A spectre is haunting Poland -- the spectre of George W. Bush.
In the years following 9/11, as the White House accelerated efforts to strike back at al Qaeda, the CIA detained two high-ranking al Qaeda operatives, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah. Both those men are now being held at the Guantánamo Bay prison, but prior to being shipped off to Cuba, the two men allege that they were tortured at secret CIA prisons in Poland.
That's a history that Polish authorities would rather forget, and on Monday and Tuesday government representatives went through the strained motions of trying to defend their country against allegations that Nashiri and Zubaydah had their human rights violated while on Polish soil. The two men have brought suit against the Polish government before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, which is currently trying to establish the facts in a case that has already deeply embarrassed the Polish government.
The case goes to the heart of Poland's political future. Since breaking off from the Soviet Union in 1989, Poland has established itself as a close ally of the United States. In the aftermath of 9/11, Poland was one of the few European countries to fully back the Bush administration's wartime efforts in not only Afghanistan but also Iraq. Now, Poland is moving back toward Europe, having joined the European Union in 2004 and serving as a bulwark of European influence in the east.
The case in Strasbourg has become a litmus test for the Polish government's allegiances and convictions. Torn between its ties to the United States and its role as a regional human rights champion -- both of which have historically been a great source of pride for the country -- Poland is facing a painful dilemma in which the imperatives of America's war on terror have run headfirst into Poland's -- and Europe's -- human rights commitments.
Wu'er Kaixi is homesick.
Wu'er Kaixi, an exiled Chinese dissident and the "second most wanted" man among the student activists of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest, has tried to turn himself in to the Chinese government four times. Each time he has received the same, utterly baffling response from the communist regime: We don't want you. His most recent attempt to return to his native China, this time via Hong Kong, ended with his deportation to Taiwan on Monday.
Wu'er Kaixi is number two on a list of Tiananmen's "21 Most Wanted" -- former student activists who, in 1989, helped to organize massive political demonstrations that ended with a brutal government crackdown in Tiananmen Square. The 21 are purportedly sought for arrest but are also, ironically, prohibited from returning to China -- even if they, like Wu'er Kaixi, have every intention of turning themselves over to they authorities.
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If John Larkin, Northern Ireland's attorney general, has his way, crimes perpetrated before the end of the country's three-decade conflict between mainly Catholic Irish nationalists and Protestant loyalists will no longer be prosecuted. That conflict, better known as the Troubles, left 3,500 people dead and ended in 1998 with the Good Friday agreements. But 15 years after the conflict's end, over 3,000 killings remain unsolved and unprosecuted. In short, Larkin is proposing to the close the book on the darkest chapter of Northern Ireland's history.
On the heels of Larkin's announcement Wednesday to end pre-Good Friday prosecutions, the attorney general has come under a hailstorm of criticism. (Notably, the announcement came as former U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland Richard Haass visited Belfast for his own reconciliation project.) "Murder is murder, is murder. It has no sell-by date," said Jim Alluster, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party; Patrick Corrigan, a representative from Amnesty International, called the plan "an utter betrayal of victims' fundamental right to access justice."
If Larkin's plan is adopted, it could mean an end to prosecutions in such famous incidents as 1972's Bloody Sunday killings, the massacre of 13 Irish protesters by British soldiers; the alleged kidnapping and murder of Jean McConville, a mother of 10, at the hands of the Irish Republican Army later that year; the 1976 Kingsmills massacre, where 11 Protestant workers were gunned down by republican paramilitary members; and the unsolved murders of hundreds of "Disappeared," as those who were taken by the IRA and never heard from again are known.
As a result, Larkin's proposal has been roundly criticized as a de facto amnesty law. But that's only half true. According to Larkin and others involved in building pre-Good Friday cases, there are hardly any prosecutions to speak of, and there probably aren't going to be many more.
That reality raises a painful question for the people of Northern Ireland. Thousands of victims from the Troubles will likely never see justice, and Larkin's proposal is a surprisingly frank acknowledgement of that reality. But is that a reality the country is prepared to live with?
It's a political divide that could only materialize in France. On one side, 343 "bastards" telling their countrymen and government not to "touch my whore." On the other side, a feminist minister crusading to end prostitution. These are the battle lines over a proposed law that would penalize those who pay for sex, a measure aimed at cracking down on prostitution.
The legislation would fine those who purchase sex with a $2000 penalty and is part of an effort by Women's Rights Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem to tighten restrictions on the world's oldest profession. Citing human trafficking and rights abuses, the government wants to eventually eradicate the practice.
According to a parliamentary report, as many as 90 percent of France's 40,000 sex workers are migrants, and if Vallaud-Belkacem has her way that number may drastically decrease -- but with potentially disastrous consequences for French prostitutes.
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In Russia, big scary men with mustaches and sabers are feeling threatened by little girls wearing religious headwear.
Local Cossack leaders in the city of Rostov in southern Russia were not happy with a local "fashion week," where one of the planned events was a children's hijab show. The controversial event was cancelled, allegedly because of Cossack complaints, according to the Kremlin-backed news service RT.
The Cossacks suggested that the show would be more appropriate in, for instance, the Muslim-dominated Chechnya. Timur Okkert, the head of the international relations department of the Rostov Cossack Host, an essential department in any Cossack host, said that the complaints were based on the complicated ethnic situation in the region and fears of provoking conflict.
Just when you think the story couldn't get any weirder, the Cossacks also came out against using ethnically Russian girls as models. It remains unclear whether they thought using non-ethnic-Russian models would instigate less unrest.
Rostov-on-Don is not far from the Northern Caucasus, where ethnic conflict has been rampant for years. Russian authorities are pumping up security measures in the region before the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics -- most recently by collecting saliva samples from Muslim women in Dagestan in an effort to identify potential suicide bombers, particularly the so-called Black Widows. In October, Naida Asiyalova, a Dagestani woman, detonated a bomb in the southern city of Volgograd, killing herself and six other people.
