Intellectual Property Regimes and Indigenous Sovereignty: on applying the principles of intellectual property rights to the indigenous peoples of Australia.
In recent years indigenous sovereignty movements in Australia have achieved some degree of success in supranational fora such as UNESCO, who have recognised claims of human rights abuse and cultural heritage violations as legitimate. However, the legitimacy indigenous people have obtained as partially denationalised political subjects has failed to articulate with the national form, particularly under the right wing conservative administration of the Howard Government. Arguably, the possibility for Aboriginal sovereignty has reached an impasse within rational consensus models of democracy, since the claims made by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) - the political body that represents indigenous indigenous interests - constitute an antagonistic field of practices with respect to the cultural, ideological and political economy of government and the business and electoral interests that it represents.
How odd, I thought, to leave the United Kingdom while a storm blows across the English Channel about 'asylum-seekers' trying to break in; and then, after travelling to the other end of the world, to find the same storm blowing over Australia's waters. But it is not really odd at all. Both crises are the product of the same global phenomenon: a prodigious effort by people in poor countries to seek a better life for themselves and their children. Modern communications have brought home to them as never before that the grass is greener across the way.
In most situations, people tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain, which generally makes sense.
I want to suggest that at this moment in history, U.S. citizens need to invert that. If we want to become human beings in the fullest sense of the term, if we want to be something more than comfortable citizens of the empire, if we want to be something more than just Americans -- then we have to start seeking pain and reducing pleasure.
By that I don't mean we must become masochists who live in denial of the joy of being alive. Rather, I mean that to be fully alive we must stop turning away from a certain kind of pain and begin questioning a certain kind of pleasure. I mean this quite literally, and with a sense of urgency; I think the survival of the species and the planet depends on Americans becoming pain-seeking and pleasure-reducing folks.
Gujarat's poor are Dalits, or untouchables. Before the earthquake, discrimination against untouchables in Gujarat was subtle; afterwards, it was blatant. Their plight has divided Indian opinion: how Gujarat's poorest families were ignored is either a human-rights violation, or the natural order of things according to the Hindu Lord Krishna. (Only very slightly better off than Dalits in this very Hindu state are Gujarat's Muslims.) Through a simple accident of being born lowest in India's caste system, poor Gujaratis are considered so unequal that they have received less food and water, fewer blankets and smaller houses (if they were given one at all) than upper castes.
Some untouchables, like Baba Jogi, are deemed so inferior that aid for them, according to a few higher-caste Indians, is almost unthinkable. Which poses a terrible question for those of us making phone pledges to help poor people in dire distress. Are our disaster-relief efforts only making the gap between the rich and poor greater?
When exploration rights meet human rights: on the use of national security forces by oil companies to protect their operations.
Earlier this month, 25 senior officers from Burma's National Police College gathered in Rangoon for a two-week training programme on human rights. The event covered areas ranging from international humanitarian law to discussions on the use of force, arrest, detention and interrogation. The course was not, however, taking place under the auspices of the United Nations, the World Bank or a non-governmental organisation - it was being run by an oil company.
The training Premier Oil of the UK has been undertaking in Burma is one example of the way some oil companies - under intense scrutiny from aid agencies and pressure groups - are re-examining the balance between securing their operations and human rights.
[via Reductio Ad Absurdum]
Less than 100 kilometers away, the land turns flat and fertile. Debt bondage is common there, too. When I met Baldev in 1997, he was plowing. His master called him "my halvaha," meaning "my bonded plowman." Two years later I met Baldev again and learned that because of a windfall from a relative, he had freed himself from debt. But he had not freed himself from bondage. He told me: "After my wife received this money, we paid off our debt and were free to do whatever we wanted. But I was worried all the time--what if one of the children got sick? What if our crop failed? What if the government wanted some money? Since we no longer belonged to the landlord, we didn't get food every day as before. Finally, I went to the landlord and asked him to take me back. I didn't have to borrow any money, but he agreed to let me be his halvaha again. Now I don't worry so much; I know what to do."
