Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label human rights. Show all posts

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Lawyers spotlight persecution of profession in Iran

Taymaz Valley via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Yesterday the International Law Section (ILS) of the American Bar Association (ABA) recognized the International Day of the Endangered Lawyer with a spotlight on Iran in a webinar, "Iranian Lawyers: Risking Their Licenses, Their Liberty, and Even Their Very Lives."

U.S. Court of International Trade Judge Delissa Anne Ridgway moderated a discussion with Margaret L. Satterthwaite, NYU law professor and U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and Stuart Russell, a Canadian lawyer and co-director of the International Association of People's Lawyers Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers, based in Bordeaux, France.

To suppress opposition to the ruling regime, especially since the 2009 "Green Movement," the speakers explained, the government of Iran has persecuted lawyers who dare to represent dissenters. Lawyers themselves have been imprisoned, and bar organizations have been disempowered in their regulatory oversight of the profession, Russell reported.

Judge Ridgway lauded a documentary, Nasrin (2020) (IMDb), which is available for $3 on multiple platforms. I'm adding it to my watch list (trailer below). Exemplary of Iranian lawyers' travails, Nasrin Sotoudeh, an activist and advocate for the rights of women and children in Iran and subject of the documentary, has been imprisoned multiple times, sentenced to lashes, and severely beaten. Voice of America reported Sotoudeh's most recent release from prison, on bail, in November 2023.

I note, DW also published a documentary piece on Sotoudeh, Protecting Human Rights in Iran (2023), available on YouTube.

The ABA ILS program was co-sponsored by the Middle East Committee, the International Human Rights Committee, and the Women's Interest Network. I am a member of the ABA ILS Legal Education and Specialist Certification Committee.

Friday, November 4, 2022

As Jacoby talk commemorates Kristallnacht, Ukraine recurs in historical record of flights from oppression

An upcoming talk on Kristallnacht, a recent experience in the Paraguayan Chaco, and the ongoing war in Ukraine have me thinking lately about cultural and religious freedom.

In commemoration of Kristallnacht, award-winning Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby will speak at the S. Joseph Solomon Synagogue of the Maimonides School in Brookline, Massachusetts, on Sunday at 7 p.m. The talk will be livestreamed.

Jacoby's father was the sole survivor of his family at Auschwitz. 

"He didn’t hate God for what he had lost and didn’t abandon the Judaism in which he had been reared," Jacoby wrote of his father. "On the contrary, he deepened it with observance, study, and prayer."

Last week I had the privilege of visiting Mennonite communities in the Chaco region of Paraguay. Mennonites arrived in Paraguay in three waves, circa 1875, 1930-32, and 1947. Each time, they sought refuge from regimes that wished to extinguish their religious freedom, if not their lives.

Restored "Koloniehaus" at Filadelfia, Paraguay
RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
On a world map at the Fernheim Colony House in Filadelfia, I was struck in particular by one remarkable line tracing Mennonite migration. The journey ran eastward from Ukraine, then Austria-Hungary, to Siberia in 1908; then further east to China, turning south to Indonesia in 1927; then turning back westward across the Indian Ocean and isthmus of Suez, to Europe; and at last on to Paraguay to join the end of the second migration there in 1932.

Besides the astounding odyssey it represented, the line resonated with me both because of the current conflict in Ukraine and because my own grandfather's Jewish family fled what is today western Ukraine at about the same time.

Map at the Filadelfia Mennonite Museum,
similar to the one at the Colony House

RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
with no claim to underlying work
As has been widely reported, one Russian strategy in the present war in Ukraine is the forced relocation of Ukrainians, especially children, to Russia, whether to be given passports and politically and culturally Russified, or, in the case of dissenters and combatants, to be condemned and disappeared in remote parts. The strategy is not new.  Just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, I wrote about the forced relocation of Polish ethnic minorities, such as the Lemkos, from western Poland to Soviet Russia in 1947.

The parallels are not coincidental.  The Mennonites fled increasingly unstable Austria-Hungary for Russia before the outbreak of World War I. Then, scarcely a decade after the Russian Revolution, rising nationalism rendered even Siberia inhospitable, prompting the exodus of the late 1920s. After World War II, Mennonites remaining in an eastern Germany about to be gifted to the Soviet Union departed in another migratory wave, in 1947. They were not alone; justifiably afeard Christians of other sects departed as well.

Engrossed in the map in Paraguay, I muttered something unkind about Putin. Standing nearby, Fernheim archivist Gundolf Niebuhr said quietly, "History repeats itself."

Niebuhr and I talked about the complex relationship of the contemporary Mennonite Paraguayans with their Latino and indigenous neighbors.  They work closely together, literally, on farms, in schools, and in governance.

But the legacy of repeatedly fleeing oppression, Niebuhr told me, is that even in prosperous and peaceful times, people are dogged by a lurking anxiety over the inevitable impermanence of the idyll. To look around, the Mennonites and their partners have defined the unique cultural identity of the human Chaco. Yet are the Mennonites still only visitors? Will the day come when Asunción says, assimilate, or else? And it will be time to move on again.

Struggle and perseverance are enduring themes in Jewish identity. The former seems inescapable, as expressions of antisemitism abound. Hate simmers now in the Twitter scandals of Kyrie Irving and Kanye West.  Last week, mourners marked the fourth anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack. Yet the Jewish tradition teaches that anxiety is counter-productive. God will light the way, as always he has. That seems to have been the remarkable faith walk of Jeff Jacoby's father. Still, there are scarce few among us who do not struggle to eschew fears and doubts.

The Jewish people have a strong claim to unrivaled familiarity with persecution. But assimilation and expulsion of the other seems well ingrained in the human mode of operation, regardless of the nature of the otherness. An elder of my Christian church reminded me yesterday that being Christian is not supposed to be easy. The "Good News" might offer salvation, but leisure and luxury are not part of the methodology, at least not in this life.