The Cossacks have been an important force in the Russian security effort. The nomadic people, known for their horsemanship and brutality, have been used by Eastern European rulers dating back to before the Russian empire's founding to protect their interests. Today, they are deployed to patrol Russian streets, often donning traditional garb, and use force when local police is not authorized to do so.
The Cossacks have very particular opinions on what to wear and what not to wear, and it seems that the authorities agree. Following several European courts' decisions banning religious symbols in schools, Russia's Supreme Court prohibited hijabs and other religious symbols in schools in July.
But while the Cossacks's fight against the hijab is part of a larger cultural war in the multi-ethnic Russian society, some would agree they are onto something with trying to ban a children's headscarf show. In Islam, the hijab is a symbol of sexual maturity, and girls usually start wearing the headdress after they have achieved puberty. Rights activists and sociologists have raised concerns about pre-pubescent girls donning the headscarf. When "Project Chastity," an effort to convince girls between the ages of 10 and 15 to wear the headscarf, was launched nationally in Algeria in early 2013, it met with vocal opposition. Sociologist Yousif Hantablawi told Al-Arabiya that the campaign would have a negative impact on little girls, as small children should not be making such life-changing decisions, and that it is wrong to "convince them" to wear a hijab.
In Saudi Arabia, Sheikh 'Abdallah Al-Daoud went even further, proposing that Saudis should start dressing girls younger than two in hijabs "in order to protect [them] from sexual molestation." His comments provoked outrage in the country, including some calls for prosecution.
What would the Cossacks say to a hijab-clad baby crawling along on a catwalk?
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Saudi Arabia has long relied on foreign workers to fill millions of low-paying construction, clerical and service jobs, in many cases illicitly. But as the government cracks down on illegal workers, tens of thousands of Filipino and Indonesian migrants are being forced to leave the country by November 3, or face up to two years in jail.
In response, senior Philippine officials flew to Saudi this week to negotiate the repatriation of 5,000 Filipino laborers who still have not been issued exit permits five days before the deadline, while Vice President Jejomar Binay wrote to Saudi King Abdullah pleading for more time. Indonesia, meanwhile, expects to repatriate 18,000 migrant workers, only 4,000 of whom have obtained exit permits. The repatriation process is costly for both governments and workers: The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs has offered to shoulder penalties and fines imposed upon their citizens in Saudi, and opened a temporary shelter in Jeddah for undocumented mothers and children; the Indonesian government is trying to facilitate low-cost flights for its citizens.
The Saudis' crackdown on foreign workers is part of a broader push to create more jobs for its own citizens. The government began prioritizing job creation in 2011, in an effort to stave off popular unrest (At the time, 25 percent of Saudi youths were unemployed), and instituted a "Saudization" policy. Now, fewer firms are allowed to employ foreign workers and, because migrant laborers require employer sponsorship to obtain work permits, many lost their legal right to remain in the country. (Some were already in the country illegally, having entered with the help of recruiters who operate outside the regulatory system). Since then, more than 800,000 migrant laborers have been deported.
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Women of the world: pack your warmest sweaters, and head immediately to Iceland. According to a newly-released report from the World Economic Forum[pdf], Iceland is the #1 country in the world for gender equality, for the fifth year in a row. And that equality is helping propel Iceland and its fellow Nordic nations to new economic heights. Turns out, the smaller the gender gap, the more economically competitive the nation. Even when that nation is totally freezing.
The notion that gender equality drives development (rather than the other way round) has been so widely celebrated in recent years that it begins to seem trite. But as the newly released 2013 Global Gender Gap Index -- which measures gender parity in 136 countries -- reminds us, gender equity isn't simply a matter of equal rights. It's a matter of efficiency. Many countries have closed the gender gap in education, for example, but gender-based barriers to employment minimize their returns on that investment; Their highly educated women aren't working. The highest ranking countries in the index have figured out how to maximize returns on their investment in women, and are consequently more economically competitive, have higher incomes, and higher rates of development.
The report notes a strong correlation between Global Gender Gap Index rankings (which measure health, education, labor political and participation) and measures of global competitiveness, as the graph below illustrates. The smaller the gender gap, the better off the economy. Perhaps it's no surprise that less-developed nations lke Yemen and Pakistan are near the bottom of the Index. What's more surprising is that relatively economic powerhouses like Turkey and Japan are right there in the basement with them.
Take the Philippines. It ranks #5 on the Global Gender Gap Index, higher than any other Asian nation. It's the only country in Asia that has fully closed the education gender gap, and its labor force boasts growing ranks of women workers, especially professionals and managers. Not surprisingly, the Philippines is now the fastest growing economy in Asia, having recently edged out China (#69 on the index). There are many reasons for this, including macroeconomic policy reforms under Aquino, but the role of a large, educated and diverse work force shouldn't be discounted; Indeed, gender parity in Filipino education and labor preceded recent economic growth.
Though not exactly analogous, something similar is playing out in the corporate world. A 2012 report by Credit Suisse found that companies with at least one woman on the board outperformed those without by about 26 percent. A 2012 report by McKinsey & Company similarly found that companies with more diverse boards boasted higher profit and higher returns on equity than others. It could be that better performing companies are in a better position to give women a chance, but the researchers at Credit Suisse suggest that simply diversifying the leadership pool can generate surprisingly positive results.
So, what are the highest ranking countries doing right, exactly?
One major factor, which the report notes every year, is that high ranking countries "have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, resulting in high female employment, more shared participation in childcare, more equitable distribution of labor at home [and] better work-life balance for both women and men."
Meanwhile, in the United States, the notion that women could conceivably someday successfully combine work and family is still constantly under debate. Incidentally, the U.S. dropped one place in the rankings to #23 -- below Burundi, Cuba and, god forbid, Canada.