[via Liberal Arts Mafia]
Merchants of Morality: on the promotion of causes.
For decades, Tibet's quest for self-determination has roused people around the world. Inspired by appeals to human rights, cultural preservation, and spiritual awakening, tens of thousands of individuals and organizations lend moral, material, and financial support to the Tibetan cause. As a result, greater autonomy for Tibet's 5.2 million inhabitants remains a popular international campaign despite the Chinese government's 50-year effort to suppress it.
However, while Tibet's light shines brightly abroad, few outsiders know that China's borders hold other restive minorities: Mongols, Zhuang, Yi, and Hui, to name only a few. Notable are the Uighurs, a group of more than 7 million located northwest of Tibet. Like the Tibetans, the Uighurs have fought Chinese domination for centuries. Like the Tibetans, the Uighurs face threats from Han Chinese in-migration, communist development policies, and newly strengthened antiterror measures. And like the Tibetans, the Uighurs resist Chinese domination with domestic and international protest that, in Beijing's eyes, makes them dangerous separatists. Yet the Uighurs have failed to inspire the broad-based foreign networks that generously support and bankroll the Tibetans. International celebrities--including actors Richard Gere and Goldie Hawn, as well as British rock star Annie Lennox--speak out on Tibet's behalf. But no one is planning an Uighur Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C. Why?
[via Arts & Letters Daily]
How the west helps the vote-riggers: Mark Almond on the history of election monitoring.
Determining the legitimacy of elections is not just an arithmetical exercise in checking that the returns match the declared result. It is a powerful weapon in global politics. I have seen blatantly rigged polls endorsed by official observers, and I have seen honestly conducted elections discredited. This has led me to the conclusion that - to paraphrase Stalin - it doesn't matter who votes, it matters who observes the voting. The international observers' reports form the basis of a new government's acceptability to international organisations; they also determine access to aid and investment from western taxpayers through the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and so on. A popular mandate is good, but a majority among the observers is better.
While the battle only has begun, we already have achieved significant objectives. Afghan citizens have been released from the brutal and oppressive rule of the Taliban. Afghan women, who suffered violence and repression, are now beginning to resume their roles in society. Indeed Afghanistan is a triumph for human rights in 2001.
There is, however, much more work still to be done. The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001 captures a world still reeling and reacting to the events of last September. Yet the Reports' central mission remains the same--to give voice to those who have been denied the freedoms and rights provided for in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The Reports confirm that the battle of ideas between those who suppress democracy and human rights and those who would see them flourish remains far from over. Only through the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms can the international community be secure from the scourge of terrorism.
What does it say about our new friends?
The Government's human rights record remained poor and worsened in several areas. Numerous serious irregularities in the October 1999 parliamentary elections and the April 2000 presidential election limited citizens' right to change their government. Several deaths in custody were blamed on physical abuse, torture, or inhuman and life-threatening prison conditions. Reports of police brutality continued. Security forces continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse detainees. Corruption in law enforcement agencies was pervasive. Prison conditions remained harsh and life-threatening; however, some steps were taken during the year to address problems in the prison system. Arbitrary arrest and detention increased during the year. Neither the President nor other senior officials took concrete steps to address these problems, and impunity remained a problem. The judiciary was subject to pressure and corruption and did not ensure due process; reforms to create a more independent judiciary were undermined by failure to pay judges in a timely manner. There were lengthy delays in trials and prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Law enforcement agencies and other government bodies occasionally interfered with citizens' right to privacy. The press generally was free; however, security forces and other authorities intimidated and used violence against journalists. Journalists practiced self-censorship. The police restricted freedom of assembly and law enforcement authorities dispersed numerous peaceful gatherings. Government officials infringed upon freedom of religion. The Government continued to tolerate discrimination and harassment of some religious minorities. Violence and discrimination against women were problems. Trafficking for the purpose of forced labor and prostitution was a problem.
