowed out."

"These measures have not been nearly enough to resuscitate Gaza's withered economy, respond to the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead or enable adequate provision of basic public services like education, housing and health," it adds.
[...]
The report cites a number of ailments suffered by Palestinian children in Gaza. Ten percent of children under 5 have stunted growth due to prolonged exposure to malnutrition. Anemia, caused by an iron-deficiency, affects 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, 68.1 percent of children nine to 12 months old and 36.8 percent of pregnant mothers.
[...]

Bahrain
10) Bahrain Medics Punished for Treating Injured
Human Rights First, June 14, 2012
http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2012/06/14/bahrain-medics-punished-for-treating-injured/

New York, NY– The court verdicts announced today in the case of 20 Bahrain medics prosecuted for treating injured protestors expose the truth behind the Bahrain regime's false claims of reform.

Eleven of the 20 had their guilty verdicts confirmed, while nine – including five of the six women originally charged – were declared innocent. New jail sentences ranged from one month to five years. Dr. Ali Al Ekri was sentenced to five years in prison.

Today's appeal verdicts follow the original sentences given by the military court to the 20 medics in September 2011. The medics were arrested, detained and tortured into giving false confessions last year and were released from custody while their appeal was under way. Most of today's sentences are reduced sentences from the original ones.

These verdicts come as Human Rights First has once again been denied access to visit Bahrain and show that the dictatorship is refusing to listen to international calls for reform.

"Today was a moment of truth for the Bahrain regime, one it failed miserably," said Human Rights First's Brian Dooley, who was in one of the appeal court hearings with the medics in March 2012. "The truth from today is that medics are to be jailed for treating the injured and for telling the world about the regime's crackdown, and that the regime is still trying to keep the world from knowing what's happening in Bahrain by shutting out Human Rights First and other international organizations."
[...]
The United States government sent observers to the medics' trial, and has urged the Bahrain regime "to abide by its commitment to transparent judicial proceedings, including a fair trial, access to attorneys, and verdicts based on credible evidence conducted in full accordance with Bahraini law and Bahrain's international legal obligations." This has clearly not happened today, and the U.S. government should say so clearly and publicly.
[...]

---
Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just Foreign Policy News is here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews


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