I live without fear of being alienated in, or exiled from the only home I know. That is a blessing. All of us possessed of that blessing owe open hearts to anyone who loses it, whether in Pittsburgh, Paraguay, or Ukraine.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Invasion of Ukraine marks six months; Russian propaganda flows despite court OK of EU media ban

#IStandWithUkraine
On July 27, the European Union (EU) General Court upheld a continental broadcast ban on Russia Today (RT).

The EU Council promulgated the ban in March 2022. The Council accused the Russian Federation of channeling propaganda through Russian-funded but purportedly "autonomous" RT in furtherance of a "strategy of destabilisation" of European countries by "gravely distorting and manipulating facts."

The regulation asserted that "propaganda has repeatedly and consistently targeted European political parties, especially during election periods, as well as targeting civil society, asylum seekers, Russian ethnic minorities, gender minorities, and the functioning of democratic institutions."  RT agents are allowed to continue reporting in the EU through research and interviews.

By "broadcast," the regulation is not talking only airwaves. The ban purports to apply across media outlets: "cable, satellite, IP-TV, internet service providers, internet video-sharing platforms or applications." 

I'm Team Ukraine, but the broadcast ban struck me as a curious development. It sets a troubling "kill the messenger" precedent and seems to conclude that the John Stuart Mill "truth will out" premise is hifalutin hooey.

I'm actually OK with that conclusion. When I teach free speech to students in tort, constitutional, or information law classes, I make a point of demonstrating the many flaws of marketplace theory in the real world. But closing the book on the theory as a matter of supranational regulation is an unsettling further step.

Similarly, it must be conceded that war propaganda is efficacious, notwithstanding its truth or falsity. Research and experience have confirmed that concession time and again since Edward Bernays published his classic treatment, Propaganda, in 1928. I read Bernays for a seminar in journalism school in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. That study first interested me to the confounding problem of expressive liberties in wartime

In its July 27 judgment, the Grand Chamber of the General Court navigated these murky waters to conclude that the broadcast ban justifiably impinged on the freedom of expression. In the challenge by RT France, the Council adduced evidence to satisfy the court that RT was in fact a mouthpiece for Russian antagonism to European security. Conducting the necessity and proportionality analysis of European free speech law, long developed by the European Court of Human Rights, the general court concluded that the ban on RT appropriately furthered the twin aims of preserving order in the EU and abating the attack on Ukraine.

The court took pains to describe the RT ban consistently as temporary and to emphasize the context of Russian military aggression, thus signaling that the ruling is grounded heavily in extraordinary circumstances and has limited precedential value.

For therein lies the hazard of effectively suspending civil liberties in a time of exigency but undeclared war. Western EU ministers must be mindful that their critical populist adversaries in Hungary and Poland have restricted media freedom in the name of public order. Proceed down the slippery slope: Should we ban World Cup 2022 coverage by Qatar-funded Al Jazeera?

Characteristically, Russia answered the EU court ruling with a threat of retaliatory restrictions on western media in Russia. But on both sides, media bans might be so much posturing anyway.

RT.com via VPN based in Dublin
The actual efficacy of the ban is doubtful, if for no other reason than the internet's famous resilience to censorship. In a study published in July, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that RT content was still reaching European consumers through alternative domain names and mirror websites.

It might not be even that difficult to find RT. Using my Dublin-based VPN, I just now accessed RT.com directly and through a Google.ie search without impediment.

Today, August 24, marks six months since the invasion. The International Law Section of the American Bar Association (April) is organizing a social media campaign to maintain the visibility of the war in Ukraine. Lawyers are asked to post the Ukraine flag on LinkedIn and Twitter with the hashtag #IStandWithUkraine and tags @American Bar Association International Law Section and @Ukrainian Bar Association on LinkedIn and @ABAInternatl and @Association_UBA on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Habeas petition for woolly monkey was valid, Ecuadorian court rules, recognizing right of nature

A silvery woolly monkey at the Louisville Zoo
(Ltshears CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
The Constitutional Court of Ecuador entered a landmark ruling on the rights of nature in January when it recognized the legitimacy of a habeas petition on behalf of a woolly monkey named Estrellita.

Estrellita was removed from the wild illegally almost two decades ago. Fortunately she came to be in the care of a librarian and effectively became part of the family for 18 years. But when Estrellita suffered a respiratory emergency, and the family sought medical treatment, authorities seized her for commitment to a zoo. Fearful of the profound distress that must have afflicted Estrellita, besides her ailment, the family filed a habeas petition. Estrellita died, but the petition persisted in the courts.

I wrote in December about the Ecuadorian court's landmark ruling on indigenous rights. As I wrote then, the decision implicitly recognized the right of nature in tandem with indigenous peoples' conservation of natural resources. The Estrellita case makes explicit the judicial recognition of Ecuador's constitutional right of nature, independent of human rights.

Elizabeth Gamillo wrote about the case for Smithsonian in April. Her story linked to a certified translation of the final judgment in the case, "Estrellita Monkey," No. 253-20-JH/22 (Rights of Nature and animals as subjects of rights) (Ct. Const. Ecuador Jan. 27, 2022).

Gamillo added: "Other countries, like Canada and New Zealand as well as several cities in the United States, have treaties or local laws that give wild animals some protection. In November 2021, the United Kingdom recognized several invertebrates, including lobsters, octopuses and crabs, as sentient beings. However, these rights have not been applied at the constitutional level, Science Alert reports."

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Inter-American Court heralds community radio as human right for indigenous Guatemalan broadcasters

Community radio in Colombia
(USAID CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr)
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) ruled in October 2021 that the state of Guatemala violated the right of indigenous radio broadcasters by shutting them down for want of licenses.

In multiple raids, Guatemala confiscated broadcasting equipment from four "pirate," that is, unlicensed, community radio stations and, in some cases, criminally prosecuted the broadcasters.

The stations provided information, entertainment, and cultural programming in the Mayan communities they served. At least one station programmed in the Mayan language.