The lowest ranking country is Yemen, which has only closed about half of its gender gap. Japan fell four places to #120, due in part to a widening gap in political participation: The number of women in parliament fell from 11 percent to 8 percent during the past year. And, though Japan has made significant investments in education over the years, it has not removed barriers to employment for women meaning it has yet to cash in on this investment. The report argues that simply closing the gap between male and female employment in Japan would boost GDP by up to 16 percent. Turkey remains among the lowest ranking countries in Europe. Despite some gains in literacy, educational enrollment and labor force participation, the country still has fewer women professionals, managers, and politicians relative to other European nations.
In short: It's awesome to be a woman if you're in Iceland. In Yemen, not so much.
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Sure, some have spent the past few days lamenting that Pakistani girls' education advocate Malala Yousafzai didn't receive the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. But several Russian news outlets and politicians have been grousing about a separate slight: the Hague-based watchdog Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) wresting the prize from their own human rights crusader and international peacekeeper: Vladimir Putin.
"This is absolutely unfair that the OPCW was given this title," State Duma deputy Iosif Kobzon, a member of Putin's United Russia party, told the state-owned news service Itar-Tass, according to Pravda.Ru. "Who forced Syria to destroy chemical weapons, if not Putin? Who made Assad sign all agreements of the UN Security Council for the destruction of chemical weapons? They should have given the prize to two nominees then. This is unfair, because Putin is making every effort."
The Russian federal news agency Regnum, meanwhile, reported on OPCW's win briefly before reminding readers that it is "noteworthy" that the "process of destroying chemical weapons in war-torn Syria" was initiated by Russia and its president. Not noteworthy, apparently, are Putin's aggression in Georgia and campaigns against homosexuals and immigrants in his own country -- recent actions that might, one would speculate, undermine his shot at a Nobel Peace Price.
Technically speaking, Putin is not eligible to receive the prize until next year, as nominations for this year's award had to be in by February 2013, and the Russian advovacy group that nominated him, the International Academy of Spiritual Unity and Cooperation of Peoples of the World, only submitted theirs in September. The group's nomination cited Putin's efforts to "maintain peace and tranquility" not only in Russia, but also in "all conflicts arising on the planet" -- a sweeping appraisal encompassing Russia's plan to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control in an effort to avoid U.S. military strikes.
But that technicality hasn't stopped Russian lawmakers from interpreting the Nobel Peace Prize committee's choice as a snub. Alexey Pushkov, the head of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, called it a "politically sophisticated choice" and a "cunning move" designed to withhold the prize from those who "truly prevented" the war in Syria.
Others have characterized the OPCW's prize as, at its core, an award to Putin. An article in Russia's English-language Moscow Times called the OPCW's win a "nod to Putin" since the organization was granted such a crucial role in the conflict as a result of negotiations brokered by Moscow. Federation Council member Valery Ryazansky was especially optimistic, telling Russia's state-owned news agency RIA-Novosti: "I believe that this is a recognition of the fact that the Russian government invited the international community to the decision on the Syrian issue, which was found to be most effective."
Another article at Russia's Mail.ru site reported that Syrian opposition leaders were angry at the Nobel committee for, as they saw it, implicitly praising Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in giving the award to the OPCW, reminding readers that Russia was "the author of the idea of destroying chemical weapons stockpiles in the country."
Assad, it seems, wouldn't mind the recognition. In an interview with the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, the Syrian leader reportedly joked that the Nobel Peace Prize "should have been mine."
Maybe next year, guys.
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The Letter from Birmingham Jail it is not. Since September, former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who is serving out a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses in the 1990s, has been engaged in a particularly rare form of opposition politics, tweeting out political commentary to his now-10,000 followers from behind bars.
Last month, the Twitter account -- along with an accompanying Facebook page -- launched with an inaugural YouTube message and photo montage of Fujimori, along with a written message to his queridos amigos announcing that he would be sharing his thoughts and memoirs on social media, and that "some young people and close collaborators" would be administering the accounts:
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The shocking findings of a study on sexual assault in Asia, published Tuesday in the Lancet Global Health journal, have been generating a lot of buzz, particularly the figures on Papua New Guinea, where 59 percent -- yes, more than a majority -- of men admitted to raping sexual partners.
The researchers involved in the study, which is part of a wider United Nations campaign to track and study sexual violence in the Asia-Pacific region, interviewed men aged 18 to 49 in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka. To control for some variation, the investigators used only male interviewers and did not use the word "rape" explicitly, asking instead if the subjects had "forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex."
By any measure, the numbers are unsettling. Across the region, 10 percent of men said they had raped a non-partner, and almost one in four -- 24 percent -- admitted to raping a partner. But one of the most striking parts of the study -- the largest of its kind ever conducted -- is the variation in frequency of sexual assault across countries. Percentages of non-partner rape, for instance, jump from 5.4 percent in rural Bangladesh to 23 percent in Jayapura, Indonesia to a staggering 41 percent in Papua New Guinea. All of which raises a question: What could possibly account for such a huge disparity in cultural propensities toward rape?
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The United States has cut off foreign aid because of a string of alleged killings by police. Just not in Egypt.
The State Department confirmed Thursday that it has suspended assistance to the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia because of 12 killings in 2011 by an "ad hoc task force within the police department." Reuters reports that five of the dead were on a hit list of people deemed to be criminals. The State Department said there has been only "limited progress" in investigating the killings.
The news comes against the backdrop of Egyptian security forces' violent crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsy, which began on Aug. 14 and left more than 1,000 people dead. Granted, the hit-list charges give the St. Lucia killings a more pre-meditated dimension.
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Update: Commissioner Georgieva's comments about cases of polio reappearing in Syria have been refuted by the World Health Organization, which has no confirmed cases of polio in Syria or the Syrian refugee diaspora. FP has learned that the European Commission has followed up with its source for the information in the Lebanese government and now believes detected symptoms of acute flaccid paralysis are being caused by diseases other than polio. The post's headline has been revised to reflect this.
