Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pax et Lux

Thank you.
Thank you.

Picture credit: my dear friend Ms. Norah Ibrahim.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

In relation to the Relay

At the writing of this piece discussions regarding the fate of the olympic torch relay are in full swing one question seems to dominate: given the recent demonstrations in several cities, notably in Paris and London, will the international relay (that envisages "to unite humanity" in preparation for the Summer Olympic Games) be suspended or not? Moreover, will such relays be held in the future?

Regardless of one's position vis-à-vis the Games and their relevance for our contemporary societies, it goes without a say that such a decision ought not to go unnoticed - what we see here is a series of "clashes" that entangle the politics and policy-making of wide range of stakeholders spanning as they do over politics, society and even sports! Tibet is, of course, central here, as is, the question of China's politics which in turn spills over to the politics of other countries towards China via (or not) the Games! One other conflict that emerges is precisely "how we are doing politics today": we have the "summits" and we have the streets. We have Monsieur Sarkozy demanding that certain "conditions" be met in order for him to attend the Opening Ceremony of the Games, we have major European countries pursuing "round-table diplomacy", we have the Tibetan diaspora communities mobilizing all over the world, we have citizens of different countries calling, amongst others, for pluralism and tolerance. And of course we have the torch which carries the Olympic flame, and not surprisingly, sets many things on fire along the way...

It matters therefore to monitor the events. Not so much for the torch- although many might find canceling the relay hard to swallow- but for the implications and actions that come along, that is, the bigger picture "behind" the torch. Whatever the outcome, whether it involves action or inaction it will be of relevance, for, the mere recognition and the pondering over the torch issue at the level of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) inevitably draws attention to questions that have long been lingering and perhaps occasionally brought to the surface but never really tackled in depth. And the latter is the responsibly of the international community.

In my view, and regardless of what the IOC will decide, there are many ways that the international community could "go about" [in dealing with the important issues] but also a danger of "not doing anything about" the issues that are at stake here by, say, opting out, covering up or perhaps by resorting to some flowery speeches or promises for "the years to come". And that would be an opportunity missed and a grave mistake at the same time. For, ultimately, what lies behind the torch, behind Tibet, behind "street and office" politics are profound questions about democracy and the meaning of this thousand-year-old term in the context of our contemporary societies. And such questions do require answers.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Confronting the past, shaping the future

This past week violence has considerably escalated in two African states - both Kenya and Chad are immersed in hostilities that have massive consequences for the populations, as thousands are reduced to nothing short of a state of hopelessness and despair. Well over a month after the contestable results of the December 27th election and with several hundred Kenyans dead and thousands more displaced, Kenya is still a torn state; the Kikuyo faction of President Mwai Kibaki and the Luo - to which opposition leader Raila Odinga belongs - are both vying for power. At the same time, it is a sad development that Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, an expert mediator, will not participate in negotiation talks; the decision of the Kenyan government to exclude Ms. Ramaphosa is indeed a blow to the peace efforts of former Secretary General, Kofi Annan, whose recommendation of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee might relieve people of much anguish and suffering.

The situation in Chad is quite worrisome as groups of rebels wage a fierce war against President Idriss Déby - a member of the Zaghawa group, which is a minority in the country; Déby's 18-year rule has been particularly problematic after allegations of electoral fraud (on more than one occasions) and particularly after the Constitutional reforms that augmented the President's powers. As French and Westerns evacuate the country, rebels have managed to enter N'Djamena, the capital city of Chad, on February 2nd. With a quarter of a million refugees from Sudan occupying the southeast parts of the country and a native population gravely affected by the battles, the peace-enforcement troops that France and several other European states are expediting in the region will certainly prove crucial.

Conflicts in Kenya, Chad and elsewhere in Africa are distressing for the suffering they inflict on people, the destruction they cause on the infrastructure of rural and urban spaces and the nature as well as the state of instability they impose, with order and peace returning on average months if not years after ceasefire. At the same time they awaken us all to two sad realities, of the sort that tend to be neglected:

- Just because states in Africa are sovereign, and no longer under colonial rule, this should not mean that they have done away with colonialism altogether; colonialism is present through the legacy it has bequeathed to the countries and the people. A mere look at the map of Africa betrays the sad reality of artificially created countries and explains why ethnic tensions are frequent and so difficult to manage.

- Just because democracy is a desired form of government for many people, this means not that democracy is also preferred by all and much less that it is easy to implement. With volumes of political science dedicated to democratic transition and the difficulties that come along, it is not a surprise that many states fail and as a result swing between authoritarianism and democracy, or, alternatively maintain "pseudo"democracies or, on some occasions, electoral democracies.

This past week severe human rights violations have also occurred in Sri Lanka. Civilians have died as a result of attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on the occasion of the 60th year anniversary of the independence of the country from the British. The Tamil Tigers, it must be noted, question the legitimacy of the Sri Lankan government and have been waging a secessionist war for the past 30 years. Another Asian country, Indonesia, has come to the fore this week as former dictator Suharto passed away on January 28th. Responsible for much of the progress of the Indonesian economy during his 31-year rule, Suharto had a notorious human rights record, with blatant suppression of political dissent and media censorship. Suharto was never brought to a court of law, and this should not go unnoticed.

Yet this past week has brought also some positive developments in the field of human rights. Two important instruments of regional law came a step closer to becoming a reality: the Council of Europe Convention on Action against the Trafficking of Human Beings entered into force on February 1st, following the ratification of the Convention by four more countries (France, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Norway and Malta) this past January. The second instrument, the Arab Charter on Human Rights entered into force on January 24th, following the ratification of the seventh Arab state. Despite some controversial provisions regarding Zionism, the rights of children and non-citizens, the Charter provides a basis upon which human rights can be negotiated and further developed in the years to come.

Regional instruments are valuable as complements to existing law, often times acting as an "in-between" layer with international and domestic law on the two sides. In our contemporary times where conflicts and human rights violations span the entire globe, the international community has yet to guarantee a universal respect of human rights. In light of this deficiency, the regional instruments may in fact present us with a valuable tool to safeguard human rights in the various parts of world and with an opportunity to strengthen the legitimacy of human rights broadly speaking.



on Kenya: Call for Kenyan Truth Commission
on Chad: Journal TV5 MONDE (in French; yet, worth watching for the images of N'Djamena)
on Indonesia and Human Rights in Asia: Asia's Need for Justice, Truth and Reconciliation

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