human rights watch

Operation Exodus: The Snowden Accompaniment Flytilla to Political Asylum in Venezuela

On Friday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced that Venezuela would offer political asylum to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

Regardless of what happens next, President Maduro's announcement was world-historical. With his announcement, Maduro has invited Americans to live in a new world: a "multi-polar" world in which the U.S. government's power is limited, not by a single "superpower adversary," but by the actions of many independent countries which are not U.S. "adversaries"; countries which agree with the U.S. on some things and disagree with the U.S. on other things, as is their right; countries which do not always accede to U.S. demands, as is their right. The day after Snowden claims political asylum in Venezuela, the U.S. and Venezuela will continue their robust economic trade; in particular, Venezuela will continue to be one of the top four suppliers of foreign oil to the United States.

It's a general constant in human affairs that no-one likes to be told that they have too much power for the general welfare. Nonetheless, we're all capable, when we want, of seeing things from the other guy's point of view.

And from the point of view of most people in the world, it's not a good thing for the United States to have too much power in world affairs; from the point of view of most people in the world, it's not a good thing for any one country to have too much power in world affairs.

A Reformist Strategy to Downsize the Drone Strike Policy

This is slightly adapted from a presentation given at a Congressional briefing on drone strike policy on November 16, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

I want to talk about what Congress could do about drone strikes in the next 1-2 years.

To begin with, some political context, as I see it.

First, I don't think anyone will argue with me if I say that for the last ten years Congress has done very little.

Second, I think it would be extremely helpful if Congress would do something. I think Congress doing something is intrinsically important in itself, in addition to whatever the thing is. The reason is that the media, the public and the Administration take cues from what Congress is talking about. If Congress isn't talking about something, then it's perceived as not very controversial. More people would contact Congress if we had a vehicle for them to contact Congress about.

Third, I don't think it's as hard for Congress to do things on this as some people seem to think. There's a kind of conventional wisdom that Congress can't do anything because no-one cares because no U.S. soldiers are being killed by the policy. I think this conventional wisdom is completely wrong. No U.S. soldiers are being killed in Honduras and yet a hundred Members of Congress are willing to sign letters about human rights in Honduras, and these letters get press and pressure the Administration. No U.S. soldiers are being killed in Bahrain but Members of Congress are willing to sign letters about human rights in Bahrain and these letters get press and pressure the Administration. Conversely, plenty of U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan before 2009 and Congress didn't do much about that. So whether or not American soldiers are being killed is not as decisive as some people seem to think.

1500 Prisoners on Hunger Strike for Basic Rights: Could Hillary Say Boo?

More than 1500 prisoners are currently observing an open-ended hunger strike in defense of basic human rights: the right not to be detained without charge, the right not to be subjected to sustained solitary confinement, the right to be visited by one's family. Two of the prisoners have been on hunger strike for more than 70 days and have been widely reported to be "near death."

Is it possible that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could say a few words about this situation?

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon finally said something under pressure. So did the European Union. The International Committee of the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch have spoken up. There was a report in the New York Times; before that, there was a report in the Washington Post.

But so far, Secretary of State Clinton hasn't said boo. Is it impossible that she could say something?

What might happen if a bunch of Americans tried to put pressure on Hillary to speak up?

"No Fly Zone"? Senator Kerry, the UN Charter is Supreme Law

Surely no-one has been surprised to see Senator McCain engaged in what Defense Secretary Gates has rightly called "loose talk" about the use of U.S. military force in Libya.

But to see Senator John Kerry, the Democratic head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - the man who as a Vietnam veteran joined other anti-war veterans in asking who would be the last American to be asked to die in Vietnam - engage in such "loose talk" - that is a more painful cut.

Of course, this is the same Senator Kerry who voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in October 2002, even though such action was never authorized by the UN Security Council, and was therefore a major war crime in international law - the crime of aggression. And this is the same Senator Kerry who, as a presidential candidate in August 2004, stood by his vote for the war.

Here is a basic fact about the world that mainstream U.S. media - and politicians like John Kerry - generally find distasteful to acknowledge. The Charter of the United Nations rules out the use of military force by one UN member state against another except in two cases: self-defense against armed attack, and actions approved by the UN Security Council.

Obviously, Libya has not attacked the United States, and there is no realistic prospect that it will do so.

Therefore, because it is an act of war, in order to be legal under international law, the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya must be approved by the UN Security Council. There is no way around it.

The United Nations Charter is not an obscure document that can be safely ignored when it is convenient to do so. It is the founding document of the United Nations. It is the Constitution of the world.