Original Post: The lawless conflict in Syria is rekindling dangers -- from disease to forms of political violence -- that have been dormant for decades, Kristalina Georgieva, the European Union's Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid, and Crisis Response, told FP on Monday. "We have spent, as humanity, decades to eradicate polio," she said in a conversation at FP's office, "only to see it again now because of this negligence to simple, basic rules of war -- even in a war there are rules to be followed."
According to the World Health Organization, polio was eradicated in Syria in 1995. But the disease has returned during the country's civil war. "To get polio, that was eradicated, to return," Georgieva said, "this is not only a danger for the Syrians, and it is criminal for the children of this country, but it is a danger for Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey and Egypt and the rest of the world because the refugees will bring it out. We have already gotten reports that cases of polio are being registered among the refugee population." Other diseases -- including measles, typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis, and leishmaniasis, informally called the "Aleppo boil" -- have also proliferated in the absence of professional medical care.
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Anwar Congo wraps a piece of wire around a man's neck, explaining that you can kill someone this way "without spilling too much blood." A few moments later, Congo is dancing the cha-cha.
Opening in the United States on Friday, the documentary film The Act of Killing chronicles the 1965-1966 mass killings in Indonesia, when Congo and other anti-communist gangsters killed upwards of 500,000 alleged communists, Chinese-Indonesians, and intellectuals. The killings took place after a failed coup that led to the fall of Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia, and rise of the dictator Suharto (text at the beginning of the film mentions the "the direct aid of Western governments" in the atrocities, which included American support).
"The film asks us to look at a period of history that we have forgotten, and I think one of the big questions that it asks is: 'How could we have forgotten one of the biggest massacres of the 20th century?'" the American director Joshua Oppenheimer reflected in an interview with Foreign Policy.
The chaotic showdown between the Egyptian military and now-former President Mohamed Morsy has overshadowed another troubling development in the country: the nationwide protests that began on June 30 brought a new round of sexual assaults and mob attacks, with Human Rights Watch reporting on Wednesday that "mobs sexually assaulted and in some cases raped at least 91 women in Tahrir Square" over the last four days (journalists and foreigners have also been victims of the violence).
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On the heels of Wednesday's gay marriage rulings at the Supreme Court, a farcical piece of political theater played out on MSNBC.
As the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case were making an appearance on the cable network, Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, wandered into the frame with a phone to his ear and announced that he had Barack Obama on the line, calling from Air Force One. The president offered garbled congratulations through an iPhone speaker phone to the plaintiffs -- Kristin Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami, and Jeff Zarillo -- and MSNBC's national audience.
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China, Russia, and Uzbekistan are simply not committed to addressing human trafficking. That's the takeaway from the State Department's new 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, out Wednesday afternoon. After nine years each for China and Russia, and six years for Uzbekistan, on the State Department's watch list, the status of the three countries was downgraded this year to "Tier 3," the lowest rank, which includes "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards [to address human trafficking] and are not making significant efforts to do so." Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania were also downgraded to Tier 3, joining the ranks of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.
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On Friday, chaotic clashes broke out in Georgia as an angry mob -- comprised mainly of young men but also including robed priests and some women -- descended on a gay rights rally commemorating International Day Against Homophobia. A day earlier, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church had demanded that authorities stop the rally, calling it a "violation of the majority's right."
According to EurasiaNet, the mob, which numbered in the thousands, shouted violent slogans while chasing activists away from downtown Tbilisi. Clamors of "Kill them! Tear them to pieces!" and "Where are they? Don't leave them alive!" rang out as police herded activists into municipal buses and away from the area. As the activists left, protesters pelted the buses with stones and overpowered policemen trying to contain the scene. Seventeen people have reportedly been injured in the violence.
The video footage is quite dramatic:
Members of the Georgian government have spoken out against the attacks. UNM parliamentarian Gigi Tsereteli dismissed today's events as "anarchy" and added that "this is not the state we were building," while Justice Minister Tea Tsulukuani affirmed that "both groups have the right to hold peaceful rallies. Violence is unacceptable." While many have condemned the violence, comments later came from several ruling Georgia Dream party members that criticized the LGBT activists for raising tensions.
On May 15, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili declared that sexual minorities "have the same rights as any other social groups" in Georgia and that society will "gradually get used to it." Judging from today's episode, Georgian society still has a ways to go.
(H/T: Arianne Swieca)
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Yemen's transitional government is signaling that it may release Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a Yemeni journalist who was arrested in August 2010 and who U.S. intelligence officials believe supported al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Shaye was sentenced to five years in prison in January 2011 in a trial that drew condemnation from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and human rights and journalist advocacy organizations have since campaigned for his release.
In a meeting with U.N. officials on Monday, Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi told reporters that he has made plans to release Shaye, Yemen's al-Masdar reports. Al Jazeera bureau chief Saeed Thabit Saeed, who attended the meeting, wrote on Facebook, "We received a serious promise from [Hadi] that our colleague Abdulelah Shaye will be released," and Times of London correspondent Iona Craig confirmed with Hadi's office that there "is an order from the president to release Shaye soon."
This is not the first time that Shaye's release has been considered. In fact, soon after his 2011 trial, Shaye's release seemed imminent. "We were waiting for the release of the pardon -- it was printed out and prepared in a file for the president to sign and announce the next day," Shaye's lawyer, Abdulrahman Barman, told Jeremy Scahill in his new book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. But that plan fell through after a Feb. 2 phone call between then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh and President Barack Obama, in which Obama "expressed concern over the release of [Shaye], who had been sentenced to five years in prison for his association with AQAP," according to a readout of the call released by the White House.