There was little information available on the human rights situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia due to limited access to these regions.
But hey, let's train and equip their military.
The Government's human rights record remained poor; there were continued efforts to improve the legal framework and institutional mechanisms, but implementation lagged, and serious problems remained in many areas. A small percentage of total human right abuses reported are attributed to state security forces; however, government security forces continued to commit serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings. Impunity remained a problem. Despite some prosecutions and convictions, the authorities rarely brought higher-ranking officers of the security forces and the police charged with human rights offenses to justice. Members of the security forces collaborated with paramilitary groups that committed abuses, in some instances allowing such groups to pass through roadblocks, sharing information, or providing them with supplies or ammunition. Despite increased government efforts to combat and capture members of paramilitary groups, security forces also often failed to take action to prevent paramilitary attacks. Paramilitary forces still find support among the military and police, as well as among local civilian populations in many areas.
But let's give even more money and equipment to Columbia's military too.
I think I'll stop now.
It is ironic that one of the USA's most valuable allies in "Operation Enduring Freedom" was Islam Karimov, who presides over Uzbekistan -- one of Asia's most entrenched dictatorships.
Karimov allowed US forces to use Uzbek bases against its southern neighbour, Afghanistan. Washington rewarded this support with an historic joint US-Uzbek memorandum, signed on 30 November. Hailed by both sides as announcing a "qualitatively new relationship," it promises Uzbekistan significant military and economic backing. A likely legacy of the war will be the bolstering by the US of yet another corrupt and repressive regime that performs useful strategic services.
- Freedom House report
- Human Rights Watch report
- U.S. State Department report on Human Rights Practices (2000)
On the outside: an interview with Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the director of Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. He was arrested 10 months ago, along with 27 other members of the organization on charges related to a documentary he was making on the Egyptian election system. He was released February 11th.
During his 10 months in prison, Ibrahim (like many on the outside) had plenty of time to ponder just what it was he'd done to draw the government's wrath. At the time of his arrest, the general speculation was of a warning shot to keep the rest of civil society timid in advance of upcoming elections. But the handling of his conviction and the fierceness of the accompanying media smear campaign against him led many to conclude there was a much more personal motivation behind the scenes.
Ibrahim speculates that it was the combined effects of several of his activities and comments-including election monitoring efforts, studies of Muslim-Coptic tensions and his notorious interview with a Saudi magazine about the royal tendencies of Middle Eastern republics.
Clashes among police, Islamic fundamentalists and others have left as many as five people dead during parliamentary elections held over the past two weeks, but the vote is being hailed as one of the freest in recent Egyptian history and a sign that chaotic efforts to bring about democratic reforms are working.
"About 60 percent fair, and about 40 percent irregularity. . . . It is a vast improvement, and I give the regime a lot of credit for that," said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a professor and democracy activist who was arrested in July in what some analysts said was a government effort to diminish independent criticism of the election.
The Milosevic trial, part of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague has been underway for a few days. Transcripts seem to be posted each day for the preceded day's session.
Amnesty International and The Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum have published Business & Human Rights: A geography of corporate risk, a collection of seven maps showing corporations doing business in countries known for human rights abuses. [via Plep]
The U.S. Embassy in Lima has released a series of documents detailing the American involvement with Vladimiro Montesinos, the former head of Peru's intelligence services. Montesinos is currently in prison facing charges of, among other things, organizing death squads. An archive of earlier U.S. documents on Montesinos is also available from GWU.
In this new century, we must start from the understanding that peace belongs not only to states or peoples, but to each and every member of those communities. The sovereignty of States must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights. Peace must be made real and tangible in the daily existence of every individual in need. Peace must be sought, above all, because it is the condition for every member of the human family to live a life of dignity and security.
In the UK, Naughty children to be registered as potential criminals: children as young as three who misbehave will be registered so they can be monitored as they grow up. [via Metafilter]
Spain is refusing to extradite terror suspects without guarantees that they won't face the death penalty or a military tribunal.