The stations were unable to afford state licensing fees, which awarded frequencies to high bidders. Of Guatemala's 424 licensed FM and 90 licensed AM radio stations, the IACtHR press release about the case said, only one served an indigenous community.

Historical, structural discrimination, besides plain economics, was keeping indigenous broadcasters off the air, the court opined. Though only four stations were at issue in the case, lawyers for the four said as many as 70 indigenous broadcasters in Guatemala stand to benefit.

The case is likely to have farther geographical impact, too, I suggest. In my experience in Central and South America, community radio is a vital force for cultural cohesion and preservation of indigenous culture and language, not only among Guatemalan Mayans. Indeed, the court's opinion is a valuable precedent elsewhere in the world, as community radio is an important cultural force in indigenous and minority communities on every populated continent.

The court ruled that the Guatemalan policy on access to the airwaves violated the freedom of expression, equal protection, and the right to participate in cultural life. The court ordered the government to refine the regulatory process to account specially for indigenous community access, to reserve part of the radio spectrum for indigenous community radio, to make licenses simple to obtain, and strike the relevant criminal convictions.

The IACtHR decision reversed the final disposition in the Guatemalan high court, WBUR reported.

Lawyers in the Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples Clinic at Suffolk Law School in Boston, Mass., participated in the case on behalf of the broadcasters.

The case is Pueblos Indígenas Maya Kaqchikel de Sumpango v. Guatemala (IACtHR Oct. 6, 2021) (summary).

Monday, July 11, 2022

Should mass media audiences have right to know whether content is fact or opinion?

Political protestor in 2012
(photo by Gabriel Saldaña CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr)
To protect the civil rights of the audience, radio and television providers in Mexico may be compelled to distinguish between fact and opinion, a minister of the First Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice ruled in November 2021.

The decision by Minister Juan Luis González Alcántara Carrancá struck down a federal telecommunication reform that repealed the fact-opinion distinction, holding that the repeal violated the right of the audience to know the nature of the content it is receiving. (More at Observacom en español.)

It remains to be seen whether the minister's opinion will hold up, or how enforcement might work going forward. But the opinion points to some intriguing considerations as all liberal democracies debate their responses to the problems of misinformation and scarce objectivity in news media.

Approaching misinformation as a problem of audience rights rather than speaker rights is a compelling spin.

The approach is not unknown in U.S. telecommunication regulation, which is justified in part with reference to public ownership of the airwaves. As television transitioned from broadcast to cable, the public right to receive gained ground alongside the property rationale. Though these days, the whole enterprise of balkanized media regulation is constitutionally questionable.

Detaching the audience right from the medium to ground a general right to receive accurate information from mass media, apart from speaker rights, is, anyway, a bold further step. The debate in American free speech law over anonymity and compelled source disclosure in campaign finance, though, comes to mind.

The idea that fact and opinion can be distinguished, or should be distinguished, is an additionally intriguing idea.

It would be easy to conclude that the distinction is too hazardous to contemplate, chilling the practice of journalism for fear of perceived slant, invading the province of ethics, and threatening the vital tradition of the editorial page. The fuzzy identity of advocacy documentary puts the problem in focus, whether the subject to be tested is Hillary: The Movie (2008), the film at the heart of Citizens United, or the latest Michael Moore project.

At the same time, the "fact-opinion dichotomy" is an extant feature of our defamation law. We have developed tools to make the distinction, and we expose assertions of fact to greater potential liability than we do opinions.

Indeed, the Mexican fact-opinion distinction is not grounded in an effort to combat misinformation; rather, the notion grows out of advertising regulation, where the concept is familiar to American jurisprudence, too. Mexican regulators sought to protect consumers against surreptitious advertising strategies such as product placements and paid endorsements. The U.S. First Amendment similarly tolerates heightened government regulation of commercial speech in the interest of consumer protection.

In commentary on the Mexican case, Daniel Villanueva-Plasencia at Baker Mackenzie wonders at the implications if the fact-opinion regulatory distinction were to escape the confines of telecommunication and find its way to the internet, where social media influencers, among other content creators, would come within its purview.

I do not mean to suggest that compulsory fact-opinion labeling is constitutionally unproblematic, or even viable, in U.S. First Amendment law. I do suggest that an approach to the misinformation problem beginning with audience rights and compelled disclosure, that is, with more information rather than less, is a good starting point for discussion.

The case is Centro Litigio Estratégico para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos v. Presidente de la República, No. 1031/2019 (Sup. Ct. J. Nación 2021) (excerpt of opinion).

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Museveni still holds reins in Uganda after 35 years, rebuffs allegations of human rights abuses

At age 77, Yoweri Museveni maintains his grip on power in Uganda and yesterday rebuffed criticism by Human Rights Watch.

In 2016, I presented a work-in-progress research paper on history and human rights in Uganda at a regional law-and-society conference at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. I never published the paper; it's a project that I back-burnered and have yearned to return to. At that time, I was nervous about the presentation, because I had never actually been to Uganda; only read about it. There were academics from Uganda in the audience. I was relieved afterward when they said I got it right; I hoped they weren't just being nice.

The impression left on me by my research was that Uganda was, sadly, kind of a backward place. Museveni had, and has, held the presidency since 1986, not long after the Idi Amin regime collapsed. (If you haven't seen The Last King of Scotland (2006), watch it now.)  Museveni is one of those leaders who wins reelection by just too large a margin, and laws have to be changed to allow him to run again. One can't help but lament that Uganda's story is no more than a series of authoritarian regimes exploiting people and resources since the British brought the political entity into existence in the 19th century.

Selfie at a roadside fruit-and-veg stand in Fort Portal, Uganda
CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele
So winging into Entebbe in June, I expected to find in Uganda a bleak economic picture: a dilapidated infrastructure built on empty promises and crushed by poverty—maybe like the development-run-out-of-gas picture I found, literally, in Harare in 2020, just before the pandemic savaged what sanctions had not.