The White House's position hasn't changed in the ensuing two years. "We remain concerned about al-Shai's potential early release due to his association with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told FP by email on Wednesday.
Nor, for that matter, is Shaye's release certain. Mohammed al-Basha, a spokesperson for the Yemeni embassy in Washington, walked back reports of the journalist's imminent release, telling FP that President Hadi had only agreed to consider ending Shaye's detention.
Shaye's investigative work drew international attention in 2009 when he reported that the United States had conducted an airstrike that killed 41 civilians in the Yemeni village of al-Majalla, and managed to interview New Mexico-born AQAP cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on multiple occasions.
In July 2010, the Yemeni government arrested and beat Shaye, and interrogators told him, "We will destroy your life if you keep on talking," according to Scahill's account. Shaye was arrested a month later, beaten again, held in solitary confinement for 34 days without access to a lawyer, and then rushed through a trial on charges that included recruiting and propagandizing for AQAP and encouraging the assassination of President Saleh and his son. By the time Obama intervened in Shaye's pardon in 2011, protesters had begun filling city streets calling for the end of Saleh's three-decade presidency; Saleh resigned in November 2011, and since then his vice president, Hadi, has governed as part of what is slated to be a two-year period of reform and transition.
The U.S. government's case against Shaye is unclear. U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told Craig in February 2012 that "Shaye is in jail because he was facilitating al Qaeda and its planning for attacks on Americans," but did not elaborate. Before Shaye's arrest, an U.S. intelligence official, who told Scahill that he "was persuaded that [Shaye] was an agent," discouraged journalists from working with Shaye on account of "'classified evidence' indicat[ing] that Shaye was 'cooperating' with al Qaeda."
Since his imprisonment, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Federation of Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Yemen-based Freedom Foundation have campaigned for Shaye's release, and last November Yemeni Justice Minister Murshid al-Arashani publicly demanded that Hadi issue a pardon. Though it appears the Yemeni president may be preparing to meet that request, Shaye's family remains doubtful. "It's like the same as previous promises," Shaye's brother Khaled told Craig. "So far this is the fourth time Hadi has made this promise."
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The Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix is scheduled for this Sunday, April 21. But if the country's protest movement has its way, the race won't take place at all. For months, opponents of Bahrain's monarchy have pressed for the race to be canceled or moved elsewhere to prevent the government from profiting off the event. And in recent weeks, they've stepped up their activity. While for some groups that has meant writing letters to F1 participants and promoters, others have taken a decidedly more aggressive approach.
The February 14 Youth Movement, for instance, has posted YouTube videos threatening to inflict "remorse and heartbreak" if the event proceeds. In this video, posted March 30, activists block traffic lanes with a car, douse it with gasoline, and light it on fire:
The BBC reports that February 14 may have detonated a car bomb in Manama's Financial Harbor district last Sunday. And another recently posted video shows several dozen activists armed with tires and at least 24 Molotov cocktails and several jugs of fuel shutting down a busy Bahraini intersection:
The February 14 movement is named after the date on which the uprising in Bahrain began, and its logo features the statue that used to stand in Manama's Pearl Roundabout. From Feb. 14 to March 16, 2011, activists camped in Pearl Roundabout until Bahraini riot police and military troops, backed by tanks and Saudi soldiers, broke up the sit-in, killing eight protesters. In the ensuing crackdown, the authorities have arrested thousands of activists as well as others who did not participate in the protests, including doctors held on charges of treating wounded activists.
Bahrain hosts the Grand Prix annually, and the race returned in 2012 after being canceled in 2011 -- an action that many diplomats and human rights groups have labeled insensitive at best and a boon to a repressive regime at worst. Bernie Ecclestone, president and CEO of Formula One, has been remarkably tone deaf in responding to critics. Earlier this month he told reporters, "Somebody who actually lives [in Bahrain] came to see me yesterday and said everything's very normal." His succinct reply to a campaign by human rights groups was that "it is now too late to make any changes to the calendar." He claimed human rights concerns had not been brought to his attention when the schedule was finalized late last year, despite the uproar over the 2012 race. And he seemed only marginally better informed at the inaugural race of the 2013 season last weekend, telling reporters:
I don't think the people who are arguing about their position are bad, and I don't think they're trying to hurt people to make their point. We have had all sorts of protesters -- look at those complaining about Mrs. Thatcher. This happens all the time. People use these things when there is an opportunity.
As of today, the race is expected to go ahead as planned.
Indonesia has a witchcraft problem. Belief in the supernatural is widespread in the Southeast Asian archipelago -- and not just among the underclasses. But like many post-colonial societies, its inherited legal system leaves victims of sorcery unable to seek judicial relief. That may be about the change, however, if the country's parliament OKs a number of amendments to its Dutch colonial-era criminal code. The Financial Times has more:
Indonesia would make it illegal for anyone to "declare the possession of mysterious powers" or "encourage others to believe that by their actions they can cause mental or physical suffering of another person." The crime would be punishable by a jail sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to Rp300m ($30,700).
The amendments, which have been in the works since 2008, would put an end to the perceived bias of the state in favor of witches and sorcerers (the difference: witches possess innate mystical powers, whereas sorcerers have come to acquire them). Critics have denounced this kind of bias not only in Indonesia, but also in numerous other post-colonial societies that have since moved to outlaw black magic. As Michael Rowlands and Jean-Pierre Warnier explained in a 1988 article about witchcraft in Cameroon:
Cases of sorcery were to be brought to court. But the courts dismissed them for lack of evidence against the accused. Once acquitted, the latter often sued the defendants for libel and won their case. The sorcerers were thought to go unchecked and the victim felt betrayed by the colonial authorities who appeared to side with the sorcerers.
Unchecked sorcery has become a major issue in Indonesia, where hundreds of people have been killed by anti-witchcraft vigilantes who have taken the law into their own hands. Even President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono claimed in 2009 that ''[m]any are practising black magic. Indeed, I and my family can feel it.''