Team America Kills Five Kids in Marja

"Civilian casualties are inevitable," said U.S. officials before launching their weekend military assault on Marja in southern Afghanistan, and in this case, they were telling the truth. Yesterday, the New York Times reports, a U.S. rocket strike "hit a compound crowded with Afghan civilians... killing at least 10 people, including 5 children."

What justification has been provided by the government of the United States for its decision to kill these five children?

It will be argued that the government of the United States did not decide to kill these five children specifically, and that's absolutely true. The U.S. government did not decide to kill these particular children; it only decided to kill some Afghan civilians, chosen randomly from Marja's civilian population, when it decided to launch its military assault. These five children simply had the misfortune of holding losing tickets in a lottery in which they did not choose to participate.

Recall the U.S. government's instructions to Marja's residents before the assault:

 

Afghan villagers should stay inside and "keep their heads down" when thousands of U.S. Marines launch a massive assault on a densely-populated district in coming days, NATO's civilian representative to Afghanistan said Tuesday.

[...]

NATO forces have decided to advise civilians in Marjah not to leave their homes, although they say they do not know whether the assault will lead to heavy fighting.

These five kids were staying inside, as instructed. It didn't save them from U.S. rockets. Perhaps they weren't keeping their heads down.

Afghan Civilians Imperiled by US/NATO Assault in Marjah

The United States and NATO are poised to launch a major assault in the Marjah district in southern Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians are in imminent peril. Will President Obama and Congress act to protect civilians in Marjah, in compliance with the obligations of the United States under the laws of war?

Few civilians have managed to escape the Afghan town of Marjah ahead of a planned US/NATO assault, raising the risk of civilian casualties, McClatchy News reports. "If [NATO forces] don't avoid large scale civilian casualties, given the rhetoric about protecting the population, then no matter how many Taliban are routed, the Marjah mission should be considered a failure," said an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Under the laws of war, the US and NATO - who have told civilians not to flee - bear an extra responsibility to control their fire and avoid tactics that endanger civilians, Human Rights Watch notes. "I suspect that they believe they have the ability to generally distinguish between combatants and civilians," said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. "I would call that into question, given their long history of mistakes, particularly when using air power. Whatever they do, they have an obligation to protect civilians and make adequate provision to alleviate any crisis that arises," he said. "It is very much their responsibility."

Coup Protestor Gang-Raped by Honduran Police

On Friday, Latin America scholars sent an urgent letter to Human Rights Watch, urging HRW to speak out on violations of human rights under the coup regime in Honduras and to conduct its own investigation. HRW hasn't made any statement about Honduras since July 8.

One of the things Human Rights Watch should be investigating is allegations by Honduran feminists and human rights groups that Honduran police are using rape and other sexual violence as weapons of intimidation against Hondurans nonviolently protesting the coup regime.

[UPDATE: Human Rights Watch put out a very strong statement today (8/25), highlighting the IACHR report, noting, among other things, the sexual assault allegations, and urging the U.S. to exert more pressure for the restoration of democracy. Kudos to Human Rights Watch.]

The Spanish news agency EFE reports:

The group Feministas de Honduras en Resistencia said Thursday that is has documented 19 instances of rape by police officers since the June 28 coup that ousted President Mel Zelaya. There have been many other cases of rape, but the women have not reported them out of fear of reprisals, Gilda Rivera, the executive coordinator of the Honduran Center for Women's Rights and head of Feministas, told Efe.

The activists say that women taking part in the resistance to the coup are being targeted. "We've obtained testimonials from women who've been sexually abused, beaten with cudgels on different parts of their bodies, especially the breasts and buttocks," adds the report presented Thursday at a press conference in Tegucigalpa.

Latin America Scholars Urge Human Rights Watch to Speak Up on Honduras Coup

On Friday nearly 100 Latin America scholars and experts sent an open letter to Human Rights Watch urging HRW to speak up about human rights violations in Honduras under the coup regime and to conduct its own investigation of these abuses. The letters' signers include Honduras experts Dana Frank and Adrienne Pine, Latin America experts Eric Hershberg, John Womack, and Greg Grandin, and noted authors Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein.

The Latin America experts note that if Human Rights Watch took action to shine its spotlight on these abuses, it would be more likely that the Obama Administration would put greater pressure on the coup regime to end these abuses and restore democracy. Such pressure would likely be decisive. The experts argue that "the coup could easily be overturned," if the Obama administration took more decisive measures, "such as canceling all U.S. visas and freezing U.S. bank accounts of leaders of the coup regime" - as Rep. Grijalva and 15 other Members of Congress called for on August 11. A recent New York Times editorial urged the Obama Administration to exert more pressure on the coup regime if it refuses to accept a compromise for President Zelaya's return.

Human Rights Watch has not issued a statement or release on the situation in Honduras since July 8, a little over a week after the coup.