I was surprised, then, not to find that at all. To the contrary, there was ample evidence of economic prosperity in the tile-roofed residential and commercial buildings that filled the terraced hills between Entebbe and Kampala. I found a reasonably well outfitted capital in Kampala. The streets were no worse than the dirt-guttered throughways I had navigated in Nairobi. There were decent restaurants; I found a good gym. Subsequently, traveling in the countryside, sure, I saw plenty of poverty and subsistence living. But the picture was no more bleak than supposedly-more-faithfully democratic Kenya with its nearly triple the GDP.

Museveni overlooks street traffic in Kabale, in the Western Region of Uganda.
CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele

Museveni-for-President posters are plastered everywhere, from the city to the villages. It's good to be king. But the gentle face that looks out from the posters harbors grim secrets.

What attracted me to research on Uganda in the first place was having learned of the terrifying plight of the LGBTQ population there. In the 2010s, Massachusetts pastor and one-time gubernatorial candidate Scott Lively traveled to Uganda to warn lawmakers of a homosexual menace—practically the same cabal that waged World War II against the world through the secretly homosexual leadership of the Nazi Party, as Lively had recounted in his 1995 book, The Pink Swastika

What influence Lively had on the Ugandan Parliament is as unknown as why he had any at all, but the Parliament subsequently enacted the infamous 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act, which criminalized same-sex relations on pain of life imprisonment, thanks to late amendment, rather than the death penalty, as legislators had first proposed.

The law in Uganda was enjoined by the courts, but it was never the law that was really the problem. The mentality that the law represented justified a regime of brutal abuse and oppression of the gay community, including murder, whether at the hands of public authorities or while authorities stood idle. As a Christian, a Massachusetts scholar, and an Africaphile in comparative law, I was aghast at what Lively seemed to have wrought—though it must be said, for his part, that Lively never countenanced violence.

You can learn more about the matter from many sources, including what is probably my all-time number-one-favorite documentary film, Call Me Kuchu (2012); human rights activist Pepe Julian Onziema's part 1 and part 2 appearances on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014); and documents in the unsuccessful U.S. federal lawsuit, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) v. Lively (1st Cir. 2018) (at the Center for Constitutional Rights, though don't misread CCR's rosy spin to misunderstand: Lively prevailed, just not as much as he wanted to).

This particular background certainly did nothing to raise my expectations for Uganda. Happily, though, I found in Uganda nothing like the senselessness I had read about. For the most part, I met happy, hard-working people. I found observance of faith, Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim, no different from other parts of East Africa. I saw nothing like a dogmatic mob stirred to feverish rage, like I had seen in a video of a Lively public appearance.

The fault is mine. I gave into stereotypes, because it was easy to generalize "backward" from Uganda's democratic deficit. But that deficit is the aftermath of colonialism, corruption, and the related ills that afflict so much of Africa, not an ailment of ordinary people. I failed to consider that generalizing from the crowd of believers in Lively's audience is about as fair to Uganda as assuming that the January 6 rioters, pictured relentlessly on TV, are representative of all Americans.

Museveni's and other political posters adorn a chai shop in a rural village of the Kabale District.
CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 RJ Peltz-Steele
Yesterday, according to the Uganda Monitor, at a Makerere University law school program on human rights accountability, Human Rights Watch CEO Kenneth Roth confronted Museveni with a report (this one, I assume) detailing unlawful detention and horrific physical abuses of civilians by Ugandan security forces. Roth described the president's dismissive response: "The President said Africa has lived through colonialism, it has lived through slavery, and it has lived through various exploitations by Europeans. He overthrew Idi Amin. Don't talk to him about human rights."

The HRW report doesn't even mention the LGBTQ community. It seems that official disregard for human rights is not so narrow a problem. Anyone who doesn't toe the line with the regime is at risk. 

I loved Uganda. It disappointed only my foolish suspicion that it might be a place beyond redemption. No place is. Certainly no people are.

Ugandans deserve better.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Rwanda preens in Commonwealth spotlight, while genocide trauma, Congo conflict smolder just offstage

June 22, KIGALI—The usually biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, "CHOGM 2022," postponed from 2020, is under way in Kigali, Rwanda, marking both a sign of pandemic recovery and a possible Commonwealth pivot to reemphasize development.

The Commonwealth of Nations is an association of 54 states, ranging from island nations such as Dominica and Nauru to larger nations such as Australia, Canada, India, and South Africa. Constitutional origins in the British Empire, and, thus, shared history, language, and legal systems tie together almost all of the Commonwealth member states.

Notionally, the Commonwealth dates to the late 19th century; it was formalized in the early 20th century. The Commonwealth really took off functionally to fill the governance gaps left by decolonization and World War II in the mid-20th century. With the Crown as titular head, the Commonwealth mission today emphasizes rule of law, democratic governance, and human rights. Historical ambitions in the vein of common defense were largely displaced by Cold War realignments and the rise in power of the United States and NATO.

To sport fans, the Commonwealth might be best known for the quadrennial Commonwealth Games, to be hosted this summer by Birmingham, England. In contrast with the Olympics, the Games highlight sports that the United States has weakly or not embraced, such as cricket, netball, and rugby.

Commonwealth participation is not quite a multilateral treaty obligation, because membership is voluntary and terminable at will. Members can be suspended, but not expelled. In Africa, members such as Nigeria and Zimbabwe have had off and on-again relationships with the Commonwealth with waning and waxing commitments to human rights. Members such as Gambia and Maldives have left and rejoined the Commonwealth.

All photos by RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Rwanda's membership in the Commonwealth is an unusual case, adding to the significance of CHOGM 2022 taking place here. The precarious Kingdom of Rwanda was forcibly superseded by German colonization in 1884, then passed into Belgian hands from World War I until 1959. Revolution led to 1962 independence and cycles of tumult. The infamous 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which up to one million ethnic Tutsi were brutally slaughtered in about 100 days, was not a singular horror, rather a climactic installment in decades of violence, as power shifted among competing factions.