But not everyone is in favor of outlawing the dark arts. Indeed, one of the country's best known warlocks has proposed harnessing the power of black magic to solve other, more pressing problems. "This is the heritage from our ancestors and we need to preserve it," he told the Financial Times. "Rather than banning it, we should use black magic to punish those who are corrupt."
There's the FitBit for fitness fanatics, the Pebble Watch for people who think their cell phones are too big, and Google Glasses for fancy sportsmen or irritating entrepreneurs. And now, there are high-tech life-trackers for human rights activists too -- devices that might save their lives.
Designed by Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), these high-tech bracelets -- dubbed the "The Natalia Project" after activist Natalia Estemirova who, in 2009, was abducted from her home in Chechnya and murdered for her activism -- are designed to serve as the first assault alarm system for human rights defenders at risk of being kidnapped or killed, according to a press release published by the organization on Friday.
When triggered -- either by the wearer or by the device being forcibly removed -- the durable bracelet/personal alarm uses GPS and smartphone technology to send a message with the time and the bracelet's location to the phones of colleagues in close proximity and to CRD headquarters in Stockholm. In an interesting social media twist, CRD will also notify anyone around the world who has signed up to receive distress signal alerts via SMS, Facebook, and Twitter. The organization hopes that those who have signed up to monitor the activists' safety will in turn spread the word via social media, raising awareness and putting pressure on those responsible for the attack or kidnapping.
It's a life-tracking device that could very well live up to its name.
It occurred to me that I perhaps pick on Saudi Arabia unfairly on this blog, having previously harped on its nasty habit of beheading and crucifying convicts (now apparently imperiled by a dearth of qualified swordsmen) as well as its record of flogging and executing blasphemers. But then I ran across this story about Ali Al-Khawahir, a Saudi Arabian 20-something who has been sentenced to surgical paralysis for his role in a stabbing 10 years ago, and I realized it's the Saudi government that bring this upon itself.
Amnesty International has more:
Recent reports in Saudi Arabian media have brought to light the case of 24-year-old Ali al-Khawahir, who was reportedly sentenced to qisas (retribution) in the town of Al-Ahsa and could be paralysed from the waist down unless he pays one million Saudi riyals --US$ 270,000 -- in compensation to the victim.
Ali al-Khawahir had allegedly stabbed his friend in the back, rendering him paralysed from the waist down in or around 2003. Ali al-Khawahir was 14 years' old at the time.
Other "eye-for-an-eye" punishments reportedly carried out by Saudi Arabia include tooth extraction, eye-gouging, and, of course, death, according to Amnesty International. But paralysis breaks new ground for insensitivity, even in the gruesome world of Saudi Arabian criminal justice.
Last week, the Saudi daily Al-Youm reported that Saudi Arabia is considering transitioning away from the state's institutionalized method of executing convicts: beheading by sword. Beheading -- the approach to carrying out death sentences in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century -- has long been practiced in the kingdom in observance of its strict interpretation of Islamic law, which seeks to mimic practices at the time of Mohammed. But a committee of Saudi government officials recently ruled that execution by firing squad would also be permissible under the national brand of sharia.
"This solution seems practical, especially in light of shortages of official swordsmen," the committee explained in a statement quoted by the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. The committee also complained that official swordsmen have been known to show up late to executions.
Does this mean those few remaining swordsmen will be out of a job soon? It turns out the Saudi newspaper Okaz asked one of them: Mecca-based executioner Mohammad Saad al-Biishi. He says he's not concerned, citing the fact that he's already received firearms training. In the meantime, he'll keep on with the beheadings.
"I just returned from Ranyah governorate, where one of the judgments was implemented with a blow from a sword," he told the paper.
Even if the transition to firing squad occurs, al-Biishi is optimistic about the future of his profession, and has been apprenticing his son in beheadings. He acknowledges, though, that the government's concerns about a shortage of qualified swordsmen are justified. "This profession is not desired by many," he told Okaz, "despite the salary and personal reward we gain from it."
The execution business in Saudi Arabia is booming. Human rights groups estimate that approximately 70 people were beheaded in the kingdom last year, and 14 so far this year. The January execution of a Sri Lankan national, who was accused of the murder of a 4-year-old in her care as a maid while still a 17-year-old minor, prompted Sri Lanka to recall their ambassador from Riyadh last month.
Marya Hannun contributed to this post.
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With the papal conclave expected to convene early next week, the Vatican has torn a page out of the Chinese playbook for stifling dissent, blocking access to a prominent website, bishopaccountability.org, that documents cases of clergy abuse.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, access to the site, which has become an invaluable resource for journalists covering the sex abuse scandal, is restricted on the Vatican's Internet servers. And when one tries to access the site through the Holy See's network, a message notes that it is blocked because of "hate/racism." That's certainly one way to describe an effort that has posted more than 8,500 pages of documents describing clergy abuse.
As we've written earlier, much of the pre-conclave jockeying plays out in the media, where candidates can be floated and reputations attacked in order to best position one cardinal or another for the papacy. By blocking access to one of the chief sources of information about this dark chapter in the church's history, the Holy See may be seeking to reassert a degree of control over the mud-slinging process in the media.
The NCR says it has filed a request to have the site unblocked. (Hey, it could happen!) We'll keep you updated.
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The Olympics have left in their wake a glut of sports metaphors and even a few diplomatic spats, but the games themselves are over. The athletes are heading home - in fact, many left before the closing ceremonies last Sunday night. Some will receive heroes' welcomes, others, less so. Where are the best and worst places to go home to as an international athlete?
The Best Countries:
North Korea: The DPRK loves a success story, especially when they're so few and far between. North Korea walked away from the Olympics with six medals, including three golds in weightlifting -- perfect for a country that prizes industriousness and sings the praises of "excellent horse-like ladies." The North Korean propaganda machine is ecstatic, boasting about the surging popularity of weightlifting and thumbing its nose at the West. After receiving a barrage of flowers upon their return, the medalists can look forward to other rewards, including cars and refrigerators.