Rwanda's 2009 accession to the Commonwealth, the culmination of a six-year campaign, was therefore controversial. Varied factors motivated Rwanda to apply, despite its lack of constitutional ties to the British Empire. The Francophone country stood to gain global prestige and to strengthen foreign economic ties, both intercontinentally and with Anglophone neighbors in East Africa, as well as social development opportunities in youth, education, and sport. 

Rwanda also had a sour relationship with France over French support for the Hutu government responsible for the genocide. France played an active role in Rwanda after independence, politically and militarily, effectively treating the country as its own former colony, for better or worse. Rwandan membership in the Commonwealth therefore represented a deliberate rejection of Francophone heritage. In 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron apologized for France's role in precipitating and failing to stop the genocide, as well as subsequent resistance to investigation. Rwandan President Paul Kagame accepted the apology.

Both intergovernmental and nongovernmental human rights groups, including the Commonwealth's own investigators, found Rwanda wanting in the 20-aughts, its record on human rights still not up to snuff. They warned that Rwandan membership would degrade Commonwealth standards. Commonwealth purists objected to Rwandan membership for the country's lack of British colonial history. Rwanda looked to the example of Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony and Lusophone nation that had been admitted in 1995. In the 1990s and 20-aughts, Commonwealth members disagreed internally over whether to retain the requirement of "historic ties" to Britain. Mozambique had made a strong case upon its valuable support for Commonwealth opposition to South African apartheid. Expansionists prevailed again in 2009, and Rwanda won its membership.

In Africa, CHOGM, which has met since 1971 in Singapore, has been hosted by Zambia (1979), Zimbabwe (1991), South Africa (1999), Nigeria (2003), and Uganda (2007). Queen Elizabeth attended in Uganda, her first visit there since 1954, when Queen Elizabeth National Park took her name. The Prince of Wales is in Kigali now. So bringing CHOGM 2020/2022 to ostensibly Francophone Rwanda is a noteworthy achievement for the Kagame government.

But human rights groups have never abated in their discontent. Especially the recent abduction and imprisonment in Rwanda of "Hotel Rwanda" hero and human rights activist Paul Rusesabagina casts a shadow over CHOGM 2022 that the government would like delegates to ignore. I have written previously about the Rusesabagina matter and a related pending lawsuit in the United States by the Rusesabagina family.

My family and I arrived in Kigali last weekend to find a rush-hour traffic jam aggravated by road closures for CHOGM 2022. The formal CHOGM meeting of dignitaries happens Friday and Saturday, but delegates are here all week to do the real diplomatic work. The black, brown, and white faces of the Commonwealth circulate in the CBD, and plastic-encased CHOGM credentials dangle from lanyards. Heavily armed police and private security monitor every corner; the last thing Rwanda needs is a black-eye security breach. The CBD is plastered with posters in the vein of "Visit Rwanda" and "Invest in Rwanda," bearing images of the country's legendarily hills, green terrain, and exquisite fauna.

Last night I walked through a night-market showcase of life and culture in Rwanda (and in smaller sections, Uganda and Mozambique), from agricultural supplies and textiles to food and dance. Smiling representatives eagerly promoted their wares.  I succumbed to the hype and bought some green—literally and figuratively—cosmetic products for my wife, as well as some Rwandan coffee. (I'd already bought Rwanda and Musanze FC kits for myself.) I took a selfie in front of gigantic letters spelling "KIGALI."


Food stalls offered delights from East Africa, including Rwanda-based restauranteurs in foreign cuisines, such as Indian and Ivorian. An aside: The highlight of the showcase for me was Kigali-based "Now Now Rolex," which makes gourmet ethnic variations of the classic Ugandan street food. A rolex is an egg omelette rolled in chapati, usually with other ingredients, such as diced tomatoes and onions, added to the taste of the buyer. Typically for no more than a dollar or two, the wrap is cooked quickly in a hot skillet, crepe style, at a roadside cart or stall. The name "rolex" derives from "rolled eggs," but for its quick preparation also plays cheekily with the name of the watch brand. Now Now's gourmet options incorporate ingredients for variations such as French, Italian, and Mexican, still just $2 a pop; I had "the Rwandan," featuring minced beef. Oh, and a delectable vodka mule to wash it down.

Notwithstanding the festive atmosphere, the genocide is never far from mind in Rwanda. CHOGM 2022 takes place against the backdrop of Kwibuka 28, a three-month remembrance of the genocide sponsored by Rwanda and the African Union. With the theme "Remember-Unite-Renew," Kwibuka is recognized with its own gigantic letters at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Newscasters on Rwandan TV (English-language for me) and videos at the cultural showcase readily recognize the genocide, but reiterate a forward-looking "never again" message. They refrain from revisiting gruesome atrocities and scarcely acknowledge the ongoing public health problem of post-traumatic stress.

Personally I've been skeptical of Rwanda's reconciliation with the genocide and purported triumph over ethnic conflict. The mantra one hears throughout Rwanda today is that "we are all Rwandan now," meaning ethnic differentiation is a thing of the past. But how does a people turn that page so quickly, even in the span of one generation? Nothing I learned about the genocide at the Kigali Memorial gave me solace. The way that nationalistic leaders and opportunistic, wanna-be warlords manipulated information and exploited mass media—sound familiar?—to turn ordinary people into torturers and murderers of their friends and neighbors; decades of violence and 100 days of carnage to rival the Holocaust; and then it all just evaporated, never to happen again? I noted that the impressive and truth-rendering Kigali Genocide Memorial, which houses the remains of a quarter million people and where Prince Charles laid a wreath today, was constructed in the 20-aughts by a UK NGO, not by the Rwandan government.

To President Kagame's credit, Rwanda looks and feels peaceful. I found only warm and welcoming people traveling in the country's lush northwest. I walked around Kigali day and night with a comfort level I've had in no other African capital (though I am not recommending being carefree here; I take precautions). Kagame brokered Commonwealth membership and landed CHOGM.

Kigali

At the same time, Kagame has been president since 2000. He was a leader of the domestic military force that ultimately quelled the genocide, and many say he has been running the country de facto since then. For perspective, that's since Bill Clinton was President of the United States.

In a recent book, journalist Michela Wrong unflinchingly painted Kagame as a wolf in sheep's clothing.  (I've read about the book, but not read the book.) She charged him with political assassination of a rival and dictatorial repression of dissent. According to descriptions of Wrong's portrayal, a "sinister" and "chilling" head of state lurks behind the rendering of peace and promise that the West is so eager to embrace.

"Hotel Rwanda" today: the Hotel des Mille Collines

Wrong's take squares with details alleged in the abduction of Rusesabagina. Assiduously avoiding return to Rwanda, Rusesabagina persistently criticized the Kagame regime and alleged failure to reconcile meaningfully with the genocide. The Rusesabagina family lawsuit alleged that a covert Rwandan intelligence officer lured Rusesabagina away from his Texas residence for a purported speaking engagement in Burundi, then orchestrated his abduction to Kigali from a Dubai layover. Rusesabagina's subsequent criminal prosecution in Rwanda on terrorism charges had every hallmark of a show trial. The Kagame administration denies involvement in the abduction and any impropriety in the prosecution.

I wonder whether Rwanda's enthusiastic embrace of Kwibuka, the annual genocide commemoration, represents genuine engagement with reconciliation or mere lip service to human rights platitudes that gratify western leaders and smooth the pathways of foreign investment. I haven't seen a single mention in Rwandan media of demands by human rights groups that Rusesabagina be released. Such as I've seen, discussion of human rights in Rwanda, besides recognition of the genocide as a historical event and cause for unified patriotism going forward, has been limited to the promotion of innovations in public health and sustainable agriculture.

Meanwhile, violence and unrest in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo casts another unwanted shadow over CHOGM 2022. Like Rwanda, the DRC (formerly Zaire) has convulsed with violence since its Belgian decolonization in the 1960s. Millions have died just since the 1990s. Since 2015, the eastern border region, which shares Lake Kivu and the Virunga mountain range with Rwanda, has been the site of a bloody confrontation, costing thousands of civilian lives. Supported by UN peacekeepers, the Congolese army has been locked in conflict with "M23" revolutionaries. Making matters worse, Kinshasa accuses Kigali of funding M23 in a bid to expand Rwandan territory. Rwanda denies involvement.

I know next to nothing about the political situation in the DRC, so my perceptions are informed only by experience on the Rwandan side of the border.  The establishment of a Tutsi government after the genocide propelled Congolese Tutsi into Rwanda, and nearly 2 million Hutu left Rwanda for the DRC. More than once in the Lake Kivu region, I met Congo-born 20-somethings—the average age in Rwanda is a remarkable 19—whose Rwandan families relocated there after the genocide, only to return later to Rwanda as refugees of war in the DRC. Though born to Rwandan families, the persons I met identified as Congolese and lamented that they could not go home.

I came close to the DRC border twice. The first time, in the Virungas, I had an escort of four soldiers with automatic weapons. Armed escorts are common in East African parks to protect tourists from wild animals (ideally to scare them with gunfire, not to shoot them). But this was more than animal deterrence. The soldiers acknowledged that Rwandan officials are worried about incursion from the DRC, especially while CHOGM is ongoing in Kigali.  I was encouraged not to linger at the summit of Mount Bisoke, whose crater lake straddles the border.  (I was not allowed to photograph soldiers or border posts.)

The Virunga volcanic range sits at the junction of the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda.

I came close to the border as well in the lakeside town of Gisenyi. A Rwandan official invited me closer to the line than I cared to be. I could see where queues, asphalt road, and orderly buildings on the Rwandan side gave way to dirt road, a shantytown, and a colorful, chaotic, and predominantly pedestrian marketplace on the Congolese side.

As of this writing, CHOGM 2022 is progressing without incident, and Rwanda is availing of the opportunity to put its best foot forward in the world. Surely for the sake of everyone I've met here, I hope that Rwandan participation in the community of nations affords, for every Rwandan who wants it, opportunity for more than subsistence living.

However, for that to happen, Commonwealth delegates will have to see past colorful souvenirs, product pitches, and reconciliation rhetoric. Rwanda needs a plan for infrastructure, educational opportunity, and an improved standard of living for all its people. Rwanda does not need recolonization through the finance sector.

For an indulgent exploration of the contemporary aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and the precarious relationship with the DRC, I highly recommend the television series Black Earth Rising (2018), a co-production of Netflix and BBC Two, written and directed by Hugo Blick and starring Michaela Coel and John Goodman.  The story is fictional, but the riveting expression of social and political tensions is spot on. HT @ Jason Peura.

For a moving documentary on the plight of the gorillas in the Virunga mountains amid the chaos of war in the DRC, see the Oscar-nominated Virunga (2014), also available on Netflix.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Uruguay busca idear carta de derechos digital

Palacio Legislativo en Montevideo
(foto por Tiana Gerfauo Gonzalez CC BY-SA 3.0)
Uruguay está redactando una carta de derechos digitales.

En agosto, escribí sobre la iniciativa pionera para constitucionalizar los derechos digitales en Chile. Ahora Uruguay está haciendo lo mismo.

Una comisión de expertos en Uruguay estará integrada por representantes del gobierno, de las ONG, y de la academia. En 2020, escribí con favor de la voluntad de Uruguay, de mentalidad anti-cártel, de transmitir al público los partidos de fútbol nacional. Los uruguayos tienen la mentalidad adecuada.

Considerando la adopción generalizada de sistemas de protección de datos en América del Sur, sobre  el ejemplo de la GDPR europeano, especialmente en Chile, y ahora prometidas innovaciones en derechos digitales, los Estados Unidos parece cada vez más alienado como una nación que no está dispuesta a obligar a la corporatocracia a ceder a las necesidades de las personas y los derechos humanos.