United States: The U.S. Olympic Committee offers bonuses for medals earned, up to $25,000 for a gold medal, and some sports federations offer rewards as well, though these pale in comparison to other countries (Singapore has promised to shell out $1 million for a gold, and will be paying out $250,000 to each of its two bronze medalists this year. China, Russia and Italy each pay more than $100,000 for athletes who strike gold.) These earnings may even come tax-free, if an effort by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers succeeds. The real money comes in endorsements, though, which are often measured in millions of dollars and can add up quickly. And then there are the reality TV show offers.
Trinidad and Tobago: The tiny island nation is happy just to be recognized as a competitor. The team may not have won a single game at the 2006 World Cup, but they were welcomed back with parties, national honors and financial rewards, and that was just for making it through the prelims. That bodes well for the 2012 T &T team, which became the most decorated in the country's history with four medals this year. So far, they've had a holiday in their honor, and gold medalist Keshorn Walcott has had a lighthouse, a plane, and a housing development named after him.
Any country that's never medaled before: A country's first Olympic medal is sure to evoke national pride. Cyprus' first-ever medalist, Pavlos Kontides, was decked with a laurel wreath and greeted at the airport by saluting fire trucks and throngs of fans. Guatemala's Erick Barrondo, who took home silver in race walking, was made a Knight of the Order of the Sovereign Congress. And the whole island of Grenada got a half-day holiday in honor of Kirani James' gold medal in the 400 meters.
The Worst Countries:
Not all athletes have a reason to look forward to going home. In Canada, athletes have faced unemployment challenges, and in Australia, Tanzania, and elsewhere, athletes are already dealing with a disappointed press. A Dutch show jumping horse named London, which leapt to two silver medals with rider Gerco Schroder, might not even leave England after being seized as part of an ongoing bankruptcy proceeding. It could be worse, though.
Kenya and Nigeria: Kenya had its worst outing in decades, and though its athletes brought home 11 medals, it placed behind African rivals Ethiopia and South Africa in the final tally. Nigeria came up completely empty handed. The governments of both countries have ordered public inquiries into what went wrong, and Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan announced a comprehensive overhaul of the country's sports system. As bad as the looming firings may be for Kenyan and Nigerian Olympic officials, the acerbic press reaction might be worse. Choice headlines include "Kenya's Olympic Fiasco," "Dark secrets of Team Kenya emerge," and from Nigeria's Vanguard, "Olympic Flops Return Home."
North Korea: We might not know what happens to North Korea's non-medalists, but we hope the country's one win-two loss record women's soccer team (a 9th place finish) doesn't share the fate of the 2010 DPRK World Cup team. After dropping out in three straight losses, the World Cup team was publicly humiliated in a six-hour-long staged berating, in which players were told they had personally disappointed Kim Jong-Un (then still heir apparent to Kim Jong-Il). Players then had to individually criticize the team's manager, who may have then been sent to a labor camp. Other athletes who have disappointed the Dear Leader are rumored to be sent directly to camps upon their return without the public fanfare.
Iraq: It's hard to think of a worse welcome home than a meeting with Uday Hussein, but that's what faced athletes returning to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Saddam appointed his sadistic son to the position of Iraqi National Olympic Committee President, and from that office Uday had carte blanche to torture athletes that did not measure up to his expectations. The Olympic Committee building in Baghdad was as much a medieval prison as anything else, with dungeons replete with iron maidens and other torture devices. It's no wonder why the Iraqi flagbearer in the 1996 Atlanta games fled the athletes' village and defected to the United States.
Colombia: Sometimes, it's not the government, but the fans that are the greatest hazard. After accidentally scoring on his own goal in a preliminary round of the 1994 World Cup, Colombian soccer phenom Andrés Escobar was gunned down by Humberto Munoz, who was involved in the Colombian drug trade and a significant betting loss on the game.
AFP reports that Belarus has formally expelled all Swedish diplomats, giving Stockholm until August 30th to remove all diplomatic officials from Minsk. Swedish Ambassador to Belarus Stefan Eriksson was forced to leave Minsk first after "a decision was made not to renew his credentials."
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt attributed the eviction to his country's active stance on human rights, warning that Belarusian President Aleskandr Lukashenko's "fear of human rights is reaching new heights." Blidt doubled down an hour later, tweeting "We remain strongly committed to the freedom of Belarus and all its citizens. They deserve the freedoms and the rights of the rest of Europe."
The sudden timing has many speculating that it was the recent"Teddy Bear Drop" by Swedish activists that incited the expulsion. In an original act of protest, Swedish advertising agency Studio Total flew a small private plane over Belarusian airspace, dropping stuffed toy bears with messages of free speech. In an interview with FP's Elias Groll, pilots Hannah Frey and Thomas Mazetti elaborated upon their "campaign of laughter" to highlight the regime's political and security weaknesses.
Though Belarusian officials initially denied that the teddy bear drop had even happened, two high ranking generals were fired shortly afterward for "failing to ensure national security." Belarusian blogger Anton Surapin and entrepreneur Syarhey Basharymau were later arrested on charges of involvement in the "illegal intrusion" of airspace.
Packing should be easy for the Swedish embassy. The current round of evictions comes just months after Sweden withdrew officials from its embassy in February in protest against Lukashenka's authoritarian administration. All 27 EU member states removed diplomatic envoys after new economic sanctions were imposed, with Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia not returning until late April. An emergency meeting of European Union ambassadors has been called for Friday to discuss the situation.
TATYANA ZENKOVICH/AFP/Getty Images
On Thursday, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko confirmed that a small aircraft piloted by democracy activists had violated Belarusian airspace in July when it crossed over from Lithuania. The aircraft was carrying a cargo of teddy bears, which parachuted into the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on July 4.