HT @ Observacom.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Indigenous people battle extractive industries, government in Constitutional Court of Ecuador

Kichwa representatives appear before the Inter-American Commission on
Human Rights (CIDH) in 2015. (CIDH photo CC BY 2.0.)
A case inching forward in Ecuador's constitutional court pits indigenous people against extractive industries and the government over the fate of the country's vast eastern jungles.

Among the many issues on which President Joe Biden and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin disagree is the Keystone XL Pipeline Project.

The President blocked Keystone first thing in January 2021. Environmentalists and indigenous peoples' advocates long ardently opposed the project, though as fuel prices rose in recent months, Senator Manchin was among those renewing criticism of the termination.

Meanwhile, an environmental battle implicating extraction and with arguably more precious real estate in contention is playing out in the Constitutional Court of Ecuador.  In mid-November, the court heard the first in a series of oral arguments over a bid by the Kichwa indigenous people in the eastern Sarayaku region to reclaim control of the jungle and repel extractive industries working at the behest of the government.

There are many facets to the Kichwa's struggle.  The government has for decades promoted drilling, mining, and logging in eastern Ecuador, denigrating environment and inflicting injury with the introduction of explosives and toxic run-offs.   Emily Laber-Warren wrote a concise history for Sapiens in April.  The Kichwan spiritual angle is the focus of a short but more recent piece in Ñan. Indigenous people have won cases in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as long ago as 2012, and in the the Ecuadorean courts, but not always to any avail with the government.

A compelling aspect of the present dispute in the Ecuadorean courts is that the issues overlap with the environmental disaster left behind at Lago Agrio by Big Oil actor Texaco, later Chevron, memorialized in the 2015 book by Paul Barrett, Law of the Jungle.  The Chevron-Ecuador saga and the related prosecution, critics say persecution, of American attorney Steven Donziger continue to make headlinesI'm still waiting for the Hollywood retellings.

Lago Agrio is 217 km north of Sarayaku; that distance says something about the scope of the slowly unfolding tragedy.  I've assigned Law of the Jungle yet again for my spring 2022 Comparative Law class.  I keep waiting for the story to take some major turn, ideally an environmentally sound one, that renders the Barrett book intolerably outdated.  Yet most of what Barrett wrote about the long jeopardy of eastern Ecuador, and the failure of rule of law within the country to respond, remains true today.

I've not been able to find a dispassionate assessment of the November hearings, but plaintiff-friendly Amazon Frontline (AF) covered the day's events.  As AF observed, the hearing followed just days after the Glasgow climate change agreement was concluded.

Implicated collaterally in the case is the emerging legal theory, "rights of nature."  My friend and colleague Dr. Piotr Szwedo, lead editor of Law and Development and a member of the law faculty at Jagiellonian University in Poland, visited Ecuador this year and is conducting ongoing research into the legal implications of the rights of nature.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Court sentences 'Hotel Rwanda' activist to 25 years; U.S. plaintiffs serve Greek airline in civil action

Paul Rusesabagina
(NDLA: Creator: Erik Mårtensson/TT | Credit: TT Nyhetsbyrån CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Real-life "Hotel Rwanda" protagonist Paul Rusesabagina was sentenced in Kigali to 25 years' imprisonment on terrorism and related charges.

PRI The World's Marco Werman has an interview with journalist and author Michela Wrong about the latest in the case.  I wrote about the case in February.

Besides the concerning criminal proceeding in Kigali, the luring in 2020 of Rusesabagina, a Belgian citizen and U.S. resident, from his San Antonio, Texas, home to his abduction on a Dubai flight purportedly bound for Burundi spawned a lawsuit in the United States.  Claiming under the alien tort statute (ATS) and Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), Rusesabagina's family sued GainJet, the Athens-based airline that conveyed Rusesabagina in his abduction to Kigali, and Constantin Niyomwungere, who the complaint alleges was a Rwandan agent pretending to be a pastor conveying Rusesabagina to speak in Burundi.

Upon news of the criminal conviction, I thought it time to check the docket in Rusesabagina v. GainJet Aviation S.A. (Court Listener; see also family statement on conviction and more at Rusesabagina Foundation).  Regrettably, there is little of substance to report.  As one might expect, the plaintiffs have struggled with service of process.

The complaint was filed in the Western District of Texas in December 2020.  In May, plaintiffs reported to the court their intention to drop Niyomwungere from the lawsuit.  Plaintiffs wrote that Niyomungere "gave statements to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau in February and August of 2020 admitting that he had helped to kidnap Mr. Rusesabagina."  However, plaintiffs wrote, Niyomwungere is believed to reside in Burundi, and Burundi is not a signatory to the Hague Service Convention.

Meanwhile, plaintiffs had had service on alleged "co-conspirator" GainJet translated into Greek and delivered to Greek authorities under the Hague convention.  In the latest docket entries, in late August, GainJet returned a waiver of service of summons without waiving any defense of jurisdiction or venue.

Plaintiffs re-alleged in the May report that GainJet told Rusesabagina he was aboard a flight to Burundi.  Then "Gainjet’s pilot and flight crew stood idly by and watched as Mr. Rusesabagina was tied up by the hands and legs, his eyes covered, and his mouth gagged," plaintiffs further alleged, and GainJet accepted payment from the Rwandan government.

A private charter service, GainJet does fly to the United States.  In 2019, the U.S. Soccer Women's National Team flew home from the World Cup in France on a GainJet 757 to New York.  But I've not been able to identify any GainJet office or assets in the United States.  That bodes ill for having a federal district court in Texas exercise jurisdiction.

At the same time, GainJet holds itself out worldwide, and in English, as a luxury charter service.  Ongoing association with the Rusesabagina case can't be good for business amid the jet set.

A defense response in the case is due in late October.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

FOIA committee ponders access amid privatization

I had the great privilege last week to speak to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee, working under the aegis of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on the subject of access to the private sector in the public interest.

The OPEN the Government Act of 2007 augmented FOIA to follow public records into the hands of government contractors.  But the federal FOIA's reach into the private sector remains extremely limited relative to other access-to-information (ATI) systems in the United States and the world.  U.S. states vary widely in approach; the vast majority of state open records acts reaches into the private sector upon some test of state delegation, whether public funding, function, or power.  The same approach predominates in Europe.

The lack of such a mechanism at the federal level in the United States has resulted in a marked deficit of accountability in privatization.  The problem is especially pronounced in areas in which civil rights are prone to abuse, such as privatized prison services, over which the FOIA Advisory Committee and Congress have expressed concern.  By executive order, President Biden is ending the federal outsourcing of incarceration.  But access policy questions remain in questions about the past, in waning contracts, and in persistent privatization in some states.

As I have written in recent years, and examined relative to ATI in the United States, Europe, and India, an emerging model of ATI in Africa advances a novel theory of private-sector access in the interest of human-rights accountability.  I was privileged to share this model, and the theory behind it, with the committee.  I thank the committee for its indulgence, especially OGIS Director Alina Semo for her leadership and Villanova Law Professor Tuan Samahon for his interest in my work now and in the past.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Chile reflexiona sobre los derechos digitales en desarrollo de nueva constitución

Foto por jpereira via The Loop (c. 2019; CC no especificada)
[English.] La creación de una nueva constitución está en marcha en Chile, y los derechos digitales podrían figurar de manera importante en un nuevo modelo de derechos civiles.

Los votantes chilenos pidieron una convención constitucional en una votación de 2020. La actual constitución de 1980 fue redactada bajo la dictadura de Pinochet. Entró en vigor con el fin del régimen de Pinochet en 1990 con la transición del país a la democracia, pero su texto original y sus muchas enmiendas nunca han sido verdaderamente un producto de la democracia. En contraste, la presente convención se desarrolla con una asombrosa representación de la diversidad chilena, incluidos los pueblos indígenas, casi sin precedentes en la historia de las democracias occidentales.

Chile tiene un historial de marcar el ritmo legal para América Latina. Chile y Costa Rica fueron inusuales en la experiencia latinoamericana por no haberse convertido en una guerra civil después de la independencia. Esa estabilidad suministró un terreno fértil para el desarrollo legal. Andrés Bello elaboró el código civil del país, siguiendo el modelo francés, en 1857. El código Bello fue muy influyente en el continente y anima el derecho civil latinoamericano todavía hoy en día. Costa Rica se convirtió en un innovador en derechos humanos en el sistema interamericano en el siglo XX.

Una propuesta de línea de base en el proceso chileno exige como mínimo el acceso a internet como un derecho humano. La realización del derecho requeriría el desarrollo de la infraestructura de internet en todo el vasto país, 2,653 millas de norte a sur, abarcando desiertos y montañas. La responsabilidad del gobierno sería sustancial. No se podía dejar que el sector privado desarrollara la infraestructura de internet con los márgenes de ganancia derivados de la densidad de población, una limitación que ha atrofiado la penetración de Internet de alta velocidad en los Estados Unidos.

Pero el acceso a internet es solo un mínimo, y hay muchas otras propuestas sobre la mesa que llevarían los derechos humanos convencionales, como la libertad de expresión y la privacidad, al mundo en línea. Muchos países han reconocido aspectos de los derechos humanos convencionales en el entorno en línea. Incluso en los Estados Unidos, los tribunales han reconocido que las órdenes judiciales civiles y penales que limitan el acceso de una persona a internet pueden contravenir los derechos civiles si no se adaptan estrictamente.

La idea que el acceso a Internet para recibir información, en lugar de hablar, ha sido una propuesta precaria en los derechos humanos, de la misma manera que los regímenes modernos de derechos humanos siempre han luchado con el acceso a la información (ATI). Hace diez años, un informe del Relator Especial de la ONU sobre la libertad de expresión describió acertadamente el acceso a internet como un derecho "habilitador" ("enabler" right). En los últimos años, expliqué esta caracterización del ATI en el marco moderno de los derechos humanos.

Participantes del proceso constitucional chileno, coordinado por Patricio Urriola Aballai, director ejecutivo de la Fundación Abriendo Datos, publicaron en mayo una "Carta Magna Digital" que explora el potencial de los derechos digitales para ser reconocidos como derechos humanos.  HT @ Observacom.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Observers grasp at hopes for Afghan women

If you're like me, you're watching events in Afghanistan unfold with heartbroken anxiety.  (And there's Haiti, but let's take one tragedy at a time.)  I'm not usually a sucker for the broadcast news kicker (though once upon a time, I loved to write them), but David Muir punched the breath out of me with this one.

After talking to our daughter, 22, my wife shared the realization that today's young adults don't have contemporary recollection of the brutality of Taliban rule in pre-9/11 Afghanistan, especially the implications for women's freedom and education.

Afghan women in literacy class in 2008
(U.N. photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Those of us in adult life on September 11 became acquainted with a flood of unpleasant subject matter in the 20-aughts.  I taught a couple of communications courses back then with Ahmed Rashid's Taliban (1st ed. 2000), for example.  Maybe ten years ago I gave my copy of the book to Goodwill, thinking it of only historical interest.  Now here we are.

That prompted me to wonder whether this Taliban is the same as that Taliban.  Is there any hope?  I noticed Taliban leaders on TV giving interviews to female reporters.  I wasn't the only one who noticed.  My academic colleague James Dorsey, my favorite commentator on MENA and author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, has published a commentary on point, in print and podcast.

Spoiler alert, Dorsey does not reach the conclusion that this is somehow a kinder and gentler Taliban.  But at this point, we have to salvage any hope we can.

[UPDATE, Aug. 18.] A friend pointed me to this fundraising site, which is genuine: Support Afghan Guides and Fixers.  One of its organizers is Lupine Travel, a partner of mine and a solid UK-based enterprise.  

[UPDATE, Aug. 22.]  Check out this fascinating interview (Aug. 19) at PRI's The World with the exiled captain of Afghan women's soccer.