Lukashenko was peeved at his military commanders and air traffic control had failed to stop the plane's raid into Belarus. Government officials have been trying to sort out how the activists planned the attack and why national security operatives failed to stop the small planes raid into controlled air space.
According to Al Jazeera's news report:
"[Press Secretary ]Andrei Savinykh told Al Jazeera that the aircraft was detected, "but the air defence did nothing. They didn't consider the aircraft as a military threat because it was a small aircraft and usually the air defence system is focusing on high-speed heavy crafts." However, Savinykh said their failure to act was a "violation of instructions" and that the responsible personnel will be punished."
The plane was piloted by the cofounder of a Swedish ad agency on behalf of Charter 97, a Belarussian democracy advocacy group. The group has since organized other teddy bear assaults, including staging of teddy bears in front of the Belarusian Embassy in London-which caused embassy officials to call the police-- to protest Lukashenko's repression. Protestors have adopted the teddy bears as a symbol of resistance against Lukashenko.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
In a press release issued this morning, Human Rights Watch slammed Yale University, criticizing the administration for "betraying the spirit of the university as a center of open debate and protest by giving away the rights of its students." The statement indicts Yale's agreement to enforce Singapore's restrictive laws regarding freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly on its new joint-venture with the National University of Singapore -- the first new college to bear the New Haven university's name in three centuries.
The Yale-NUS college's new president, Pericles Lewis, has repeatedly defended the decision, arguing that students "are going to be totally free to express their views" before admitting the campus "won't have partisan politics or be forming political parties on campus." Unsurprisingly, Yale students and faculty (whose 22 registered student political organizations will be barred from founding sister organizations on the NUS-Yale campus), were less than reassured. Already riled by accusations last spring that special confidentiality arrangements for General Stanley MacCrystal's class were a violation of intellectual freedom, student newspapers have openly mocked the administration's decision while professors have organized protests warning the restrictions limit academic freedom and negatively influence faculty hiring and research programs.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, agreed, calling Singapore's laws restricting political groups and demonstrations "draconian" before warning "Yale may find that many of the freedoms taken for granted over its 300 year history are against the law in Singapore. If it truly values those freedoms, and expects its students to, it will need to fight for them."
Something for U.S. universities to keep in mind as more and more expand into international campuses.
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After six years of being stranded in Bahrain, roughly 100 laborers will be allowed to return home to India, the BBC reports. The workers, who were employed at the Nass Corporation until they quit in 2006, had been legally barred from leaving Bahrain because they terminated their contracts before the agreed upon date.
The company had accused the workers of "absconding from work" in 2006 after many of them left the company complaining of low wages.
The workers' visas were sponsored by the company, a requirement under Bahrain law for anyone leaving the country.
Nearly 400,000 Indians live and work in Bahrain and campaigners say many live in extreme poverty - they are often not paid the wages they are promised and their passports are taken away from them.
In 2009 Bahrain's own labour minister criticised the visa sponsor system, saying it was akin to slavery.
One of the laborers recently committed suicide by hanging himself from a palm tree in a public garden. He was the 26th Indian laborer who has committed suicide in Bahrain this year.
The Nass Corporation has reportedly agreed not to press charges against runaway workers in the future in exchange for being removed from an Indian government blacklist.
The headline in Bahrain's state-run Gulf Daily News was "Goodwill gesture by firm."
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Fifty years after Kenya's independence, the British high court opened the second part of a case brought by three Kenyan nationals against the British government today. The trial sheds light on Kenya's gulags, a largely forgotten dark corner of England's colonial legacy.
The plaintiffs -- Paulo Muoka Nzili, Wambuga Wa Nyingi and Jane Muthoni Mara -- were formerly rebels during the Mau Mau uprising against colonial rule. They allege that they were the victims of torture and brutality at the hands of the British administration during the "Kenya Emergency" that lasted from 1952-1960.
According to the BBC, the "claimants' lawyers allege that Nzili was castrated, Nyingi severely beaten and Mara subjected to appalling sexual abuse in detention camps during the rebellion."
The fourth claimant in the original case, Ndiku Mutwiwa Mutua, died in the interim between when the test case was ruled arguable in July 2011 and the opening of the trial.
The lawyers for the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) have argued that the case should be struck down because the lapse in time between the end of the insurgency and the current proceedings is too great. However, a new cache of secret British documents unveiled in April 2012 has shed new light on crimescommitted in Kenya, as well as other former colonies -- and the decades-long effort to cover them up.
The files - which had been purposely withheld from the National Archives and illegally hidden at Hanslope Park, an intelligence station -- were uncovered by historians working on the Kenyans' case. Subsequently, the Foreign Office released all of the records.
The documents include accounts of British officials "roasting detainees alive" in Kenya. The colony's attorney general in 1953, Eric Griffith-Jones, described the internment camps as "distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia" -- yet nevertheless endorsed British policy, claiming that "if we are going to sin, we must sin quietly."
The Kenyans first requested the release of these documents in 1967, according to an internal FCO review from February 2011 that was made public in May. The review, which explains how the Kenyan request served as a blueprint for refusing such information to all former colonies, details that the files were consciously concealed by the government. They reasoned that releasing any information would set "a dangerous precedent" which would make it "difficult to withhold un-reviewed and potentially sensitive papers from other former colonies."
The Guardian confirmed that the most incriminating of the documents were systematically destroyed. Nevertheless, the remaining incriminating files -- known within the FCO as the 'migrated archives' because they were whisked out of colonial territories before the post-independence administration could take power - total 8,800 files. The Kenyan documents alone total 294 boxes.
As the trial progresses, government fears of "a dangerous precedent" may prove well-founded: this case might very well open up avenues for other colonies to bring legal cases against the former empire.
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